Scientific American: ELPC’s Learner Weighs in on Coal and Energy Legislation in Illinois

Scientific American

Will the Rust Belt Stick with Coal Under Trump?
November 22, 2016
By Ben Storrow

Coal remains king in the Rust Belt. But whether the carbon-laden fuel retains its throne depends on state lawmakers in a handful of Midwestern capitals.

Illinois legislators are debating a bill that would provide subsidies to aging nuclear and coal plants. Ohio policymakers are fielding calls from utilities to guarantee a rate of return for their old coal facilities. And Michigan representatives are sorting through an energy package that will determine the future makeup of their state’s electric grid.

The state decisions come at a critical moment for U.S. energy policy. Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential contest means the United States is unlikely to implement the carbon caps on the power sector proposed under President Obama, which are the centerpiece of America’s participation in the Paris climate agreement.

Trump’s victory has added a new wrinkle to Rust Belt energy debates. In Illinois, Exelon Corp. had argued financial assistance for its nuclear plants was essential to meeting the state’s goals under the Clean Power Plan, U.S. EPA’s carbon-cutting regimen. Utility executives, testifying before Illinois lawmakers last week, acknowledged Trump’s victory complicated their position (EnergyWire, Nov. 17).

To the north in Michigan, some Republican lawmakers are calling for policymakers to apply the brakes on an energy package that was developed with the assumption the Clean Power Plan would be put into place. Supporters, who include Gov. Rick Snyder (R), dismiss those arguments. Michigan has witnessed a wave of coal plant closures this year and needs to focus on grid reliability, they say.

“Could some coal plants stay open longer as a result of the Clean Power Plan going away? Yes, I think that’s a possibility,” said Paul Patterson, a financial analyst who tracks the utility sector at Glenrock Associates LLC. “We will have to wait and see what the Trump administration comes up with, but also for what the individual states want to do.”

The decisions made by Midwestern lawmakers figure to be particularly important. The Rust Belt remains disproportionately reliant on coal to meet its electricity needs, meaning a further greening of the U.S. grid will depend to a great degree on state actions.

Michigan gets 46 percent of its power from coal. The fuel accounts for 59 percent of power generation in Ohio. In neighboring Indiana, that figure reaches as high as 75 percent. Nationally, coal power represents about a third of total power production.

Debate over the Clean Power Plan obscures a more important trend, though, analysts said. Economics will be the main driver in deciding the future makeup of the Rust Belt’s power grid.

Electricity demand in the region is stagnating, in large part due to energy efficiency measures.

Natural gas plants are out-competing their coal counterparts. And renewables are fast approaching the point where they can displace coal-fired power, even without subsidies.

There is also this: Many Rust Belt coal plants are simply old.

Analysts predict the region’s electric grid will become less reliant on coal in the coming years, regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan is implemented. But how fast the transition occurs, and what fuels replace it, will depend to a great degree on what state policymakers decide.

“I don’t think the Clean Power Plan is the central story,” said Nachy Kanfer, deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “I think the central story is how wholesale markets reorganize themselves to survive in an era of persistently low wholesale power prices and a market where consumers are persistently demanding cleaner alternatives.”

A Brownish-Green ‘Christmas Tree’ Bill in Ill.

Illinois lawmakers have proposed expanding the state’s ability to procure electrons from coal plants in the southern part of the state (EnergyWire, Nov. 16). The provision was largely aimed at winning the support of coal-reliant utilities, like Dynegy Inc., which might have objected to the bill’s financial support for Exelon’s nuclear facilities. But it has attracted a wide array of opposition from environmentalists, who object to the coal facilities’ emissions, and business groups, which are against paying more to keep old plants online.

To complicate matters further, the legislation also contains measures aimed at enticing greens.

It calls on Commonwealth Edison Co., which serves the Chicago area, to cut electricity demand 23 percent by 2030 through efficiency measures. The bill would also boost the state’s renewable energy standard, requiring 25 percent of Illinois power to come from low-carbon sources by 2025.

“Right now, the bill is a Christmas tree that badly needs some pruning,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

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Crain’s Detroit Business: Howard Talks About Net Metering in Michigan

Crains Detroit

September 25, 2016

Critics: Proposed Charge Could Pull Plug on Clean Energy Growth

By Jay Greene

A proposed new grid charge leveled at small solar and wind projects in legislation on the Michigan Senate floor could derail growth in the state’s net metering program that incentivizes clean energy produced by homeowners and small businesses.

Despite some changes in Michigan Senate Bills 437 and 438 — primarily sections that govern net metering program rules — businesses in the state’s small solar and wind industry say the proposed bill package could reverse more than eight years of growth in net metering by discouraging investment in small projects.

Under SB 437, the Michigan Public Service Commission would be empowered to set a “fair and equitable grid charge to apply to customers who participated in a net metering or distributed generation program.”

The proposed bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, would likely require the MPSC to hold a contested hearing before an administrative judge who would hear testimony from all sides about a grid charge. The judge would then make a recommendation to the MPSC, which the commission could accept, reject or modify in an order, said MPSC spokeswoman Judy Palnau.

Last week, Nofs distributed draft four of SB 437 S-6 to the Republican caucus. Spokesman Greg Moore told Crain’s that while Nofs wanted to hold a vote on SBs 437 and 438, which is sponsored by Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, a vote on the energy package likely will be held sometime in October.

Mark Hagerty, president of Michigan Solar Solutions in Commerce Township, said his business could be adversely affected if the grid charge was too high and discouraged customers from investing $10,000 to $20,000 in a rooftop solar project.

“If the grid access fee is comparable to what other states have done (about $5 per month), there would be a slight impact,” Hagerty said. “The bill doesn’t put a cap on the fee. If it is high, it could have a substantial impact on net metering and solar.”

While Hagerty said his business is up 40 percent over last year with about 55 projects, several customers have already backed away from rooftop solar installations because of talk of changing the law. He said the vast majority of system installations are solar projects approved for net metering.

“My biggest concern is if I hire somebody, and the state changes its policy, I have to lay them off and deal with unemployment and legacy costs,” said Hagerty, who employs seven and is opening another office in Riverdale. “I hope this bill dies on the vine,” he added.

Officials for Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co., the state’s two investor-owned utilities, have told Crain’s they favor the grid charge and that the current net metering law creates unfair subsidies that must be paid for by customers who don’t own solar systems.

The utilities, which call net metering a “subsidy,” believe solar and wind customers should pay their fair share to support transmission lines, substations, transformers, meters and other infrastructure costs.

 Slow but Steady Growth

A small but growing number of people and small businesses in Michigan over the past decade have invested thousands of dollars in small solar panel arrays under 20 kilowatts to save money, improve electric grid reliability and cut down on greenhouse gases that contribute to man-made climate change, experts say.

Under Michigan’s 2008 landmark energy bill, Public Act 295, the state mandated a net metering program that gives credits to electric customers whose solar or wind power generating systems produce electric energy in excess of their needs. That electricity contributes to power grid reliability and, in effect, can provide local electricity to neighbors.

Last year, there was a 20 percent increase in net metering in Michigan, said the MPSC’s 2015 net metering and solar program report issued Sept. 12. The MPSC report said net metering increased to 2,155 customers in 2015 from 1,840 customers in 2014.

One reason for the growth is that solar panel costs have dropped 50 percent since 2010. Another reason is the net metering program gives customers credits based on retail rates.

But a grid charge fee, if set too high, could reverse those positive growth trends, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Read More at http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20160925/NEWS/160929816/critics-proposed-charge-could-pull-plug-on-clean-energy-growth

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Kearney Calls for Immediate Action to Reduce Imminent Threat of Enbridge Line 5 Disaster

Midwest Energy News

Advocates, State Disagree on Legal Case to Shut Down Mackinac Pipeline

By Andy Balaskovitz
Aug. 19, 2016

The state of Michigan says there is “inadequate information” to justify pursuing a court order to shut down an underwater oil pipeline between the Upper and Lower peninsulas.

But environmental attorneys working to eventually shut down Line 5 — as a growing number of businesses and local governments in Michigan are calling for — disagree and say they’ve presented evidence within the past six months that contradicts the state’s position.

Moreover, advocates say the state could have been pursuing much of the crucial information it’s seeking but instead has punted with a pair of pipeline studies that could take up to 18 months to complete.

The state is holding off on any potential legal action to force closure of the controversial pipeline until those studies are done, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Last week, the new director of the DEQ said calls to shut down Line 5, at this point, are “premature.”

The DEQ says the state has “available legal tools to address an imminent threat” from the twin pipelines, such as enforcing an easement agreement from 1953, common law public trust and public nuisance doctrines and potentially state law, a department spokesperson said.

But a court order is the state’s “only legal mechanism” to shut down Line 5, and it would have to prove there were “clear violations” of the easement, there is an “imminent threat” that the pipeline would fail, “and that such a threat outweighed any interest in Enbridge continuing to operate the Pipeline.”

“The (Michigan Petroleum Pipeline) Task Force believes the State has available legal tools to abate any immediate and actual threat of a spill from the Straits Pipelines. But at this juncture, particularly given the nearly unanimous view that there is inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines, the Task Force does not find a basis for recommending that the State take the extraordinary action of seeking a court order to immediately shut down the Straits Pipelines,” said DEQ spokesperson Michael Shore.

Attorneys who have joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign do not share the view that there is “inadequate information” to pursue court action.

Earlier this month, the state notified Enbridge that it was violating the 1953 easement due to a lack of anchor supports and gave the company 90 days to take corrective action. A public comment period on that is currently underway.




Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

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Ecosystem Marketplace: ELPC’s Brad Klein Weighs in on Water Quality Trading Programs

Water Quality Trading: What Works? What Doesn’t? And Why Don’t We Know This Already?

By Kelli Barrett

July 22, 2016

Water utilities and NGOs around the world are using market-based mechanisms to clean regional water bodies and restore surrounding watersheds, but critics say the programs are unproven. Proponents counter: yes, they are, and the data exists to prove it!

For years now, North American cities like Denver and New York have been diverting water fees into forest conservation, while Kenyan flower-growers have been voluntarily paying upland farmers to develop terraces that slow runoff. Just this week, legislators in the Peruvian Capital of Lima authorized a program that will divert some of the city’s water fees into the restoration of ancient, pre-Incan canals high in the Andes to capture floodwater for the dry season. In addition to these “investments in watershed services” (IWS) programs, water authorities in the United States, New Zeeland, and Australia are experimenting with something called “water quality trading” (WQT), which aims to keep levels of fertilizer at scientifically acceptable levels by helping farmers implement conservation practices that reduce their agricultural runoff.

Each program is uniquely its own, but they all hinge on the premise that market-based mechanisms deliver better results and more flexibility by focusing on quantifiable, verifiable outcomes – either in terms of water quality or regularity of supply – rather than the rigid edicts of “command-and-control” regulation.

Last autumn, an organization called Food and Water Watch (FWW) challenged that assumption, at least as far as WQT is concerned, in a paper that re-labeled WQT as “pollution trading” and charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts US waterways at great risk – a contention that was promptly dismissed by WQT proponents like Brent Fewell and Bobby Cochran.

Fewell, a one-time senior official at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and founder of the law firm Earth and Water Group, penned a piece entitled “Food & Water Lies – FWW Stands in the Way of Environmental Protection” which derided the organization as being ideologically anti-market and anti-public private partnership, while Cochran, the Executive Director of the Oregon-based nonprofit Willamette Partnership, was a bit more forgiving.

“FWW did not do an independent assessment on water quality trading,” said Cochran, whose organization is active in the WQT space and often acts as an advocate for trading.

However, Cochran adds that proponents of trading aren’t producing objective content either.

And while the pro and con camps continue to argue, reams of hard data from dozens of pilot projects are sitting around just begging for a disinterested, scientific evaluation. Cochran, among other practitioners, suggest a third-party, independent review of this data to settle the debate over whether WQT is effective.


Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner Questions Why Mich. AG Schuette Continues Lawsuits Over Federal Mercury Rules

Snyder bows out as Schuette fights EPA pollution rules
By Chad Livengood

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette continues to wage a court battle over the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury pollution controls for coal-fired power plants despite compliance by Michigan’s biggest utility companies and Gov. Rick Snyder disassociating himself with Schuette’s lawsuit.

Schuette has waged a three-year legal battle with the EPA to block implementation of the Obama administration’s Mercury & Air Toxins Standards with limited success.

In mid-June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Schuette’s latest challenge to the EPA’s rules requiring power plants to reduce mercury emissions. Last Friday, Schuette filed a new legal action in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia challenging an amendment the EPA made to its rules in April.

Schuette said Wednesday he’s fighting the way President Barack Obama’s EPA went around Congress to push the emissions restrictions onto states.

“This is a constitutional issue about does the administration have follow the Constitution or do you do things and bypass the Constitution with the issuance of rules and regulations,” said Schuette, a former congressman. “That’s what this is about. I think the Constitution is important. I’m not going to apologize for it.”

Attorneys general from 14 other states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, signed onto Schuette’s Friday court filing.

Snyder took his name off the latest lawsuit, meaning Schuette is no longer suing on behalf of the State of Michigan, but just on behalf of the “People of Michigan.”

“We disassociated with that,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.


Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Calls Mich. AG Schuette’s Continued Litigation Against Federal Mercury Standards “Baffling”

Michigan governor, AG at odds over federal pollution rules

By Andy Balaskovitz

For the second time in the past year, Michigan’s governor and attorney general — both Republicans — are at odds over legal challenges against federal rules aimed at cutting pollution from U.S. power plants.

On Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals to review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cost calculations for limiting mercury pollution from power plants. Schuette is leading 14 other states in an ongoing challenge to the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which courts have not blocked the federal agency from implementing.

But instead of filing on behalf of the “State of Michigan,” as was previously the case, Schuette’s latest petition is done so under his name and “on behalf of the people of Michigan.”

For clean energy supporters, it’s a distinction with a major difference.

“We commend Gov. Snyder for stepping up and disassociating himself and the state of Michigan from the attorney general’s endless litigation challenging mercury pollution reduction standards,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Unfortunately, Attorney General Schuette is still continuing his ideological litigation that would allow more mercury pollution to continue harming children’s health and our environment.”


Greenwire: ELPC’s Learner Commends Gov. Snyder Distancing State of Michigan from AG Schuette’s Federal Mercury Standards Challenge

Gov. Snyder moves to ‘disassociate’ Mich. from MATS challenge
by Sean Reilly, E&E reporter
Monday, June 27, 2016

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has formally parted company with the state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, also a Republican, over the latest legal challenge to U.S. EPA’s mercury regulations on power plants.

In an email to Greenwire this morning, Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton confirmed that the governor asked Schuette to “disassociate” the state from the lawsuit filed late last week over EPA’s supplemental finding to its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Even if the appeal were successful, “there would be no practical impacts,” Heaton said, citing the state’s own regulations on mercury emissions from power plants.

“There is no value to the citizens of Michigan in pursuing further legal action to challenge MATS,” she added.

As a result, the appeal filed late last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is brought in the name of “Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, on behalf of the people of Michigan,” not the “State of Michigan” (E&ENews PM, June 24).

The difference is not purely symbolic, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group that had asked Snyder in March to seek to end the state’s participation.

First, the change “sends a strong signal” to the court that the governor of the state that was the lead party in the litigation “is reassessing his position,” Learner said. In addition, it makes clear to state attorneys general “that there is a political cost to endless litigation” over pollution standards that the public supports, he said.

A Schuette spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment today.


Press Release: ELPC Commends Gov. Snyder for Withdrawing State of Michigan’s Challenges to Federal Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 27, 2016 Contact: Judith Nemes (312) 795-3706

Environmental Law & Policy Center Commends Gov. Snyder for Withdrawing State of Michigan’s Challenges to Federal Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards
Attorney General Schuette Continues His Litigation to Allow More Mercury in Air and Water

Lansing, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is filing more litigation to challenge the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which is designed to reduce contamination of the Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers, and protect children’s and maternal health. However, this time around, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has apparently withdrawn authorization for AG Schuette to file this lawsuit on behalf of the “State of Michigan.” So, AG Schuette late Friday filed litigation against the federal mercury pollution reduction standards on his own – or, as the caption on the lawsuit says: “Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on behalf of the People of Michigan.”

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to withdraw the State of Michigan from Michigan AG Bill Schuette’s continued litigation to delay sound mercury pollution reduction standards that will protect children’s health, clean air and safe water,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director.

“Mercury is a known neurotoxin that impairs children’s brain development and harms maternal health. It’s time for Michigan Attorney General Schuette to bring his litigation to an end and, instead, work hard to protect children’s health and safe drinking water supplies in Michigan. Consumers Energy and DTE have already installed pollution controls to comply with the mercury pollution reduction standards. The lessons learned from the Flint water contamination tragedy emphasize the importance of regulatory actions to reduce lead, mercury and other toxics in Michigan’s waters.”

“Attorney General Bill Schuette remains out of touch with the needs of Michiganders by submitting this new court filing once again,” said Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and an ELPC ally in the effort to move federal mercury standards forward. “We call on the Attorney General to remove the People of Michigan from this new lawsuit, as it’s clear that Schuette is not working in the best interest of Michiganders.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is now leading this new lawsuit without the State of Michigan in last Friday’s filing in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit is likely to be combined with two previously-filed petitions for review of EPA’s supplemental finding that the MATS rule is appropriate and necessary. The court consolidated Murray Energy and the Anthracite Region Independent Power Products Association’s separate petitions. The 60-day deadline for filing petitions for review of EPA’s supplemental finding was June 24.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected AG Schuette’s attempt to immediately stay the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. In Friday’s filing, AG Schuette is now asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s supplemental finding that the MATS rule is appropriate and necessary.



Crain’s Detroit Business: ELPC’s Learner Shares Letter to Mich. Gov. Snyder Urging AG Schuette to Withdraw from Federal Mercury Rules Lawsuit

Schuette presses on without Snyder support in opposition to EPA’s mercury rule


Despite apparently losing support from Gov. Rick Snyder some time ago, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is continuing his opposition to the mercury pollution rules set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.

On behalf of 15 other states, Schuette on Friday filed a petition for review of the EPA’s final mercury and air toxics standards rule with theU.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by Schuette to hear the case again. The EPA published final rules April 25 on mercury in the Federal Register.

Environmental groups, including Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, and an opposing group of states have asked that Schuette drop the case for public health reasons. They also believe the EPA is well within its statutory authority to enforce its rule under the Clean Air Act.

But for some reason Schuette believes the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit Court along with Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co. – utilities that have gone on record saying they are prepared to meet the EPA’s new rules – are wrong.In the case filing, Schuette named the petition, “Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, on behalf of the people of Michigan and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas … .” Notice the wo rding is on behalf of the “people of Michigan,” not on behalf of the state of Michigan, as is the usual phrasing.

Ari Adler, Snyder’s press secretary, said Snyder never has supported any of the appeals of the mercury rules.

“Gov. Snyder is not involved in the current appeal, just as he was not involved in the previous appeals. That is why the Attorney General’s appeals are on behalf of the people of the state of Michigan, not the State of Michigan. Attorney General Schuette continues to make these arguments based on his own decisions,” Adler said in a statement to Crain’s.

In March, Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, sent Snyder a letter to implore him to have Schuette stop his lawsuit. He also wrote to Schuette, never getting a reply, he said.

Learner pointed out that mercury is a known neurotoxin that impairs fetal brain development, reduces children’s IQ and their ability to learn. He said the effect is similar to lead, which is now affecting many children in Flint based on the disastrous decision by the city, with the support of the state, to change water supplies from Lake Huron to the Flint River and not add anti-corrosives.

“Your and (Schuette’s) withdrawal of the State of Michigan’s challenge to the mercury and air toxics standards would show the people of Michigan your understanding of the importance of taking actions now to better protect children’s health, clean air and safe water,” Learner wrote to Snyder.



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