ISSUES

Press Release: ELPC Urges US Senate to Preserve Energy Title & REAP in Farm Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

ELPC Urges U.S. Senate to Preserve Energy Title & REAP in Farm Bill

  House overwhelmingly rejects amendment to repeal energy programs

 

Washington, D.C. – During consideration of the Farm Bill (The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018), the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) to repeal the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and other Farm Bill Energy Title initiatives by a stunning 82%. The vote was 340 to 74.

In response, Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:

“The bipartisan House vote preserving the Energy Title sends a strong message that attempts to cut farm energy efforts should cease. Congress should step up and increase funding for effective farm energy initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program. REAP serves all agricultural sectors and has benefited farmers throughout the Midwest and across the country.”

Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) led the House floor opposition to the measure and spoke strongly in support of these programs during the debate over the Farm Bill.

“The resounding defeat of the Biggs Amendment sends a strong signal to the Senate that these programs have bipartisan support and should be renewed with mandatory funding,” said Ann Mesnikoff, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director.

The failed Farm Bill was defeated on a bipartisan vote of 213-198. The defeated measure would have wholly eliminated reliable mandatory funding for programs in the Energy Title, including the REAP.

REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to adopt energy efficiency and renewable energy. REAP has been highly popular with farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses in the Midwest, with requests regularly exceeding available funds.

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WSIU Radio: Ameren Illinois Announces Money-Saving Program For Customers

May 17, 2018
Ameren Illinois Announces Money-Saving Program For Customers
By Kevin Boucher

A major power supplier is working to save customers 10 to 15 percent on their electric bill.  Ameren Illinois held a news conference on Thursday, May 17th, 2018 in Marion to unveil a new initiative designed to put 300–thousand new smart thermostats in Illinois homes over the next decade.  According to the press release, current Ameren Illinois customers can buy a qualified smart thermostat and then go online to apply for a 100 dollar rebate. Ameren’s John Carol says the new devices can easily replace an existing thermostat.  He adds these new smart thermostats work by recording user settings and using that information to heat and cool the home when the home is not occupied.

Kelly Hendrickson, Communications Executive with Ameren, has been using one for several months and says it adds convenience to people with busy schedules.  She says she can be at a little league baseball game  and use her smartphone app to turn the air down so when the family returns home  the house will be comfortable.

Rob Kelter, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center says the new thermostats will help consumers to stop cooling and heating empty homes.

LISTEN HERE

Press Release: ELPC Collaborates with Ameren Illinois on Commitment to put 300,000 Smart Thermostats in Customer Homes & Businesses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ameren Illinois Announces Commitment to put 300,000 Smart Thermostats in Customer Homes and Businesses

Collaboration with leading brands, environmental advocates  Rebates and incentives provided through Ameren Illinois energy efficiency programs 

East St. Louis, IL (May 16, 2018) – Building on its commitment to help customers become more energy efficient, Ameren Illinois announced an initiative to put 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses. Ameren Illinois Chairman and President Richard J. Mark was joined by Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Chairman Brien Sheahan, as well as representatives from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and leading manufacturers ecobee and Nest in announcing the plan Wednesday afternoon in East St. Louis.

Ameren Illinois customers can purchase a qualified ENERGY STAR® smart thermostat and apply online to receive a $100 discount in the mail.  An instant smart thermostat rebate and an online marketplace will be available in the next few weeks to make the process even easier for customers to save.  Rebates are being provided to customers through energy efficiency program funding approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission under the landmark Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA).

The initiative also seeks to get smart thermostats into the residences of income-eligible customers. Those qualified can now have one of the devices installed for free as part of the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program.

“When the Future Energy Jobs Act was passed, we made a bold commitment to ensure that benefits of energy efficiency would be available to all of our customers, especially those with limited financial means,” said Mark. “With today’s announcement, we’re living up to that promise. Putting 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses is an ambitious goal, but we’re confident that with the collaboration of our partners we can make that vision a reality.”

Easy to install and operate, use of a smart thermostat can save between 10 and 15 percent on heating and cooling costs. The devices enable customers to adjust settings on the go via smartphone apps. Additionally, many smart thermostats models can sense when the homeowner and/or residents are away from home and automatically modify the temperature, further reducing energy usage.

“Smart thermostats will empower Ameren Illinois residential and business customers to better manage their energy usage, and give them more control over their monthly bill,” said ICC Chairman Brien J. Sheahan.  “On behalf of Governor Bruce Rauner and the ICC, we applaud Ameren Illinois for continuing the state’s more than 100-year tradition of leadership on energy issues by embracing new innovation and technology, like smart thermostats, that help our state reach its energy efficiency goals.”

“Smart thermostats will help consumers to stop cooling and heating empty homes,” said Rob Kelter, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “With this initiative, Ameren Illinois is stepping up to help its customers save money and reduce pollution at the same time.”

The initiative is bolstered by the active involvement from leading smart thermostat brands, including Nest and ecobee.  Since 2011, Nest thermostats around the world have helped customers save more than 22 billion kilowatt-hours of energy and their work with Ameren is in service of this mission to bring energy efficiency to more homes across the U.S.

ecobee introduced the world’s first smart wi-fi thermostat to help homeowners save money, conserve energy and live more comfortably.  “We applaud the commitment that Ameren Illinois is making here today and are thrilled to offer the Ameren Illinois customers a better way to save on their energy bill and reduce their carbon footprint,” said Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of ecobee.

Ameren Illinois’ energy efficiency program is recognized as one of the best in the country – rated #12 by ACEEE, an independent energy efficiency organization. Over the past nine years, Ameren Illinois has helped its customers reduce their energy usage by nearly 12 million megawatt-hours, saving them approximately $781 million. This improved energy efficiency has enabled Ameren Illinois customers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8.3 million metric tons – the equivalent of taking nearly 1.8 million cars off the road for a year.

To learn more about the program or apply for smart thermostat rebates, please visit www.AmerenIllinoisSavings.com. Income-eligible customers can also find the home energy audit application on that website or simply call 866.838.6918.

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ELPC’s 4th Annual Science Policy Confluence Conference

Partnering with the Center for Integrated Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan, ELPC organized our 4th Science-Policy Confluence Conference on May 1-2, on the topic Great Lakes Harmful Algal Blooms: Science-based Policy Solutions.

The symposium brought together scientists and policymakers with differing expertise to learn from each other, discover how their work may interact and find potential collaborations. This year’s gathering deepened understanding of the extent, impact and future of harmful algal blooms (HABs), especially in the Great Lakes. Among the featured speakers were numerous expert scientists and policy makers including:

  • S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) who pointed to the importance of funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the consistent bipartisan support it has.
  • Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, whose city residents were not able to drink even boiled water for 2 days in the summer of 2014 called out the Ohio State Legislature for its lack of adequate action as “a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ohio Farm Bureau.”
  • Consul General of Canada Douglas George

Symposium attendees shared ideas for potential science-based solutions and what it will take to implement them. Below are some of the most interesting findings presented and discussed.

  • HABs outbreaks aren’t unique to the Great Lakes, they occur worldwide. They are expected to worsen due to changing temperatures and increased precipitation from climate change, global trade and invasive species. The Great Lakes are among the places that the situation will get much worse.
  • In the last decade, the years with very low rainfall had the smallest outbreaks, indicating that heavy spring rains with nutrient-laden runoff a major contributing factor. However internal cycling of phosphorous and recycling of legacy pollution may also play a role, extending the timeframe it will take to see long-term results from reducing fertilizer and manure runoff.
  • Satellites now in orbit and drones in small areas allow us to see trends in algae outbreaks. Advances in interpreting images of land use, such as looking at barn size and type, vegetation and other factors are helping to shed light on sources of runoff. These images show that existing information on manure quantity at permitted animal farms are likely to be severely underestimated. Such mapping may soon help to identify low-hanging fruit, the first places to target grass strips and other controls.
  • Human health and cultural impacts from algal outbreak exposure are wide-ranging: from recreational exposure, drinking or eating fish caught from or even vegetables grown from algal laden waters. Touching, ingesting or even breathing the fumes from them may contribute to short and long-term health effects to both humans and dogs.
  • Significantly reducing phosphorous-laden runoff may lead to smaller but more toxic algal outbreaks, as nitrogen pollution takes on a more significant role in driving bloom composition.
  • Following on ELPC’s recent successful lawsuit leading to Ohio declaring the open waters of western Lake Erie impaired, scientists showed that it would take at least 6 years to have that designation removed.
  • Scientific research is still needed to decide on the best management approaches in different locations; there is not yet unity as to the extent to which both phosphorous and nitrogen need to be controlled and thus what the most effective nutrient management strategies are.
  • Active adaptive management is viewed as the best approach, but messaging the need for flexibility and potentially changing requirements is critical for public and decision makers to understand. The question of how to effectively implement adaptive management is a key issue that will need to be resolved to successfully move beyond current policies.
  • Verna Harrison, former Assistant Secretary of Maryland Dept of Natural Resources shared lessons learned from the Chesapeake Bay, where progress on reducing nutrient-laden runoff is much further along, importantly through the use of TMDLs.

InsideClimate News: Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

May 15, 2018
Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop
By Georgina Gustin

Blooms of harmful algae in the nation’s waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale.

The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases.

Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

EWG based its study on news reports and before-and-after satellite images that show the expansion of the blooms. Though the rapid increase in the annual numbers might reflect more thorough observations and reporting in recent years, Craig Cox, who focuses on agriculture for EWG, said the numbers may still be on the low side.

In 2014, the news was especially urgent in Toledo, where a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie forced health officials to declare the water unsafe for drinking and bathing. Harmful algae blooms had been common in the western part of Lake Erie from the 1960s through the 1980s, but they had diminished with better pollution controls—until about a decade ago, according to NOAA.

Now the blooms—thick undulating mats of green—have become an annual occurrence there.

The root cause of the problem lies mainly in agricultural runoff that contains phosphorus, which encourages algal growth.

At a recent conference, the mayor of Toledo pointed the blame for the continuing problem squarely at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, saying that lawmakers in the state were too intimidated by the group to support legislation to deal with the problem. “It’s probably the most powerful interest group in Ohio,” Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in an interview.

Kapszukiewicz noted that the city spent billions of dollars upgrading its water treatment facility more than a decade ago and that there have been no sewage overflows into the lake since then, and yet the blooms are getting worse. “Toledoans are paying for a problem we didn’t create,” he said.

“Nutrient runoff” comes from sewage and other sources, but mostly from fertilizer and manure, which are especially high in phosphorus.

The agricultural industry in Ohio and elsewhere has long been aware of the problem. Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the bureau had been looking into it for years. But when it came to legislative and regulatory measures, Cornely said: “You’ve heard the old saying, ‘You can have it fast or right.’ We want it to be right.”

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Chicago Tribune: State to Hold Hearings on Spending Volkswagen Pollution Settlement

May 11, 2018
State to Hold Hearings on Spending Volkswagen Pollution Settlement
By Mary Wisniewski

After many complaints from advocacy groups, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will hold three public outreach sessions on how it should spend $108 million from the Volkswagen pollution settlement.

The German carmaker agreed to pay more than $15 billion in settlements after admitting to installing secret software that allowed U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution. Some of that money is going to states for clean-air programs.

Advocacy groups like the Environmental Law and Policy Center have argued that the state could get the most pollution-fighting bang for the buck by putting 15 percent of its settlement share, or about $16.2 million, into plug-in charging stations for electric vehicles, and the rest into replacing diesel school and transit buses with electric versions.

But the Illinois EPA instead said in its current draft plan that it would spend most of the money on “off-road technology,” which would mean replacing older locomotive, ferry and tug diesel engines with newer, cleaner ones. Environmental groups complained that the state EPA came up with the plan without the same long comment period and public hearings provided by other states.

Now there will be a chance for three public hearings, and the draft plan’s details could change. The first will be at Illinois EPA headquarters in Springfield on May 23; the second at the St. Paul Baptist Church in East St. Louis on May 24; and the third at the James R. Thompson Center auditorium in Chicago on May 30. All will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.

State EPA Director Alec Messina said in a statement that his agency has received “extensive” public comments about the settlement funds, and that the draft plan for spending the money is a “living document that will continue to evolve as needed to benefit air quality and the health of Illinois residents.”

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Chicago Tonight: Janet McCabe, Former Senior EPA Administrator, On Trump’s Environmental Moves

May 10, 2018
Former Senior EPA Administrator on Trump’s Environmental Moves
By Paul Caine

Last week, the Trump administration cut a deal with Gov. Scott Walker to exempt much of southeast Wisconsin from having to comply with the latest federal limits on lung-damaging smog.

It’s an area that already has poor air quality, but it is also where Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn is building a new plant. Critics argue that the move is intended to save Foxconn and other businesses the expense of meeting the new, higher standard.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency also plans to scrap Obama-era rules that required automakers to make their cars progressively more fuel-efficient.

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt takes a very different approach from his immediate predecessors on protecting air quality, what will be the impact on our air and health?

Janet McCabe played a lead role in shaping the Clean Air Act as the acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in the Obama administration. She is now a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, where she works to advance polices to promote clean air and safe drinking water.

McCabe thinks the Trump administration’s move to exempt areas of Wisconsin from having to meet the latest air quality standards is likely to face legal challenges. But in the short term, it will mean dirty air.

“I expect there may well be people living in areas where the air quality is unhealthy who won’t know about it. And that states like Wisconsin will not be putting in measures to reduce those emissions,” McCabe said.

“This is administrative decision making by the (EPA). They have to lay out their reasoning to the satisfaction of a court — if a case gets challenged … I think that based on past precedent that some of these decisions are not adequately supported by the factual information that the agency has.”

As for the decision to scrap the rules that require new cars to be more fuel-efficient, McCabe is both dismayed and concerned.

“This was a really remarkable and positive agreement between the automakers and the federal government and California on a long-trajectory plan that would make vehicles get considerably cleaner over time in a way the preserved the automakers’ ability to be as flexible as possible to build the kind of cars that people want,” she said. “It’s very discouraging to see this administration basically disregarding the success that the auto industry has had in the six years since those laws were put in place and suggest we need a lower level of ambition. Cars emit about one-third of the pollution in this country – greenhouse gas pollution but also pollution in our neighborhoods. They are all over the country. Everybody uses them and (higher fuel-efficiency standards) are one of the best ways of improving air quality in this country.”

McCabe joins host Phil Ponce to discuss her time at the EPA and her concerns.

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Energy News Network: Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs

May 7, 2018
Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Friday that critics say could largely evaporate utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs in the state.

The new law caps spending on the programs at levels substantially less than what utilities now spend. It also allows certain customers to stop paying fees that support the programs, and it omits rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which serve about one-third of Iowa customers, from having to offer any programs.

The bill also takes a swipe at solar installations by allowing municipal utilities to discriminate against customers with their own generation. Iowa’s 136 municipal utilities serve about 216,000 customers, or 13.5 percent of all electricity customers in the state.

Kerri Johannsen, who lobbied against the bill on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council, wrote in a statement that “utilities will sell more power and Iowans will pay more out of their paycheck for energy. Utilities are the only winner here — businesses and citizens across Iowa will pay the price of this action.”

Josh Mandelbaum, a lawyer with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said, “For energy efficiency policy in Iowa, for all practical purposes, we’re at the point where we will need to start over. The policy has been eviscerated enough that we just have poor to non-existent energy-efficiency policy at this point.”

Mandelbaum and Johannsen said the legislation runs counter to the Iowa Energy Plan, a policy document crafted in a process lead by Gov. Reynolds, who was then Iowa’s lieutenant governor. The plan, published in late 2016, endorsed, among other strategies, state policies that encourage greater energy efficiency.

The state’s two major investor-owned utilities could not be reached over the weekend, but the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives released a statement Friday pronouncing the bill good for rural electric customers.

“Iowa’s electric cooperatives will continue to offer energy efficiency programs to member-owners,” said Steve Seidl, board president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperative. “We will further our commitment to environmental stewardship and renewable energy. The newly signed legislation will ensure that our energy efficiency programs are cost-effective — meaning that co-op member-owners aren’t footing the bill for a program that isn’t financially responsible.”

Most states require utilities to spend money subsidizing efficient products and technologies such as LED lighting and high-efficiency appliances. The programs help lower bills for participants as well as all utility customers by delaying the need for more expensive infrastructure projects.

The Iowa bill would cap spending on energy efficiency at 2 percent of annual sales for electricity utilities and 1.5 percent of sales of natural gas utilities. It also would limit expenditures on demand response programs at 2 percent of sales.

Johannsen estimates that utility spending on reducing electricity use will fall by between 50 and 70 percent. The reduction in natural gas efficiency programs, at close to 90 percent, “is going to be devastating,” she predicted.

Mandelbaum said that in light of the law’s passage, the state’s two major investor-owned utilities, MidAmerican Energy and Interstate Power & Light, indicated they will revise the five-year energy-efficiency plans they filed with the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this year.

Interstate’s plan ranked slightly above 1 on the Ratepayer Impact Test, meaning opt-out is not an option. MidAmerican’s plan scores below 1, meaning opt-out is available at present.

“MidAmerican said they would file something where opt-out would not end up happening,” Mandelbaum said. But the only way, under the current law, for MidAmerican to hike its score is to cut lower-scoring parts of the energy-efficiency program, he said.

“So it’s a lose-lose. You either allow opt-out, and that cuts funding for programs that do exist, or you cut programs so there is no opt-out. Either way, it’s bad for the programs.”

Mandelbaum said clean-energy supporters will express their views on the two utilities’ energy-efficiency plans as they move through the state regulatory process. And more broadly, they will “think about what options we may have going forward.”

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Rauner finally moves on Asian carp—and gets some praise

by Greg Hinz

It’s been a while since the last round of scary headlines about voracious Asian carp potentially making their way to Lake Michigan and gobbling up everything but your wading toddler. But environmentalists, fishermen and those who use the Great Lakes for commerce sure haven’t forgotten.

Now, there’s a new development that ought to help keep both the fish and headlines at bay.

Gov. Bruce Rauner this weekend announced that the state is willing to take the lead as the non-federal sponsor on a program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install new locks at Brandon Road, on the Illinois River near Joliet.

Specifically, Rauner released a copy of a letter he has sent to other Great Lakes governors, which says Illinois will serve as sponsor and which expresses Rauner’s “hope that we can come together as a regional coalition of Great Lakes states to protect our lakes, our economy, and our ecosystems.”

The letter and an accompanying statement did not explain if earlier Illinois concerns have been resolved, including who would pay $100 million in capital and $10 million in annual operating costs. But according to Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council, “If the corps can address our economic, transportation, environmental, and cost concerns in partnership with Illinois—we have no problem working with other states to enhance our efforts at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam.”

The action is being hailed as good news by Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Gov. Rauner is recognizing the reality that Illinois voters care deeply about protecting the Great Lakes, and that it’s time to step up with serious actions to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan where they would create economic and ecological havoc,” Learner said in an email. “Investing in protections at Brandon Road to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is more sensible and cost-effective than trying later to treat the disease.”

Apparently at least one area of disagreement remains: whether to widen the locks to roughly 150 feet in width, twice their current size. Barge industry officials favor that, but Learner’s group opposes it on the grounds that wider locks give carp more room to maneuver up stream.

Read full article here. 

 

Toledo Blade: Algal Blooms Harder to Control because of Climate Change, Data Shared at ELPC Science-Policy Conference

May 1, 2018
Algal Blooms Harder to Control Because of Climate Change, Other Factors, Data Shows
By Tom Henry

ANN ARBOR — As toxin-producing algal blooms similar to those that foul western Lake Erie each summer continue to rise exponentially throughout the world, a growing body of scientific data is emerging that shows they are getting harder to control because of climate change, invasive species, and global trade.

Their potential long-term impact on humans also means more cancer risk — not just short-term stomach cramps and diarrhea — and there needs to be a greater research emphasis on the role of nitrogen in driving up their toxicity, according to a variety of scientific presentations made Tuesday at the University of Michigan.

Don’t assume you’re safe limiting your fish consumption or contact with the water, either.

More is being learned about inhalation of airborne particles as an exposure pathway, said Lorraine Backer, senior scientist/environmental epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health.

She said a study at two other bodies of water found a small amount of the algal toxin microcystin on nasal swabs of some participants — not enough to endanger their health, but evidence of inhalation exposure.

Jiyoung Lee, Ohio State University environmental health sciences associate professor, said she has found vegetables such as carrots and green beans are able to uptake minute levels of algal toxins when sprayed with water containing them. She also said walleye and other fish developed cancerous liver tumors in lab tests.

Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Laboratory Director Chris Winslow said a research project is being assembled with Lake Erie charter boat captains to measure their airborne exposure levels while out on the water.

The presentations were made during the first day of the 2018 Science-Policy Confluence Conference organized by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research and the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. The institute is a program headed on UM’s campus by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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