Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The North Dakota Forum, the state’s largest-circulation newspaper, published a May 13th editorial calling for stronger protections of the state’s culturally important places from oil, gas and other potentially damaging development. The editorial sites the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s good efforts to protect sensitive habitat, cultural values, water and landscapes from inappropriate development. Read the editorial.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
ELPC released this statement on May 13th in Iowa:
Record nitrate levels in both the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers represent a clarion call for tackling nutrient pollution in Iowa. Nutrient pollution from excessive nitrogen and phosphorous has significant Iowa consequences such as the increased cost and effort that the Des Moines Water Works must incur to ensure the safety of the water we drink and toxic algae blooms in our lakes that keep us away from the waters we love. The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Iowa staff attorney, Josh Mandelbaum, released a short statement:
“It is not acceptable to have nitrate levels that are nearing or exceeding twice the allowable federal drinking water standard.
“The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources released Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy last November. While the strategy focused on reducing Iowa’s nitrogen and phosphorous contributions to the Gulf of Mexico, it lacked detail, accountability and a roadmap to bring Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act and protect Iowans from the consequences of nutrient pollution.
“Nutrient pollution has been an ongoing problem in our state, and repackaging the same approaches we’ve used for years as a new strategy won’t get the job done. We need standards designed for Iowa waterways to protect our health and our water resources. We need farm stewardship plans to implement conservation practices across the landscape and make meaningful progress.
“The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy should be revised to include a plan to implement standards designed for Iowa waters and farm stewardship plans to get conservation practices in place across the landscape. If department leaders don’t make these changes to protect Iowans, then the legislature should.”
For more on the nitrate issue and water issues across Iowa, visit InIowaWater.org.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Celebrating green jobs in Missouri
By Mary Anne Myers
In the wake of Earth Day, environmentalists look back at the progress they have made. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, reported in the news media as a protest movement against pollution, some have tried to paint environmentalists as “radicals” who don’t really understand the economy.
Howard Learner, who founded the Environmental Law and Policy Center 20 years ago this month, said there is nothing “radical” about it. In fact, curbing pollution creates jobs, he said.
“If you had said to people 20 years ago, ‘Here’s how much wind power will be up and running in the Midwest. There’ll be about 10,000 megawatts of power. Iowa will be number two in the country, Illinois number five, Minnesota number six.’ Those people would have looked at you and said, ‘Well, that’s a little out there.’”
Today, some call clean-energy investments “job killers,” although Learner said that is incorrect. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 3 million people hold “green” jobs. A half-million are in manufacturing, 370,000 in construction, and nearly 350,000 in professional, scientific and technical services.
With more than 70 percent of pollution coming from the energy and transportation sectors, political squabbling solves nothing, Learner said.
“There are no Democratic forests and no Republican rivers,” he said. “When we see the extreme weather events happening, the public is smart, and the public is telling our policy makers it’s time to get serious about solutions.”
Learner considers himself a myth buster. He said the biggest myth is that you can’t have economic growth and a better environment, pointing to Peters Heating and Air Conditioning as an example. The Illinois company specializes in geothermal technology. It started more than 30 years ago in Quincy, Ill. Today, it has three more locations in Illinois and three in Missouri, and brings in around $10 million in revenue.
“We can do smart solutions with technological innovation,” Learner said, “better solutions in terms of energy, better transportation solutions that make our communities work, that reduce pollution and improve our economy.”
He says there are other signs of progress in Missouri. Since 2008, the small town of Rock Port, Mo., has been getting 100 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. It was the first community in the nation to do so.
Story available online at http://kmaland.com/01891_GREEN_JOBS_131302.asp
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Revising clean-energy rules might wait till fall
By Dan Gearino
An attempt to rewrite Ohio’s clean-energy requirements is on hold while state legislators try to make sense of weeks of testimony on the subject.
It might be months before the issue resurfaces, said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee.
“While I make no predictions, it is entirely possible that a substitute bill might not be rolled out until this fall, to give everybody plenty of time to digest what we’ve heard and thought about,” he said.
Seitz’s committee is looking at changing some of the rules in Senate Bill 221, a 2008 energy law that set standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The law says that by 2025, utilities must get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable or “advanced” sources, and they must use energy-efficiency projects to reduce customers’ electricity use by 22 percent.
Rather than begin with a proposal, the committee held a series of hearings in March and April.
The result is that the panel has a vast amount of information to parse before its members will be ready to write their plan. Seitz said he is consulting with his colleagues “to find out to what degree there is consensus on what changes we should make.” He has not yet briefed Senate leadership about the hearings and possible approaches to the bill, he said.
In the hearings, FirstEnergy was the leading critic of energy-efficiency mandates, with many other groups staking out their positions based on similarities or differences with the Akron-based utility. The company has said that the 2008 law will lead to a drastic increase in electricity bills.
“These consequences are harming electric customers, delaying our state’s economic recovery and limiting Ohio’s prospects for future growth,” said Leila Vespoli, the company’s general counsel, in her April 9 testimony.
Supporters of the law have said that FirstEnergy is being disingenuous in saying it’s fighting for consumers’ interests.
“So, here’s where we are at: Energy-efficiency programs mean FirstEnergy makes less profit,” said Robert Kelter, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in his April 23 testimony. “I think at this point you’re beginning to see why FirstEnergy doesn’t like efficiency.”
The push to change the Ohio law is part of a national trend in which state legislatures are trying to roll back green-energy requirements. More than a dozen states have taken at least preliminary steps toward curbing the rules, including North Carolina, Missouri and Kansas.
Opponents of an Ohio rollback have tried to tie the effort to a national push by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that brings elected officials and businesses together to write legislation. Seitz is a member of the group’s board of directors.
Unlike some of the other states, though, there is no proposal yet in Ohio and no way to know whether the state will follow any of the others.
Ohio business groups came at the issues from several directions. The Ohio Energy Group, a coalition of some of the state’s largest manufacturers, has said its members would like to be exempted from some of the mandates. The Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, a separate coalition of major employers, agrees with FirstEnergy that the law will lead to unreasonable rate increases. And last, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, a trade group, is asking legislators to stick with the current rules.
The manufacturers’ association and environmental groups co-sponsored a study that estimates that Ohio will save $5.6 billion by 2020 because of the energy-efficiency rules. “Watering down the standards or eliminating them entirely would be an unfortunate and risky step backward for Ohio, and a blow to our broader economic-recovery efforts,” said Eric Burkland, president of the association, in a statement released along with the study.
Opponents of the rules have said the study is based on hypothetical scenarios and cannot be trusted.
While the argument continued about energy efficiency, almost nobody was proposing to reduce the renewable-energy rules. The most-forceful opponent of those rules was James Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative research group based in Chicago.
Supporters of wind, solar and other types of renewable energy said they were relieved that there was little opposition to the rules from businesses or other groups in Ohio.
Available online at: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2013/05/05/revising-clean-energy-rules-might-wait-till-fall.html
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Advocates say Iowa utility’s plan doesn’t go far enough on efficiency
By Karen Uhlenhuth
An Iowa utility with plans to build a new natural gas-fired power plant is also cutting back on efficiency efforts, in what advocates say is a case of misplaced priorities.
Several organizations have critiqued a five-year energy efficiency plan filed in November by Interstate Power and Light (IPL), one of three investor-owned utilities serving the state. Every five years, Iowa’s large power companies are required to submit a plan to state regulators for reducing energy consumption over the next five years.
Interstate’s latest proposal, to take effect on Jan. 1, left some of the state’s efficiency advocates underwhelmed.
“They’re leaving a lot of energy efficiency that is achievable on the table,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a Des Moines-based staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The center, together with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Policy Project, last month filed a response to Interstate’s plan.
All three groups are members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
Interstate’s overall goal – to reduce retail sales of electricity by 1.1 percent annually from 2014 through 2018 – would be a slight reduction from the 1.3 percent average annual reduction it achieved from 2009-2012. Iowa law allows utilities to pass efficiency costs on to ratepayers; Interstate proposes cutting those reimbursements from $73.1 million in 2012 to $62.6 million in 2014.
Interstate’s goal falls far short of reductions deemed feasible by a recent study commissioned by the state’s three large utilities. The study, done in 2012 by The Cadmus Group, a consulting firm, estimated that given optimal conditions and aggressive efforts by Interstate, it could cut retail electricity sales by just over 2 percent each of the next five years, or about twice Interstate’s goal.
“We don’t see any good reason why they’re not going after more (efficiency)” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “If they’re leaving the most economical and cleanest source of power, then they’re going after sources that are more costly and more polluting.”
Running out of opportunities to save?
Interstate intends to build a 600-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant near Marshalltown, to go into operation in 2017. Baer and Mandelbaum challenge the company’s pursuit of another plant at the same time that, in their view, Interstate isn’t working hard enough to meet future demand through energy efficiency.
“I think the company is focused on that rate of return (from building and operating a new power plant) and not on the environment or the Iowa economy,” Baer said.
Interstate spokesman Justin Foss, however, disputes that characterization.
“Our energy resources plan incorporates efficiency and diversifying our energy portfolio,” he said. “It isn’t either/or.”
The Council contends that several strategies could significantly boost energy savings among Interstate’s customers.
The “key,” according to Baer, is increasing the subsidy to customers who invest in efficiency upgrades such as more-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Currently, he said, Interstate’s subsidies vary, but might average in the neighborhood of 50 percent of the extra up-front cost of efficient products. The Cadmus study suggests that utilities pay 100 percent of those costs.
Although it’s not really clear to what extent Interstate’s customers already have made efficiency upgrades, Baer said there likely are many customers who haven’t moved to more efficient products. Bigger incentives might get them on board, he said, as well as possibly encouraging earlier adopters to embrace more recent or upcoming technological advances.
Foss, however, said further incentives likely would be wasteful and redundant. The greatest efficiencies have been wrung out of the system already, and additional efficiencies would provide lesser results for a greater cost.
In the proposal it filed with the state’s utility regulator, Interstate said, “IPL must dedicate ever greater resources to capturing deeper energy savings from harder-to-reach customer segments and later adopters.”
For example, Foss said, “if you bought a furnace two years ago, and you went from 80 to 95 percent efficiency, and now there’s a furnace out there that’s 97 percent efficient, are you going to replace your two-year-old furnace?
And if you bought compact fluorescent bulbs a year ago, will you – and should you – throw them out now in favor of more-efficient LED bulbs?
“That’s the question people have to ask themselves,” Foss said.
‘Get all savings possible’
Mandelbaum termed Foss’ argument mostly “an excuse” for Interstate’s failure to more aggressively pursue efficiency strategies.
Increased efficiency doesn’t rely only on those customers who’ve already upgraded, said Andy Johnson, executive director of the Winneshiek Energy District, a Decorah, Iowa-based non-profit that promotes energy sustainability.
More customers would move towards efficiency if it were, in a manner of speaking, delivered to their door, Johnson said. In his response to Interstate’s plan, Johnson said utilities don’t provide enough technical assistance to customers. In general, he said, utilities provide audits, reports that typically end up on a high shelf to gather dust.
If utility customers could consult with an energy planner from their community, who would not only assess their current efficiency needs, but also nudge them until they make the improvements, efficiency would take a great leap forward, according to Johnson.
Winneshiek has experimented with what Johnson terms “energy planning,” with the result that 90 percent of 50 businesses that received an energy audit went on to make at least one of the recommended efficiency improvements.
Johnson and other critics say Interstate could achieve more efficiency with a greater focus on industrial and commercial customers. Baer said Interstate should, for example, nudge industries towards construction of combined heat and power plants, which can dramatically improve efficiency by making use of waste heat.
Data centers in particular are ripe for efficiency improvements, critics said. Iowa is attracting a growing number of data centers – most recently Facebook, as well as those of other large institutions such as universities and hospitals.
“It’s a fast-growing energy-use sector,” said Baer. “We think they need to focus on those and get all savings possible.”
The potential is great, said Mandelbaum, given that, per square foot, data centers typically use about 100 times as much energy as more typical offices.
He and Baer also take issue with Interstate’s proposed termination of an incentive for customers who install renewables on-site, which can help offset demand. Interstate launched a pilot project in 2008, then instituted it statewide in August 2011. The company says the program has gotten very few takers, and hasn’t proven cost-effective.
However, Mandelbaum points out that in 2012, the program paid rebates to 57 customers, and that in the first three months of 2013, 32 customers qualified for rebates. At that rate, he said, the response in 2013 would more than double that of 2012.
“That to me is a sign that the program is working,” he said.
The bottom line, Mandelbaum said, is that efficiency planning calls for expansive thinking. The fact that the plan reaches five years into the future, “makes it that much more important that you be aggressive and forward-thinking.”
Story available online at http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/05/07/advocates-say-iowa-utilitys-plan-doesnt-go-far-enough-on-efficiency/
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
IL Renews Industry Mine Pollution Permit
By Scott Stuntz, May 1, 2013
The Illinois EPA has decided to renew a permit a for coal mine near Industry. The permit, called an NPDES permit, allows the mine to discharge certain amounts of pollutants into state waterways.
This is the same permit that, last year, the Illinois Pollution control Board found the mine had violated over 600 times.
The Illinois Attorney General filed suit against the owners of the mine, Springfield Coal, after several environmental groups filed started their own legal action.
Jessica Dexter is an attorney with one of the groups, the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
She said the ELPC is already looking into challenging the permit renewal.
“I can’t think of an example that would be a better situation for I-EPA to deny a permit until the permitee can show it intends to comply with the terms of the permit,” Dexter said.
Kim Sedgwick lived near the Industry mine site along Grindstone Creek. She said she and her late husband began exploring ways to express their concern through legal channels after seeing what the mine did to forests in the area.
Sedgwick now lives in Macomb and says after a while the process frustrated her.
“After a decade of pursuing these issues, and after being cross examined in the administrative reviews and looked down upon, after hiring a lawyer and after being laughed at by the hearing officers, IDNR personnel and of course the mine, we became so discouraged and exhausted, both holding down full time jobs, building a house, being a caregiver for an elderly parent that we had to bow out,” Sedgwick said in a written statement.
She released another statement after the EPA renewed the mine’s pollution permit saying, “this is a complete mockery of our state agency and our Illinois system.”
The Illinois Pollution Control board has yet to levy fines against the company. ELPC Attorney Dexter said a decision should be made some time in June and the fines could total 60 million dollars.
The renewed permit also allows coal from the proposed Littleton Mine to be processed at the Industry site.
This story available at http://www.tristatesradio.com/post/il-renews-industry-mine-pollution-permit
Friday, May 3, 2013
Environmental groups and Illinois’ senior U.S. senator are asking the Department of Justice to strengthen an agreement with Lake Michigan Carferry Inc. that calls for the company to stop dumping coal-combustion ash into Lake Michigan.After a long dispute between the company and U.S. EPA over ash dumps from the S.S. Badger, the Great Lakes’ last operating coal-fired ferry, both sides reached a resolution earlier this year (Greenwire, March 22). The company agreed to stop waste dumps by 2014 and pay a $25,000 fine.But groups — including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club — asked DOJ to stiffen the fines and make other changes to the deal.
“We respectfully request that the proposed consent decree be strengthened to ensure that the S.S. Badger and its owners stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan by 2014,” the letter said.
“More than four years have already passed since the owners of the S.S. Badger committed to end the coal ash dumping,” the letter added. “The S.S. Badger should finally clean up its operations and stop polluting Lake Michigan.”
Another key request by groups is that the agreement contain a stipulation barring the company from seeking any compliance extensions.
“There’s a clarity to that. And it comes in light of the history,” ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in an interview. If the company doesn’t agree, Learner said, “that tells you something about their motivations and plans.”
Groups say the government has received more than 7,000 comments on the issue. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a foe of the Badger’s ash waste, encouraged people to weigh in (E&E Daily, April 10).
It’s unclear whether the comments will have any effect on the proposed consent decree, lodged and pending approval in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
On Monday, April 29, Howard Learner joined Tony Sarabia on WBEZ’s “The Morning Shift” to talk about comments filed by ELPC and other environmental groups on a proposed consent decree between the S.S. Badger and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The S.S. Badger dumps more than 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every summer. Five years ago the ship’s owners reached an agreement with the U.S. EPA and said they would stop dumping by the end of 2012. In March, the parties announced a new deal that would stretch until the end of the 2014 season. ELPC is leading several environmental groups in an effort to make sure this is the last extension for the S.S. Badger.
Listen to the Interview
Monday, April 29, 2013
Today, ELPC and 114 diverse groups from around the country sent a joint letter to Congress calling for renewal of the clean energy programs in the Farm Bill. Congress Agricultural Committees are working on their third attempt to renew the Farm Bill.
The text of the letter follows and may be downloaded here (PDF).
Friday, April 26, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 26, 2013
Great Lakes Environmental Groups Ask U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Strengthen Proposed Consent Decree with Coal-Ash-Dumping Ferry Boat
It’s Time for the S.S. Badger to Clean Up Its Operation and Stop Polluting Lake Michigan
CHICAGO – A half dozen regional and national environmental groups filed joint written comments Friday requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strengthen the proposed consent decree that allows the S.S. Badger to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan for two more years.
The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired steamship on the Great Lakes and each year it dumps more than 500 tons of coal ash directly into Lake Michigan. A previous agreement required the ship to end its dumping of coal ash in 2012.
The comments, submitted by The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice strengthen the proposed consent decree for the S.S. Badger in four principal areas:
- The consent decree should clearly and explicitly state both parties’ intentions and full agreement that there will be no further extensions of time, beyond the new 2014 deadline, for the defendant Lake Michigan Trans-Lake Shortcut to eliminate all coal ash discharges from the S.S. Badger. No such extensions should be sought by either or both of the parties.
- There should be more substantial percentage reductions of coal ash dumping in 2013 and 2014 in order to provide a stronger path toward complete compliance and the end of this coal ash pollution of Lake Michigan.
- The penalties should be increased in order to incentivize full compliance by 2014 and better ensure the end of the S.S. Badger’s coal ash pollution of Lake Michigan.
- There should be more frequent and transparent reporting. The S.S. Badger’s owners should be required to file discharge monitoring reports on a monthly basis like other point sources. These discharge monitoring reports should state the volume and nature of the discharges.
“It’s time for the S.S. Badger to clean up its operations and stop polluting Lake Michigan,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The leading Great Lakes environmental organizations are requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA strengthen the consent decree to reduce the S.S. Badger’s coal ash dumping sooner and with no further extensions.”
The six Great Lakes environmental organizations have numerous members who are affected by and concerned about water pollution that may cause or contribute to impairments of Lake Michigan. Among these members are many who swim and fish in Lake Michigan, who eat fish caught in Lake Michigan and who drink water from Lake Michigan. The organizations represent hundreds of thousands of members concerned about and engaged in restoring and protecting Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.
Two weeks ago, the groups outlined their requests at the website ProtectOurLake.org. The groups also created an awareness campaign on social media using the hashtag #SSBadger. This week alone, hundreds of tweets using that hashtag came from residents of the Midwest urging the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency to take action. Additionally, more than 6,000 letters were sent to the Department of Justice requesting that the four strengthening points above be considered.
The groups will be watching closely as the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency review the comments. The S.S. Badger’s season is scheduled to begin on May 6.
Download the Joint Environmental Comments on Proposed S.S. Badger Consent Decree