Ohio

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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The Toledo Blade Op-Ed: ELPC’s Learner and Allies Call for Tougher Action to Rid Lake Erie of Toxic Algae Blooms

Closing Gap Between Talk, Action with Lake
By Howard Learner
Published on July 30, 2016

Tuesday marks two years since nearly 500,000 Toledo-area residents were cut off from safe drinking water because toxic algae contaminated the public water supply.

Predictions of a mild algae bloom this year because of light rainfall, along with Toledo’s water treatment plant upgrades, suggest that there will be no water shutoffs this year. But banking the future of the people around Lake Erie on the whims of the weather is a sucker’s bet.

Last week, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency placed parts of Lake Erie on its “impaired” list under the Clean Water Act, including where Toledo draws its drinking water, as well as miles of shoreline and areas around the lake islands. The point is to identify severely polluted spots that need special attention. All of western Lake Erie should be designated impaired given the entire basin’s chronic toxic algae problem.

Still, even naming parts of Lake Erie “impaired” acknowledges the blindingly obvious fact the lake’s ability to provide safe drinking water is under threat. The primary reason is also obvious: too much fertilizer and manure run off farm fields, with too few protections to keep water clean before it gets to Lake Erie.

According to a recent study conducted by leading Midwest academic institutions, including OSU, the Maumee River is the main contributor to western Lake Erie’s toxic algae problem, with 85 percent of the river’s pollution stemming from crop fields and livestock farms.

Manure and chemical fertilizer are swept into the Maumee River during storms and snow melts.

There are sensible actions and solutions that can prevent damaging runoffs. Specific farming practices like cover crops and perennials reduce the amount of pollution flowing into the lake and are highly effective when combined with actions like not over-applying manure and fertilizer. Experts in Ohio already work with farmers to encourage their voluntary adoption, as they have done for decades. And yet today, with all of those activities happening, we are still talking about algae bloom “season” as if it’s normal for toxic water to show up every summer.

The dry spring that is buying Lake Erie time this year is an outlier and will become more so as climate change continues to alter our Great Lakes. While Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario have taken positive steps to reduce phosphorus, current actions will not achieve the 40 percent phosphorus reduction by 2025 committed to by their leaders in June, 2015.

Ohio released a draft of its plan to meet this commitment earlier this year. Unfortunately, Ohio’s plan relies too much on voluntary approaches that have been shown to be insufficient across the country, and won’t successfully reduce phosphorus levels to meet the ambitious 2025 goal. A voluntary approach alone will not curb phosphorus pollution from the agricultural industry.

That is why we are glad the state of Ohio has designated at least parts of Lake Erie as impaired — an initial step toward real protections that put safe and clean water first.

We are also calling on state lawmakers and officials to establish new policies that ensure widespread adoption of practices that are verified proper applications of fertilizer and manure and will reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into nearby rivers and lakes. We also need proactive compliance to confirm that existing rules are being followed.

When our region loses clean, safe drinking water, we put everything at risk. Don’t bank on the weather. Bank on decisions that put clean, safe drinking water first.

Mr. Learner is the executive director at Environmental Law & Policy Center. Co-author Heather Taylor-Miesle is executive director at the Ohio Environmental Council. Co-author Joel Brammeier is president and CEO of Alliance for the Great Lakes.

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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.

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Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Today Dismisses Federal Mercury Standards Challenge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 13, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes (312) 795-3706 JNemes@elpc.org

U.S. Supreme Court Today Dismisses Federal Mercury Standards Challenge
Time for Michigan AG Bill Schuette, Others to Exit Lawsuit

Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari filed by a group of states led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to void implementation of the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), which will reduce mercury pollution and better protect children’s health and the Great Lakes.

The effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s order today is that implementation of the federal mercury standards go forward while Michigan’s and the other state’s challenges of other aspects of the regulation continues before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is pleased that the Supreme Court denied Michigan and some other states’ appeal, and that the mercury pollution reduction standards will finally go forward to protect children’s health 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 all coal plants to install widely-available modern pollution control technologies to reduce mercury emissions that contaminate our Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers. It’s time for Michigan Attorney General Schuette to bring his ideological litigation to an end and, instead, work hard to protect children’s health and safe drinking water supplies in Michigan. The lessons learned from the Flint water contamination highlight the importance of safe drinking water supplies in Michigan and the Midwest for all.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has led the national lawsuit opposing implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Last Thursday, more than 50 Michigan scientists signed a letter urging Michigan AG Schuette to drop his opposition to MATS.

The scientists worked with ELPC in calling attention to Michigan AG Schuette’s persistence in standing in the way of federal standards intended to make air and water cleaner and improve the safety of eating certain fish. This past weekend was a free fishing weekend in Michigan, where many more anglers throughout the state were expected to cast their fishing poles in a nearby waterway without a required license to fish and possibly bring some home for dinner. Michigan’s most dangerous fish to eat because of mercury bioaccumulation include bass, walleye and northern pike. That can and should change going forward.

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC to Focus on Issues Such as Mercury Pollution on ORSANCO Advisory Committee

Conservation and environmental groups will now have a formal seat at the table when regulators meet to review water quality issues and standards for the Ohio River – a status enjoyed by the power industry and other groups for years.

Last month the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) agreed to formation of the new Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee. The move was a response to a June 2015 petition from 17 groups.

Although the groups had been submitting comments and participating informally, formal status comes with a nonvoting seat at technical committee meetings, a closer opportunity to participate with various working committees, and an opportunity to report at ORSANCO’s board meetings.

“In the entire 68-year history of ORSANCO, there has never before been an official seat at the table for watershed and wildlife advocacy organizations,” noted Judy Petersen of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, who chairs the new committee.

“We’re pleased to have the Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee established to help us in our development of Ohio River studies and policy,” said ORSANCO’s executive director, Richard Harrison. “We’re looking forward to working with them collaboratively to improve Ohio River water and quality.”

Mercury issues continue

The power industry’s advisory committee hasn’t focused on any single issue, Harrison noted, but has rather been involved with the wide range of issues that affect the river and its tributaries.

Nonetheless, various issues are particularly relevant to the energy industry, said Madeline Fleisher of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Columbus, Ohio. That includes mercury pollution, which can originate from coal-burning power plants, as well as other sources.

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Press Release: Wisconsin Electric Co-Op Sets Standard for Rural Solar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak

Solar Shines for Rural Electric Co-Ops
Announcement Nearly Doubling Wisconsin Solar Sets Roadmap for Midwest Co-Ops

Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative and its member cooperatives announced a historic investment in solar energy on Wednesday unveiling plans to build more than 15 megawatts of new solar energy at 12 locations across Wisconsin.

The announced projects will nearly the double the amount of solar power installed in Wisconsin, which now has about 25 megawatts of installed solar. The projects will be built by solar developers SoCore Energy, based in Chicago and groSolar based in White River Junction, Vermont. Together the installations will create enough electricity for more than 2500 homes.

“Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are now national and state leaders for solar energy,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Madison. “Dairyland was clear that this effort grew out of support for solar from their members, commitment to diversifying their generation and stabilizing costs , which are goals of cooperatives across the region.”

Brad Klein, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Dairyland announcement sends a strong signal to rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest. “The enormous potential for solar energy in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois is just now beginning to be realized, and rural electric cooperatives, which have strong relationships with their members, have an opportunity to lead the way.”

To learn more about the Dairyland Power announcement visit:

http://www.dairynet.com/dcontent/article/SolarResourcesannouncementSoCoregroSolar.pdf

Press Release: ELPC Named to New Ohio River Advisory Committee of Watershed Non-Profits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                              

 ELPC Named to New Ohio River Advisory Committee of Watershed Non-Profits   

Committee gets seat at table with ORSANCO commissioners

 Columbus, Ohio – The Environmental Law & Policy Center and more than a dozen other environmentally-focused non-profit organizations within the Ohio River Basin were named to a newly-formed Advisory Committee to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), a multi-state group charged with setting pollution and abatement standards for the waterway.

The new Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee includes representatives from water-focused environmental non-profits throughout the Ohio River Basin that will be interact with other stakeholder advisory committees and ORSANCO members during scheduled meetings. ELPC already has been an active participant in ORSANCO deliberations over mercury “mixing zones” and other issues during public comment periods and in other ways. The new committee will enable ELPC and its partners to play a more participatory role early on in ORSANCO’s decision-making process.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our fellow advocacy organizations have been working hard over the past year to make sure that ORSANCO understands the environmental and public health ramifications of its decisions,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney at ELPC. “We look forward to participating on this committee as a new avenue to address the serious problems confronting the Ohio River, such as mercury contamination and toxic algae outbreaks.”

Judy Peterson, Executive Director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance, was voted chairman of the committee. “On behalf of the Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee members, I thank the Commissioners for their cordial welcome,” said Peterson. “In the entire 68-year history of ORSANCO, there has never before been an official seat at the table for watershed and wildlife advocacy organizations.”

ORSANCO Chairman Douglas Conroe added, “I am delighted to see the interest that the 17 watershed organizations have offered in helping ORSANCO in its development of Ohio River studies and policies and welcome working with them at the table.”

The new committee will serve its first ex officio role at ORSANCO’s Technical Committee meeting in June 2016.

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Porstmouth Daily Times: ELPC Named to ORSANCO Advisory Committee

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and more than a dozen other environmentally-focused non-profit organizations within the Ohio River Basin were named to a newly-formed Advisory Committee to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), a multi-state group charged with setting pollution and abatement standards for the waterway.

The new Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee includes representatives from water-focused environmental non-profits throughout the Ohio River Basin that will be interact with other stakeholder advisory committees and ORSANCO members during scheduled meetings. ELPC already has been an active participant in ORSANCO deliberations over mercury “mixing zones” and other issues during public comment periods and in other ways. The new committee will enable ELPC and its partners to play a more participatory role early on in ORSANCO’s decision-making process.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our fellow advocacy organizations have been working hard over the past year to make sure that ORSANCO understands the environmental and public health ramifications of its decisions,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney at ELPC. “We look forward to participating on this committee as a new avenue to address the serious problems confronting the Ohio River, such as mercury contamination and toxic algae outbreaks.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC Questions FirstEnergy’s Withholding of Documents, More Opposing Voices Join the Chorus

That proposal followed a commitment made two weeks ago by Chicago-based Exelon Corporation to provide the same amount of energy for $2 billion less with resources whose emissions would be 100 percent carbon-free.

“Dynegy agrees with Exelon that this process should be competitive,” Dynegy president and CEO Robert Flexon said in a prepared statement when his company’s plan was announced on Tuesday.

“We believe the counter-proposals are uniformly better for Ohio consumers and businesses than the AEP and FirstEnergy [plans], keeping and creating jobs in the state that stimulate economic growth and development rather than weakening Ohio’s competitive position,” Flexon added. “We ask for serious consideration from the PUCO and Ohio elected and state officials for our proposals.”

Meanwhile, additional information questioning the plan has been produced and filed by grid operator PJM Interconnection.

“The business case against the bailout has become particularly stronger” as a result, said Dick Munson of the Environmental Defense Fund, which also opposes FirstEnergy’s plan.

Limited information

FirstEnergy’s revised plan would have its regulated utilities buy all the output from the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the W.H. Sammis coal plant, and FirstEnergy’s share of power from two 1950’s era coal plants.

The utilities would resell the electricity in the competitive market, and distribution customers would pay any shortfall or get a credit for the difference between the resale price and the contract price. That price includes a guaranteed rate of return for FirstEnergy Solutions.

The proposed settlement that was filed last month would shorten the term to eight years instead of the original 15. Yet even the revised plan would boost a typical residential customer’s bill as much as $130 per year, according to the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel (OCC).

The settlement “taken as a whole, does not provide a net benefit to customers, is not in the public interest, and should be rejected by the PUCO,” said expert witness Matthew Kahal in supplemental testimony filed on December 30.

Under the settlement, FirstEnergy would also assume a small share of the potential downside to consumers, reinstate the energy efficiency programs it suspended after 2014, and make other changes.

Critics say some of those provisions could lead to additional changes that would increase consumers’ costs. One example is a section that would raise the fixed costshare of the bill for electricity distribution and could also discourage energy efficiency.

Similar concern focuses on provisions in the settlement for grid modernization.

Some programs that fall into that general category “may have benefits for customers,” said Rob Kelter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), which is among the parties who oppose the settlement. “But there’s also a lot of expense involved.”

Yet FirstEnergy has refused to produce documents about the details of the plans for grid modernization. The company claims no final versions exist and says any drafts are protected as attorney work product. It has also refused to provide supporting materials sought in follow-up requests, saying those were too broad or came later.

“Their plan may not be final yet, but we want documents that indicate what they intend to do. And that’s what discovery is all about,” Kelter said. “You don’t get to pick and choose what you want to give up to the other side.”

The big concern is that approval of the settlement might later be interpreted as “some type of preliminary permission” for whatever FirstEnergy might later submit—without the benefit of a full review beforehand, Kelter explained.

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