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
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.”
Check the Video
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.
Friday, September 19, 2014
CHICAGO, Ill. – Wisconsin now has to play catch-up, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), noting the state has been left behind by its Midwest neighbors in high-speed rail. The ELPC is expanding its advertising campaign in Wisconsin, erecting another billboard south of Milwaukee to encourage political leaders to support high-speed rail. Learner says it’s time to put partisan politics aside.
“Even though Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle were strong advocates of advancing high-speed rail in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker made the quixotic decision to turn down funding for higher speed rail going from Milwaukee to Madison that would have created jobs in Wisconsin,” says Learner.
Gov. Scott Walker turned down $810 million in federal stimulus money in 2010, saying state taxpayers would be on the hook for millions more in the years to come. Now, that money has gone to Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is using it to beef up connections between Detroit and Chicago. Learner says it’s not just about Madison and Milwaukee; high-speed rail would pull the entire region together.
“This is a time to put the ideology behind and for Wisconsin to say we want the better transportation, we want the jobs, we want the economic connectivity and growth that comes from modern higher-speed rail development,” says Learner. “The Gov. needs to go to Washington and say. ‘let’s step up and get Wisconsin back on track.’”
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois recently announced the state is allocating an additional $102 million for the high-speed line that connects Chicago to St. Louis. In Minnesota they’re planning for a Zip Rail high-speed train that will connect the Twin Cities to Rochester.
According to Learner, Wisconsin has the opportunity to play catch-up and move forward, because it’s all about regional development.
“Connecting the Twin Cities to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, but also the cities in between that are being cut off from air services, where people face congestion delays and high prices of gasoline, and La Crosse, Brookfield, Oconomowoc, connecting those mid-size cities to the larger communities,” says Learner.
The Amtrak passenger train that runs between Chicago and Minneapolis is now regularly delayed because of the huge amount of rail freight carrying Wisconsin frac sand, and the oil from North Dakota that results from fracking.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Hostilities have resumed in the political war over the proposed Illiana Expressway, with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and environmental groups trying to block a legal maneuver that would make it easier to build the controversial road.
The focus of the renewed battle is the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, an obscure but powerful group that acts as the gatekeeper for many federal funding programs in the Chicago area and whose blessing is needed to proceed with any mayor transportation project.
CMAP’s staff and board last year strongly objected to including the Illiana, a tollroad that would run from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana, in its Go to 2040 priority list of approved projects. But after intense lobbing from aides to Gov. Pat Quinn, CMAP’s policy committee backed the proposal in October.
That decision promptly was challenged in by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, who contends that, legally, CMAP’s board and not its policy committee has the binding say. But pending before the CMAP board now — and scheduled to come up at its October meeting — is a periodic update of the Go to 2040 plan that now includes the Illiana.
ELPC’s Howard Learner considers that a back door effort to block his law suit and make the policy committee superior to the board. Ms. Preckwinkle doesn’t think much of the tactic either.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Environmentalists, oil and gas developers and anti-fracking groups are anxiously awaiting Friday’s unveiling of regulations for fracking operations in Illinois.
Once approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, possibly as early as September, high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations can apply to drill in the state.
The latest rules are expected to address about 30,000 comments made on the first draft, which was submitted nearly a year ago. Some people sought to ban fracking — it involves injecting fluids and chemicals at high volumes to crack open shale rock and unleash oil and natural gas — and others pointed out loopholes in the proposed regulations.
Environmentalists and oil drillers will be looking to see if the final draft has addressed their concerns.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Please see ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner’s new Comment in the Environmental Law Reporter (September 2014): “Emerging Clarity in Climate Change Law: EPA Empowered and State Common Law Remedies Enabled” (pdf). This legal analysis addresses: (1) How the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City and UARG v. EPA fill out the climate change law framework of Mass. v. EPA and AEP v. Connecticut; and (2) The recent Third Circuit decision and the Iowa Supreme Court decision that allow state common law actions to address carbon and other air pollutants. Here’s a brief summary of Howard’s Comment on this timely and important set of issues:
The emerging law of climate change is becoming clearer. The U.S. Supreme Court’s series of climate change and other Clean Air Act decisions authorize the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to advance its standards-setting process, and provide general deference to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act and other statutory programs. The Court is sending a clear message to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reviews most of EPA’s final standards, and to other courts, to restrain judicial activism. Likewise, federal and state courts are opening the door for plaintiffs to assert state common law tort remedies.
The Court’s majority has made clear its solid support for the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision authorizing EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. The partisan political attacks and the novel theories of the cottage industry of appellate attorneys representing certain polluting industries have not deterred the Court. The Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, which strongly, although not entirely, uphold EPA’s CAA implementation discretion, should reduce confusion and bring much-needed increased certainty for both state policymakers and energy industry executives to move forward in making business decisions. At the same time, both federal and state courts are beginning to fill in the blanks left by the Court in its American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision, which held that the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law injunction actions brought by states and other plaintiffs seeking to limit carbon dioxide pollution from coal plants, by preserving citizens’ traditional rights under state common law.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Electric rates for homeowners and other residential customers of We Energies could go up nearly 5% in January, depending on how state regulators decide the utility’s 2015-’16 rate case this fall.
While the overall rate increase is proposed to be just under 2% — staying below the projected inflation rate — residential customers would see rate increases exceeding the projected inflation rate next year.
We Energies customers pay the second-highest electric rates in the state, according to the state Public Service Commission. Since 2005, We Energies’ residential bills have increased 51%, while inflation is up 22%.
The Milwaukee power company’s rate request comes as its parent company, Wisconsin Energy Corp., is seeking approval for a $9.1 billion acquisition of Chicago-based natural gas and electric utility Integrys Energy Group.
In Illinois, Integrys and Wisconsin Energy have promised to keep rates unchanged for two years — provided the Illinois Commerce Commission allows rates to increase in early 2015, before the acquisition closes.
But an Illinois customer group wants natural gas charges in the Chicago area frozen at current levels rather than after another increase takes effect. In Wisconsin, customer groups haven’t made a formal request for concessions related to the acquisition, but have said regulators should ensure customers benefit from the deal.
In a bill message appearing in the mailboxes of 1.1 million customers across the state, We Energies explains its rationale for the rate increase and the changes it’s proposing in how customers are charged.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
A closely watched battle over utility policy in Wisconsin could determine the fate of solar development throughout the region, advocates say.
The dispute is over three major rate cases recently filed by We Energies,Madison Gas & Electric andWisconsin Public Service Corporation. The three utilities cover much of the eastern half of the state as well as its largest cities.
If the state Public Service Commission (PSC) approves the cases, solar experts say there will be a massive chill over solar development in these utilities’ service territories. And they expect other utilities in Wisconsin and beyond will file similar requests.
All three cases would significantly restructure the way residential and business customers are charged for electricity, so that all customers pay a higher fixed amount each month while the variable charges based on electricity use are reduced.
This creates an inherent disincentive to reduce energy use – whether through installing solar panels or increasing energy efficiency. RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman described it as a “reverse Robin Hood” move that shifts the burden of paying for electricity from large energy consumers to small consumers.
Monday, August 18, 2014
On the shores of Lake Erie, the immediate sense of crisis has passed. Following the toxic algae that bloomed in the lake earlier this month, forcing residents of Toledo, Ohio to rely on bottled water for their drinking supply, authorities now offer assurances that the tap water is safe.
But a gnawing fear remains in communities along the lake. The algal bloom has intensified concerns about its apparent source — pollution washing off surrounding fields in the form of fertilizer and manure. Not without reason, people worry that more outbreaks could emerge at any time.
“I’m still drinking bottled water,” said Jessica Morelli, a nursing mother who skipped showers the weekend of the tap water shutdown, worrying she’d get a skin infection that she could potentially pass on to her 8-month-old daughter. “People are still kind of leery. If it could make you so sick one day, how could it be normal so quickly again?”
Around the nation, similar worries have become a part of everyday life as communities grapple with growing volumes of pollution spilling into waterways from livestock and farming operations. Though talk of industrial pollution may summon images of belching smokestacks, the agricultural expanses producing meat, dairy, grains and vegetables are today so enormous that they can generate quantities of water pollution rivaling cities. Yet the rules governing this pollution still generally treat farming as something other than an industry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate agricultural runoff, leaving such effluent to be governed by local agencies whose philosophies and standards vary from state to state. State rules and enforcement are often lax, environmental policy experts assert, in part because pushback from agricultural lobbying interests, but also because of limited funding and staffing at regulatory agencies.
“The states to date have had a very ineffective response on what to do about this,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Centerin Chicago, told International Business Times. “We’re hoping that situations like Toledo provide a wake-up call that this could happen anywhere, and that it’s happening with increasing frequency.”