South Dakota

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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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Howard Learner Remains Positive Despite Forthcoming Trump Administration

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoQ&A: Advocate Upbeat about Midwest as Trump Administration Looms
January 19, 2017
By Kari Lydersen

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center based in Chicago, spent the early 1980s fighting for fair housing laws and civil rights protections during the Reagan administration.

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Learner lamented how he feels like the clock has turned back three decades, and he’s again in the position of fighting for basic protections and rights that many Americans have long embraced.

But Learner said he is up for the battle, and confident that public opinion, state and local politics and economics are on his side. 

Midwest Energy News talked with Learner about the impending Trump administration and the ELPC’s plans for the next four years. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This transcript has been updated for clarity)

Midwest Energy News: So how do you feel about the next four years?  

Learner: We have a plan, we’re geared up to fight back. The best defense is a good offense – we’re fired up and ready. At ELPC we need to step up and be prepared to act in the changing political landscape, we need to find ways to play to win both in terms of defense in Washington D.C. and the place we can play offense to achieve important progress in the states and the cities. The Midwest is a pretty good place for us to get things done.

What role does the Midwest play exactly in the struggle to protect the environment and clean energy during the Trump administration?

The American public and pragmatic Midwesterners strongly support core environmental values like clean air, safer drinking water and people being able to live in communities without toxic threats. And there’s strong bipartisan consensus in favor of clean energy development that’s good for jobs, economic growth, the environment.

There have been good examples in the Midwest that illustrate both points. The tragedy of contaminated water in Flint has made it clear to Democratic and Republican policymakers around the Midwest that the public won’t accept unsafe drinking water. It’s a bipartisan issue, it’s a nonpartisan issue.

Recently [Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner signed into law legislation to reduce the lead risk in the drinking water supply for children in public schools and day care centers…When it comes to clean safe drinking water and healthier clean air, there is strong mainstream public support for better protection by both the U.S. EPA and the state EPAs. They believe there are common sense solutions that we can carry forth, that transcend partisan urban-rural and other divides.

Are you saying that it will be up to governors and state legislatures to pass stronger laws in case the Trump administration weakens or does not enforce federal protections?

On the clean water, clean air and clean energy fronts, it’s clear we’re going to need to play defense in Washington D.C. Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be U.S. EPA Administrator.  Mr. Pruitt has spent his career as an Attorney General persistently suing the EPA to stop or stall standards to protect clean air and safe drinking water. It is the fox guarding the chicken coop. As the old saying goes, you hope for the best but you plan for the worst.

Unfortunately I expect that ELPC and our colleagues will have to file lawsuits to require the EPA to do its job and fulfill its responsibility, to protect healthy air and clean drinking water for people around our region.

The Trump transition team has indicated that they plan to greatly cut back EPA’s environmental enforcement. If EPA does step back on its environmental enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will help stand up to fill the gap. We’re hiring some additional public interest litigation attorneys. This is one of ELPC’s core strengths, and we are building upon it. This is a time in which public interest environmental litigation is needed both to defend the core environmental laws and to file citizen suits for environmental enforcement.

We have 20 environmental attorneys, and we are stepping up and hiring additional litigants. Secondly, we have created the expanded HELP program – the High-impact Environmental Litigation Program. After the election we got calls from a number of attorneys saying, “I want to help — give me a pro bono case I can do.” We are building upon and expanding on ELPC’s top-rated environmental litigation team and at the same time we are tapping a number of experienced litigators who want to take on pro bono cases to help protect clean air and clean water.

Since many environmental laws are self-implementing, depending largely on citizen suits for enforcement, is it really that different from what you’ve had to do during previous administrations?

We’ve certainly brought citizen suits in the past, we have a citizen suit pending in federal court in central Illinois to enforce clean air violations by Dynegy at its [E.D. Edwards] coal plant. But this is different. When an administration cares about environmental regulations in a positive way, the Attorney General tends to bring the enforcement actions, and we fill some gaps. If we see President Trump’s administration retreating on its enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will step up and have a much more vibrant enforcement strategy. We’re preparing to do that by increasing our in-house litigation team.

That all takes resources and funding. Some media outlets and non-profit organizations have actually seen a boom in support because of Trump. Has that happened for environmental organizations, or do you expect it to happen?

We’ll see. There are some groups out there these days that seem to be asking for money twice a day, it’s a disaster and then it’s another disaster. I hope we’re at a time when environmental philanthropy will be stepped up in response to the needs of the times. These are extraordinary times. And it doesn’t hurt that the stock market is at a relatively high point.

Certainly people in the Midwest and around the country who care about the environment understand that it’s likely to be under siege if someone like Scott Pruitt does become the next EPA Administrator. I think when times are tough, people are willing to dip into their pocketbooks more and step up. But we aren’t taking out loans based on hoped-for increased fundraising, and you’re not going to see the fundraising emails from ELPC. This isn’t about money.

So a Trump administration especially with Pruitt as EPA Administrator would likely roll back enforcement of environmental regulations. On the clean energy development front, will the Trump administration halt progress?

We hope and believe that Congress will not allow the Trump administration to roll back the Production Tax Credit for wind power or the Investment Tax Credit for solar power. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said [a PTC repeal] would happen “over my dead body.” This is pretty bipartisan.

Solar and wind power have strong bipartisan support. Look what has happened in about the past three months. Illinois passed a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard [fix] supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Iowa Gov. [Terry] Branstad has always taken pride in the state’s wind power leadership, and Iowa is starting to step up on solar development. Wind power development in Iowa is good for jobs, economic growth and the environment, and it’s supported by the entire Republican leadership as well as the Democrats.

Michigan just passed legislation that improves and steps up the RPS. Governor John Kasich in Ohio just vetoed the attempt by the legislature to freeze energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In just the last few months, we’ve seen progress in four Midwestern states in significant ways.

And Minnesota has always been a leader, in Indiana we have a little work to do, in Wisconsin we have Gov. Scott Walker. But there are two new wind farms in Wisconsin now. For a long time wind power was stalled in Wisconsin, now there are large new wind farms going up in Wisconsin and Dairyland Power [Cooperative] is doing another 15 MW of solar. We’re seeing smart policy plus technological innovation driving clean energy development in the Midwest.

We’re going to have to play some defense in Washington D.C., but we’re looking at these four Midwest states if not five that have stepped up in the last few months. What it shows is first of all that clean energy development has strong mainstream public support. Secondly, it makes sense as a matter of economics. And policymakers understand where the economics are and they are supporting smart policies.

Trump claims he is such a great businessman, so if this is all true why would he undermine clean energy development? 

I will not try to interpret what’s going on in President-elect Trump’s mind. The ITC and PTC have created thousands of new jobs and accelerated cleaner energy in the power markets, protecting public health and the environment, which is what the public wants. This is good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Trump has said he wants to create jobs. If President-elect Trump were to support repealing these important public incentives, that would be a triumph of misplaced ideology over common sense.

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GreenBiz: ELPC’s KIein Says Water Quality Trading One Option to Reduce Water Pollution

GreenBizQuantifying Water as a Liquid Asset
January 7, 2017
By Kelli Barrett

The World Economic Forum ranked the water crisis as one of the top threats facing society after listing it as the No. 1 threat in 2015. Water was also central to the Paris climate talks, while the United Nations dedicated Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 to water and sanitation and the Sioux people of North America put the previously unknown town of Standing Rock on the global map by standing up to protect their water rights.

Fortunately, scores of efforts are underway to meet the challenge and the Electric Power Research Institute started off the year with a review of its Water Prize-winning Ohio River Basin Trading project. A January webinar outlined a multi-pronged strategy that includes promotional videos and impact investors rather than donor-based finance.

Using the project’s funding, Midwest farmers such as Ken Merrick have been able to implement conservation activities to reduce fertilizer and animal waste from running into nearby waterways that flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Merrick, who operates Conser Run farm in Ohio, added a storage area for manure and a buffer strip where his cows only occasionally are allowed to graze.

He also lets trees and grasses grow along the creek running through his farm, which mops up excess pollution before it reaches the water.

The program is still in a pilot phase but, if it evolves as planned, Ohio River farmers can quantify their pollution reductions and generate stewardship credits using a market-based approach called water quality trading. They then can sell these credits to power plants and wastewater treatment facilities interested in meeting sustainability goals or to comply with regulatory requirements.

The Trading Debate

Water quality trading made headlines in 2016 after an organization called Food and Water Watch penned a paper in late 2015 condemning the entire practice and re-labeling it “pollution trading.” The group charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts U.S. waterways at great risk. Advocates of the practice dismissed the paper in August, arguing trading is one of several tools states and utilities can use to improve water quality.

“Trading isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not a panacea,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “But we need to get on top of this issue of water pollution, and water quality trading may be another arrow in the quiver.”

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EnergyWire: ELPC, Allies Seek Information on Plant Closures

MISO Urged To Disclose Power Plant Shutdown Notices
Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter

No matter how the Donald Trump presidency plays out, or whether the Clean Power Plan survives, the Midwest power grid will see dozens of older coal-fired power plants shut down in the next few years.

The region’s grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), can keep plants running if they are necessary to keep the lights on. But when it comes to knowing which ones will close, and when, will the public be left in the dark?

Under MISO’s tariff approved by federal regulators in 2012, notices of looming power plant closures and suspensions filed by the plants’ owners remain a secret until the plant stops running. There are exceptions if the plant is needed for reliability or if the owner announces the closure.

Now, MISO is considering changing the rules at the urging of parties who say market conditions have changed in recent years and utilities, regulators and customers would benefit from greater transparency.

“Allowing all stakeholders to have more granular information on what is happening with the system would be a significant improvement to the planning process,” a group of environmental and clean energy advocacy groups from throughout the Midwest said in comments to MISO.

The groups, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Great Plains Institute, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, said making notices public sooner would yield benefits. Those benefits include helping parties understand changes in the region’s generation mix, assist with siting of new projects and inform discussions of new transmission projects.

Read the whole story at: http://www.eenews.net/energywire/2016/12/19/full

 

 

Public News Service: ELPC’s Klein Praises Advancements For Solar In Illinois Legislation

Public News ServiceIllinois Called Leader in Move to Renewable Energy
December 15, 2016
By Veronica Carter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Strides are being made in the Midwest when it comes to renewable energy, but there’s still lots of room for improvement.

Illinois is being praised for last month’s passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill, with some calling it the most important climate bill in state history.

Attorney Brad Klein with the Environmental Law and Policy Center hopes other Midwestern states will follow the lead.

He says the legislation will lead to huge growth in solar and wind technology, combat climate change, create jobs and lower utility bills.

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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.

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Argus Leader: ELPC’s McLarty Calls Vetoed Bill in S.D. Loss for Impaired Big Sioux River

By John Hult, Argus Leader

The House of Representatives came up 10 votes short Tuesday in an attempt to override Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s veto of a voluntary conservation measure.

The 37-28 vote on the House floor sustained Daugaard’s veto of Senate Bill 136, which would have offered tax incentives to farmers who plant grassy buffer strips between their crops and bodies of water.

The bill passed the House 58-9 three weeks ago, but the support withered in the face of Daugaard’s veto letter last week.

Had the measure passed with a two-thirds majority in both houses, farmers would be able to ask that 50-foot buffer strips planted with perennials be taxed at a lower rate than the ag land surrounding it.

Backers of buffer strips say the practice of placing absorbent foliage between the fertilizer, manure and dirt that runs off during heavy rains is a simple and natural way to protect the state’s waters for human and animal use.

The Senate pushed the measure to the House with a 32-1 vote earlier in the day, but the representatives couldn’t muster the support to overcome concerns about the measure’s constitutionality and impact on the property tax base, Opponents, repeating some of Daugaard’s points from his veto letter, called the proposal half-baked.

Several representatives argued that the proposal needs the attention of the Ag Land Task Force, which could define which bodies of water would be eligible for the tax breaks.

“I am very concerned with having Department of Revenue set up the rules for what streams and creeks there would be,” said Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte.

Rep. Tim Johns, R-Lead, spoke twice against the measure, saying the constitutional questions raised by Daugaard had validity. Normally, land is taxed for its “highest and best use,” which would be as crop land.

“It is of questionable constitutionality,” Johns said.

Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg, painted the measure as a backdoor acceptance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule, challenged in court as overreaching by several states, including South Dakota.

Cronin said the impact on taxes and land use is too uncertain to support.

“There’s no rules,” Cronin said. “This is way too much, way too fast.”

Supporters called the constitutional question a smokescreen. Daugaard asked the South Dakota Supreme Court to rule on the potential constitutional issue in an advisory opinion, but the court punted, issuing a ruling that said the questions didn’t rise to the level of those needing immediate attention.

“If they had a significant problem with the constitutionality of this bill, they could have taken it up and offered an opinion,” said Rep. Lance Russell of Hot Springs.

The supporters called the measure a “common sense” incentive program worthy of support by virtue of its voluntary nature. In Minnesota, buffer strips are now mandated by law, said Rep. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, and Iowa is dealing with lawsuits over water quality.

“It’s not Minnesota, where there’s severe legislation. It’s not Iowa, where there’s severe litigation,” Schoenbeck said.

Matt McLarty, a policy analyst for the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Sioux Falls, called the failed override attempt a loss for the Big Sioux River. The river has been tagged as an impaired water body for years, and groups such as his have teamed with hunting and conservation groups in hopes of lessening the impact of upstream agriculture without hitting farmers in the wallet.

The number of representatives who flipped after the veto letter was “baffling,” McLarty said, given that the voluntary buffer strip bill was a compromise with bipartisan support.

“We can only truly begin to restore the health of the Big Sioux River when Urban and Ag starts working together on common sense solutions, and by creating a voluntary system to build up buffer zones along the watershed, we could have begun that process,” McLarty said.

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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.

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