Iowa

Adoption of Solar Bill Paves Way for Renewable Energy Growth in Iowa

Adoption of Solar Bill Paves Way for Renewable Energy Growth in Iowa

Bipartisan legislation earned unanimous support in Legislature

DES MOINES – Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 583 today, a bill that will provide predictability for Iowa’s solar industry, utilities and customers. The legislation passed both the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate unanimously.

The legislation was the result of collaborative discussion between numerous stakeholders, including MidAmerican Energy, the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA), Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA), Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC).

“Iowa’s solar industry was proud to collaborate with stakeholders to find a compromise that provides consistency and opportunity for solar energy to continue to grow in Iowa,” said Tim Dwight, President of ISETA. “We thank legislators and the Governor for passing and signing Senate File 583 into law. Solar energy helps diversify Iowa’s energy portfolio and will continue to keep costs low for all energy customers. This legislation ensures that Iowa farmers, small businesses and homeowners will continue to play a role in Iowa’s renewable energy leadership.”

The bill grandfathers all existing customers with their current agreements.

“This bill provides certainty that helps farmers plan ahead if they want to install solar technology, and it protects the financial interests of those who have already installed solar panels on their buildings,” said Mike Paustian of Walcott. Paustian is president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “Today’s pig farming requires energy resources to provide feed, water and temperature control that are vital to pig comfort and well-being. Many of our members have installed solar panels to help provide that energy while operating in a sustainable way.”

The new policy codifies net metering while creating a new, optional inflow-outflow system. Solar customers taking service under both net metering and the new inflow-outflow system would be able to supply their own energy needs and would receive credit for the energy they supply to the grid while paying for energy delivered by the utility. Each utility has the ability to choose to bill its solar customers based on net metering or an inflow-outflow rate.

“Renewable energy has a long history of bi-partisan support in Iowa and the unanimous passage and Governor’s approval of SF 583 continues that tradition,” said Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director for IEC. “This bill will provide the certainty needed for solar to continue to grow in Iowa. We appreciate the work of all involved to develop a policy that will work for both utilities and customers while benefiting Iowa’s economy and environment.”

The legislation also calls for a Value of Solar study to be created through a stakeholder process overseen by the Iowa Utilities Board and utilizing an independent third party consultant.

“This legislation came out of a unique collaboration where parties came together to find a solution that benefits everyone. That’s exciting on its own, but one of the most exciting aspects of this is the certainty it will provide,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Josh Mandelbaum. “Customers will be able to invest with confidence, knowing what the rules are. Solar installers and utilities will be able to plan ahead with assurance. This will lead to job creation and a robust solar market that will continue to grow and thrive.”

The updated energy policy will create long-term certainty for all customers, including solar owners, and enable even more renewable energy development in Iowa.

“This great outcome is the direct result of sincere collaboration. The new law ensures regulated utilities will recover infrastructure costs, which provides predictability to  our customers,” said Adam Wright, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy. “At the same time, it values solar generation, encourages even more renewable development and helps us keep our customers’ rates low. This is a true win for our state, and we congratulate lawmakers from both parties and the Governor for their hard work in finding common ground.”

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Coal Generation, Rate Increases, Energy Efficiency Addressed in Proposed Settlement as Alliant Rate Case Gets Underway

Coal Generation, Rate Increases, Energy Efficiency Addressed in Proposed Settlement as Alliant Rate Case Gets Underway

ELPC, IEC, and Sierra Club applaud proposed agreement, say more work remains 

DES MOINES, Ia — The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, and Sierra Club agreed to a proposed partial settlement in the Alliant Energy rate case being heard by the Iowa Utilities Board this week. The proposed settlement, joined by ten of the 14 intervening parties, including the Consumer Advocate and large energy consumers, addressed several key issues in the rate case, including energy generation from Alliant’s coal plants, rate structures impacting energy efficiency, rate increases and others.

Alliant Energy, a utility providing electric service to about 490,000 customers in Iowa, is seeking a rate increase and proposing a number of rate changes and new programs. The Iowa Utilities Board sets the rates for Iowa’s investor-owned utilities, including Alliant Energy, through information gathered during a contested rate case.

Alliant Receives Less Money Than Requested

Alliant was seeking to increase electric rates to cover a request of $203.6 million per year. As part of the proposed settlement, Alliant agreed to a reduced request of $127 million. The company will refund customers interim rate increases applied in 2019 to the tune of $7.5 million through the end of 2020. While customers will still see an increased bill, it will be a smaller increase than Alliant had sought.

Alliant also agreed to waive their fixed-bill plan, which sought to charge customers a fixed bill each month plus an administrative fee, but without any true-up at the end of the year to account for actual energy usage.

A Plan for Uneconomic Coal Plants

As part of the proposed settlement, Alliant Energy agreed to participate in a first-ever in Iowa comprehensive planning process for their generating fleet. This analysis will require Alliant to assess the economics of its coal plants compared to cleaner, home-grown energy options like solar, efficiency, wind, and battery storage.

An analysis conducted by expert witnesses in the case by IEC and ELPC found that Alliant’s coal plants are not economic and customers could save hundreds of millions of dollars by developing a plan to transition away from these plants. Additional expert analysis on behalf of Sierra Club found that retirement and replacement of Alliant’s coal plants could save customers more than $600 million. These analyses found that customers could be better served with cheaper, cleaner energy from renewables or open-market energy purchases.

“We are proud to have secured a commitment by Alliant to evaluate the economics of its remaining coal plants and integrate meaningful stakeholder input as part of the process. We are confident that this analysis will be the first step in moving Alliant away from dirty, expensive coal plants,” said Elizabeth Katt Reinders with the Sierra Club. “We look forward to working with Alliant on its transition off coal as they move from analysis to planning to action.”

Energy Choices for Customers

Alliant Energy agreed to discontinue their plan for applying a declining block rate in summer months. This type of rate structure reduces the cost per kilowatt hour as more energy is used, which discourages energy savings and encourages users to consume more power. Alliant’s proposed declining block rate also has an outsized negative impact on smaller individual customers who could not benefit from the rate structure.

The company also withdrew plans to increase some fees for customers with solar panels or other self-generation. “Customers who invest in their own renewable generation provide energy that benefits everyone. Their investment, while keeping their rates low, also benefits the utility by producing and supplying clean power that enhances grid stability,” said Kerri Johannsen with the Iowa Environmental Council.

Collaboration on the Path Forward

Alliant Energy agreed to an improved collaborative stakeholder engagement process with environmental and consumer groups as the company moves forward with grid investments and utility-owned distributed renewable energy projects.

“We look forward to a more robust and fruitful engagement with Alliant Energy. While we have been included in collaborative projects previously, there is an opportunity to better incorporate feedback and reflect it in decision-making processes. We are ready to get around the table to talk about what’s next,” said Josh Mandelbaum with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

While the environmental groups are applauding the proposed settlement, the agreement was not comprehensive. Some issues remain unresolved. This week’s hearing at the Iowa Utilities Board will be an opportunity for parties to cross-examine witnesses and for the Board to gather further information. The proposed settlement agreement will not go into effect unless the IUB approves it in its final order in the rate case, which will come before the end of the year.

The hearing is open to the public and the media and is taking place in the Varied Industries Building at 3000 E Grand Ave in Des Moines starting at 8:00 am daily.

View the case docket at https://efs.iowa.gov/efs/ShowDocketSummary.do?docketNumber=RPU-2019-0001

View the logistics for the hearing at https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mdax/odgz/~edisp/1883271.pdf

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

November 26, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Kerri Johannsen, 515-244-0123 ext. 208

Peter Gray, 312-629-9400

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

Iowa school districts can apply now for VW settlement funding to purchase electric school buses

DES MOINES, IA — Iowa school children may soon breathe easier thanks to $3.15 million in funding for cleaner school, shuttle, and transit buses recently announced by the Iowa Department of Transportation. School districts that apply by Jan. 18 will be eligible to receive funding.

Iowa DOT is accepting grant applications for the first round of funding created by the Volkswagen Diesel scandal lawsuits. Iowa will receive a total of approximately $21 million to replace dirty diesel vehicles and equipment as a result of the settlements.

While multiple bus technologies are eligible for funding, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council advocated for the funds to be used for electric school buses because they will create long-term savings for taxpayers while protecting children’s health and reducing air pollution. The operating cost of electric school buses is roughly half that of diesel buses due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. Investing VW settlement funds in electric buses will advance this emerging vehicle technology and help Iowa jump-start the transition to a cleaner transportation system.

Pollution from school buses has been shown to negatively affect children’s health and is a major source of school children’s exposure to black carbon. Diesel exhaust exacerbates asthma, the most common chronic health condition among U.S. children.

“Electric school buses make sense for our children’s health and our school districts’ budgets,” said Steve Falck, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Department of Transportation is making a smart move by helping put electric school buses on the road in Iowa.”

“School districts want the savings and clean air benefits that electric school buses create,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council. “This first round of funding will kick-start a new technology that creates long-term savings for Iowa communities.”

Multiple states are piloting programs that use electric school buses as a source of flexible energy storage to improve electric grid stability. Across the Midwest, more than $20 million in funding for electric school buses has been announced — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio have all dedicated funds from the VW settlement to invest in electric school buses. Information on the Iowa funding opportunity is available at the program website, https://www.iowadot.gov/vwsettlement.

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The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. We develop and lead successful strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to protect our natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs a teamwork approach using legal, economic analysis, public policy advocacy and research, and communications tools to produce successes that improve both our environment and our economy. Learn more at ELPC.org.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa’s natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.

News-Press Now: Energy Efficiency, Spending Headed for Big Drop

September, 23 2018
Energy Efficiency, Spending Headed for Big Drop
by Erin Murphy

DES MOINES — Proposed energy efficiency plans offered by Iowa utility companies would be a shell of what they had been in recent years.

The new and scaled-back energy efficiency plans are a result of legislation passed this spring and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The new law caps the percentage of a customer’s utility bill that can be put toward energy efficiency programs.

Iowa’s utility companies this summer detailed to the state’s regulatory board new 5-year energy efficiency plans starting with 2019. Some of the proposals show a dramatic reduction in energy efficiency program spending and energy savings.

The utility companies say the new plans will result in lower bills for customers, which they can use to invest in energy efficiency if and in any way they choose, and that advancements in technology have rendered some programs unnecessary.

Critics say it is just as they warned during debate over the legislation: that it would gut the state’s energy efficiency programs, and that customers will pay more in the long run.

The state board must act on the proposals by March 31.

“It’s a huge cut and we’re really disappointed,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving Iowa’s environment.

“The Iowa Environmental Council has a vision of 100 percent renewable energy for the state of Iowa, and we think that that goal is entirely achievable. But we need a wide variety of resources to get there,” Johannsen said. “We just think (the new law and new energy efficiency plans are) a deviation from the path that Iowa has been on toward a really clean energy grid.”

MidAmerican Energy, the Des Moines-based utility company that serves more than 750,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota, in 2018 spent nearly $80 million on electric energy efficiency programs and nearly $31 million on gas energy efficiency programs.

Under their new proposal, MidAmerican in 2019 would spend less than $43 million on electric energy efficiency programs, a cut nearly in half, and just more than $6 million on gas energy efficiency programs, a drop by more than 85 percent.

MidAmerican’s energy savings would drop as well: their gas efficiency plan would save 80 percent less than 2017 and their electricity plan will save nearly 50 percent less, according to calculations made by the Iowa Environmental Council. Spokespeople for the utilities did not dispute the figures.

“Utilities have had really robust energy efficiency programs for many years in Iowa. Since 2009 alone the programs have saved the equivalent of building two-and-a-half baseload power plants,” Johannsen said. “The customers pay for the energy efficiency programs, but they’re paying less (overall). They haven’t had to pay for that generation.”

Johannsen said on the new trajectory under the utilities’ reduced energy efficiency plans, Iowans could have to pay more in the long run because less energy efficiency will lead to a need for more energy production to meet customers’ needs.

“Load growth in Iowa has been pretty flat for a number of years. Electric demand just hasn’t grown because of our efficiency programs,” Johannsen said. “So what we’re going to see is, without doing efficiency we’re going to see load growth and utilities will be forced to invest in new (power) generation.”

Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the reduced programs also could threaten the jobs of more than 20,000 Iowans working in energy efficiency-related jobs across the state.

“In the past, Iowa has been a clean energy leader with strong energy efficiency plans, but this is a major step backward,” Mandelbaum said in a statement.

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Press Release: Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

Call for Wind XII Approval to Require Coal Retirements

 

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center filed testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) in MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII docket. Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council, provided the testimony on behalf of both groups, calling for approval of the additional wind to include requirements for equivalent coal capacity retirements. The groups also strongly recommended MidAmerican outline a process for a comprehensive clean energy transition that includes wind, solar, storage and demand side resources such as energy efficiency and demand response.

MidAmerican is touting Wind XII as the final project in the 100% Renewable Vision the company announced in 2016. However, MidAmerican has not announced a single coal plant retirement since setting this benchmark. The company owns and operates five coal plants in Iowa with a total of 3,740 MW of nameplate capacity and is majority owner of the 725 MW Ottumwa Generating Station.

According to 2016 data from the Energy Information Administration, this level of capacity puts MidAmerican’s coal fleet in the top 20 largest fleets of any utility in the country — at 19 — out of the 164 companies that own at least 100MW of coal generation. Construction of new coal plants is not cost-effective and utilities around the U.S. are announcing coal retirements on an almost daily basis. By betting on coal, MidAmerican will only climb in this undesirable ranking.

“The state of Iowa and MidAmerican’s wind energy leadership is commendable,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “However, a comprehensive clean energy vision requires a plan for retiring dirty coal plants and replacing them with a diverse mix of renewable resources including wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency.”

MidAmerican filed its proposal for Wind XII on May 30, 2018. Wind XII is a 591 MW, $922 million project that would be completed by late 2020.

Wind generation provides significant benefits including hedging risks from fuel price volatility and geo-political uncertainty, environmental benefits, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  However, as Johannsen points out, “[m]any benefits MidAmerican claims for Wind XII are unlikely to occur unless coupled with retirement of coal capacity.”

Utilities around the country have begun proposing comprehensive clean energy transition plans. Johannsen’s testimony summarizes several examples of utilities retiring coal plants and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency including Xcel Energy in Colorado, Consumers Energy in Michigan, and MidAmerican’s sister Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, NV Energy and PacifiCorp.

Iowa’s wind leadership helped the state attract companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook that wanted to invest in a state that offered affordable, renewable energy for their power needs. Says Johannsen, “To remain competitive, Iowa utilities must not settle for the status quo, but instead continue to show leadership in clean energy innovation or the state will fall behind other emerging leaders.”

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Energy News Network: Iowa Utilities Unveil Scaled Back Efficiency Plans Under New State Law

Iowa Utilities Unveil Scaled Back Efficiency Plans Under New State

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Iowans will lose access to home energy audits, insulation rebates, and light bulb discounts under new five-year efficiency plans proposed by utilities.

The plans, filed with the Iowa Utilities Board before a Monday deadline, are the first since a new state law capped the amount of money that utilities spend on the programs. The result is “a huge step back” for energy efficiency in the state, according to clean energy advocates.

MidAmerican Energy and Interstate Power & Light, an Alliant Energy subsidiary, emphasized the bill reductions most customers will see under the plans, but critics predicted those cuts will eventually be absorbed by the cost of new investments to meet growing energy use in the state.

“These plans are significantly smaller and leave significant energy-efficiency savings on the table, even more than in the past,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Des Moines.

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Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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OpEd Des Moines Register: Iowa Cities Can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux

Iowa Cities can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux
by Howard A. Learner

While President Trump steps back from climate reality by withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, mayors in Iowa and across our country are stepping up to fill the void.

The recent North American Climate Summit brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.

Now is the time for these municipal declarations of support to become real solutions to climate change problems. In short, take effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together.

Des Moines, Dubuque, Fairfield, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other municipalities have pledged to seize opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Growing local solar energy, storage and energy efficiency creates jobs, saves money, attracts investment and avoids carbon pollution. Local energy production keeps energy dollars in our communities, instead of paying to import electricity generated by coal, gas and uranium. Clean electric vehicles and buses in municipal fleets reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and avoid pollution. Improving energy efficiency in city buildings saves taxpayer money, reduces pollution and lessens maintenance costs.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is proud that many Iowa cities are saying they want to be part of global climate change solutions. We will work with cities to adopt high-value actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that are tailored to Iowans and set strong goals. Here are three ways that Iowa cities can transform their public commitments into meaningful climate actions:

Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022: Iowa is a wind power champion, and solar energy and energy storage capacity are accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Iowa cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced wind power and solar energy plus storage, purchasing clean renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable energy credits from new wind and solar projects.

Clean up municipal fleets: All new purchases should be electric vehicles (except in special cases). Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the electric power sector, which is finally moving on a cleaner path. Iowa cities should buy electric vehicles (EV) or other zero-emission vehicles for non-emergency fleets. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. EV operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system.

Rapidly improve municipal building energy efficiency: Smart energy efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait? Many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a no-brainer cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and allow more pollution. Smart energy efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements.

Iowa cities are leading by saying that they’ll step up with climate actions. The hard and most important work now comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution.

Cities can seize climate action opportunities by moving forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency that will produce significant pollution reduction results. Let’s work together to turn words into deeds, achieve economic and environmental benefits together, and help advance the Paris Climate Accord goals.

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Iowa utility offers high ‘green’ pricing without adding renewables

Iowa utility offers high ‘green’ pricing without adding renewables

by Karen Uhlenhuth

An Iowa electric utility has proposed a green pricing option that ultimately could cost a customer more than investing in a rooftop solar system, according to the analysis of some clean-energy supporters in the state.

Critics also expressed doubts as to whether Alliant Energy’s green pricing option, known as Beyond Solar, would lead to the development of new renewable energy in the state.

Advocates say it looks like the option, now pending before the Iowa Utilities Board, will simply tap into wind and solar resources that Alliant Energy already owns. That would defeat the purpose of green pricing, critics add, and apparently would not follow the “spirit and intent” of a law that requires utilities to offer green pricing, or a premium for renewable energy.

“While it might not technically violate the rules, it certainly violates the spirit and intent of those rules,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney based in Iowa for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“The way this program is set up, the same amount of renewable energy is going to be on the grid whether no one participates in the program or 1,000 people participate,” Mandelbaum continued.

The reason, he said, is because Alliant Energy proposes to provide Beyond Solar subscribers with energy from two existing sources of generation — a power-purchase agreement with an Iowa wind farm and a 5-megawatt (MW) solar array that Alliant just built in Dubuque.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

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