ISSUES

Trump Administration’s Clean Water Rollback Threatens America’s Drinking Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sarah Eddy, 312-795-3710, seddy@elpc.org

Trump Administration’s Clean Water Rollback Threatens America’s Drinking Water

Pausing Clean Water Protections Wrong for the Great Lakes Region and America

CHICAGO – Today’s announcement by the Trump Administration’s EPA to rollback federal clean water rules undermines safe clean drinking water across the nation and threatens progress to protect the Midwest’s vital waterways, including the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins.

“The Trump Administration’s attacks on safe clean drinking water are a threat to the environment and public health. Too many Midwest cities and towns are already experiencing unsafe drinking water, and this rollback of critical protections of our community waterways will only exacerbate the problem,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The action today rolls back clean water rules that define which waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act. The 2015 Waters of the United States standard recognized that our water resources are so interconnected that in order to protect our celebrated waterways – like the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes – it’s necessary to protect the backyard brooks, community creeks, and steady streams that feed them.

“This foolish proposal rejects science and it imperils progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest,” Learner said. “The interconnectedness of our waterways must have federal oversight to ensure the safety and security of our fresh water. We need more protections for the clean water we all rely upon for drinking, fishing, and recreation, not less. We can’t afford to go backwards when it comes to reducing pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams.”

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New Environmental Study of Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Improperly Rejects Alternatives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Chuck Tenneson, charles@driftlessconservancy.org, 608-930-3252

Sarah Eddy, seddy@elpc.org, 312-795-3710

DODGEVILLE, Wis., Dec. 10, 2018 – The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line includes only a cursory review of non-transmission alternatives to the high-voltage line such as greater energy efficiency, local renewables, and energy storage, despite requirements in federal law that alternatives be considered thoroughly. The draft EIS admits that non-transmission alternatives, along with lower-voltage and underground alternatives, were “not carried forward for detailed analysis.”

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line in southwest Wisconsin would cut a swath through the state’s scenic and ecologically unique Driftless Area. The cost of the project would be borne by electric ratepayers in Wisconsin and other states and energy experts have concluded that the new transmission line is not needed due to flattened demand for electricity in Wisconsin and recent advances in energy technology.

The costs and environmental damage that would be created by the transmission line has sparked opposition and legal challenges from local grassroots citizens and conservation groups. Wisconsin’s Dane and Iowa Counties voted to oppose the transmission line and have intervened in the Public Service Commission proceedings to fight the project.

“We wouldn’t think of putting a power line across the Grand Canyon, so why would we think of putting one through one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the Upper Midwest?” Said Dave Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “We have a national treasure in the Driftless Area, and we should treat it like one.”

“RUS is required by federal law to ‘rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives’ to proposed transmission lines like the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project,” said Howard Learner, one of the Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys representing DALC. “RUS cannot simply look at different environmentally harmful routes for this huge transmission line and call it a day.”

“Iowa County residents have come together to adamantly oppose this unneeded high-voltage power line, which would irreversibly damage the landscape, ecology, and recreation economy we depend on,” said Betsy D’Angelo, a member of the Driftless Defenders’ leadership team. “There are alternatives that can improve our electric system without damaging the Driftless Area’s most important natural areas.”

“The draft environmental impact statement for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project ignores the reality of new technology that has improved energy efficiency and decreased the demand for electricity,” said David Meylor, chairman of the Western Dane Preservation Campaign, the Mount Horeb area citizens group formed to oppose the line. “Recent analyses of electric demand demonstrate that the expensive, invasive Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project simply isn’t needed.”

“The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission line will have a significant negative impact on fish and wildlife habitat and the management of public lands in Southwestern Wisconsin and in light of other energy alternatives should not be constructed,” stated George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line would install towers of up to 175-feet along a 100-mile route that would affect sensitive natural areas and disrupt economic activity. The project could cost ratepayers more than $1 billion during the life of the project, including a profit margin for the transmission line’s utility owners that is guaranteed by Wisconsin law.

Legal counsel for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy will be reviewing the RUS’s draft EIS in greater detail and will submit comprehensive public comments to the agency. Members of the public are strongly encouraged to submit comments before the deadline of Feb. 5, 2019.

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Issued by:

Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Driftless Defenders

Environmental Law and Policy Center

Western Dane County Preservation Campaign

Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

November 26, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Kerri Johannsen, 515-244-0123 ext. 208

Peter Gray, 312-629-9400

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

Iowa school districts can apply now for VW settlement funding to purchase electric school buses

DES MOINES, IA — Iowa school children may soon breathe easier thanks to $3.15 million in funding for cleaner school, shuttle, and transit buses recently announced by the Iowa Department of Transportation. School districts that apply by Jan. 18 will be eligible to receive funding.

Iowa DOT is accepting grant applications for the first round of funding created by the Volkswagen Diesel scandal lawsuits. Iowa will receive a total of approximately $21 million to replace dirty diesel vehicles and equipment as a result of the settlements.

While multiple bus technologies are eligible for funding, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council advocated for the funds to be used for electric school buses because they will create long-term savings for taxpayers while protecting children’s health and reducing air pollution. The operating cost of electric school buses is roughly half that of diesel buses due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. Investing VW settlement funds in electric buses will advance this emerging vehicle technology and help Iowa jump-start the transition to a cleaner transportation system.

Pollution from school buses has been shown to negatively affect children’s health and is a major source of school children’s exposure to black carbon. Diesel exhaust exacerbates asthma, the most common chronic health condition among U.S. children.

“Electric school buses make sense for our children’s health and our school districts’ budgets,” said Steve Falck, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Department of Transportation is making a smart move by helping put electric school buses on the road in Iowa.”

“School districts want the savings and clean air benefits that electric school buses create,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council. “This first round of funding will kick-start a new technology that creates long-term savings for Iowa communities.”

Multiple states are piloting programs that use electric school buses as a source of flexible energy storage to improve electric grid stability. Across the Midwest, more than $20 million in funding for electric school buses has been announced — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio have all dedicated funds from the VW settlement to invest in electric school buses. Information on the Iowa funding opportunity is available at the program website, https://www.iowadot.gov/vwsettlement.

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The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. We develop and lead successful strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to protect our natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs a teamwork approach using legal, economic analysis, public policy advocacy and research, and communications tools to produce successes that improve both our environment and our economy. Learn more at ELPC.org.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa’s natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.

Howard Learner on the State of Solar in the Midwest

ELPC’s President and Executive Director, Howard Learner, joined SEIA’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, November 14 at the Solar Power Midwest conference to discuss key trends facing the solar industry in the Midwest. There was a discussion on the state of distributed and utility-scale solar since the passage of critical energy legislation in Illinois and Michigan, how recent electoral outcomes factor into regional opportunities and challenges to solar, and how effective strategic partnerships can make solar a more dominant player in the Midwest energy landscape.

Howard closed the conversation with a call of optimism for the future of clean energy saying “We can blow through the 7GW of solar we have in the Midwest if we get the implementation right and seize the opportunities presented.”

Energywire: Board Shuts Down Vistra Effort to Fast-Track Coal Plant Ruling

Board shuts down Vistra effort to fast-track coal plant ruling

November 5, 2018

By Jeffrey Tomich

The Illinois Pollution Control Board denied a request by Vistra Energy Corp. to expedite new rules that would let the company run its dirtier and more profitable coal plants in the state more frequently.

In an order last week, the five-member board said the Irving, Texas-based power producer’s claims of “economic harms” didn’t justify an expedited rulemaking.

“The board is not convinced that the need to address wholesale energy market issues should control the substance or timing of proposed amendments to a substantive environmental regulation,” the six-page order said.

The order comes a month after the board proposed modifications to Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) that includes pollution limits for Vistra’s 18 coal units representing more than 5,000 megawatts (Energywire, Oct. 5).

The Pollution Control Board’s proposal is a sort of compromise between the power producer’s effort to get relief from existing emissions rules and critics, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and a coalition of environmental groups, which want to keep existing standards in place.

Vistra had asked the board to finalize the rule change by Feb. 1, after which it would be subject to review by a legislative committee before taking effect. Madigan and environmental advocates challenged the request.

Vistra CEO Curt Morgan told analysts during a Friday conference call that the board’s proposal is “reasonable and fair” and he now expects a final outcome in April or May, after which the company could make decisions related to the future of its Illinois coal fleet.

The power producer has suggested it may shutter coal units in southern Illinois based on what executives view as inadequate capacity payments — payments made to ensure power plants are ready to run during periods of peak demand.

Morgan said Vistra is continuing work to “optimize” its Illinois portfolio and believes it can achieve a “reasonably significant” improvement in earnings from its Illinois plants. The company will be ready to act on that plan as soon as it gets an outcome from the Pollution Control Board.

“We’re going to be in a position to execute immediately,” Morgan said. “If the deal goes through the way it is now, we know what we would do. It’s just a matter of timing. But we also have been contingency planning, so if something else happened, then we would be prepared for that, as well.”

A possible wild card in the administrative rulemaking process? Politics.

Illinois voters will elect a governor tomorrow, and polls point to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeating incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker earlier this year criticized the rule proposed at Vistra’s request by the Illinois EPA.

In response to a questionnaire sent to candidates by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Democrat said of the proposed MPS rule change: “I will stand on the side of science and reason and not scrap limits on pollution.”

But would a new governor, during his first months in office and facing a fiscal crisis, step in and derail an administrative rule initiated by his predecessor?

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups challenging Vistra’s petition, believes a Pritzker administration would reassess the state’s position on the rule proposal.

“You’re dealing with a proposal that came from the Illinois EPA,” he said.

While the board wouldn’t explicitly seek out a new governor’s stance before issuing a ruling, Learner said he believes this week’s election will provide important context for their decision.

“They’ll be interested to hear what [the administration’s] position is if a new governor is elected,” he said.

READ FULL STORY

Inside Climate News: Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out

Can Illinois handle a 2000% jump in solar capacity? We’re about to find out

October 30, 2018

By Dan Gearino

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

“The stakes are high,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. “I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there’s no question we’ll face some roadblocks and things we didn’t think of.”

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois’ combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

“It’s going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

READ FULL STORY

 

6 Reasons Why this Tax is a Crummy Way to Improve Illinois’ Roads and Bridges

6 Reasons Why this Tax is a Crummy Way to Improve Illinois’ Roads and Bridges

The political rhetoric on a possible new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax begs the question of whether or not this makes good sense on the merits. It doesn’t. The VMT tax is not a sound or fair way to fund Illinois’ transportation infrastructure.

Current gas tax revenues are insufficient to meet Illinois’ infrastructure needs. Oil companies, the trucking industry and a few politicians propose raising more revenues by shifting from gas taxes to VMT taxes, which charge drivers based on how many miles they travel. This would require installing a new onboard tracking device in every vehicle, and a new state bureaucracy to calculate taxes owed and assign revenues to appropriate jurisdictions.

If Illinois legislators believe that more funding is needed for infrastructure investments, then raising the gas tax is fairer, simpler and better policy. Twenty-seven states, including Indiana, Iowa and Michigan, have raised or reformed their gas taxes since 2013. Gas and other motor fuel taxes are: easily administered with existing mechanisms; capture revenues from out-of-state drivers who use Illinois roads so they pay their fair share for repairs and improvements, and effectively price carbon pollution while incentivizing cleaner cars that provide air quality improvement benefits for everyone. Here’s why the VMT tax doesn’t work well for Illinois.

First, a state VMT tax is unfair for “crossroads” states, like Illinois, with interstate highways used by millions of out-of-state drivers. Changing to VMT taxes would give a free ride to out-of-state motorists who now pay Illinois gas taxes to maintain the Illinois highways that they use. Why would Illinois policymakers want Illinois drivers to subsidize highway use for out-of-state motorists?

Second, current gas taxes are simple to administer at the pump and can be adjusted using existing mechanisms. The VMT tax would instead require installing new technology in personal cars and a costly new bureaucracy.

Third, the VMT tax would penalize modern new clean hybrid and electric vehicles that pollute much less than old internal combustion engine and diesel vehicles. These cleaner cars produce air quality, public health and other environmental quality benefits for everyone. With federal tax credits incentivizing purchases of electric vehicles, why create a new VMT tax system that charges people more?

Fourth, gas taxes price carbon to discourage greenhouse gas pollution and promote solutions. If you’re driving fuel efficient, low-polluting cars like the Chevy Bolt, Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius, then you’d pay the same VMT tax as someone driving a highly-polluting gas guzzler. Illinois won’t face a large erosion of gas tax revenues from electric vehicle market penetration for many years. There’s no real problem to solve now.

Fifth, heavy trucks that cause an extraordinary amount of road wear-and-tear could get off easy under VMT taxes. The Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 report, in comparing gas taxes and VMT taxes, emphasized the disproportionately high road wear from trucks compared to miles driven: “Heavy trucks travel less than 10 percent of all vehicle miles, but their costs per mile are far higher than are those for passenger vehicles, and they are responsible for most pavement damage.”

Sixth, many people have sincere privacy concerns that VMT taxes require drivers to install tracking devices that enable governments to view their mileage, locations and time of travel. Pew Research’s February 2015 poll found that 67 percent of Americans said that “Not having someone watch you or listen to you without your permission” was “Very important” to them, with an additional 20 percent responding “Somewhat important.”

If legislators are reluctant to raise gas taxes, then why do they think VMT taxes would be any more popular? Illinois policymakers can support gas tax increases — as many states have already done — to improve transportation infrastructure. A VMT tax is the wrong tool to address Illinois’ transportation challenges.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE

Energy News Network: Illinois Pollution Board Proposes New Emissions Rules in Dynegy Coal Saga

Illinois pollution board proposes new emissions rules in Dynegy coal saga

By Kari Lydersen

The Illinois Pollution Control Board is taking public comments on an amended emissions rule for Dynegy’s coal plants in the state.

Last year, the pollution control board had put forth rules written by the Illinois EPA with much input — even line edits — from Dynegy itself, as emails and documents obtained by environmental groups showed.

Clean air advocates say the new proposed rules are better than those earlier ones but still do not do enough to limit pollution from the aging coal plants.

“They are lower than what Illinois EPA was proposing and lower than what Dynegy is asking for, but still significantly higher than what the company has emitted in recent years,” said James Gignac, lead Midwest energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The company Vistra, which acquired Dynegy this year, released a statement saying it supports the pollution control board’s proposal, which includes stricter emissions caps than those previously recommended but keeps intact what’s known as a mass-based approach, in which the company gets a flat, fleet-wide cap instead of one based on the amount of power generated, or a rate-based approach. The proposal also includes a measure ardently backed by clean air advocates: that when a plant closes or is “mothballed,” the emissions it had been allowed be removed from the total cap.

Clean air advocates say they feel they are now in a waiting game, with much hanging on the public comment period and how the board responds to comments, including whether it makes total emissions caps for the plants stricter.

Dirty and clean plants

Opponents of the mass-based approach fear it will let Dynegy continue running or ramp up its dirtier coal plants, while potentially closing or ramping down cleaner plants that are more expensive to run.

“Any plant under a mass-based approach can pollute more and another one can pollute less — it still means an older plant with less pollution control can up its emissions,” said Toba Pearlman, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “[The recent proposal] is probably good for Vistra and bad for the people that live around the plants… We do think this is part of a larger strategy for Dynegy to squeeze Illinois for more money on their plants.”

The NRDC and Sierra Club in May released a report showing that Dynegy’s coal plants could close without affecting Illinois’ energy supply, noting the plants’ output could be replaced with renewable energy.

Vistra’s statement praised the latest proposal for allowing the company “the flexibility to assess and optimize its fleet of power plants to compete in the market.” It added that while Vistra’s subsidiary Luminant, which controls the plants, “supported the IEPA proposal, the company believes the IPCB proposal to be thoughtful and reasonable. Luminant will work constructively through the remainder of the process and looks forward to fully implementing the new standards.”

Dynegy acquired the five plants in 2013, with then-owner Ameren practically paying the company to take them off its hands. Since then Dynegy has worked on multiple fronts to try to keep the plants profitable, including a failed attempt to include supports in the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act and an ongoing effort to change capacity market structures or switch markets, along with pushing for less stringent pollution requirements.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, noted that the pollution limits being amended have been on the books for a decade.

“They had plenty of time to adjust and retrofit their plants to come into compliance,” he said. “When Dynegy bought those plants, they knew what the standards were. And when Vistra bought Dynegy, they knew…but when the deadline came, they turned to a backroom deal.”

READ FULL STORY

 

Energy News Network: Michigan PURPA Rulings a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Power Producers

Michigan PURPA Rulings a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Power Producers

By Andy Balaskovitz

Independent power producers say recent rulings by Michigan regulators provide short-term development opportunities but also more uncertainty in the coming years as they negotiate contracts with a major utility.

On October 5, the Michigan Public Service Commission issued multiple orders related to the prices Consumers Energy pays to independent producers under federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) contracts.

One ruling allows for up to 150 megawatts worth of projects to qualify for PURPA contracts at rates that advocates say are more favorable for developers. The rates had been on hold for months as regulators settled questions around avoided costs and contract terms. Avoided costs are the rates paid by law to independent producers based on the price of the utility building the generation itself.

However, it’s unclear how long those terms will stay in place or how much opportunity there will be in the future. In the coming months, the MPSC may allow Consumers to restructure those rates and contract terms in ways that developers say would stifle PURPA contracts. While the most recent rulings apply to Consumers, DTE Energy’s avoided costs are also under consideration.

Clean energy advocates and independent power producers have been closely following the cases for more than two years as PURPA rules could determine the level of third-party solar development in the state. The debate over PURPA and solar development has played out in multiple states in recent years.

Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which intervened in Consumers’ rate cases, said the rulings effectively delay certainty over PURPA contracts by pushing them into Consumers’ IRP, which won’t be finalized for another six months.

“That undercurrent is a troubling,” Kearney said. “Do we really want a commission that isn’t making timely decisions and bouncing issues from one contested case to another?”
If the MPSC doesn’t agree with Consumers’ proposed avoided costs and contract terms, the company still has the ability to withdraw its IRP, while granting the utility’s request could harm developers, Kearney said.

“They’ve suggested that if any part of their plan is not approved, they could pull the whole thing,” Kearney said. “The change in the contract terms would strike a huge blow to independent power producers.”

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Joint Statement Regarding North Dakota PSC Dismissal of Case Against Meridian Energy Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Sarah Eddy, 312-795-3710

Scott Skokos, 701-224-8587

Joint Statement Regarding PSC Dismissal of Case Against Meridian Energy Group

Bismarck, ND—In a decision today, the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) dismissed the complaint of the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center against Meridian Energy Group, jeopardizing the PSC’s regulatory jurisdiction in the process.

This decision ignores the clear statutory and constitutional mandate for the PSC to act as an independent regulator of North Dakota’s utilities. The PSC’s siting laws are the bedrock of sensible utility siting in North Dakota, including not just for oil refineries, but also for wind, solar, electric transmission, power plants, and pipelines.

Rather than considering the case on its merits, the PSC today chose to dismiss this case without even granting a hearing, concluding that the PSC lacks any authority whatsoever to determine through formal proceedings whether Meridian needs a siting permit to construct a major oil refinery. The PSC chose to rely on an affidavit of Meridian’s CEO to conclude that the company does not need a permit. In other words, the PSC has taken the position that if a company states that it does not need a permit, then the PSC will trust the company at its word. The PSC’s decision ignores its duty as an independent utility regulator and the rights of North Dakotans to seek formal determinations from the PSC. This is a pivotal decision that could broadly affect the PSC’s ability to regulate everything from electric rates, to coal mines, to wind siting, and oil refinery siting, and it should concern all North Dakotans.

The Dakota Resource Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center are conferring with their legal counsel and reviewing next steps, including a review of this decision in district court.

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