Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ELPC’s Learner Says Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line in Driftless isn’t Needed

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Power Line Pits Green Interests Against Each Other
June 11, 2017
By Lee Bergquist

A fight that involves dueling environmental constituencies is brewing over plans for a massive transmission line that would run through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin.
Developers say the estimated $500 million, 125-mile line would help buttress the regional power grid and provide access to lower-priced electricity in Iowa and other states.

But like the clamor that has erupted over construction of oil pipelines, transmission lines also engender strong emotions, with opponents often raising environmental objections.

In this case, Wisconsin’s newest power-line proposal pits a pair of green interests: those who see the project as a blight on the picturesque ridges and valleys of the region and those who say it opens up a new route for renewable wind energy from other states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line would run from west of Madison to Dubuque County in Iowa, where it would be linked to a growing fleet of wind farms that produce no greenhouse gases.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, whose members have all been appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, must decide whether the line is needed, and, if so, the best corridor to build it.

The developers have not yet selected precise route options, but recently sent letters to potentially affected property owners.

Two electric transmission companies — Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co. and ITC Midwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — lead the project. A third partner is Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

The companies expect to make a formal application in 2018. If approved, the new line would begin operating in 2023.

The PSC’s decision will center on the need for a transmission line in a state now brimming with power. Regulators also will assess the ecological impact of a system whose towers will rise half the length of a football field and occupy 150 feet of right-of-way.

A comparable project can now be seen on stretches of I-90/94 in northern Dane and Columbia counties and the Lake Delton area of Sauk County, where another transmission line, the Badger Coulee, is under construction. It will run between Madison and La Crosse.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line has been included in a group of more than a dozen transmission projects that the Midwest’s grid operator and planning agency, known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, says should be built to maintain the reliability of the system and help alleviate traffic jams on the wires.

That means Wisconsin utility customers would pay about 15% of the cost of the line because MISO recommended that it be built for the benefit of the region.

Factors favoring the line, said the leader of a utility watchdog group, are falling electricity prices from wind and mandates in neighboring states for renewable energy that are higher than Wisconsin’s 10%.

On the other hand, electric demand in the state has been flat, said Thomas Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which will analyze the case when it reaches the PSC.

“From our perspective, it’s making sure the need is justified,” Content said.

New transmission lines are going up as the power industry evolves from heavy reliance on coal-fired plants to a more varied mix that includes natural gas, wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Advocates for more renewable power say shifting to wind requires bigger transmission systems to move power around.

Wisconsin received 3.4% of its electricity from wind last year — up from 2.6% in 2015, according to PSC documents.

But the mix of wind is expected to grow.

With more wind turbines in development in Iowa and elsewhere, and the price of wind power falling, “we are seeing a pretty quick transition in the Midwest and a pretty big increase in wind,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

“We need a more robust system to take advantage of it.”

But big transmission towers are not what David Clutter and others want to see.

“This isn’t your typical part of the Midwest or Wisconsin,” said Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “Our concern is that it will permanently change the character of the area.”

The Driftless group and others, including the Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin, have land holdings in the region and want to protect remnants of prairies and other ecological features that escaped the scouring impact of glaciers thousands of years ago.

This spring, the Iowa County Board, the towns of Dodgeville and Wyoming in Iowa County and the Village of Spring Green in Sauk County have all passed resolutions opposing the project and expressed concerns about the effect on tourism and recreation.

One potential route lies near a segment of Highway 18 in Dane and Iowa counties that passes the communities of Mount Horeb, Barneveld and Dodgeville where vistas of cornfields and tall grass prairies with scattered oaks can stretch for miles.

Among the worries: The potential effect on parcels like the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, which the state Department of Natural Resources has identified as having the highest priority for grassland protection, and the potential scenic harm the line would have on the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail that runs along the highway.

If the line swings north, there are concerns on how habitat and wildlife would be affected as it cuts through miles of rolling woodlands and oak savannas where there are little or no existing roads or rights-of-way.

Spokeswoman Kaya Freiman of American Transmission Co. said power lines can co-exist with bike trails and sensitive ecosystems. She said the environmental effects will be “thoroughly reviewed” by regulators.

State law also requires that lines be constructed along existing rights-of-way as much as possible, she said.

Opponents are also challenging the line on economic grounds and say the biggest motivation of the transmission companies is receiving the nearly 11% return permitted by regulators on investments to build power lines.

They also note that electric demand has been dropping because of energy conservation and lingering effects of the recession.

On days with peak electric demand, utilities in Wisconsin last year produced 17% more power than was needed, according to PSC figures, and the agency expects it to remain nearly as high in the next five years.

“Very tall towers and transmission lines aren’t needed,” said attorney Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has been hired by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

“There is already a surplus of generating capacity.”

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The Daily Yonder: ELPC’s Olsen Hopes Paris Accord Pullout Doesn’t Hamper Successful Rural Clean Energy Projects

The Daily Yonder

USDA Climate Change Approach Faces Diminished Role, Worrying Many AG Leaders 

 June 6, 2017

By Bryce Oates

As the President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords and outlines budget priorities, critics worry about a directional shift with USDA Climate Change.

President Trump announced that the U. S. would “pull out” of the Paris Climate Accords last week, signaling a clear direction for his Administration’s approach to the challenge of a changing, more energy-charged climate.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the move, stating, “President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.”

The news does not please some members of the agricultural community, who believe that USDA should be a partner and supporter of efforts to assist farmers in addressing climate change.

“The withdrawal continues a troubling trend,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The young farmers we represent, to see their President speak about climate change this way, to walk away from progress we’re making on climate resiliency, progress farmers are making to cut emissions and develop on-the-ground solutions, it’s demoralizing. It’s just incredibly discouraging.”

NYFC’s members have already moved on in the discussion about climate change as a reality according to Bahrenburg. They see the evidence every day, with hotter summers, warmer winters, more intense droughts, more intense floods. Their project, Conservation Generation, seeks to assist farmers in the arid West with tools and resources to remain viable in a water-constrained environment.

“While we remain committed to working with Secretary Perdue, he has defended proposed cuts to key conservation programs, cuts to scientific research, a 30% reduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,” said Bahrenburg. He said that a group of young farmers are traveling to Washington, DC, this week to discuss their opinion with policymakers.

“All of these actions, the budget proposal, walking away from the global community, leaving the Paris Accords, taken together form a real indication of where USDA is headed,” said Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Farmers Union. “It’s a scary proposition.”

Driscoll said that many NFU members utilize the climate research and data presented by the Climate Hubs, originating in the Obama Administration. And NFU member families often participate in USDA’s REAP Program, both as farmers and workers for solar companies utilizing REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program) grants. REAP funding, which support renewable energy projects in rural communities, was singled out to be eliminated in the Trump Agriculture budget.

“This is a very, very sensitive time for farmers. There’s a credit crisis upon us. Prices and farm income are low. Choking off programs that deliver cost savings for farmers, that help them to become clean energy producers, undermining the information and tools that help farmers stay in business, it’s just irresponsible for them to behave this way.”

“The Administration’s proposal to eliminate farm bill funding for REAP is not only short-sighted from a climate change adaptation and mitigation perspective, it is also completely counter to their budget narrative,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in an email to Daily Yonder.

“We’ve heard a lot about agriculture needing to ‘do more with less,” and that is exactly what REAP does. This program puts farmers in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their energy usage and costs, and helping them to reduce both. In a time when the agricultural economy is in downturn, that kind of independence and control is more important than ever,” said Fogel.

Others have also applauded previous USDA actions related to climate change and energy programs. “We have a program here that helps establish energy projects in rural Wisconsin dairies, for poultry farms of the Southeast, for cattle producers all over America. REAP serves every state, every agricultural sector, and has strong bipartisan support. We hope it continues,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Olsen said that he sees rural projects and programs working to create jobs and cut carbon emissions across the board, particularly due to USDA participation and focus. “Programs that cut energy costs for farmers, that increase local energy production through solar and wind, that increase economic investment and activity, that increase jobs in rural America, what’s not to like about that,” asked Olsen, questioning the Trump Administration’s budget priorities.

When presented with these questions about the Trump USDA’s approach to climate change, a USDA spokesperson told the Daily Yonder through email:

“The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it may have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC Asks Surface Transportation Board to Extend Comment Period on Proposed Freight Line

Rail Company, UPS on Different Sides of Proposed Freight Line Debate
By Amy Lavalley

Reiterating a point they made a year ago, representatives from Norfolk Southern Railway Company said in a recent letter to the federal board that will determine the fate of a proposed freight train line that they would not use the line if it comes to fruition.

Another nationally based business, meanwhile, is supporting the plan.

Last May, Norfolk Southern notified the Surface Transportation Board, which will determine whether Great Lakes Basin Transportation can proceed with a 261-mile freight train line from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County that would cut through southern Lake and Porter counties, that they were “not inclined” to think the proposed line would work well with their system or that they would use the route.

That filing came two months after officials at Union Pacific, another Class 1 railroad and intended user of the freight train line, publicly stated that they were not interested in the proposal.

The new letter from Norfolk Southern, filed May 19, notes that the railroad wants to participate in the proceedings as a party of record, and states that the railroad does not object to the request to extend the comment deadline.

“The requested extensions would promote greater public participation in this proceeding, preserving the integrity of the STB’s decision making process,” wrote an attorney for Norfolk Southern.

Great Lakes filed its formal application with the federal transportation board on May 1. Officials there have said the proposed freight train line would serve as a bypass for the six Class 1 railroads that go through Chicago and alleviate congested rail yards there. None of the railroads have publicly committed to the project so far.

The package delivery service UPS, meanwhile, sent a letter to the transportation board supporting the proposed freight train line. The letter, dated April 28, went online earlier this month.

Officials with the delivery service said the proposal was of “keen interest,” because UPS uses truck-rail transportation to serve its customers throughout the United States.

“Although in its infancy, any effort to build new rail capacity and bypass the notorious Chicago rail bottleneck would have a material positive impact on the fluidity and velocity of the freight rail network, and a direct benefit to UPS and our customers,” the letter states.

Opponents of the freight train line have said they were concerned about safety, drainage woes, the loss of farmland and other worries along the route.

The federal board set a June 5 deadline for public comments on the Great Lakes application, though Thomas McFarland, a Chicago attorney representing opposition groups in all three states along the proposed freight line’s path, has asked for an extension of that deadline.

The transportation board has not yet made a decision on that extension, nor has the board made a decision on a request by Great Lakes for a protective order to maintain the confidentiality of its investors and other related information, which was filed with its application.

Also weighing in as a party of record and asking for the extension on the comment period is the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which filed a May 18 letter with the transportation board. The center challenged the proposed Illiana toll road in court on behalf of three area environmental groups.

“ELPC advocates for smart and sustainable land use and transportation planning and continues to have serious concerns about the proposal,” officials there wrote. “ELPC has members whose financial, recreational, and aesthetic interests may be harmed if GLBT’s application is granted.”

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Janesville (WI) Gazette: Proposed Great Lakes Basin Rail Line Draws Criticism from Local Lawmakers

Janesville (WI) Gazette

Proposed Great Lakes Basin rail line draws criticism from local lawmakers
By Xavier Ward

A transportation company’s request to keep secret a list of investors in its proposed rail line drew criticism Monday from two state lawmakers and an environmental advocacy group.

In a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s proposed rail line through Rock County is a project that demands transparency.

“I have serious concerns over intent, potential investors and stockholders, and transparency,” Spreitzer wrote to the board, which has the authority to approve or deny the project.

“The proposed route is a massive project that deserves a complete application, diligent oversight and full transparency for the sake of all people and lives affected,” Spreitzer wrote.

Although Great Lakes Basin filed an application for the rail line May 1, the project has stirred controversy since it was proposed last year.

The 261-mile rail line would allow trains to bypass Chicago’s congested rail yards, company officials have said. The route would start in Milton, run south and then head west between Beloit and Janesville. It then turns south again through the town of Beloit before crossing into Illinois.

Opponents of the project thought the Surface Transportation Board would respond to the company’s request for confidentiality by Monday, but the board did not.

Spreitzer wrote that he didn’t think the project was realistic because Great Lakes Basin has not produced documentation on financing.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, raised similar concerns about the lack of transparency and the completeness of the application.

She also blasted the company’s decision to reveal a toll road and airport project at the last minute.

Great Lakes Basin President Frank Patton announced plans to build a tollway and a new Chicago-area airport when the company submitted its application.

Those additions changed the project’s price tag from $8 billion—the cost Patton originally quoted—to $2.8 billion, according to the application.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago environmental advocacy group, has filed a request to extend the public comment period on the confidentiality order by 15 days and to extend the comment period on the application by 55 days.

The request states there is no urgency for a decision on the protective order and that the public could benefit from an extended comment period.

The advocacy group also filed a request to become a party of record and a motion of intent to participate in the process, said Kevin Brubaker, deputy director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The Environmental Law and Policy Center has grave concerns about this project. This 261-mile-long railroad proposal could fundamentally alter the shape of development in northeastern Illinois and Wisconsin,” Brubaker told The Gazette.

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

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

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

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

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Wisconsin Public Radio: Wisconsin Activists at ELPC Water Conference Discuss Strategies To Fight CAFO-related Pollution

Anti-CAFO Citizen Groups Hope Unity Leads To Success
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

Some small citizen groups in Wisconsin are teaming up in hopes of stopping local proposals for more large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Criste Greening and some neighbors have spent about five years battling a proposed CAFO near their homes outside Wisconsin Rapids. The battle hasn’t been easy, Greening said.

“And because as citizens we have issues and concerns about agriculture, I was termed ‘the radical environmentalist,” Greening said.

Greening told an Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that there’s nothing radical about her, saying she’s as a special education teacher who wants clean water for her three children.

She said small groups like hers are hoping to boost their clout against CAFOs by banding together and calling themselves the Citizens Water Coalition of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, farmers have organizations such as the Dairy Business Association, which says it tries to ensure dairy farms of all sizes have the support they need to thrive in the state’s economy, communities and food chain.

There are 269 permitted CAFOs in Wisconsin, 252 of those belong to dairy operations according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources statistics.

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Wisconsin Public Radio: USDA Researcher Speaks at ELPC Water Conference & Warns Wisconsin Well Owners About Contamination

USDA Researcher Warning Kewaunee County Well Owners About Contamination
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

A scientist who’s looked into widespread well contamination in Kewaunee County says he’s now urging owners of tainted wells to find another water source.

U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt recently published findings that indicate cow manure is the leading cause of groundwater pollution in Kewaunee County. But he found that human waste from sanitary systems is spoiling drinking water there, too.

Borchardt told attendees at Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that he’s been making phone calls to the owners of the contaminated wells.

“These folks, I’ve spent my evenings fairly stressed out calling them, saying, ‘you can’t drink your water.’ To find salmonella in a private well, in someone’s home, really shuts things down.” Borchardt said.

He said his staff are out doing more water testing in Kewaunee County. So far, 26 wells they’ve tested are contaminated with cattle manure, 18 with human waste and three with both.

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s New Solar Energy Co-op Website Tells Success Stories to Inspire Others

New Website Highlights Solar Advancements Made by Rural Co-ops
March 31, 2017
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Electric cooperatives that have taken the plunge into solar energy are the stars of a new website aimed at persuading more co-ops to add solar energy to their mix.

RuralSolarStories.org, produced by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC),  features the tales of three rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest that have responded to customer interest by investing in solar generation. More stories are on the way.

The website’s mission “is to help raise the voices of solar champions within the co-op community,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate for the ELPC. “The co-op community is unique. There’s such a culture of cooperation and learning among peers, we wanted to make sure solar leaders had a venue to be heard.”

Olsen believes there are several compelling reasons to shine the spotlight on rural co-ops that are in the solar-energy vanguard.

“Co-ops have an outsized influence on energy policy,” he said. “We’ve experienced that at the state and federal levels. We talk to members of Congress about energy policy and they want to go back and talk to the co-ops.

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Wisconsin Public Radio: Regional EPA Chief Talks Water at ELPC Water Conference in Wisconsin

Regional EPA Chief Says Water Is A Top Concern
Thursday, March 30, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

The leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Midwest says clean water may be the top issue he hears about from the public.

Robert Kaplan became acting administrator of EPA Region 5 when the previous regional administrator resigned during the water controversy in Flint, Michigan. Kaplan told a Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison this week that concerns about water across the Midwest haven’t gone away.

“Everywhere I go people want clean water. It might be the No. 1 thing we talk about. Even if we’re there to talk about air or some other matter, it always comes back to water,” Kaplan said.

The EPA continues to try to restore clean water to all of Kewaunee County, where many wells are polluted, Kaplan said.

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ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Contact:

Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

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

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

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

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

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

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