ClimateWire: Iowa’s scientists release statement on health effects of climate change

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Professors and scientists in Iowa last week emphasized the tangible effects climate change will have on local lives.

Over 180 science faculty members and researchers from 38 colleges endorsed this year’s Iowa Climate Statement, which was released at the Iowa Capitol on Friday. The aim of the statement is to increase Iowans’ access to resources and scientific data, according to its authors.
“We’re trying to stay with the science, because that’s where you need to find truth. And we’re trying to show that the science is out there,” said David Osterberg, an associate professor at the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health.

This was the fourth year the annual statement has been released. The authors focused on four different impacts of climate change on human health. More frequent and heavy rains and extreme heat will increase the risk of injury, diseases and mental health problems, they said. Elevated pollen levels will increase allergies and asthma, and more pollution will likely increase lung and heart disease in warmer cities. Water will be less available for drinking and recreation.

Anecdotal evidence from extreme weather events has helped shift the climate change discussion away from whether it is happening to what should be done, according to supporters of the statement.

David Courard-Hauri, an associate professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University, said Iowans needed to focus on reducing emissions and shifting to renewable sources of energy.

About half an hour before the statement release, MidAmerican Energy Co. announced a $280 million wind energy project in the state (Timothy Meinch, Des Moines Register, Oct. 10). — NH

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Utilities Asking for Too Much

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Milwaukee Journal recently published an editorial critical of unfair rate proposals from We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service. The editorial, titled “Utilities’ rate proposals are asking too much at this time,” notes ELPC’s argument about the cost-shift represented by the proposal:

“The Environmental Law and Policy Center argues that the fixed cost changes sought by We Energies, Madison Gas and Electric and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. would make those utilities’ charges highest among all investor-owned utilities in the Midwest. The average monthly charge by those Midwest utilities is $8.91, according to the center.”

Read the full editorial at http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/utilities-rate-proposals-are-asking-too-much-at-this-time-b99368645z1-278858531.html

Chicago Tonight: Howard Learner on Analyzing the Illiana Expressway

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Please view this video of ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner on Chicago Tonight discussing the Illiana Expressway, a proposed 50-mile toll road that would connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill. with Interstate 65 in Lowell, Ind.

The project is a boondoggle and Learner implored the Illinois Department of Transportation to “stop wasting taxpayers’ money.”

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Duluth News Tribune OpEd – A professor’s view: Minnesota is a leader in facing climate-change challenges

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

By Efi Foufoula-Georgiou

It may seem strange to raise the implications of climate change brought about by global warming given that last winter was the coldest in several decades in much of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. But with so many recent stories focusing on the global ramifications of a hotter world, it is important we remind ourselves of what climate change really means to Minnesotans.

Increased levels of heat-trapping gases have increased the average global temperature, but this does not always equate to consistent warming at the local level. Climate change-induced shifts in the distribution of heat around the planet can lead to unusually wetter, cooler conditions in some areas yet drier, warmer conditions in others. As we already are experiencing, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours like the ones Minnesota has received and floods. The results can be catastrophic: severe soil erosion, more frequent algae blooms in our lakes, and added costs to maintain transportation and infrastructure. With a vast majority of Minnesotans residing in urban areas with aging infrastructure, cities and suburbs particularly are vulnerable to climate change-related flooding and heat waves.

According to the National Climate Assessment Report released this summer, climate change is a very serious threat, especially in Minnesota, which is the third-fastest-warming state. Heavy downpours have increased 37 percent in the Midwest, and Minnesota has seen four one-in-a-thousand-years floods in less than 10 years. According to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, extreme weather events have made Minnesota among the top three states in the nation for catastrophic losses. As a result, homeowners have seen premiums skyrocket.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

We can grow America’s investments in renewable energy, powering more homes with wind and solar energy.

We can advance energy efficiency policies and use better appliances and equipment that avoid wasting energy and save us money on utility bills.

We can manufacture and drive more fuel-

efficient cars that save us money at the gas pump, lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse-gas pollution.

We can invest in a Midwest high-speed passenger rail system that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and pulls together the regional economy.

We can improve infrastructure that makes trains and other public transit work better and bicycle riding a safer option for commuters.

And we can and should educate ourselves about the current state of climate science. We can use one of the most pressing issues of our lives as an opportunity to foster open and frank dialogue about the ways for people to work together to ensure the Earth’s productivity now and for generations to come.

Fortunately, Minnesota is a leader in addressing climate-change challenges. We can use the passage of our recent solar-energy standard as a springboard for decreasing fossil-fuel usage and increasing our use of renewable-energy resources.

Now is a time for more responsible action at the national level that supports Minnesota’s work to cut pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed the first limits on carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants. Cleaning up dirty power plants is the strongest step the nation can take to protect our state’s economy from the harmful effects of climate change. Minnesotans need to ensure they’re not just preparing for expensive climate impacts but are tackling the problem at its source: coal-burning power plants.

Smart bipartisan policies have put Minnesota on a clean energy path that is strengthening the economy and creating healthier communities while cutting carbon pollution. As a result, every electric utility is meeting its share of Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard, generating at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy by 2025.

Efi Foufoula-Georgiou is a McKnight University professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Daily Herald Editorial: Kill the Illiana, This Time for Good

Monday, October 6, 2014

A year after the proposed Illiana Expressway should have been declared dead on arrival, it somehow will make it back before the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on Oct. 8 and the Metropolitan Planning Organization on Oct. 9 for another crucial vote. It needs to be rejected again.

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Rockford Register Star Editorial: Illiana Expressway Is Bad for Northern Illinois and Rest of the State

Monday, October 6, 2014

Seldom has a meeting of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning been so important to northern Illinois or the state of Illinois itself.

The CMAP board and its policy committee will meet Wednesday to approve a four-year update of the Chicago region’s master plan. Normally in these parts there would be little interest in what the CMAP board decides, but Wednesday’s vote could put Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $440 million to $1.1 billion over 35 years.

The project that will suck up all those tax dollars is the Illiana Expressway, a project that came out of nowhere, serves no one but political cronies and builds a road from nowhere to nowhere.

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Post-Tribune: Illinois PIRG report bashes planned Illiana Tollway

Friday, October 3, 2014

A new report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund lists the proposed Illiana Tollway as one of 11 “questionable” projects in the country.

The Illinois PIRG report, titled “Highway Boondoggles,” comes shortly before the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning meets Wednesday to vote on its updated Go To 2040 long-range transportation plan, which now includes the planned tollway.

The 11 projects — spread from Detroit to Dallas, from Seattle to North Carolina — could cost at least $13 billion and are based on old traffic projections, Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG director, said.

“We will not change minds about Illiana based on this study alone, but it gives more reasons to criticize this project,” he said. “The numbers just don’t add up.”

The Illiana Tollway is planned as a public-private partnership that will connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Indiana.

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Chicago Tribune: Say ‘no’ to the Illiana Expressway (again)

Monday, September 29, 2014

A new privatized toll road proposed primarily to speed freight trucks across the Midwest may instead charge tolls too high to attract trucks, and will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

— From “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Yes, that’s the Illiana Expressway, one of 11 questionable projects nationwide to earn a spot on the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s just-released “boondoggle” list.

A year ago, against all reason, Gov. Pat Quinn rammed through a plan to build this unnecessary and unaffordable toll road, 10 miles south of metro Chicago’s urban edge.

Eager to score points with Southland voters, Quinn ignored regional planners’ warnings that the Illiana wouldn’t generate enough traffic (read: tolls) to pay for itself.

He shrugged off a report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning staff that said taxpayers would end up subsidizing the Illiana by up to $1.1 billion over 35 years.

Based on that report, the CMAP board voted last October not to add the Illiana to its shortlist of projects vying for federal transportation dollars. But it was overruled by the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, chaired by Quinn’s secretary of transportation.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: FirstEnergy to End Energy Efficiency Programs

Friday, September 26, 2014

ELPC’s Robert Kelter spoke with JohnFunk of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about FirstEnergy’s plan to gut long running and successful energy efficiency programs.

This story is reposed from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and can be found at:


Energy efficiency programs will end for FirstEnergy customers

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer

AKRON, Ohio — FirstEnergy is abolishing most of its Ohio consumer and business energy efficiency programs by the end of the year — on the grounds that the elimination will lower monthly electric bills.

The company will continue similar programs in Pennsylvania and in other states where FirstEnergy also operates local power companies, but where lawmakers have not changed state laws to create an opportunity to end efficiency subsidies.

In Ohio, where the Republican-controlled General Assembly did change the law, FirstEnergy will on Dec. 31 end consumer cash rebates for everything from LED light bulbs to ceiling fans, from household appliances to whole house air conditioning, from heat pumps to geothermal heating.

Also going away are discounted household energy audits and cash rebates to homebuilders and buyers of very high-efficiency homes. Parallel programs for businesses are also disappearing.

A company spokeswoman explained Wednesday that since customers have been paying for those subsidized programs through increases in rates, monthly bills would be lower when the programs are eliminated.

Spokeswoman Diane Francis said the company had not calculated the extent of consumer savings when the programs are gone but that overall savings for FirstEnergy’s Ohio customers — including commercial and heavy industry — would be “tens of millions of dollars.”

But Tuesday, FirstEnergy’s top executive for rates and regulatory affairs, William Ridmann, said consumers on average are paying about $4.50 a month in extra charges to pay for the efficiency programs.

In the last five years the total cost of the efficiency programs, including programs to help heavy industry become more efficient and competitive, had led to about $1 billion in temporary charges, he said. Ridmann did not say how much the upgrades had saved customers in power costs.

They want to sell more higher-priced electricity and are throwing their customers under the bus,” Robert Kelter, Environmental Law & Policy Center.
FirstEnergy told a happier customer story in reports to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2012 comparing the anticipated cost of the programs over the coming three years to the savings created by reducing the amount of power purchased.

And in individual attachments for each of its Ohio companies accompanying that overall report, the company said it had achieved a balance between costs and anticipated savings.

“The Company believes that it has prepared an EE&PDR (energy efficiency & peak demand reduction) strategy as reflected in this three year Plan that balances near-term energy savings opportunities among all rate classes with longer-term programs that continue to create jobs and build capacity for delivering greater energy and demand reduction impacts in the future,” those introductory remarks noted.

A 2013 report to the PUCO looking back at costs and benefits for that year and 2012 showed generally that for every $1 spent on energy efficiency, customers had saved more than $2 in power costs.

The company’s conclusion was based on a series of complicated calculations, a process that FirstEnergy’s spokeswoman Francis on Thursday said may not have been the most accurate way of figuring, though the company has not amended the reports to say otherwise.

Francis pointed to a footnote in the reports stating that the calculations did not take into account customers who did not apply for the rebates, and said only 7 percent of its residential customers participated.

Still, that two-to-one assertion caught the eye of energy efficiency advocates and environmental groups earlier this year when they were opposing the passage of legislation backed by FirstEnergy that weakened the state’s efficiency standards and opened the door to what the company is doing now.

“The facts don’t bear this out,” said Samantha Williams, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, of FirstEnergy’s current claim that the programs are a financial burden to customers.

“FirstEnergy’s own analysis shows that efficiency works and saves customers two-to-one on their investment,” she said, referring to the series of complicated calculations in the reports, calculations used by all utilities.

As for the issue in the footnote, Williams said the company’s argument ignores the system-wide benefit, namely that efficiency suppresses overall demand, lowering power prices.

“Actually, what’s best for customers is keeping the efficiency programs and helping them save money,” she said, adding that FirstEnergy is the only Ohio utility ending the programs.

Robert Kelter, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, said FirstEnergy has steadily resisted creating the programs. Staffs from the ELPC and the NRDC meet regularly with employees from each Ohio utility to suggest efficiency programs, he said.

The company then files details of its programs with the PUCO under protective order, preventing others from revealing details.

“It’s clear from this filing that they want their unregulated affiliate (FirstEnergy Solutions) to be able to sell more higher-priced electricity and are throwing their customers under the bus,” said Kelter.

“They are cutting out 50 to 75 percent of all their efficiency programs. Demand will not continue to fall as it has. There is no question that prices will go up and that shareholder profits will go up.”

Kelter was referring in part to industrial customers.

FirstEnergy notes in its amended plans filed Wednesday with the PUCO that its large industrial customers will no longer have to participate at all in the utility’s efficiency programs but instead will have to run their own programs and report directly to the state. That is another provision of the recent changes in state law. Industry has chaffed at having to abide by state-mandated efficiency rules and pay hefty extra charges. And as they leave, FirstEnergy will no longer have to count the power they use or save in its calculations.

FirstEnergy’s move to scrap the programs comes less than two weeks after a bill imposing a two-year freeze on Ohio’s energy efficiency standards became law.

The language in that legislation — Senate Bill 310 — is what FirstEnergy is relying on to amend its programs. While the entire bill is temporary — the freeze is for only two years — FirstEnergy’s changes to its efficiency programs are permitted to be permanent. And that may lead other utilities to follow FirstEnergy.

“FirstEnergy is playing its traditional role of driving a train through the loopholes ahead of all other utilities, said Mark Shanahan, energy adviser to former Gov. Ted Strickland. “And doing it under the guise of helping customers.”

Coalition Files “Friend of Court” Brief Defending Passenger Rights

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Washington, D.C.— The Environmental Law & Policy Center, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, All Aboard Ohio, and Virginians for High Speed Rail have filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could prove pivotal in eliminating delays that are leaving passengers stopped on the track and stranded at the station. 

The brief argues for the reversal of a judgment issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit. That judgment struck down a provision of the 2008 rail reauthorization bill that instructed the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak—consulting with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations—to develop metrics and minimum standards for measuring Amtrak passenger train performance and service quality. 

Moreover, the NARP also announced a new tool to combat the growing plague of passenger train delays.  Rail passengers are encouraged to be part of an e-mail or text message campaign to directly notify their Congressional Representatives or Senators to protest the delay of their Amtrak train while they are on the train.

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For more info on the new NARP reporting tool go to: www.narprail.org