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Meet the Rural Pennsylvania Town at the Forefront of Environmental Law

EcoWatch | Posted on July 27, 2017

In 2012, Grant Township became a target for fracking waste. Oil and gas producer Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) applied for a permit to pump toxic chemicals used in drilling operations into an injection well beneath the community. Residents were alarmed. Injections can induce earthquakes, and wells can leak, contaminating water supplies. The chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects.  "We live in an area that doesn't have public water. We all live off springs and private wells," said Judy Wanchism, 74-year-old native of Grant Township. "You ruin our water, our home is no good anymore. Nothing. You have to have water in order to live, to water your plants, to drink, to bathe, everything … I don't know how else to say it. Water is life, and without water, you don't have a life." Wanchism and her neighbors shared their concerns with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to no avail. Regulators must listen to the public, but they don't have to take those concerns into account. The EPA issued the permit to PGE. The people of Grant Township couldn't win. "We thought they would protect us. They wouldn't," said Wanchism. "You have to figure out ways to protect yourself, and that is basically what we did." In 2015, a federal judge overturned the part of the ordinance blocking the operation of an injection well. Grant Township, she said, had exceeded its authority as a second-class township. Residents responded by adopting a home-rule charter, which gave the community more legal authority.In an ironic twist, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now suing Grant Township, arguing its home-rule charter violates state law. "We shouldn't be fighting the DEP," said Wanchism. "The DEP should be protecting us and helping us."Grant Township is now countersuing the DEP for failing to protect the community. A state court will hear oral arguments this fall. Residents are also dealing with legal fallout of the original ordinance. PGE claims Grant Township owes the company for damages incurred by blocking the injection well.

EPA is asking a climate denier think tank for help recruiting its ‘red team’

Think Progress | Posted on July 27, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Heartland Institute, a D.C.-based rightwing think tank that denies the human causes of climate change, to help identify scientists to join the agency’s so-called red team-blue team effort to “debate” the science of climate change. The move is part of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to undercut established climate science within the agency. In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Pruitt suggested the possibility of creating a red team to provide “a robust discussion” on climate science and determine whether humans “are contributing to [warming].” The Heartland Institute offers a model of what the EPA red team might look like. Their contrarian Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change — often referred to as a red team — publishes regular volumes of a report called “Climate Change Reconsidered.” Heartland communications director Jim Lakely told the Washington Examiner the red team exercises to critique climate science are necessary “to critically examine what has become alarmist dogma rather than a sober evaluation of climate science for many years.” But, as many scientists and experts have noted, the peer review process for scientific publications already requires and facilitates rigorous examination.

Like Exxon, Utilities Knew about Climate Change Risks Decades Ago

Inside Climate News | Posted on July 27, 2017

A study issue by an energy watchdog group offers important new insights into the fossil fuel industry's extensive early understanding of climate change and the risks it poses.  This time, it's the electric utility sector that's under the microscope.The detailed study, backed up by reams of archival documents, was issued by the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental advocacy and research group that favors the use of clean energy over fossil fuels.Forty years ago, the documents show, industry officials told Congress that the looming problem of climate change might require the world to back away from coal-fired power—something that is only now beginning to happen.The research presents a distinct echo of an investigation of Exxon's climate record published by InsideClimate News almost two years ago, and casts significant new light on the duration and depth of industry's climate research—and how electric companies that use fossil fuels responded to the emerging science from the 1960's onward. The 66-page report unearths research documents and testimony published but then largely forgotten decades before the climate crisis emerged as a key public issue.

Buried oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster still harming wetlands

The Times Picayune | Posted on July 26, 2017

Oil spilled seven years ago in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might no longer be visible, but it's still taking a toll on Louisiana's fragile wetlands. A new study by Louisiana State University indicates that crude oil from the 2010 BP oil spill has become lodged in wetland soils, where it remains almost as toxic as the day it flowed into the gulf.  "We found oil four to five centimeters down in the layers of marsh, which we expected to see," said John White, associate director of LSU's Coastal Studies Institute. "What was surprising was that the oil was still causing plants to die."

Michigan program finances first megawatt of solar, with ambitious goals ahead

Midwest Energy News | Posted on July 26, 2017

A clean energy financing program in Michigan reached a milestone last month when it helped homeowners and businesses install 1 megawatt of solar energy across the state. Michigan Saves — which was created by a $6.5 million Michigan Public Service Commission grant in 2009 — acts as a green bank by financing clean energy projects at homes and businesses. While it deals mostly in energy efficiency projects, it also removes the barrier of high upfront capital costs for solar installations.Since June 2011, the program has helped finance installations at 132 homes and nine businesses, totaling $3.5 million in solar investment. In all, Michigan Saves has been involved with roughly 8,600 projects totaling $102 million in clean energy investment.

Trump administration seeks to repeal Obama fracking rule

The Hill | Posted on July 26, 2017

The Trump administration is proposing to completely repeal Obama-era standards governing hydraulic fracturing on federal land. The proposal from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is due to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register.The landmark 2015 regulation set standards in areas such as disclosure of fracking chemicals and integrity of well casing.It was the Obama administration’s attempt to update decades-old regulations to account for the explosive growth in fracking for oil and natural gas in recent years. The repeal is the latest in a long string of environmental regulations from Obama that Trump is working to undo.Interior’s stream protection rule for mountaintop removal mining was repealed by Congress, and the agency has taken action on its own to stop Obama’s pause on coal mining on federal land.The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has started to undo major regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, water pollution, methane pollution and more.

Georgia Power’s coal ash plan illegal

Atlanta Journal Constitution | Posted on July 26, 2017

The Sierra Club said Georgia Power’s plans to close its toxic coal ash ponds will dump heavy metal-laden wastewater into the state’s rivers and lakes and violate the federal clean water law. Georgia Power is planning to shut down 29 ponds that hold coal ash, a waste product of burning coal that can contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins, according to the environmental group.Some environmental groups initially praised Georgia Power’s plans. The utility expects to spend roughly $2 billion closing the sites by recycling or treating water from the ponds. The ash is to be removed and added to other ponds or landfills, recycled, or sealed in place.But in a notice Monday of a planned lawsuit against Georgia Power, the Sierra Club said the plan will violate the Clean Water Act because existing wastewater permits for its power plants haven’t been modified to allow the utility to “dewater” the ponds by removing all of the contaminated water.Such water from the depths of the ponds is much dirtier than at the surface, the group said. The group said the wastewater goes into rivers and lakes, endangering public health and wildlife.

Leaked report explains energy efficiency policies will save consumers $545 billion.

Think Progress | Posted on July 26, 2017

leaked draft study of the electric grid requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry found that federal energy efficiency policies are in the process of saving U.S. consumers and businesses more than a half trillion dollars. Meanwhile, the new administration is halting energy efficiency policies and gutting funding for energy efficiency improvements for American homes. Perry’s department is currently being sued by 11 states for stalling efficiency mandates for air conditioners and other high-energy products. Back in April, Perry ordered a study from Department of Energy (DOE) staff to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability. But a July draft obtained by Bloomberg debunked that attack. Instead, the authors found that “the power system is more reliable today” than ever. After obtaining a copy of the draft, ThinkProgress reported the study concluded a large fraction of America’s aging fleet of coal and nuclear plants are simply not economic to operate anymore. The study has a long discussion of why coal and nuclear aren’t going to become economic anytime soon. For instance, it’s increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, natural gas prices will stay low — and that renewable sources of power like solar and wind will continue the stunning price drops they’ve seen in the past two decades, which have upended the global power market.

EPA proposal on biodiesel regulations draws concerns from Nebraska, Iowa ethanol producers

Omaha World Herald | Posted on July 20, 2017

New proposals for biofuel requirements in 2019 have ethanol folks in Nebraska and Iowa asking what the regulators in Washington are thinking. This month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released proposed requirements for biofuels in coming years, an annual figure known as the Renewable Fuel Standard. The proposal would allow for 15 billion gallons of conventional corn-based ethanol — unchanged from the previous standard — to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply and dispersed at neighborhood gas pumps as a clear gas/ethanol blend. That’s fine and good with ethanol supporters, bad and misguided as far as detractors are concerned.

Solar plus storage can beat natural gas in Minnesota

MPR | Posted on July 20, 2017

A new report from the University of Minnesota's Energy Transition Lab shows adding energy storage is becoming a cost effective way to meet electricity demand in the state. The report looked at several scenarios, including a common one in the summer: A hot day when electricity demand is much higher than usual because of air conditioning."What would be more cost effective: to build a conventional plant or to put in a big battery? Or, alternatively, to put in a big battery and a big solar array at the same time? [The consultants] found that putting in solar plus storage was actually cost effective right now," said Ellen Anderson, who directs the Energy Transition Lab.Anderson said about 1,800 megawatts of new natural gas plants are planned for Minnesota by 2028, primarily to meet that peak demand. Natural gas power plants are used for peak demand because they can be ramped up and down quickly.Solar arrays with batteries have the ability to soak in the sun's rays during the day and store the energy for distribution when there's more demand in the evening. Most of Minnesota's current solar arrays are only feeding electricity to the grid during the day.