Minnesota

Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

ThinkProgress
Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Will Help Transition to Cleaner Transportation, Reduce Impact of Climate Change

Advocates Hoped for More Volkswagen Funds for EVs to be Directed to Midwest

By
Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

‘More than just Chicago’

The Ecology Center and other nonprofits recently formed Charge Up Midwest to promote and seek funding for EV adoption in the region. One of Charge Up Midwest’s first projects was obtaining funding from the Volkswagen settlement.

“We would have liked to see more than just Chicago selected as one of the communities,” Griffith said.

Other critics have said the settlement agreement gives Volkswagen a leg-up in the electric vehicle market and that the company will be able to control where infrastructure is located to improve its bottom line.

The other cities selected in this first cycle — New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Miami and Raleigh, North Carolina — were chosen largely based on anticipated EV demand.

Michigan and the Detroit region in particular seemed like a good candidate based on the number of EV registrations there and of major U.S. automakers’ interest in breaking into the sector, Griffith said. The state of Michigan also made a separate pitch to Volkswagen for EV funding.

Also, Columbus — which was selected last year for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — has been making strides in the clean transportation sector, he said.

“There’s no explanation (in the announcement) about why that wasn’t convincing enough,” Griffith said of the two cities.

According to the plan, Chicago was chosen because of its existing leadership on EVs, including a $14 million city EV program and the electrification of city buses, and because of its relatively dense population, commuting patterns and consumer interest in EVs. The city was chosen despite past troubles with its EV program, including the indictment for fraud of the owners of the provider the city hired, 350green.

“Electrify America notes that it was not able to select every metropolitan area that submitted a strong proposal, but it intends to expand its Community Charging investments into metro areas with supportive government policies and strong utility integration in future investment cycles,” the announcement says.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Contact:

Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

Rolling back common sense fuel efficiency standards will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to President Trump’s announcement that his administration will reverse the schedule in place for U.S. automakers to adopt improved fuel economy and pollution reduction standards by 2025:

“The misguided rollback of the CAFE fuel economy standards moves America in the wrong direction. The Trump rollback will force consumers to pump gas more often, result in more pollution that harms public health, and weaken American technological innovation leadership and competitiveness. The U.S. will import more foreign oil, which weakens our national security.”

“The Phase 2 CAFE fuel efficiency standards drive automakers to accelerate technological innovation and supports American manufacturing jobs. This is smart, common sense policy that has been adopted after many technical studies and input from a wide range of stakeholders. The United States should not voluntarily cede our technology innovation leadership to Asian and European automakers.”

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ELPC Statement on Proposed U.S. EPA Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     

February 28, 2017

Contact: Judith Nemes 

Trump’s Proposed U.S. EPA Drastic Budget Cuts Put Great Lakes, Safe Drinking Water, Public Health At Risk

Reckless Funding Cuts for Protecting Clean Water and Clean Air Will Hurt Midwest Communities

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the White House’s proposal to slash U.S. EPA funding for vital clean water and clean air programs:

“The Trump Administration’s drastic cuts to the U.S. EPA’s budget would weaken vital protections for healthy clean air and safe drinking water that all Americans care about.  Americans rely on the U.S. EPA to help protect them from dangerous air pollution and unsafe drinking water, but President Trump’s drastic budget cuts impede necessary protections for core environmental and health values and responsibilities.”

“EPA’s clean water grants to state and local agencies help prevent water pollution problems and protect clean, safe drinking water for all.  EPA’s work to protect healthy clean air is vital to reducing asthma and respiratory problems that harm both at-risk elderly and young people.  EPA’s work to reduce mercury pollution is vital to protect children’s health and make it safe to eat the fish we catch in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and rivers.”

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Energy Supply Report Links Job Growth in Minnesota to Solar Program

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoReport Cites Clean Energy Growth as Minnesota Legislators Push to Eliminate Solar Program
February 2, 2017
By Frank Jossi

A new report aims to persuade Minnesota legislators that clean energy is a strong part of Minnesota’s economy.

Minnesota has 131 companies in the supply chains of the wind and solar industries, according to the report, “Minnesota Wind Power & Solar Energy Supply Chain Businesses: Good for Manufacturing Jobs, Good for Economic Growth and Good for Our Environment,” released today by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The report shows “a lot of Minnesota companies are growing and expanding because of our renewable energy policies and there are companies coming to Minnesota because of them,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, who is the Democratic House Minority Leader.

The report does not directly connect to bills under consideration but instead offers statistics and a narrative describing how the state has become a national leader in clean energy.

Several Republican bills under review in the legislature could potentially slow the spread of clean energy, according to renewable advocates.

Among them is an effort to end the state’s Made in Minnesota solar photovoltaic panel production incentive program. Another bill would remove state regulatory oversight of fixed fees in areas served by cooperatives and municipally owned utilities.

The document includes supply chain maps of solar and wind companies that reveal they operate in each of the state’s congressional districts, including those currently represented by Republicans locally and nationally, he said. The majority are in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

The ELPC had been working on the report for months to showcase that the growth of solar and wind industries in the state has been “good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment in Minnesota, and we have the data to prove that,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the ELPC.

The dispersion of jobs throughout the state reveals that “renewable energy development offers job creation and economic development everywhere and is a non-partisan issue,” he said. “You see that development in every congressional district in Minnesota.”

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Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota Has 100-Plus Renewable Energy Businesses

Duluth News Tribune

Feb 2, 2017

Minnesota has 100-plus renewable energy businesses
By John Myers 

While efforts are underway in Washington and St. Paul to roll-back solar and wind energy efforts and return to a coal-and-oil future for domestic energy, a Minnesota group says renewable energy is creating thousands of jobs in the state.

Minnesota now has more than 100 companies serving wind power and solar energy markets in manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering, installing and maintaining renewable energy projects, according to a study released Thursday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The report identified 82 companies involved in the solar power supply chain and 49 companies involved in the wind energy supply chain.

That includes wind-involved companies like Minnesota Power/Allete and Ventura Wind in Duluth as well as solar-involved companies like Energy Conservation Services in Carlton, Silicon Energy in Mountain Iron, Harvest Energy Solutions in Duluth and Conservation Technologies in Hermantown.

“When a new solar installation or wind farm is built in Minnesota, the economic impact of that project goes well beyond the community that will be delivered the construction jobs and new tax revenue from the project, there can be a web of economic activity that extends across the state,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “Wind power and solar energy development drives economic and job growth. Every renewable energy project requires engineering, financial, manufacturing and construction businesses and workers.”

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NEW REPORT: Minnesota Home to Well-Over 100 Wind, Solar Supply Chain Companies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 2, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

MinnDakota_blue_with_moon

Minnesota Renewable Energy Sector Holds 100+ Businesses
Renewable Energy Investments Bring Business Growth Throughout the State

ST. PAUL, MN – More than 100 Minnesota companies serve wind power and solar energy markets, providing jobs to people across the state who are manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering, installing and maintaining renewable energy projects here and across the region, a study released today by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found.

“When a new solar installation or wind farm is built in Minnesota, the economic impact of that project goes well beyond the community that will be delivered the construction jobs and new tax revenue from the project, there can be a web of economic activity that extends across the state,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Wind power and solar energy development drives economic and job growth. Every renewable energy project requires engineering, financial, manufacturing and construction businesses and workers.”

The report identified 82 companies involved in the solar power supply chain and 49 companies involved in the wind energy supply chain. The report identified companies through an analysis of industry group lists that included confirmation of each company’s supply chain role.

Minnesota Minority Leader Rep. Melissa Hortman lauded the robust growth of the state’s renewable energy sector. “Across Minnesota, the benefits of building renewable energy projects are clear. Companies have brought job opportunities and made investments in local communities where they are constructing renewable energy projects,” said Rep. Hortman. “Minnesota’s economy has benefited because our state is the Midwest’s pre-eminent leader in renewable energy policy. We should not take steps that threaten to roll back our progress or reduce jobs and economic growth in our renewable energy sector.”

For businesses involved in the installation and construction of wind and solar projects, increased renewable energy development results in increased economic activity in the communities where they operate.

“When most people think about renewable energy jobs they only think about construction,” said John Brand, Chief Financial Officer with Juhl Energy, which is based in Chanhassen. “But when you are developing a large project, like our MidGrid Solar/Wind Hybrid Project in Red Lake Falls, it all starts with landowners, legal and engineering professionals, and local consultants. Then there are the local partners, in Red Lake Falls where we’re working with the local economic development office.”

Scott Strand, senior attorney with ELPC in Minnesota, noted that current efforts in the state legislature could create new hurdles for renewable energy development in the state. “As they consider moving forward with efforts to slow rural solar and prioritize a new fossil fuel plant, legislators should know those actions may impact businesses in their home districts.”

“Minnesota’s solar energy policy leadership is helping grow more supply chain businesses throughout the state,” added Learner.

Download the report at: www.elpc.org/MinnesotaSupplyChain

The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

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EnergyWire: ELPC’s Learner Expresses Commitment to Advance Clean Energy Standards

EnergyWireIn Midwest, a Vow to Continue Clean Energy Push Under Trump
January 23, 2017
By Jeffrey Tomich

Across the Midwest, clean energy advocates will go to work today like they would on any other Monday.

They’ll engage with legislators, regulators and utilities on policies to advance wind, solar and energy efficiency and curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that affect the environment and public health.

Moving forward, of course, there is one obvious change. While green groups generally had backing from the White House over the last eight years, they now face a brisk headwind with Friday’s inauguration of President Trump.

Within minutes of taking the oath of office, the incoming administration scrubbed references to climate change from the White House web site and posted an energy policy summary that outlined plans to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

Clean energy advocates across the Midwest said the reversal in policy at the executive branch cannot overcome trends that are increasingly steering utilities away from coal and to cleaner sources of energy.

Solar panels are a fraction of their cost only a few years ago. Utilities and corporations are continuing to add thousands of megawatts of new wind generation across the Midwest. Energy demand is declining, or at least flat-lining even as local economies grow. And emissions are falling and aging coal plants are retiring.

“There’s a market transformation that’s going on that’s being driven by smart policies combined with technological improvements,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest environmental advocacy group.

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WGN Radio: Learner Talks Environmental Policy Under Trump Administration

wgnradiowlogo-wideWhat Can We Expect from President Donald Trump’s Environmental Policy?
January 19, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center joins Justin to talk about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy and what we can expect from President Trump’s environmental policy moving forward.

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