Wisconsin

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.

Listen Here

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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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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Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Questions Use Of Efficiency Funds On Broadband

 

Milwaukee Journal SentinalEnergy Dollars Would Fund Broadband Vouchers
December 3, 2016
By Thomas Content

Nearly 100,000 rural Wisconsin residents will be receiving $50 vouchers from the state if they sign up for new high-speed internet service or upgrades, under a proposal that would be funded by the state’s electricity customers using money that’s supposed to be spent promoting energy savings.

The $50 incentives, approved this past week by the state Public Service Commission, would cost $5 million and are part of more than $60 million in utility customer funds that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration wants to reallocate to expand broadband in rural areas of the state.

The broadband vouchers have come under criticism from energy-efficiency advocates as well as from the company that runs Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, which helps utility customers save energy through discounts on LED light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances as well as other initiatives.

More than half of the money to be reallocated, $35 million, would come from reserves in the Universal Service Fund, through a bill Walker has asked the Legislature to pass in 2017 in order to expand state broadband grants. The remainder taps electric and natural gas ratepayers’ funding from the Focus on Energy program’s reserves.

The PSC on Thursday approved spending $16 million to send energy-efficiency kits to nearly 100,000 broadband customers. Of that, nearly $5 million from Focus on Energy funds would be used to fund the $50 broadband subsidies.

Focus on Energy is funded through a surcharge collected from Wisconsin electricity customers. On average, 1.1 million We Energies customers each pay $15 a year to fund the program.

PSC commissioners say the broadband voucher initiative is important to help deliver more programs in rural parts of the state where customers have paid into the program but haven’t received many services from Focus on Energy.

Elise Nelson, commission spokeswoman, said the vouchers are part of the broader kit that will be sent to rural homes, including a variety of energy-saving home devices from smart power strips to LED light bulbs to rebates for smart thermostats.

“The vouchers go hand in hand” with the energy-saving devices to be provided in the kits, she said. “We’ve got to keep up with technology, and this is the new forefront of energy efficiency in the home.”

Critics aren’t buying it.

“The Public Service Commission continues to try to fit a square peg in a round hole by using Focus on Energy to subsidize rural internet service companies,” said Andy Olsen, who works in the Madison office of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Using Focus to fund internet subscriptions only helps people who already have broadband access. It doesn’t increase access to those who could most benefit.”

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WI State Journal: ELPC Concerned Over Use of Energy Efficiency Money On Broadband Coupons

Microsoft Word - Document1

More Broadband Money is on the Way for Rural Wisconsin
December 2, 2016
By Judy Newman

Efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural Wisconsin residents and businesses got a double-boost on Thursday, with up to $61.5 million in additional funds being funneled toward projects to expand broadband.

Gov. Scott Walker asked the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allocate an additional $35.5 million over the next three years to make broadband more accessible to rural residents and businesses.

The proposal, to be funded by a surplus in the state’s Universal Service Fund, would triple Wisconsin’s broadband and technology investments to $52 million for the 2017 through 2019 fiscal years, Walker said.

“It will allow Wisconsin communities, especially in rural areas, to compete for jobs, improve education, and provide a higher quality of life,” the governor said.

The money includes grants to expand high-speed internet access in rural areas, and for schools and libraries to upgrade their internet access and train teachers.

Also on Thursday, the state Public Service Commission approved spending up to $26 million in the 2017 and 2018 calendar years toward new programs for rural areas that couple energy efficiency projects with broadband upgrades.

The PSC action puts broadband benefits — for the first time — into the mix of incentives offered through the Focus on Energy program for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. It also calls on internet service providers, from local companies to national giants, to offer a package of energy- and internet-related incentives.

That means, for example, rural homeowners may be able to get a $50 rebate for installing high-speed internet along with a rebate for adding a smart thermostat. “Smart thermostats use the internet to adjust the energy consumption in your home,” said Bob Seitz, executive assistant to PSC chairwoman Ellen Nowak.

The plan drew some critics.

“The Public Service Commission continues to try to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “Using Focus to fund internet subscriptions only helps people who already have broadband access; it doesn’t increase access to those who could most benefit.”

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Press Release: New Report Reveals Illinois & Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways, Mississippi River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center
JNemes@elpc.org 312-795-3706

Kim Knowles, Prairie Rivers Network
KKnowles@prairierivers.org 314-341-1641

New Report Reveals Illinois and Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways
Environmental Coalition Calls on EPA to Step Up Efforts to Reduce Nutrient Pollution in Mississippi River

Mississippi River – The Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) today released a report that implores the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take specific actions to clean up nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Illinois and nine other states, because those states have failed to make sufficient pollution reductions. The 10 states included in the report all border the Mississippi River and send their pollution to the river and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.

The report, “Decades of Delay,” was prepared by MRC, a partnership of 13 environmental and legal groups, and assesses state progress in reducing the pollution that threatens drinking water supplies for millions of Americans and causes the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

The report finds that nitrogen and phosphorus continue to pose serious threats to Illinois waters, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment, and threatening the health of people and aquatic life. Illinois lakes have been especially devastated by phosphorus pollution.

“EPA’s hands-off approach is simply not working in Illinois. Every summer our lakes and beaches are fouled by noxious, smelly and sometimes toxic algal blooms,” said Kim Knowles, Staff Attorney at Prairie Rivers Network. “The state lacks a rigorous program for addressing this scourge.”

“For 20 years, we have been told the EPA and the states would address the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that fouls our rivers and lakes and perpetuates the Gulf Dead Zone,” said Jessica Dexter, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law & Policy Center, an MRC member. “This report demonstrates the falsity of that claim. EPA should use the tools outlined in the report to uphold the Clean Water Act and get us on a path to clean rivers and streams.”

The report suggests six specific steps EPA can take to protect human health and water quality in state waters. Recommendations include setting numeric limits of allowable nitrogen and phosphorus in state waters, assessing more waterways to determine the full extent and impact of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and making sure states develop rigorous plans for reducing pollution and for procuring the funding needed to address this significant problem.

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Decades of Delay Executive Summary
Decades of Delay Full Report

Wort 89.9 FM: The Driftless Area’s proposed ATC line’s affect on Wisconsin Residents

Wort 89.9 FMOctober 10, 2016
By A Public Affair

How will the American Transmission Company’s proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line affect Wisconsin residents? What are the benefits of the new power line? Will rates go up for Wisconsin citizens? This power line is meant to follow a route from northeastern Iowa, on or near the Hickory Creek, and across the Mississippi River, through southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area to the Cardinal substation in Middleton.

Listen to the A Public Affair episode here.

ELPC Examines Impacts of Proposed ATC Power Line

Isthmus

September 29, 2016

Scientific Scrutiny
By Denise Thornton and Doug Hansmann

Environmental Group Examines Impacts of Proposed ATC Power Line

A Chicago environmental legal advocacy group is scrutinizing the Driftless Area west of Madison and the damage that could be done there with construction of a high-voltage American Transmission Company power line.
The ATC project would carry electricity from Dubuque County, Iowa, to Middleton along 500 steel towers, each one 10 to 15 stories tall.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center has led a number of successful advocacy campaigns designed to protect natural resources throughout the Midwest. In 2003, the group led the effort to get a court order that halted accelerated logging in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, safeguarding 22,000 acres of forestland.
One of the tactics that makes the center successful is its Science Advisory Council. Susan Mudd, the group’s senior policy advocate, says, “Each scientist contributes pro bono advice and connects us with other experts and research that relates to our work.”

One of these experts is Don Waller, a UW-Madison professor of botany and environmental studies. “This Driftless Area Project and the transmission corridor is a new approach,” Waller says. “Instead of just focusing on one issue, we are looking at the range of threats now and in the future for a particular region and how those threats can be addressed in an effective and collaborative way.”

Read More at http://isthmus.com/news/news/environmental-group-examines-impacts-of-proposed-atc-power-line/

 

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