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AP News: Michigan’s Consumers Energy to stop burning coal by 2040

Michigan’s Consumers Energy to stop burning coal by 2040

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Consumers Energy will phase out electricity production from coal by 2040 to slash emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause global warming, the Michigan utility’s president and CEO told The Associated Press.

The utility plans to generate 40% of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by then, Patti Poppe said in an interview ahead of the public announcement Monday. She said the utility will also will rely on natural gas, hydropower and improved efficiency to meet customer needs.

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy Co., which supply most of Michigan’s electricity, are among many U.S. providers moving away from coal even as President Donald Trump’s administration boosts fossil fuels and seeks to unravel former President Barack Obama’s policies that promoted cleaner power.

“We believe that climate change is real and we can do our part by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and we also believe it doesn’t have to cost more to do it,” Poppe said. “We believe we’re going to be on the right side of history on this issue.”

Coal is becoming less competitive as the cost of producing renewable energy steadily falls, she added.

Environmental groups praised the move after the utility officially announced the move Monday. But they also urged the utility to make the transition from coal to renewable sources in less than 22 years.

….

Consumers Energy owns two wind turbine farms and buys power from a third. It co-owns with DTE a hydroelectric plant on Lake Michigan. The utility says it is upgrading its natural gas infrastructure around the state.

Along with its renewable energy plan, Consumers Energy also announced a five-year plan for reducing its environmental footprint that includes saving 1 billion gallons of water, reducing waste sent to landfills by 35% and restoring or improving 5,000 acres of land.

The utility says its customers include 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents.

DTE last year pledged a carbon emissions cut of more than 80% by 2050 by phasing out coal, boosting wind and solar energy, and building a 1,100-megawatt natural gas plant. The company described the new gas facility as essential to providing reliable and affordable power while reducing carbon emissions.

Environmentalists contend DTE and Consumers Energy should make bigger commitments to renewables instead of gas.

“Gas prices are unpredictable. They’re low now but there’s no certainty they will be in the long term,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “There’s zero fuel costs for wind and solar.”

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Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

 

Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

By Andy Balaskovitz

A major Michigan utility says it doesn’t need new generation from renewable energy developers, and it shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

Michigan has become the latest battleground over a decades-old federal law known as the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA.

The law essentially requires utilities to buy power from small, independent producers when doing so will save money for ratepayers.

In multiple states recently, that’s opened the gates for a flood of utility-scale solar projects, which can now routinely sell power at utilities’ avoided cost rate — defined as the incremental cost a utility pays for not generating the electricity itself. Utilities have begun to push back, lobbying for state and federal reforms.

Michigan regulators spent months reviewing how much independent producers should be paid and in November settled on a new, lower rate. One of its largest utilities, though, argues even that number is too high.

Consumers Energy told regulators in December that it doesn’t project a need for new generation capacity in the next decade, and that as a result it should be allowed to sign PURPA contracts at an even lower rate. Developers say they couldn’t build projects with such low compensation.

Solar and clean energy advocates have also scoffed at Consumers’ projection, which assumes the company will continue to operate four coal-fired units through 2030. Critics also note that Consumers plans to build 625 MW of its own wind and solar, even though the Michigan Public Service Commission hasn’t formally approved those plans. Meanwhile, the utility projected growing capacity need as recently as September 2016.

In November, the MPSC approved new avoided cost rates for Consumers, which has 33 PURPA contracts in place across its service territory. The rates hadn’t been updated for about two decades. It also ruled that if the utility’s capacity needs are met for the next decade it could enter PURPA contracts at a far lower “planning resource auction” rate.

The commission suspended its ruling on Dec. 20 based on formal opposition from hydroelectric and biomass owners. The same day, Consumers filed a motion asking that its PURPA rate be reset to the lower figure, and since then at least three developers have objected, saying those lower rates would jeopardize upwards of 800 MW worth of solar projects. Michigan had roughly 100 MW of solar capacity installed statewide at the start of the year.

“These issues need to be resolved quickly. There is a market for renewable energy that’s being paralyzed here,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “That is going to damage the market and disadvantage ratepayers who want more renewable energy.”

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables says Consumers is stalling 700 MW and $3 billion in investments in Michigan “over the next few years.” And Geronimo Energy filed testimony stating 70 MW worth of plans are on hold.

Six other utilities have pending cases before regulators to set PURPA avoided cost rates, including DTE Energy, which is also seeking permission to build a nearly $1 billion natural gas plant to make up for generation lost by retiring coal units. Critics of that plan say new PURPA contracts could help make up for the capacity shortage.

“It means people want to come to Michigan and build solar at a cost that is lower than (the price) DTE and Consumers could do it,” Kearney said, even though not all of that capacity is likely to be built. “That’s a good sign of a healthy market.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Dane County Board of Supervisors Rejects High Power Transmission Line

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
David Clutter, Driftless Area Land Conservancy
608-930-3252

Judith Nemes, ELPC
312-795-3706/JNemes@elpc.org

Dane County Board of Supervisors Rejects High Power Transmission Line 

MADISON, WI. –  Dane County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose ATC’s Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line and tall towers. The transmission line would carve a wide path from Middleton, Wisc., to Dubuque, Iowa, across conservancy land, private farms, school district property and many sensitive natural areas in the treasured Driftless Region. The board voted to oppose the transmission line 33-0, with two abstentions.

“This is a major victory in our efforts to oppose this expensive, unnecessary and damaging transmission line,” said David Clutter, Executive Director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC). “The Dane County Board of Supervisors sent a convincing message that this transmission line should be stopped. The vote helps to assure that beautiful scenic lands, important habitats and farmland in the Driftless Area will be protected.”  

“The Dane County Board recognized that this huge and expensive transmission line is not needed to meet Wisconsin’s power needs,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which serves as legal counsel for DALC. “There are better, cheaper and cleaner energy alternatives for Wisconsin’s future.”

Learner added: “It’s vital to protect the scenic Driftless Area, which is a center of nature and tourism. Hopefully, ATC will reconsider its controversial high-voltage transmission line plan and avoid contentious legal proceedings.”

The Board of Supervisors’ resolution states, in part: “Now is the time to begin increasing reliance on advanced technology, robust regional planning, innovative commercial practices and coordinated local system operations rather than to construct the proposed 345 kV transmission line.

“The Dane County Board of Supervisors calls upon the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Governor Walker, and the Wisconsin Legislature to oppose the construction and operation of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and not grant any permits, certificates or other approvals needed for the proposed transmission line.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

 Proposal to gut environmental reviews from planning process is shortsighted, won’t save money

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

In response to the Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs investment and modernizing, but gutting our environmental laws is the wrong way to get there,” Learner said. “President Trump’s plan promotes pollution and privatization.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail for better mobility and water system improvements that advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “The Trump Administration’s proposal goes in the wrong direction and misses the best opportunities for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”

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A Smart Infrastructure Plan Wouldn’t Gut Environmental Reviews

by Ann Mesnikoff

Not every idea is a good idea. That’s why we brainstorm, assess options, consider other opinions, come up with ways to improve the idea, maybe even decide the idea wasn’t all that good and shouldn’t be pursued. When it comes to BIG ideas – like building a new highway or bridge that involves federal spending — the bedrock environmental law that requires environmental reviews, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), serves the important role of ensuring “brainstorming.”

Unfortunately, as the Trump Administration gears up to release its infrastructure proposal, NEPA’s role may get largely cut out of the planning process for federal projects, and we could end up with proposals that undermine clean air, clean water, protecting endangered species and more. Rather than focusing on ensuring we have the money needed to fix existing roads, bridges and transit systems and improve our rail network, the administration is attacking important environmental reviews and blaming them for blocking investment in infrastructure.

Importantly, NEPA ensures that we (the federal government, or state and local government, and the public) brainstorm, weigh different options, and consider impacts to the environment before an infrastructure project gets the green light. The fact is that a very small percentage of projects go through a full environmental review. Lack of money is the real barrier to fixing our infrastructure or building new projects.

For a good look at the NEPA process click here, but here’s a quick take. NEPA addresses a basic question: will the proposed project have a significant impact on the environment? If it is unclear whether there will be a significant impact, the agency performs an initial Environmental Analysis (EA), which is available for public comment. For most projects this initial EA, which can find there isn’t an impact, is sufficient.

But for projects that need a more in-depth look, the next step is a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which discusses and explains the environmental impacts of proposed project — will it impact a popular recreation area, a lake or river that people enjoy for swimming and fishing or maybe even rely on for drinking water? Will the project increase air pollution that could harm public health?

This process also requires analyzing alternatives and importantly gives the public voice in the process. If the original idea is that we need a new road to ease congestion, maybe it’s needed, but perhaps there’s a better route for that road. Maybe an investment in transit or repairing and upgrading an existing road offers a better solution. Maybe in the end that new road isn’t needed and we can spend money better elsewhere, perhaps fixing an existing road or bridge.

Here are few examples of how NEPA reviews have helped shape projects or proposals in Illinois and Michigan:

Illiana Tollway. The Illiana Tollway, a proposed public-private partnership toll road, would run, in part, adjacent to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie 52 miles southwest of Chicago. The staff of the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency, a planning group for the region, determined it was unnecessary and shouldn’t be built. ELPC is leading efforts, using NEPA, to block this tollway. Not only is this project a bad use of scarce transportation dollars, it endangers the ecologically sensitive prairie and wildlife.

Bell Smith Springs. The U.S. Forest Service proposed a plan to clear-cut 3,400 acres in the Shawnee National Forest, in Southern Illinois in the 1990s. The NEPA process revealed that this extensive logging would damage Bell Smith Springs, one of the most beautiful and pristine recreation areas in the National Forest. ELPC brought a lawsuit and the Forest Service ultimately decided not to remove timber from this special place.

Springfield High-Speed Rail. Springfield, Illinois, wanted high-speed passenger rail service, but also wanted to protect its downtown from excessive disruption from freight and passenger trains. A supplemental EIS helped the community identify a reroute of trains from the current 3rd Street corridor to the 10th Street corridor as the best long-term alternative while allowing incremental upgrades on the current 3rd Street line.

Petoskey Bypass. After an effective process including public engagement, the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2001 abandoned an environmentally damaging and disruptive plan to build a four-lane bypass in Petoskey in favor of supporting a transportation and land use planning process led by local citizens and governments.

NEPA is a deliberate process of brainstorming for big projects and it empowers the public to participate rather than simply trusting bureaucrats. It’s not surprising that in a recent poll 87% of respondents support investing in infrastructure, but importantly, 94% opposed gutting environmental safeguards.

Can the NEPA process be improved? Sure. But, gutting the NEPA process, along with undermining other environmental laws, and diminishing the voice of the public will not result in more money available for important and needed projects. It could mean a lot of money wasted on poorly thought-out projects.

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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Under Rauner, penalties sought against Illinois polluters have plummeted

Well before the Trump administration began shifting responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to the states, Illinois already had slowed down the policing of air and water pollution under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

A Tribune analysis of enforcement data shows that since the Republican businessman took office in 2015, penalties sought from Illinois polluters have dropped to $6.1 million — about two-thirds less than the inflation-adjusted amount demanded during the first three years under Rauner’s two predecessors, Democrats Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner’s enforcement record during the past three years also pales in comparison to the final year in office of the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan. Adjusted for inflation, the penalties sought since Rauner took office are less than half the amount demanded as Ryan wrapped up his four-year term in 2002.

One of the main reasons enforcement is on the decline statewide is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cut back sharply on using its most powerful tool: referring cases to the state attorney general’s office for civil or criminal prosecution.

During Rauner’s first year as governor, the EPA referred 73 cases to the attorney general — by far the lowest number since 1991. The annual average during his tenure is 80.

By contrast, the EPA sent 198 referrals a year on average during Blagojevich’s first three years in office and 144 during the same time period under Quinn, the Tribune analysis found.

“I have been dismayed by the sudden dropoff in the number of IEPA referrals to my office,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “The failure to thoroughly investigate and refer violations of the laws has dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment.”

. . .

Federal enforcement actions nationwide have declined significantly since Scott Pruitt took over as EPA administrator, the Environmental Integrity Project and others have found. Veteran staff at the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office said it has become more difficult to file cases under Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly challenged federal clean air and water regulations.

Pruitt’s new pick to lead the agency’s Chicago outpost, Cathy Stepp, is a former Wisconsin state official who rolled back enforcement of anti-pollution laws while serving in the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said cutbacks at the federal and state level threaten to erase hard-fought victories that led to cleaner air and water.

“If you don’t have enforcement, the good guys who follow the law are put at a competitive disadvantage,” Learner said. “It sends a message to polluting industries that the cop on the beat is looking the other way.”

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Toledo Blade: ELPC Continues Push for EPA to Declare Lake Erie Open Waters Impaired

Environmentalists Make Renewed Push for U.S. EPA to Declare Western Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry |

Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, environmentalists are pressing for a court ruling that would commit state and federal officials to impose tough new rules on farms and other sources of algae-growing runoff that flows into area waterways.

In a 25-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo this week, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is imploring Senior Judge James G. Carr for a ruling that would force the U.S. EPA to declare the Ohio portion of western Lake Erie impaired within 30 days — thereby making it consistent with action taken by Michigan in 2016.

Then, according to the ELPC and its client, Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the agencies should be compelled to do an extensive, fingerprint-like analysis to discover exactly where the basin’s phosphorus and nitrogen is coming from on a site-by-site basis.
It would be unlike any ever done before, and would be followed up with a major crackdown on the pollution to get to the root of the problem once and for all, the groups argue.

Their request is a supplement to a 188-page motion the two groups filed immediately after the U.S. EPA reversed itself on Jan. 12, when the federal agency conceded in a letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler that it erred in going along with his agency’s plan to keep Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie off its 2016 biennial list of impaired water bodies.

The U.S. EPA said in that letter it revisited the issue and — 14 months later — determined Ohio’s 2016 biennial report was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations.

In their latest filing, ELPC attorney Madeline Fleisher told Judge Carr she remains concerned the U.S. EPA is playing a shell game and trying to stall until the next biennial reporting period this fall. The judge has previously stated he would like to rule on this case this spring, before the 2018 algae season begins.

“The remedy for an admittedly illegal delay is not more delay,” Ms. Fleisher wrote for the opening sentence of her memorandum.

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PRESS RELEASE: EPA Delay of Clean Water Rule Threatens America’s Safe Drinking Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                         

Contact: Judith Nemes

(312) 795-3706

Nemes@elpc.org 

US EPA Delay of Clean Water Rule Threatens America’s Safe Drinking Water

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

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rush to delay the Clean Water Rule will allow more pollution, threatening safe, clean drinking water in the Midwest,” Learner said “We can’t afford to go backwards when it comes to reducing pollution of our community rivers, lakes and streams.”

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ELPC Joins Environmental Advocacy Groups Call for Pruitt’s Recusal from Clean Power Plan Rulemaking Process

(Washington, D.C. – January 29, 2018) Environmental and legal advocates today submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for EPA to withdraw the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and for Administrator Scott Pruitt to recuse himself from any further Clean Power Plan proceedings.

Environmental Law & Policy Center together with a coalition including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists sent the letter, which lists evidence that shows Pruitt has predetermined the outcome of the process:

“Administrator Pruitt’s comments about the Clean Power Plan make it clear that the deck is stacked and, unfortunately, his mind is closed,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Fortunately, federal clean air standards can’t be arbitrarily repealed, but require rigorous, impartial analysis and a decision maker with an open mind who has the interests of all Americans at heart. Administrator Pruitt’s mind appears unalterably closed in this case, and he should be recused from this EPA decision.”

The Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants — is the most significant step our nation has taken to tackle dangerous climate change. Once fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths a year, according to a recent analysis issued by Pruitt’s EPA.

On October 16, 2017, EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan. If finalized, a repeal would leave the U.S. unprotected from our largest stationary source of carbon pollution — even as the urgent threat of climate change becomes ever clearer.

“As the letter documents, Administrator Pruitt’s statements reveal a firmly closed mind on the Clean Power Plan; he has described the CPP’s repeal in ways flatly incompatible with the Clean Air Act’s requirements for a meaningful public process before a final decision is made,” said Sean H. Donahue, counsel for EDF.

The Due Process Clause forbids an official from presiding over a rulemaking when the official has an “unalterably closed mind” about the subject matter, and the Clean Air Act requires a transparent rulemaking process where a final decision is issued only after careful consideration of the law, science, and public comments.

“Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator is rife with conflicts of interest. As Oklahoma attorney general, he played a leading role in litigating the EPA’s Clean Power Plan on behalf of his fossil fuel industry campaign contributors. He cannot serve in the conflicting roles of lawyer for one side, judge and jury, and executioner of the Clean Power Plan,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It is a clear violation of law for Scott Pruitt to participate in this matter, and it deprives the American public of an open-minded decisionmaker. If Administrator Pruitt really wants to keep his promise to restore ’the rule of law’ at the EPA, he must recuse himself immediately.”

Administrator Pruitt has also publicly repudiated the legal authority for the Clean Power Plan and described the rulemaking process in ways that make clear that he has no intention of considering options other than repeal.

The groups’ letter says Pruitt “has departed egregiously from constitutional and statutory norms meant to protect the public’s ability meaningfully to participate in rulemakings and safeguard the integrity of the administrative process.”

“Pruitt was dancing on the grave of the Clean Power Plan before the rulemaking process had even begun,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s clear Pruitt is hell-bent on killing this crucial climate protection for his friends in the fossil fuel industry, no matter how many lives the rule would save.”

“Scott Pruitt is not fit to participate in any rulemaking process to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. His shrill and steadfast hostility to this critical climate safeguard, as well as his cozy ties to corporate polluters, make clear that he cannot be an impartial decision maker in these matters,” said Joanne Spalding, Deputy Legal Director and Chief Climate Counsel for Sierra Club. “The law therefore requires his recusal from EPA’s misbegotten effort to rescind the Clean Power Plan, and we call upon him to step aside immediately.”

Numerous states have also called on Pruitt to recuse himself from the Clean Power Plan repeal rulemaking and for the current proposal to be withdrawn.

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