ISSUES

Toledo Blade: Lake Erie Foundation Seeks to Join Landmark Lawsuit

Lake Erie Foundation Seeks to Join Landmark Lawsuit 
By Tom Henry

The 500-member Lake Erie Foundation is the latest group trying to become co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit calling upon Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr to order the most comprehensive cleanup strategy for western Lake Erie.

The foundation is a nonprofit formed in 2016 when Lake Erie Waterkeeper and the Lake Erie Improvement Association were combined.

In a document filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the group joined the cities of Toledo and Oregon in making a near-identical request to become co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit two groups — the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie — brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017.

The latter two groups have contended all along that the U.S. EPA has not been living up to requirements for Lake Erie that were established by Congress under the federal Clean Water Act back in 1972.

 

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Press Release: Solar Industry and Illinois Farm Bureau Collaborate to Guarantee Tax Revenue for Rural Communities and Protect Farmland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Solar Industry and Illinois Farm Bureau Collaborate to Guarantee Tax Revenue for Rural Communities and Protect Farmland

New law will protect farmland and help ensure $250-350 million in tax revenue for rural Illinois

Springfield, Illinois – August 13, 2018 – Governor Rauner has signed two bills that will help ensure solar development benefits farmers and rural communities in Illinois.  The state’s solar industry worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau, local authorities and other stakeholders to shape SB 486, which creates a standard tax assessment value for solar farms in Illinois, and SB 2591, which sets standards for the construction and deconstruction of solar farms on agricultural land. The Illinois House and Senate passed both bills unanimously and Governor Rauner signed the final piece of legislation on August 10th.

The solar property tax legislation (SB 486) sets a standard tax assessment value for large solar installations, creating certainty around the property tax revenue that solar farms will pay to local taxing bodies, helping to fund schools, roads and other critical services. Under the legislation, each megawatt (MW) of ground-mounted solar installed in Illinois will generate an average of $6,000-$8,000 per year in property tax revenue. The industry expects to install up to 2,000 MW of ground-mounted solar farms by 2021, which will create a total $250-$350 million in property tax revenue over a 25-year lifespan. Under Illinois’ funding formula, approximately 70% of this revenue will be dedicated to funding schools.

“Solar energy is a rapidly growing industry in Illinois, and it’s good not only for the environment but also for the economy,” said Illinois Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sponsor of SB 486. “It is my hope that the revenue generated from this industry can benefit local schools and communities and encourage the continued growth of solar power in our state.”

“Solar businesses are ready and willing to create new jobs, clean energy and tax revenue to support Illinois communities. This bill provides a framework for us to move forward,” said Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “The solar industry was proud to work with the Farm Bureau, county tax assessors and school districts to develop smart solar legislation that benefits all Illinoisans.”

The solar industry worked in partnership with Environmental Law & Policy Center and other advocates to support smart solar policy in Illinois.

“ELPC has helped drive clean energy development in Illinois, and we are pleased that Governor Rauner has signed the solar energy legislation that the General Assembly passed this spring,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  “The stage is set even better to accelerate solar energy development that is good for job creation and good for a cleaner energy future in Illinois.”

The farmland legislation (SB 2591) ensures that solar farms can coexist with agriculture in Illinois while providing long-term benefits to soil and water quality. SB 2591 requires that solar developers enter into an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement (AIMA) with the Illinois Department of Agriculture prior to solar farm construction. The AIMA will set standards for solar construction and deconstruction and require financial assurances from developers that land will be restored to its prior use at the end of a solar farm’s life.

Governor Rauner signed SB 486 on August 10th and SB 2591 on June 29th. These bills will help Illinois reach its statewide goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 while also driving economic development, new jobs and reducing pollution from electric generation.

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Toledo Blade: Toledo, Oregon Become Parties to ELPC Lawsuit against US EPA for Stronger Lake Erie Protections

Toledo, Oregon Push for Stronger Lake Erie Protections
By Tom Henry

Toledo and Oregon have become parties to a lawsuit filed by two groups that calls upon U.S. District Judge James G. Carr to order the most comprehensive cleanup strategy for western Lake Erie, known as a total maximum daily load.

The next court date is Aug. 21.

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is opposed.

The two plaintiffs, the Midwestern-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, contend the federal Clean Water Act requires the highly aggressive TMDL cleanup strategy to be followed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency once the Kasich administration finally relented in March — after years of resistance — and declared western Lake Erie’s open waters to be impaired.

They want the judge to impose a TMDL order on the U.S. EPA, with the understanding the federal agency would then require the Ohio EPA to carry out the program.

Toledo’s decision to get involved dates back to May 1, 2017, a day before Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced his candidacy for that office.

During an all-day tour of southeast Michigan factory farms, Mr. Kapszukiewicz, a Democrat, told The Blade there were two things he would do if elected: First, call for the impairment status and, second, have Toledo assist the two plaintiffs in their lawsuit.

He never had to call for the impairment status once elected because former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson — a Democrat who had long sided with the Kasich administration on that issue — had a sudden change of heart last September, weeks before the election, after a thick blanket of algae appeared in downtown Toledo just as ProMedica was preparing for a major regatta near Promenade Park.

“I campaigned on cleaning up the lake and we are following through on that today by filing this motion,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said in his prepared remarks Friday, referring to a court filing known as an amicus brief.

“We need to hold the nonpoint sources accountable and this is one way we can do it. We support the efforts of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and Mike Ferner, who has pushed for years to get tougher regulations for polluters,” the statement said.

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Press Release: Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

Call for Wind XII Approval to Require Coal Retirements

 

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center filed testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) in MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII docket. Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council, provided the testimony on behalf of both groups, calling for approval of the additional wind to include requirements for equivalent coal capacity retirements. The groups also strongly recommended MidAmerican outline a process for a comprehensive clean energy transition that includes wind, solar, storage and demand side resources such as energy efficiency and demand response.

MidAmerican is touting Wind XII as the final project in the 100% Renewable Vision the company announced in 2016. However, MidAmerican has not announced a single coal plant retirement since setting this benchmark. The company owns and operates five coal plants in Iowa with a total of 3,740 MW of nameplate capacity and is majority owner of the 725 MW Ottumwa Generating Station.

According to 2016 data from the Energy Information Administration, this level of capacity puts MidAmerican’s coal fleet in the top 20 largest fleets of any utility in the country — at 19 — out of the 164 companies that own at least 100MW of coal generation. Construction of new coal plants is not cost-effective and utilities around the U.S. are announcing coal retirements on an almost daily basis. By betting on coal, MidAmerican will only climb in this undesirable ranking.

“The state of Iowa and MidAmerican’s wind energy leadership is commendable,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “However, a comprehensive clean energy vision requires a plan for retiring dirty coal plants and replacing them with a diverse mix of renewable resources including wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency.”

MidAmerican filed its proposal for Wind XII on May 30, 2018. Wind XII is a 591 MW, $922 million project that would be completed by late 2020.

Wind generation provides significant benefits including hedging risks from fuel price volatility and geo-political uncertainty, environmental benefits, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  However, as Johannsen points out, “[m]any benefits MidAmerican claims for Wind XII are unlikely to occur unless coupled with retirement of coal capacity.”

Utilities around the country have begun proposing comprehensive clean energy transition plans. Johannsen’s testimony summarizes several examples of utilities retiring coal plants and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency including Xcel Energy in Colorado, Consumers Energy in Michigan, and MidAmerican’s sister Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, NV Energy and PacifiCorp.

Iowa’s wind leadership helped the state attract companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook that wanted to invest in a state that offered affordable, renewable energy for their power needs. Says Johannsen, “To remain competitive, Iowa utilities must not settle for the status quo, but instead continue to show leadership in clean energy innovation or the state will fall behind other emerging leaders.”

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Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL., & EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

ELPC Breaking News – Actions and Decisions on Multiple Fronts – Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL, and EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

To ELPC Colleagues and Supporters:  There is a lot happening – fast – at ELPC.  Four important actions yesterday on different fronts.  ELPC’s talented staff is drinking out of a firehose and playing to win.

  1. Good News on ELPC petition to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenging First Energy Solutions’ nuclear decommissioning shortfalls as the company is in bankruptcy. We just received word that ELPC’s 2.206 citizen petition cleared the first step of the NRC review process. The NRC’s Petition Review Board (PRB) met and decided to accept our petition for review.   Notably, they accepted ELPC’s petition in entirety—no parts of it were rejected.  The next step is for the PRB to substantively review the petition and come up with recommendations for action, which it will send to the Director.  The Director ultimately makes the final decision on what actions, if any, the NRC will take against the licensee.   Kudos to ELPC attorneys Andrene Dabaghi and Margrethe Kearney.

 

  1. Bad News:  The Trump Administration announced its misguided attempt to rollback federal clean cars standards and (probably unconstitutional) attempt to constrain California’s and 12 other states’ “waiver” to adopt strong state standards.  As the transportation sector has passed the energy sector for carbon pollution in the United States, the federal and state fuel efficiency standards are vital to save consumers money at the gas pump, drive technological innovation in vehicle manufacturing to keep American manufacturing competitive, gain manufacturing jobs of the future for American workers, reduce American imports of foreign oil and avoid pollution.  ELPC will be among the lead groups nationally challenging the proposed new weaker DOT/EPA clean car standards in both the court of law (comments to US Dept. of Transportation and, then, likely litigation in the federal courts) and in the court of public opinion.  Please see ELPC press release criticizing this Trump Administration regulatory rollback.  (“Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy and Pollution Standards is a Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward”).   ELPC Senior Law Fellow Janet McCabe and ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner will be doing a “breaking news” briefing via conference call for ELPC colleagues, donors and friends today at 10:00 am. (Register to join the briefing if you’d like.)

 

  1. ELPC and ten environmental and civic group partners are fighting back and winning against the Illinois Tollway Authority’s attempt to short-circuit and play “hide the ball” on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the economically unsupportable and environmentally destructive Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County. As ELPC Board Chair Harry Drucker put it, this “zombie” bad tollway proposal keeps coming back.  While the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is moving to put on the brakes by downgrading the proposed Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County from a priority project to non-priority status, the Illinois Tollway Authority is spending $25 million to accelerate the EIS process.  On Wednesday, ELPC attorneys Howard Learner and Rachel Granneman and partners sent a letter to the Illinois Tollway Authority challenging the legality of the EIS process, and yesterday, the Illinois Tollway Authority backed off, saying that would extend the comment period on the EIS scoping comments to late September.  Please see Greg Hinz’s good article in Crain’s Chicago Business here and pasted below.

 

  1. New ELPC Litigation to Protect Healthier Clean Air in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin:  ELPC and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA) yesterday sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final ozone air health standard rule, published in June 2018, that excluded certain areas in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 ozone standard.  ELPC’s press release explains:  “EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners.  Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”   The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local air pollution contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions that cause smog.  In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin.  In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but then excluded certain areas in its June 2018 final decision in response to opaque last-minute requests from Governors Rauner and Walker.  ELPC attorneys Scott Strand and Rachel Granneman are litigating this case with policy and technical engagement from Janet McCabe.  Please see Michael Hawthorne’s good article in the Chicago Tribune here.

ELPC is fully engaged both on offense and defense to protect the Midwest’s environment, public health and vital natural resources.  Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Best wishes, Howard

Howard A. Learner

Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

Environmental & Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

 

Washington, D.C. — On August 2, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Respiratory Health Association (RHA) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final rule, published in June 2018, that identified areas that meet and fail to meet the 2015 ozone air quality health standard.

ELPC and RHA are challenging the exclusion of certain areas in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 standard.

“EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners. Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions of the air pollution that cause smog.

In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin. In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but excluded certain areas in its final decision in June in response to requests from the states.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

Ozone is formed when pollution emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other activities reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone, also known as “smog,” is a lung irritant and harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot sunny summer days  and put outdoor workers at risk.

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Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy & Pollution Standards is Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy and Pollution Standards is a Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward

U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler continuing Pruitt agenda that will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution & reduce America’s technological innovation leadership

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

In response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to rewrite the Clean Car Standards, which proposes to freeze fuel economy and emissions standards at 2020 levels through 2026, ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The Trump Administration’s misguided decision to weaken clean car standards threatens to put U.S. automakers behind in the global competition for cleaner, fuel efficient cars and will hit consumers hard in the wallet when they fuel up,” Learner said. “The standards U.S. EPA and DOT issued in 2012 are driving technological innovation, ensuring that America’s cars use less foreign oil and emit less carbon and other toxic air pollution.

“The existing standards would have saved families up to $122 billion at the pump, saved more than 12 billion barrels of oil and kept 6 billion metric tons of dangerous carbon pollution out of the atmosphere. If left in place, these standards would have continued to drive innovation and job growth across the Midwest and beyond. Trump’s EPA and DOT weakened standards would needlessly put a cleaner environment and our children’s future in the backseat.

“Unfortunately, Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler is following in the faulty footsteps of Scott Pruitt instead of resuming the EPA’s statutory mission to protect public health and the environment. The Trump Administration is turning back the clock on the current clean car standards that drive technological innovation and spur manufacturing jobs of the future for the Midwest auto sector.”

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The Blade: U.S. EPA Accused of Procedural ‘Sleight-of-Hand’ over Western Lake Erie Algae Cleanup Strategy

U.S. EPA Accused of Procedural ‘Sleight-of-Hand’ over Western Lake Erie Algae Cleanup Strategy
By Tom Henry

In the latest volley of a high-stakes lawsuit that could affect the future of western Lake Erie, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being accused of playing games and “once again engaging in [a] procedural sleight-of-hand” while also letting the state of Ohio give “lip service” to the idea that it’ll someday enact the most aggressive cleanup strategy.

The accusations were leveled in a U.S. District Court brief filed Tuesday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and its co-plaintiff, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie.

The two groups, through its lawsuit against the U.S. EPA, forced the Ohio EPA earlier this year to designate western Lake Erie as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act, ending the Kasich administration’s years of resistance on behalf of agriculture. They have implored Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of Toledo to stick with the case so the designation does not just become symbolic.

Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC attorney based in Columbus, stated in the opening line of her brief that the U.S. EPA “is once again engaging in [a] procedural sleight-of-hand in an attempt to obscure the substance of this case,” almost echoing an admonishment the judge made in a 25-page order back in April when he accused the two regulatory agencies of botching the Lake Erie impairment controversy and, at one point, accused the U.S. EPA of demonstrating a “whiff of bad faith.”

 

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Bismarck Tribune: Construction Begins on Davis Refinery Site

Construction Begins on Davis Refinery Site
By Mike McCleary

Meridian Energy Group announced Tuesday it is starting site construction for the Davis Refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a project that still faces legal challenges.

A Meridian spokesman said civil construction and site work began Monday at the site near Belfield.

Initial construction activities will include installing erosion control devices, stormwater pond development and other site grading.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are challenging the health department permit in a lawsuit filed last week. The groups argue that Meridian underestimates what the refinery’s emissions will be and claim the health department’s monitoring and testing requirements are inadequate to ensure compliance with the permit.

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Chicago Tonight: How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes

How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes
By Nicole Cardos

When it comes to the health and maintenance of Lake Michigan, some environmentalists, property owners and even surfers have expressed their concerns.

Some of those concerns: toxins, the Foxconn deal in Kenosha and rising lake levels.

“Last year, the amount of water released from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron was the highest in 32 years,” the story states.

But that transfer of water is also due to the fact that Lake Superior is geographically higher than lakes Michigan and Huron, said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. On top of that, Lake Michigan is self-contained.

“Huron has an outlet and water makes its way to Erie,” Learner said. “Michigan is a big bathtub.”

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