North Dakota

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.


ELPC’s Schmitz Represents NDARE at Briefing with Secretary of Energy

ELPC’s North Dakota-based Government Relations Specialist Mindi Schmitz, who also chairs the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy (NDARE), participated in a clean energy business briefing with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on April 26th in Washington, D.C. Schmitz attended the event at the invitation of the Pew Clean Energy Initiative.

Schmitz was one of nearly 40 business and clean energy leaders from 17 states in attendance at the briefing. In addition to the briefing, Schmitz met with staff from the North Dakota congressional delegation to reinforce the importance of renewable energy development in North Dakota and to discuss federal support for clean energy innovation.

Learner Op-Ed in Duluth News Tribune on Falling Oil Prices and Controversial Pipelines

Regional View: Falling Oil Prices A Game Changer for Midwestern Pipelines

By Howard A. Learner

February 29, 2016

Bakken shale oil and Canadian oil sands market prices are low, and oil production is falling. Enbridge Energy Partners just announced it is further delaying construction of both the controversial proposed new Sandpiper oil pipeline and the Line 3 replacement oil pipeline for two more years until 2019. Enbridge blamed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision requiring an Environmental Impact Statement process be completed.

However, that’s likely only part of the story.

Pipeline companies are biting the bullet and deferring new projects because of oil price and production uncertainties. Before Enbridge Energy and its partners spend $2.6 billion to $3 billion on each of the Sandpiper and Line 3 replacement oil pipelines through northern Minnesota, they might pause and see whether oil prices stay low and production declines. Markets matter.

The market price for benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil is low at around $33 per barrel, having fallen from the $100 per barrel range in 2011 through mid-2014. JP Morgan forecasts West Texas Intermediate crude oil to average $31.50 per barrel in 2016, and Goldman Sachs pro-jects $40 per barrel. Analyst projections for 2017 through 2018 vary considerably. Low oil prices mean fewer rigs, less oil production, and less need for new pipelines.

Bakken shale oil’s break-even prices are around $40 to $45 per barrel, well above the current market price. Production costs vary depending on how rich the particular oil well is, the efficiency of the company’s operations, financing costs, and how close the rig is to infrastructure. Bakken shale oil must be transported by pipeline or rail to distant Midwestern or Texas refineries.

The number of active drilling rigs in North Dakota is the lowest since July 2009. There are now only 38 active rigs in the Bakken area, down from 204 rigs in February 2012.

According to North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, Bakken output fell to 1.15 million barrels a day in December 2015, down 6 percent below the all-time high in December 2014. Helms stated that oil production could fall to 1 million barrels per day by late 2016. Oil production and service companies are planning more layoffs, and there could be additional bankruptcies in June 2016 when banks often recalculate their debt limits for oil companies.

Unless and until West Texas Intermediate oil prices reach around $45 per barrel, the rig count and oil production will continue to decline in the Bakken shale oil region, meaning less demand for oil pipelines such as Sandpiper and crude shipping by rail. For example, Whiting Petroleum just announced that it will suspend its Bakken shale oil drilling projects due to low oil prices.

Canadian oil sands’ break-even prices for new production are around $80 per barrel for the “best of the best,” $90 to $100 per barrel for the “rest of the best,” and $100-plus per barrel for the “rest of the rest.” Canadian oil production likely will stagnate until global oil prices reach at least $80 per barrel. Some existing oil sands production operations have enormous sunk costs and might continue to operate as a long-term play as producers wait and hope for higher oil prices.  However, expect production to decline and no new oil sands production to start.

Less oil production means less need for new pipelines. Financing for new North American oil pipelines is drying up until bankers and other investors see oil prices rise, leading to more production. That’s the market situation facing Enbridge for its costly new Sandpiper and Line 3 replacement oil pipelines.

Oil prices have dropped dramatically over the past 15 months. That changed reality has unavoidable market consequences for both oil production and the controversial pipelines.

Howard A. Learner of Chicago is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an advocacy organization for environmental and economic development with offices in Chicago, Duluth and other Midwestern cities.

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Press Release: New York Times Names Theodore Roosevelt National Park a 2016 Top Travel Destination


New York Times Names Theodore Roosevelt National Park a 2016 Top Travel Destination

ELPC Asserts Conservation Must be Priority for Park and Elkhorn Ranch Within

Jamestown, N.D. – The New York Times’ travel editors listed Theodore Roosevelt National Park near the top of its coveted annual list of the best places to visit on the planet in 2016. The park includes Elkhorn Ranch, which President Theodore Roosevelt built in the 1880s and is known as the “cradle of conservation” where he was inspired to establish many national parks, forests and monuments that became the foundation for the National Park Service.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is working to protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s scenic view and the historic Elkhorn Ranch from new gravel mines and oil well flaring that harms the natural landscape,” says Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based non-profit. “The New York Times put Theodore Roosevelt National Park around the top of its must-visit travel list because it’s a special place that should be preserved for the 600,000 annual visitors to experience the beauty and quiet of this iconic American landscape.”

ELPC sued the U.S. Forest Service last fall in federal court on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association for violating the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved a gravel mine within view of Elkhorn Ranch. The gravel pit owner has already begun digging at the site, creating noise and dust, even though the lawsuit is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the development of the Bakken oil fields near the park has led to the wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas in the area. While many have noted the lightening of the park’s night sky due to flaring, the proximity of the pollution coming from the flares also poses threats to the park’s signature plants and animals.

“The flaring and venting of natural gas resources takes needed tax revenue away from North Dakota’s coffers,” said Mindi Schmitz, government relation specialist with ELPC’s North Dakota office. “But flaring and venting in the backyard of Teddy Roosevelt National Park does even more damage — it threatens the experiences highlighted by the New York Times in naming the park one of the world’s must-see destinations.”

Soon the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to release standards for the venting and flaring of natural gas on public lands. Strong standards could help boost North Dakota’s natural resource revenues while also offering additional protection for the park.

The National Park Service turns 100 this year.  In recent years, Elkhorn Ranch was named one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.




ELPC’s Efforts to Stop Mining at Teddy Roosevelt’s Historic Ranch Featured in the Daily Mail

Environmentalists are on a mission to stop a gravel mining project adjacent to Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Elkhorn Ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota from advancing any further.

Roger Lothspeich, of Miles City, Montana, and his fiancee, Peggy Braunberger, have spent more than six years proving they own the right to remove gravel and other surface minerals at the 5,200-acre ranch and the businessman began mining last month.

The National Parks Conservation Association took its case to federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday seeking a motion to stop the U.S. Forest Service from allowing the mining project to continue.

Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. He spent more than three years in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s.

The Forest Service purchased the ranch next to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site in 2007 from the Eberts family. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups.

The Eberts family had bought the ranch where Roosevelt ran his cattle and half the mineral rights from the Connell family in 1993 for $800,000.

Lothspeich, who grew up near the ranch, bought the other half of the mineral rights from the Connells at an undisclosed price, knowing the government had not obtained them in the Eberts deal.

Lothspeich signed an agreement with the Forest Service more than two years ago to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location.

But he said the government was too slow in responding, and he decided to mine gravel at the site instead to take advantage of the growing need for roads and other projects in North Dakota’s booming oil patch.

‘There is a big demand for gravel, no question,’ he said.

Lothspeich said he plans to start gravel operations in the spring with about a dozen workers.

The Forest Service last January said it found no significant impact with the project, and last month it gave final approval for the plan and a 4-mile road to the mine. Lothspeich had crews digging at the site a day later.

‘He’s got a valid set of permits, and he went through all the steps,’ said Shannon Boehm, a Forest Service district ranger in nearby Dickinson said last month.

‘We’re holding him to the tenets of the approved operating plan.’

Conversationalists are arguing that the Forest Service violated the National Policy Act in approving the environmental assessment, according to Fox News.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center first filed the lawsuit in September. They want a more thorough environmental analysis of how the gravel pit affects the historic ranch.

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ELPC’s Work to Stop Mining at Elkhorn Ranch Highlighted in Fox News

In the Badlands of North Dakota, on the banks of the bubbling Little Missouri River, the fabled former ranch of Teddy Roosevelt has become a battlefield in the fight between industry and the conservationists who view the 26th president as their patron saint.

Hunters and environmentalists fear the 218-acre Elkhorn Ranch, which once belonged to the man whose passion for conservation changed the nation and helped land his face on nearby Mount Rushmore, could be forever marred by a mining project now under way on adjacent land. The opponents appear to be out of options, but still hope the rugged land that helped shape TR’s wilderness affection can be spared.

“He spent considerable time among the cowboys and ranchers and others in the West, and that gave him an entirely different perspective on what America is all about,” Roosevelt’s great-grandson Tweed Roosevelt told “It knocked out of him the East Coast snobbery and elitism approach that he had as a young man and turned him into a much more human person.”

The controversial gravel mining project could eventually span hundreds, if not thousands of acres, bordering the ranch, which became a western refuge for the bespectacled man who grew from sickly child to Harvard-educated war hero and symbol for American machismo.

The U.S. Forest Service purchased 4,400 acres, including the ranch, in 2007 as part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The $5 million acquisition was aided by the Boone and Crockett Club, the venerable conservation organization founded by Roosevelt in 1887.

However, the government did not secure the mineral rights for the property, the majority of which were subsequently acquired by the Montana-based Elkhorn Minerals.

While the site where Roosevelt’s riverbank log cabin once stood lies within Theodore Roosevelt National Park and can’t be developed, the surrounding lands, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, are not similarly protected.

Roger Lothspeich, owner of Elkhorn Minerals, told that despite opposition, he has no plans to stop the mining project, which began last month.

“There is a lot of gravel to mine,” he said. “I will keep on mining year after year, for years to come, and will not stop until I get all the gravel. That’s the type of individual I am. I just don’t give up.”

Lothspeich said he was willing to exchange land with the Forest
Service if there was a comparable place to mine nearby, but Forest Service officials said in a statement “a reasonable option could not be found.”

Environmentalists and historians still hold out hope the project can be halted by the courts. The National Parks Conservation Association, represented by the Chicago-based public interest law firm, Environmental Law and Policy Center, took its case to federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday seeking a preliminary injunction stopping the U.S. Forest Service from allowing the mining project to go forward.

The Center argued that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act in its approval of the environmental assessment. The judge’s ruling is pending.

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Star Tribune: Gravel Mining Begins Near Elkhorn Ranch as ELPC Works to Put on the Brakes

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Montana businessman began mining gravel Tuesday near President Theodore Roosevelt’s historic western North Dakota ranch, after an eight-year battle with U.S. regulators and amid an ongoing legal dispute with environmentalists.

“We’re finally good to go,” Roger Lothspeich told The Associated Press. “I am very happy and very, very pleased.”

The 25-acre mine site is about a mile from Roosevelt’s historic ranch cabin, which environmentalists have called “the cradle of conservation.”

The mine is being dug in a 5,201-acre ranch owned by the U.S. Forest Service that is next to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site. Although the Forest Service owns the land, Lothspeich of Miles City, Montana, owns the mineral rights.

Lothspeich had been in a dispute with the Forest Service since shortly after Congress approved the government’s purchase in 2007 of the ranch in a deal worth about $5.3 million. More than 50 wildlife and conservation groups, including the Boone and Crockett Club started by Roosevelt himself, pressed Congress to approve the purchase.

Lothspeich spent years proving he owned the mineral rights and offered to sell them back to the government or to environmental groups that opposed his project. Lothspeich signed an agreement with the Forest Service three years ago to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location. But he said the government was too slow in responding, and he decided to mine gravel at the site instead to take advantage of a growing need for roads and other projects in North Dakota’s oil patch.

The Forest Service in January said it found no significant impact with the project, and on Monday it gave final approval for the plan and a 4-mile road to the mine. Lothspeich had crews digging at the site a day later.

“He’s got a valid set of permits, and he went through all the steps,” said Shannon Boehm, a Forest Service district ranger in nearby Dickinson. “We’re holding him to the tenets of the approved operating plan.”

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center in September filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association challenging the Forest Service’s decision to approve the project, and wants a more thorough environmental analysis of how the gravel pit affects the historic ranch. The lawsuit is pending in federal court.

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Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

The Dickinson Press: Letter: Forest Service should take another look at gravel pit

As the president of the board of directors of Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a frequent visitor to the park, I am pleased that there are organizations willing to stand up for our national treasure. A recent article in The Dickinson Press stated that the National Parks Conservation Association, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center as attorneys, is suing the U.S. Forest Service over a permit to mine gravel on the Eberts Ranch.

The development of a large gravel pit adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch, which is part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, will no doubt create more noise, more roads and more disruption in the area. Those activities will surely destroy the beauty and solitude that North Dakotans and visitors from all over the country have a right to enjoy for decades to come.

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