Citizen-led, progressive efforts to override the government and fossil fuel industry could be devastating for Big Oil in the state of Colorado after the November 2016 election — by Lauren McCauley, staff writer
The government of Colorado has so far managed to quash efforts to halt the spread of fracking in that state, but come November, residents will finally have the chance to overpower the will of politicians and Big Oil and Gas.
Petitioners on Monday submitted more than 200,000 signatures backing two separate initiatives to amend the Colorado constitution, specifically in regards to the controversial drilling method.
“This is a good day for Colorado, and it’s a good day for democracy,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region director of Food and Water Watch. “These initiatives will give communities political tools to fend off the oil and gas industry’s effort to convert our neighborhoods to industrial sites. This is a significant moment in the national movement to stem the tide of fracking and natural gas.”
Initiative 78 would establish a 2,500-foot buffer zone protecting homes, hospitals and schools, as well as sensitive areas like playgrounds and drinking water sources, from new oil and gas development. This expands the current mandate of a 500-foot setback from homes and, according to Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), is based upon health studies that show increased risks within a half mile of fracked wells and the perimeters of real-life explosion, evacuation, and burn zones.
Colorado regulators say that, if passed, Initiative 78 could effectively halt new oil and gas exploration and production in as much of 90 percent of the state.
Initiative 75 would establish local government control of oil and gas development, authorizing local municipalities “to pass a broad range of more protective regulations, prohibitions, limits or moratoriums on oil and gas development—or not,” according to the grassroots group.
This measure challenges a May ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court which said that state law overrides local fracking bans.
Various moratoriums or anti-fracking measures bans have been passed by the communities of Lafeyette, Boulder, Fort Collins, Broomfield, El Paso County, and Longmont—though many of these efforts were quashed by the Supreme Court ruling. Campaigners are hopeful that the initiatives would lay the foundation for many more.
Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, an infamous proponent of fracking, has voiced his strong disapproval of the ordinances.
The signature deadline was met Monday despite the fact that the citizen volunteers facedharassment and, as Common Dreams previously reported, a massive, industry-funded opposition campaign which included deceptive television ads telling citizens to “decline to sign” the ballot petitions.
Reporting by the Colorado Independent revealed the campaign to be “part of an orchestrated, multi-year effort by both Colorado-based and national energy giants. One of their front groups is Protect Colorado, which funded the petition-gatherer-of-doom TV ad and is actively seeking to thwart citizens from qualifying the two measures for the ballot.”
“Industry has been gearing up for this fight for five years,” Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This was kind of the pre-fight, the undercard…If either of these make it onto the ballot, we’re going to see a cage match — an all-out war.”
And the stakes are high. As the New York Timesput it, should either measure pass, “it would represent the most serious political effort yet” to stop fracking in the U.S..
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office now has 30 days to authenticate the signatures before they make the ballot. The announcement is expected to be made by September 7.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
This afternoon after he really, officially clinched the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump went to the heart of America’s current oil boom to unveil his energy platform. He gave his speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. While he was sure to fit in his usual anti-immigrant rhetoric and pro-Second Amendment rhetoric, Trump did give us a few insights into what his energy policy could look like.
Unsurprisingly, Trump more or less stuck to the trusty GOP energy handbook: denying climate change, calling to abolish crucial public health standards, and promising to undo progress made in the fight against climate change. Here are just a few of his most noteworthy ideas and their consequences:
Cancel the Paris agreement: Unsurprisingly, Trump reiterated his call to withdraw from the Paris Agreement saying, “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” The Paris agreement is a landmark step in the global fight against climate change that was made possible by U.S. leadership. Global coordination, like the kind orchestrated in the Paris agreement, is necessary for the world’s collective goal of addressing climate change and is good for markets and U.S. companies seeking a clear and consistent path forward. Walking away from the agreement would weaken our position in the global community and threaten American lives and livelihoods.
Abolish the Clean Power Plan: When he referred to the Clean Power Plan in his speech today Trump said, “How stupid is that?” And as part of his big promise to “free up the coal,” he vowed to get rid of all regulations on the coal industry. Not only is the Clean Power Plan key to ensuring the U.S. meets its goal under the Paris agreement, it is also crucial for the public health and economic security of our country. For every $1 invested in the Clean Power Plan, Americans will see $7 in health benefits. And the plan is expected to prevent thousands of premature deaths.
Protect Welfare for Oil Companies: Like the Republican establishment, Trump said “under my plan we’re lowering taxes very substantially, as you know, for businesses…” Oil and gas companies already get nearly $4 billion in tax breaks annually. Meanwhile, a GOP led Congress phased out tax incentives for clean energy. At the same time, Mr. Trump declared that government should not pick winners or losers when it comes to energy. But billions in tax breaks does exactly that.
BOTTOM LINE: Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree on the science behind human-caused climate change. The Pentagon called it an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” Donald Trump called it a Chinese hoax. In today’s speech, Trump repeated the same old, tired GOP energy policies that would endanger public health and undo meaningful progress in the global fight against climate change.
The investment tax credit, or ITC, and production tax credit, or PTC, for clean energy have played an essential role in expediting the deployment of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy in the United States. In December 2015, the U.S. Congress voted to extend the PTC and ITC. As part of the agreement, however, Congress decided to phase out these tax credits over time. This raises an important question, one asked by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in February: If policymakers phase out tax credits for clean energy, shouldn’t they do the same for the billions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry?
This fact sheet highlights nine tax breaks that should be phased out. They subsidize the oil and gas industry’s operations from beginning to end—from acquisition of the resource to extraction.
Deductions for the costs of drilling wells
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 263(c)
Amount saved by repealing: $13.1 billion between 2016 and 2026
As a general practice, businesses deduct business costs from their income. But for large capital projects, they do so over the lifetime of the asset or project, not during the period in which the cost was incurred. Oil and gas companies, however, can deduct intangible drilling costs—nearly all of the expenditures a company makes to prepare a well for production—upfront, which can lower their taxable income significantly. Independent oil and gas producers can deduct 100 percent of their intangible drilling costs in the first year. Integrated oil companies can deduct 70 percent of these costs in the first year and then amortize the remaining 30 percent over five years.
Domestic manufacturing deduction for oil and gas production
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 199
Amount saved by repealing: $10.9 billion between 2016 and 2026
In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act, which included a tax deduction designed to incentivize domestic manufacturing in the United States and keep certain industries from moving abroad. Oil and gas producers can deduct 6 percent of taxable income derived from qualified domestic production activities. This tax break is a handout to the industry as domestic oil and gas production—by definition—cannot move abroad.
Deductions for the depletion of oil and gas deposits
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 613A(c)(1)
Amount saved by repealing: $12.1 billion between 2016 and 2026
The tax code also allows certain oil and gas companies to recover costs associated with the depletion of the natural resource—the oil or gas deposit. The depletion allowance permits royalty owners and independent oil and gas producers to deduct 15 percent of the gross income from oil and gas produced from a well each year, rather than a deduction based on the actual exhaustion of the resource each year. Operators of low-producing marginal wells are permitted to deduct more than 15 percent—based on a statutory formula linked to the price of crude—and to deduct more than their net income from the property. These producers may be able to continue claiming the depletion deduction even after they have recovered the costs of acquiring and developing the property. This means that other taxpayers are effectively subsidizing their income.
Deductions for the depletion of oil shale deposits
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 613(b)(2)(B)
Amount saved by repealing: The U.S. Treasury would save $840 million between 2016 and 2026 by repealing the depletion deduction for all hard mineral fossil fuels, of which oil shale is one. The amount applying to oil shale alone is unknown.
Oil shale—located primarily in Utah and Colorado—is expensive to extract and process, is particularly harmful to the environment, and has yet to reach commercial scale in the United States. Despite these drawbacks, companies engaged in oil shale exploration and development can claim a 15 percent depletion allowance on income generated from these activities. Consequently, taxpayers are subsidizing environmentally harmful projects that are not needed, given high-levels of oil production elsewhere in the United States.
Deductions for the costs of oil shale exploration and development
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 617
Amount saved by repealing: The U.S. Treasury would save $768 million between 2016 and 2026 by repealing this tax preference for certain mining exploration expenditures, including expenditures for oil shale. The amount applying to oil shale alone is unknown.
This tax preference allows oil and gas companies to deduct the costs of exploring and developing new domestic oil shale fields in the same tax year that the costs were incurred, rather than when those expenditures actually generate income. This means that companies engaged in oil shale production can incur costs exploring for deposits and deduct those costs from other income, whether or not they ever generate income on the property. This transfers the risk from the company to the taxpayer.
Amortization of geological and geophysical expenditures
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 167(h)
Amount saved: $1.3 billion between 2016 and 2026
Oil and gas companies use geological and geophysical surveys in order to locate and assess potential mineral deposits. Rather than amortizing these expenses over the lifetime of the project, independent oil and gas producers are allowed to write off these expenses over two years, and large integrated oil and gas companies can use seven years. This lowers the companies’ taxable income.
Deductions for tertiary injectants
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 193
Amount saved by repealing: $100 million between 2016 and 2026
This tax deduction allows oil and gas companies to deduct the costs of using tertiary recovery methods, processes in which companies inject fluids and gases into older wells in order to recover additional oil. Companies can deduct the costs in the year they are incurred rather than when the expenditures generate income, thereby lowering their taxable income.
Exception to passive loss limitation for working interests in oil and natural gas properties
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 469(c)(3)
Amount saved by repealing: $310 million between 2016 and 2026
The passive loss limitation allows taxpayers to deduct losses from passive activities—business activities in which a taxpayer has an economic interest but does not materially participate—against income from those activities. If the deductions exceed the passive income, the taxpayer must carry the remaining loss over to the next tax year. This rule is intended to prevent investors from using investments as tax shelters. Certain oil and gas interests, however, are exempt from this limitation and can use passive losses to reduce taxes on other business income.
Marginal wells tax credit
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 45I
Amount saved by repealing: $0, unless oil and natural gas prices fall below a certain threshold
Marginal wells are those that produce a relatively small amount of oil and natural gas; as a result, they are among the least cost-effective wells to operate. This tax credit allows oil and gas companies to claim a tax credit for low-producing wells when the prices for oil or natural gas dip below a threshold. Since this credit’s enactment in 2004, prices have not been low enough to trigger this tax credit. Given consistently low natural gas prices in recent years, some industry observers speculate that oil and gas companies may be able to claim this credit for the first time in 2016.
Repealing these nine tax breaks would, at minimum, save the U.S. Treasury $37.7 billion over 10 years.
— by Jenny Roland & Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributors at ThinkProgress
The political network of the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has signaled that it is expanding its financial and organizational support for a coalition of anti-government activists and militants who are working to seize and sell America’s national forests, monuments, and other public lands.
The disclosure, made through emails sent by the American Lands Council and Koch-backed group Federalism in Action to their members, comes as the 40-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is winding to an end.
The occupation came to a head, with the FBI moving in on the four remaining militants at the refuge and arresting scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy at the Portland airport under charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers. Occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were previously arrested under the same charge on January 26. The Bundys and their group of militants want the federal government to cede national public lands to state and private control.
Though ClimateProgress has previously uncovered and reported on the dark money that the Kochs have provided for political efforts to seize and sell public lands, recent organizational changes reveal that the Koch network is providing direct support to the ringleader of the land grab movement, Utah state representative Ken Ivory, and has forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share extreme anti-government ideologies.
The expanded window into the Koch network’s support for the land transfer movement opened on February 3, 2016, when the American Lands Council (ALC) (a group whose goal is to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over publicly owned national forests and other public lands) announced that Ivory would be stepping down as its president to join a South Carolina-based group called Federalism in Action (FIA).
Though he will continue to serve as an unpaid member of the American Lands Council executive committee, Ivory is joining the FIA’s “Free the Lands” project, a joint initiative between Federalism in Action and The American Lands Council Foundation.
This new “Free the Lands” project sits at the confluence of Koch funding, anti-government ideology, and land seizure activists and militants. The graphic below illustrates this web of funding, resources, and staff.
Federalism in Action was launched a few years ago by two groups: State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions (SBS). Because FIA is a new organization, its funding sources are not yet public. However, according to IRS filings, State Budget Solutions received money through the Donors Capital Fund, an organization known for cloaking the sources of funding which it distributes, and is sometimes referred to as a Koch “ATM”. The SBS leadership recently joined ALEC and Ken Ivory is listed as one of SBS’s senior policy fellows. The group “works to make its vision … a reality … through the project Federalism In Action.”
Federalism in Action is also a member of the State Policy Network, which is the Koch-fundednetwork of more than 50 right-wing think tanks in states across the country.
Also supporting the Free the Lands Project: the American Lands Council Foundation, the tax-exempt non-profit arm of the American Lands Council. Upon announcing the departure of Ken Ivory from ALC’s presidency, the group named Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder as its CEO. Fielder is Montana’s leading figure in the land seizure movement and has proposed legislation that would require the federal government to cede ownership of all national forests and public lands in Montana to the state. The bill was unpopular and and swiftly vetoed by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
Fielder’s selection as ALC’s CEO suggests that the group is tightening its ties with the violent anti-government elements of the land seizure movement that is represented by Cliven Bundy and his sons. Fielder’s land seizure efforts and campaign for Montana State Senate, for example, werevocally supported by a Militia of Montana organization that is run by white supremacist John Trochmann. In a recent blog post Fielder also expressed her support for the Bundys and the Oregon militants by referring to them fondly as “cowboys” and “protesters” performing “an act of civil disobedience” and bringing “new light to the widespread problems of a distant federal bureaucracy in control of local land management decisions.”
It remains to be seen whether the Koch network will be able to lift the failing efforts of the Bundys, Ken Ivory, and Jennifer Fielder to seize and sell public lands. If nothing else, expanded Koch backing may help the land seizure movement attract the endorsement of more national politicians who are competing for the Koch brothers’ endorsement and contributions. Last week, for example, Texas Senator Ted Cruz promised to be “vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanly possible back to the states”.
Still, the Bundy brothers and their political allies face long odds in their quest. Proposals to transfer national public lands to state control have been shown to be unconstitutional, costly to states, and deeply unpopular with western voters. And while a wholesale privatization of public lands may benefit the Koch brothers and other oil, gas, and coal interests, new research shows that protecting national public lands has actually resulted in big economic gains for many rural economies.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland. Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.
On Monday, Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced his highly aggressive energy plan to forcefully deal with climate change. You can read his published plan here.
“The debate is over. The vast majority of the scientific community has spoken. Climate change is real,” said Sanders. “We will act boldly to move our energy system away from fossil fuels, toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal because we have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and habitable.”
To do all that, Sanders’ plan would outright ban offshore drilling, ban Arctic drilling, block natural gas exports, stop attempts to lift a decades-old ban on crude oil exports, support states trying to ban natural gas fracking, and ban mountaintop removal coal mining. That’s a whole lot of current private sector jobs he’d be killing to bring his plan to fruition. But it does appear that he intends to create 10 million public-sector(?) clean energy jobs that would replace them. Many however, may not possess the requisite skills to fill those clean energy jobs, so I hope he’s planning to provide re-skilling education programs as part of his overall plan he’s going to impact the overall economy with a gigantic thud.
The major points of his plans are as follows:
Ban fossil fuels lobbyists from working in the White House.(That’s nice, what about all the lobbyists who take precedence over actual constituents over in the House and the Senate?)
End the huge subsidies that benefit fossil fuel companies.(First, he’s going to need someone in the House and the Senate to propose that, then he’s going to need to get that out of committee and on the floor of each house for a vote, AND, he’s going to need 60 votes in the Senate or it’s going absolutely nowhere, because he cannot do that via executive order or fiat.)
Create a national environmental and climate justice plan that recognizes the heightened public health risks faced by low-income and minority communities. (A plan that recognizes that? How about some constructive action to correct not just the risks, but the actual health conditions resulting from continual exposure?)
Bring climate deniers to justice so we can aggressively tackle climate change. (Would that be his fellow Senators and Representatives from the House … or the corporations that are their financial backers?)
Fight to overturn Citizens United.(Ok? Not sure why that one is in his “Energy/Climate Change” proposal. Seems like that should be in an “Election Reform” proposal. At best it’s just going to show us which energy companies are buying whom.)
Embrace a science-based standard for carbon pollution emissions reductions.(and decrease our carbon pollution emissions by at least 8o% from 1990s levels by 2050? Does he fully comprehend how much pass-down costs are going to cripple our economy? He’s already indicated he has plans to increase even middle class taxes. Now he wants to dramatically increase the cost of absolutely anything and everything we buy as those costs to comply are passed down and marked up on every single commodity.)
Put a price on carbon. (Well, that’s the only good thing in the plan so far given that we own 9kw worth of solar on the roof. If he sets up a credit system, maybe there’s something in it for the investment we made.)
Work toward a 100 percent clean energy system and create millions of jobs. (Would those be private or public sector jobs? It’s already being intimated that Sanders is proposing the creation of 10 million “federal” jobs. I can already hear right-wing heads exploding over the idea of a socialized energy workforce and the demise of the for profit energy industry.)
Invest in clean, sustainable energy sources powered by the sun, wind and Earth’s heat. (I really do believe that truly is something our federal tax dollars should be used for instead of bankrolling BigOil profit margins, but it won’t go over well. Didn’t Obama try that and get crucified by the GOP? I can already hear and see in my mind’s eye, one commercial after another ad nauseum, raving about the failed Solyndra Solar development and how the Bernie wants to waste even more of our precious tax dollars on such frivilous endeavors.)
Invest in advanced renewable fuels and keep our energy dollars at home.(I do believe we’re already doing that. Net imports accounted for 27% of the petroleum consumed in the United States, the lowest annual average since 1985.)
Invest in solar energy and put money back in the pockets of consumers. (Well I’m all for his support for net metering, but clearly he hasn’t been watching with the good Republicans of Nevada and other states around the nation have been doing to charge net-metered accounts higher “minimum cost to serve” bills and introducing schemes to credit net-metered accounts with only one-half a KW for every full KW taken by the utility. Will he be putting an end to those predatory schemes?)
Invest in making all American homes more energy efficient.(I’m sorry, but isn’t it the responsibility of home owners to invest in the maintenance and update of their homes? I can see maybe making that process more affordable via reduced rate energy improvement loans and assistance programs. But, we can’t do everything for everybody.)
Build electric vehicle charging stations.(Wait a minute? The Federal Government is going to do that? We’re going to take that out of the hands of the private sector? Is he also going to require all vehicles that burn fossil fuels to be off the road by some magic date? That might work fine in urban centers, but it’s 2.5 hours at 75mph for us to be able to get to the nearest significant “urban center” and a single charge just isn’t gonna get us there without a significant stop for a serious re-charge … and then there’s the cost of that new electric car to add into the mix of things to come.)
Build high-speed passenger and cargo rail. (Amtrack serves a limited number of cities across our nation, and the small rural town in which I reside does happen to be one of them, but many other small rural towns along its path are not so lucky. It seems to me that while this proposal may help those along the eastern and western seaboards and maybe some of the bigger urban centers across the nation, it will be at the expense of rural Americans for the benefit of big urban centers.)
Convene a climate summit with the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities in his first 100 days.(Really? Didn’t we just have one of those and didn’t leaders from around the globe just agree on some serious curtailment goals …. is didn’t the Republican Congress just tell President Obama to go take a flying leap? )
Lead countries in cutting climate change.(I think before we start telling everybody else what they should be doing, we better get our act together here at home! When we have leaders in both houses of Congress not just denying climate change, but science altogether and claiming that Noah carried two of each type of Dinosaur and woolly mammoths on the ark along with two of every animal known to mankind today … maybe we need to concentrate on building a consensus at home.)
Plan for peace to avoid international climate-fueled conflict. (What exactly does that mean? Do we all need to start watching “prepper” videos on YouTube and stalking our pantries?)
That definitely sets him apart from Hillary Clinton and assuredly proposes to take on BIG oil, but at what cost?
His staff did go all out to detail how his plan would work, complete with an interactive US map that pops out a target clean energy breakdown for each state. Here’s an animation of the pop-out for Nevada, as an example:
The 2050 Energy Costs slide claiming folks will save on average $98/person is a bit odd. Really? Folks are going to have to buy solar, trash their current car and buy a new car (or give up your car altogether to use a bicycle or walk), all to achieve $98/person … in 2050(?). Maybe I’m missing something here, but that’s a seriously steep selling curve even to the most avid climate change fanatics amongst us. And the “Money in your Pocket” for “Annual energy, health and climate cost savings/person” (again in 2050) section also makes no sense to me whatsoever. I don’t come close to spending that much per year on energy, health or climate now and I’m reaching those elder years where one expects to start having to pay a bunch on health care issues.
Take some time and see if you can make some sense of where he wants to take our nation, how drastically quick he wants to get there and whether you think his approach is even do-able given our currently ideologically split nation. If Bernie’s our party’s nominee, we’re all signing on “revolutionary” ideas to remake our nation.
From her home in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Karen Feridun is helping stage a growing citizen pushback against the expansion of natural gas extraction. But a far-reaching global deal recently signed halfway around the world may make her job much harder.
Feridun got involved in this fight over concerns that fracking waste, laden with toxic chemicals, could end up in the sewage sludge that some Pennsylvania towns spread on local farm fields.
Figuring her best bet for keeping the state’s water, food, and communities safe was putting a stop to fracking, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth. The group is now part of a statewide coalition calling for a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania.
The campaign got a boost when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ruled that local governments have the right to protect the public trust. The court also found that oil and gas companies must abide by municipal zoning and planning laws.
The decision was celebrated as a huge victory for local control. But, Feridun told me, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership could turn over the apple cart entirely.”
The day after we spoke, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Frohman joined top officials from eleven other Pacific Rim nations in a New Zealand casino to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a sweeping “free trade” agreement aimed at opening national borders to the flow of goods, services, and finance.
The location couldn’t have been more symbolic. By entering into this deal, the Obama administration is playing roulette with America’s future.
The White House hopes to win greater access to raw materials, cheap labor, and burgeoning consumer markets in Asia for U.S. companies. What do we stand to lose? Nothing less than the ability to set rules and regulations that protect our families’ health, our jobs, and our environment.
The provision at the heart of this wager is something called an “investor-state” clause. It would let companies based in TPP partner countries sue governments over laws or regulations that curtail their profit-making potential.
It’s a risky bet. Here’s the White House’s simplistic calculus: The U.S. government has never lost an investor-state case.
The more we win, it seems, the bigger our next gamble. The TPP would be the largest free trade agreement in history, covering about 40 percent of the global economy and giving additional countries the option to “dock” to the treaty later. It also adds thousands of companies that could potentially sue the United States in trade court.
Back in Berks County, the demand from newly opened overseas markets for U.S. gas may increase local pressure to frack. The TPP’s investor-state provisions would let foreign-owned gas companies challenge any statewide limits on the practice standing in their way.
If this sounds unlikely, look no further than our neighbors to the north. U.S. oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources sued Canada using a similar clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when Quebec passed a moratorium to halt fracking under the St. Lawrence River. And Lone Pine won.
Now, TransCanada — the Canadian company behind the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline — is bringing a $15 billion claim against the United States for denying permits to build it. That’s exactly the kind of legal action that makes people like Karen Feridun fighting oil and gas projects nervous.
Even if Washington wins the TransCanada suit under NAFTA, the fear of spending millions of dollars fending off litigation under the much larger TPP could have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.
Luckily, as Feridun and her neighbors know, Congress hasn’t approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. If lawmakers care about protecting good jobs, clean skies, safe water, and a stable climate in this hotly contested election year, they’d be wise not to gamble against the public interest.
Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org Distributed by OtherWords.org.
The PUC eliminated rooftop solar to protect NV Energy’s monopoly. We’ve launched a campaign to put rooftop solar on the ballot in November and get it back. Join us! http://www.bringbacksolar.org
Last December, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) passed anti-solar rules that destroyed the rooftop solar industry in America’s sunniest state. The rules eliminated Nevadans’ choice to go solar, imposed massive new fees on existing customers, and has already cost the state hundreds of jobs, with thousands moreNevadansfacing layoffs in the coming months. And they did all that WITHOUT any evidence that NV Energy incurred any increased generation, transmission or distribution expenses that can be tracked back to the installation of residential solar arrays. Moreover, they undermined state policies and incentives that encouraged customers to go solar, created thousands of jobs, and made Nevada a national leader in clean energy. The PUC’s rules are unfair, they have damaged Nevada’s business-friendly reputation, and they only benefit the State’s monopoly utility, NV Energy.
The PUC’s new rules allow NV Energy to take clean electricity from residential solar customers and sell it to their neighbors at a 300% markup, or even better, sell it on the open market for more than they can legally charge their customers, while crediting net-metered customers with a fraction of energy usurped. They also force solar customers to pay monthly fees 200% higher than other residential customers without solar arrays. In other words, the PUC granted NV Energy the right to usurp the investments made by residential customers who invested in solar arrays (but did nothing to penalize big box stores littered with solar panels on their roofs). That’s just wrong. NV Energy should not be allowed to take our electricity without fair compensation.
Meanwhile, all we’re seeing/hearing from Governor Sandoval? Crickets! Sign up now for Bring Solar Back‘s email list to join the fight and support the petition. Then, share and tweet your support to get your friends and neighbors on board.
“Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable,” says Earthjustice. (Photo: Image Catalog/flickr/cc)
In a decision heralded as “great news for consumers and the environment,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand.
As Timothy Cama explains for The Hill, the court ruled (pdf) that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “did not exceed the authority Congress gave it when it wrote its ‘demand response’ rule, mandating that electric utilities pay customers to reduce use during peak demand periods.”
In 2011, FERC (the agency that regulates our country’s high voltage electric transmission grid) issued a landmark rule called Order 745, which set compensation for demand response in wholesale energy markets. Under the rule, grid operators are required to pay demand response participants the same rates for reducing energy use as those paid to power suppliers for producing energy from resources like coal, natural gas, and wind and solar power. FERC said the rule reflected the common sense view that “markets function most effectively when both supply and demand resources have appropriate opportunities to participate.”
With its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court essentially affirmed FERC’s position—and in turn, gave clean energy “a huge boost,” Clements said in a press statement. That’s because, she explained, “[i]f grid operators can count on fast-acting customer responses rather than plants that need more advanced notice to come online, they will have greater flexibility to meet electricity demand in situations when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.”
What’s more, said Sierra Club staff attorney Casey Roberts, “demand response programs make energy cheaper, ensure the reliability of the grid, and protect our air and water from fossil fuel pollution.”
The agency’s win is seen as a big loss for large “baseload” power sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, which have seen their profits decline over the last several years as electricity consumption has eased and renewables grew. Now they have to compete with industrial customers and others who will at times be paid at market rates to reduce their electricity use without having the costs of operating and maintaining a power plant themselves.
“This is a great day for clean energy and the health of a more affordable, stronger power grid,” added Earthjustice managing attorney of clean energy Jill Tauber on Monday. “Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable.”
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Suddenly, it looks like Obama may have ditched his inherently contradictory approach.
“We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he asserted during his final State of the Union address. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”
Just three days later, the Obama administration moved in that direction by declaring a three-year moratorium on new leases to mine coal from federal land.
Obama’s speech also cast switching to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels in a business-friendly light.
“We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something environmentalists and tea partiers have teamed up to support,” he said. There’s plenty going on at a larger scale too. Wind and solar energy are generating more than half of the new power that came online last year.
The Republican Party’s obsession with “job creators” should make it a fan of green energy. Nearly 210,000 Americans now work for the solar industry, and some 73,000 are employed in the wind business. Renewable power forged at least 79,000 new jobs between 2008 and 2012 as 50,000 coal jobs vanished.
But the fossil fuel industries and their political allies won’t surrender without a fight. As Obama put it: “There are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”
To see what he meant, check out what’s up in Nevada.
Right before Christmas, the state’s electric-sector regulators short-circuited policies that rewarded homeowners for investing in their own solar panels. Nevadans may end up paying for the privilege of generating their own electricity while simultaneously padding the profit margins of NV Energy, rather than getting compensated for it.
The Nevada Public Utility Commission, whose three members were all appointed by Republican governor Brian Sandoval, effectively killed demand for rooftop solar power and the jobs that diversifying industry would have created in Nevada—overnight. The new policies also punish consumers who previously bought or leased panels.
This about face prompted companies like SolarCity, Vivint, and Sunrun to shutter their operations in the state. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is calling this move an act of “sabotage,” and two Las Vegas residents have already filed a class action lawsuit.
This money ought to support and ramp up the green transition, not delay it. That’s what Obama meant when he asserted: “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”
And although polls have shown that government efforts to expand solar and wind power enjoy bipartisan support, GOP presidential contenders and many Republican leaders dismiss these increasingly competitive industries.
“Why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” asked Obama, raising an excellent question. “The jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”
Indeed. Supposedly pro-business politicians who are out to kill the green energy boom make no sense. Neither does an all-of-the-above energy strategy.
Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.
The Obama Administration Announces Overhaul Of Federal Coal Leasing Program
The last time rules for coal mining on tax-payer public lands were updated, smoking was allowed on airplanes, airbags weren’t required in cars, and sewage was still dumped into the ocean. But today, the Obama administration announced a package of reforms to modernize and reform the federal coal leasing program. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the plan, saying it was long past time to re-examine the coal-leasing program. “It is abundantly clear that times are different in the energy sector now than they were 30 years ago, and we must undertake a review and that’s what we need to do as responsible stewards of the nation’s assets,” she said.
The plan includes three measures to update the federal coal program to account for taxpayer interests and environmental challenges: The U.S. Department of the Interior will conduct a review to identify potential reforms to the program, direct the U.S. Geological Survey to begin annual tracking and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions that come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and put a temporary pause on new coal leasing, which will not apply to existing leases.
Coal companies currently have stockpiled billions of tons of unmined coal that is ready to be developed, so a targeted pause on leasing will likely have no impact on jobs, coal production, energy prices, or grid reliability. But it will keep at least 3.5 billion tons of coal from being added to the already-enormous stockpile coal companies have on public lands and allow time to figure out how to best change the current program to ensure taxpayers get their fair share from coal mined on public lands.
The current federal coal-leasing program is fundamentally noncompetitive. Under the current system, taxpayers are missing out on millions of dollars in royalties from leasing energy sources on public lands. Offshore oil and gas drilling is subject to an 18.5 percent royalty charge, but coal companies only pay a 12.5 percent royalty rate for mining on federal lands. Furthermore, royalty rate reductions, loopholes, subsidies, and self-dealing transactions further reduce the effective royalty rate coal companies pay to less than 5 percent. Because the current system fails to ensure mining companies pay royalties on the true market price of the coal they extract, coal companies are able to take advantage of billions of dollars of de facto subsidies.
A flawed royalty system is not the only way the true cost of coal is being undervalued. The environmental impacts of coal, including its contribution to climate change, also impose a cost to the American public. More than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands comes from the combustion of coal. Coal mining in the Powder River Basin alone, which spans across Wyoming and Montana, is responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
Strip mining and failed mine reclamation produce air and water pollution, which add to coal’s environmental costs. Furthermore, some companies are trying to get out of their responsibility to clean up their mines on public lands, which could leave taxpayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in reclamation costs.
BOTTOM LINE: Not much has stayed the same since the 1980s and the energy sector is no exception. Reform of the federal coal program is long overdue. The Obama Administration’s steps to modernize and reform the program will help reduce the environmental and climate impacts, ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair return, increase transparency and accountability, and hold companies responsible for cleaning up their mining operations.