ELPC in the News

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.

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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.)

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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.”

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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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MinnPost: Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

By Walker Orenstein

As farmers in southern Minnesota grapple with President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war — testing the alliance between the agriculture industry and the GOP that substantially benefited Trump in 2016 —  First Congressional District Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn is making sure to showcase the administration’s industry-friendly policies as part of his effort to persuade voters to send him to Congress.

That means highlighting support for mining in northern Minnesota, including the recent decision to end a study of potential impact from copper-nickel mining on the Superior National Forest and the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But it also includes touting a Trump administration effort that hits much closer to home in southern Minnesota: the rollback of a 2015 update to the Clean Water Act that expanded protections to small bodies of water feeding larger rivers and lakes — a policy that happened to be one of President Barack Obama’s signature environmental initiatives.

“It’s one of the biggest regulatory issues in agriculture,” Hagedorn said. “I bring it up all the time.”

A fight over water protections

The Obama EPA’s 2015 rule change has a long backstory. It starts more than 40 years ago, when Congress first approved the Clean Water Act. That original bill gave the federal government jurisdiction over the “waters of the United States.”

Ever since, people have not stopped arguing what that actually means, and how broad the government’s authority is under the law. Does it apply only to  lakes and rivers and water that feeds directly into them? Or does the law cover even small wetlands, bogs, streams and other isolated or seasonal bits of water?

Supreme Court rulings on the matter have never quite cleared things up, so under Obama, the EPA stepped in to make firm — and far-reaching — guidelines on what could be considered a Water of the United States. John Kolb, a St. Cloud-based attorney who focuses on water and natural resources regulations, says a long study conducted by the EPA used to justify its rule boiled down to: “All water is connected.”

Many farmers took issue with the decision, however. Beyond their general opposition to government expansion, industry groups said the rule change meant they were going to be targeted and penalized for standard agricultural practices. Kirby Hettver, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said farmers out West were found in violation of Obama-era Clean Water Act “just for tilling their soil.”

He was referring to a case that began in 2012 in which the government ordered a farmer in Northern California, John Duarte, to pay millions in fines and penalties after it said he broke the law by “deep ripping” his field to plant wheat without a permit, and disturbing seasonal wetlands called vernal pools that are notably home to fairy shrimp. (While there are plenty of agricultural exemptions to the Clean Water Act, the government said the field wasn’t subject to them since it hadn’t been plowed in decades. The case was eventually settled.)

While Duarte’s legal saga started before Obama’s update to the Clean Water Act, it became a rallying cry for conservatives worried about government overreach, a charge that found a sympathetic reception within the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the EPA withdrew the rule and is now in the process of writing a more narrow definition of which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Effect in Minnesota

And yet, whether any of this means much for Minnesota remains a topic of debate. One reason is that despite the Trump EPA’s withdrawal of Obama’s Waters of the United States rule, litigation has reinstituted the Obama rule in more than 20 states, including Minnesota.

For another, Minnesota administers much of the Clean Water Act for itself, and it adopted its own stringent definition of protected waters decades ago, said Jean Coleman, an attorney for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In fact, Minnesota’s rule is far broader than the Obama-era water rule, and includes everything from irrigation and drainage systems to all “accumulations of water, surface or underground, natural or artificial, public or private,” within the state, she said.

“The definition of ‘Waters of the State’ is extremely expansive and it captures all waters that would be under the Obama definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ or under any other definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ because it is so expansive,” Coleman said.

She added: “I don’t think you can think of anything that’s liquid water that falls from the sky that’s not a water of the state.”

The state also has its own tough laws protecting wetlands and more, said Scott Strand, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. Those laws blunt any given update or reversal of the federal Waters of the United States rule. “It will have a more dramatic impact in states that don’t have vigorous state clean water protections,” Strand said of the changes to the Waters of the United States rule.

 

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Asian Carp Project, but Rauner Balks

 

Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks

Greg Hinz On Politics

It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?

States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.

But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.

The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.

In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.

“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”

Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.

“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”

Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.

Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.

“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”

Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.

Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.

In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.

That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.

“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.

Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.

READ COLUMN HERE

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Lakeshore Public Radio: State Policies Making Indiana Clean Energy Businesses Less Competitive

September 25, 2018
Reports: State Policies Making Indiana Clean Energy Businesses Less Competitive
by Rebecca Thiele

 

Nearly 90 companies in Indiana play some role in renewable energy projects, which bring jobs to the state. But these businesses can’t be as successful without the policies to support them, according to a new report by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The ELPC says lately Indiana hasn’t been creating a good business environment for renewable energy. The state opted to phase out net metering last year and eliminated statewide energy efficiency standards in 2014. Chris Rohaly is the president of Green Alternatives Inc., a small solar installation company in Kokomo.

“I’m bidding against companies out of Ohio or Illinois and they — because of the strength of their home markets — are pretty well funded,” he says.

ELPC Clean Energy Business Specialist Tamara Dzubay co-authored the report. She says the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects two renewable energy jobs will grow substantially in the next eight years — but without the right policies, Indiana could miss out on the opportunity.

“Solar energy installation and wind turbine technician jobs cannot be outsourced, so many jobs are there to stay,” Dzubay says.

Among other things, the ELPC suggested developing a statewide energy plan and making it mandatory for utilities to get half of their energy from renewables by 2030.

LISTEN TO RADIO CLIP

News-Press Now: Energy Efficiency, Spending Headed for Big Drop

September, 23 2018
Energy Efficiency, Spending Headed for Big Drop
by Erin Murphy

DES MOINES — Proposed energy efficiency plans offered by Iowa utility companies would be a shell of what they had been in recent years.

The new and scaled-back energy efficiency plans are a result of legislation passed this spring and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The new law caps the percentage of a customer’s utility bill that can be put toward energy efficiency programs.

Iowa’s utility companies this summer detailed to the state’s regulatory board new 5-year energy efficiency plans starting with 2019. Some of the proposals show a dramatic reduction in energy efficiency program spending and energy savings.

The utility companies say the new plans will result in lower bills for customers, which they can use to invest in energy efficiency if and in any way they choose, and that advancements in technology have rendered some programs unnecessary.

Critics say it is just as they warned during debate over the legislation: that it would gut the state’s energy efficiency programs, and that customers will pay more in the long run.

The state board must act on the proposals by March 31.

“It’s a huge cut and we’re really disappointed,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving Iowa’s environment.

“The Iowa Environmental Council has a vision of 100 percent renewable energy for the state of Iowa, and we think that that goal is entirely achievable. But we need a wide variety of resources to get there,” Johannsen said. “We just think (the new law and new energy efficiency plans are) a deviation from the path that Iowa has been on toward a really clean energy grid.”

MidAmerican Energy, the Des Moines-based utility company that serves more than 750,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota, in 2018 spent nearly $80 million on electric energy efficiency programs and nearly $31 million on gas energy efficiency programs.

Under their new proposal, MidAmerican in 2019 would spend less than $43 million on electric energy efficiency programs, a cut nearly in half, and just more than $6 million on gas energy efficiency programs, a drop by more than 85 percent.

MidAmerican’s energy savings would drop as well: their gas efficiency plan would save 80 percent less than 2017 and their electricity plan will save nearly 50 percent less, according to calculations made by the Iowa Environmental Council. Spokespeople for the utilities did not dispute the figures.

“Utilities have had really robust energy efficiency programs for many years in Iowa. Since 2009 alone the programs have saved the equivalent of building two-and-a-half baseload power plants,” Johannsen said. “The customers pay for the energy efficiency programs, but they’re paying less (overall). They haven’t had to pay for that generation.”

Johannsen said on the new trajectory under the utilities’ reduced energy efficiency plans, Iowans could have to pay more in the long run because less energy efficiency will lead to a need for more energy production to meet customers’ needs.

“Load growth in Iowa has been pretty flat for a number of years. Electric demand just hasn’t grown because of our efficiency programs,” Johannsen said. “So what we’re going to see is, without doing efficiency we’re going to see load growth and utilities will be forced to invest in new (power) generation.”

Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the reduced programs also could threaten the jobs of more than 20,000 Iowans working in energy efficiency-related jobs across the state.

“In the past, Iowa has been a clean energy leader with strong energy efficiency plans, but this is a major step backward,” Mandelbaum said in a statement.

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Energywire: BLM’s Final Methane Rule Reveal Draws Swift Legal Action

BLM’s Final Methane Rule Reveal Draws Swift Legal Action

by Pamela King

The states of California and New Mexico yesterday opened a new courtroom battle over Obama-era methane standards, hours after the Interior Department closed the book on its long effort to scale back the rule.

Bureau of Land Management officials yesterday revealed the language of its revisions to the 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule.

“Sadly, the flawed 2016 rule was a radical assertion of legal authority that stood in stark contrast to the long-standing understanding of Interior’s own lawyers,” said Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. “The Trump administration is committed to innovative regulatory improvement and environmental stewardship, while appropriately respecting the clear and distinct authorities of the states, tribes, as well as the direction we receive from Congress.”

The New Mexico and California attorneys general promptly sued Interior.

“With this attempt to axe the Waste Prevention Rule, the Trump administration risks the air our children breathe and at taxpayers’ expense,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “We’ve sued the administration before over the illegal delay and suspension of this rule and will continue doing everything in our power to hold them accountable to our people and planet.”

In their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the states contend that BLM under President Trump has violated multiple statutes in its unrelenting efforts to wipe the rule from the books.

The revised rule is a “shocking abdication” of the department’s responsibilities, said David Hayes, former Interior deputy secretary in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

“The final rule fails to forthrightly address the environmental and fiscal significance of the issue to federal and state authorities, the relatively minor costs of compliance, and the major climate- and health-related environmental benefits associated with commonsense restrictions on venting and flaring activities,” said Hayes, who now serves as executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law.

BLM yesterday found that its revision would result in maximum total net benefits of roughly $1.08 billion over a decade. That benefit is rooted in reduced compliance costs for oil and gas operators.

“As environmental stewards and businessmen and women who live in the communities where they work, IPAA member companies strive to explore for and produce as much American oil and natural gas as possible, while always being mindful of the need to protect public lands and the environment,” said Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “The Trump administration’s rule recognizes this fact and acknowledges the cost burden placed on companies that work and explore on federal lands.”

The cost-benefit analysis for the revision rule applies a sharp discount on the social cost of emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

“The administration is turning its back on commonsense methane reduction standards that reduce wasteful energy flaring and protect the public from harmful smog-forming pollution,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The current standards call for the use of known technologies and good industry practices to reduce wasteful methane leaks. The new rule would allow more flaring of methane gas — a valuable natural resource.”

Allowing companies to release more natural gas into the atmosphere instead of capturing it for sale will result in at least $28.3 million in forgone royalty payments to taxpayers, BLM estimated.

“Today’s final methane rule makes it painfully obvious that this administration is placing industry interests ahead of federal taxpayers,” Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a statement yesterday. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “has chosen to dismiss the problem of leaked, vented or flared gas from drilling operations on federal lands, costing taxpayers millions in lost revenue.”

Industry groups applauded the changes.

“We are relieved that BLM’s final rule has been released and that it actually addresses waste prevention,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “The late 2016 Obama administration rule was all about regulating air quality, which is the job of EPA and the states under the Clean Air Act, not BLM, which has no air quality expertise or authority. The new regulation restores the rule of law while reducing waste of natural gas, which was supposed to be the intent of the original rule in the first place.”

BLM’s rule follows EPA’s efforts last week to relax its New Source Performance Standards for new and modified oil and gas sources (see related story).

Royal Dutch Shell PLC followed EPA’s announcement with a move to reduce methane leaks from its oil and gas operations (Energywire, Sept. 18).

Instead of viewing industry’s efforts as a reason to cut back regulations, government officials should see those actions as indicators of industry’s appetite to address their climate contributions, environmental groups said. Consistent federal regulations would require smaller operators to follow larger firms’ lead, they said.

“When even the world’s largest oil companies recognize the need for methane safeguards, reasonable people cannot pretend that the Trump administration is rolling them back in the public’s interest they purport to serve,” said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel.

Capitol Hill

BLM’s announcement yesterday drew mixed reaction from Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Republicans in Congress last year pushed to unwind the Obama regulation under the Congressional Review Act, which requires a simple majority in the House and the Senate to support a resolution to disapprove a rule.

Although the House and Senate were under GOP control, the proposal fell short of the support it needed in the upper chamber (Greenwire, May 10, 2017).

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called on Interior to follow Congress’ lead.

“Even though Congress has already rejected an attack on the Obama-era methane rule, Secretary Zinke has ignored congressional intent and moved forward with this ill-advised scheme anyway,” she said. “If this new rule is implemented, companies will be able to waste millions of dollars in taxpayer resources by releasing 180,000 tons of methane pollution per year into our air.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he was glad to see Interior find its own way to scrap the rule.

“Today’s announcement fulfills the promise made by the Trump administration to remove regulatory hurdles on domestic energy production,” he said in a statement yesterday. “The previous rule was founded on questionable legal theory and resulted in unnecessary costs.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the revision rule ignores the years of public input that went into the creation of the original rule.

“The methane rule was established with wide support after years of open dialogue and stakeholder involvement. And the evidence is clear: This rule has had no negative effect on job creation or on the booming U.S. oil and gas production on federal lands,” he said. “That’s why the methane rule was upheld by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate — despite heavy lobbying from some in the oil and gas industry.”

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) this year led a request that Interior officials hold public meetings on the BLM rule changes, as they did in the lead-up to the Obama regulation (Energywire, April 18, 2017).

“I’m disappointed to learn that BLM did not listen to the people of our state and went ahead with this rollback even after the Senate rejected it,” Bennet said yesterday. “Today’s decision only has downsides for the people of Colorado. It will lead to more pollution, waste more natural gas and decrease revenue for taxpayers.

“Worst of all, it will put the health of our communities at risk.”

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