RGGI Is a Success Story. When Will It Be Obsolete?

Posted on September 29, 2016 by Seth Jaffe

When RGGI rggilogo2was first implemented, I heard Ian Bowles, then Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs in Massachusetts, say more than once that the purpose of RGGI wasn’t really to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or jump start the clean energy economy.  Instead, the goal was much more modest; it was simply to demonstrate that a trading regime could work.  The RGGI states were to serve as a model, to be the laboratory of a GHG allowance system.  The hope was certainly that RGGI would succeed its way into obsolescence.  Surely, by 2016, there would be a federal statutory basis for GHG regulation.

It’s now September 2016 and a federal statutory basis for a GHG trading system remains a seemingly distant hope (this post is definitely not about the Clean Power Plan).  We may still be waiting, but we do at least have substantial data from the laboratory that is RGGI.  In fact, yesterday, RGGI released its analysis of The Investment of RGGI Proceeds through 2014.  Some highlights:

  • Power sector GHG emissions have decreased by more than 45% since 2005, while regional GDP has increased by about 8%.
  • The total value of RGGI investments reached $1.37 billion through 2014.
  • Energy efficiency has taken up 58% of RGGI investment. The report states that the expected return is $3.62 billion in lifetime energy bill savings.
  • Clean and renewable energy make up 13% of investments, with an expected return of $836 million in lifetime energy bill savings.

One can quibble with these numbers.  They don’t really provide a reliable comparison to what would have happened in the absence of RGGI.  Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that RGGI does work.  We can reduce GHG emissions without giving up on economic growth, and we can use the regulatory process to move our energy economy where it needs to be.

Now, if someone could just figure out a way to make RGGI obsolete, that would be true success.

Cape Wind Project Suffers Another Blow: Is This The Knock-Out?

Posted on July 13, 2016 by Jeff Thaler

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 5 issued a ruling that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act in approving the long-running, oft-litigated Cape Wind offshore wind project proposed to be built off the Massachusetts coast.  Senior Judge Randolph, writing for an unanimous panel, confirmed the District Court’s rejections of a number of the claims advanced by Plaintiffs (who included the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Town of Barnstable, and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound), but reversed the District Court on two key points.

The proposed Cape Wind project, which has been the subject of voluminous news coverage and many court cases for well over a decade, sought to construct 130 3.6 MW turbines in shallow waters near Nantucket.  Challenges have included scenic impacts; Native American concerns that the project would will block their sunrise views across the sound, disturb ancestral burial grounds, and perhaps disturb cultural relics; and issuance of submerged land leases required by the project. Financial hurdles seemed to put the project into a death spiral two years ago, but quietly the project developers have continued legal fights to defend the permits and approvals previously issued. They have largely been successful—until this month.

Early on, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) had recommended that the wind turbines be shut off during limited periods of highest risk to two birds listed under the Endangered Species Act-- the piping plover and roseate tern.  However, the FWS ultimately rejected that conservation measure on the grounds that it would impair the financial feasibility of the project. The Court of Appeals held that the FWS’s action was arbitrary and capricious.  The Court further held that the project cannot proceed without compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and without further analysis of environmental impacts pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. 

In conclusion, the Court stated:   “We reverse the district court’s judgment that the Bureau’s environmental impact statement complied with NEPA and that the Service’s incidental take statement complied with the Endangered Species Act, and we vacate both statements.” A copy of the ruling is here.

Is It Time To Re-Think Additionality?

Posted on October 14, 2015 by Wendy B. Jacobs

Many organizations have announced voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction goals by which they aim to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases despite the absence of any legal requirement to do so.  Meeting these goals implicates the concept of additionality when the goals are to be met, in part, through off-site actions, such as the purchase of carbon offsets, retirement of renewable energy credits, or construction of off-site renewable energy projects.  The concept of additionality seems simple: in principle, emission reductions attributable to an organization’s actions should only be recognized or “counted” if such reductions are more than what would have been achieved absent the action.  Applying the concept of additionality in the real-world, however, is complicated. Perhaps unnecessarily so? 

First, the “proof” of additionality required by many of the certifying bodies can be confusing and conflicting.  For the faint of heart, the concern about proof discourages any action other than the purchase of “certified” paper offsets.  A second, confounding problem results from the greening of the grid itself.  Emissions have been falling for many organizations simply because the electricity they procure from the grid is becoming less carbon intensive.  How to square these emission reductions with the concept of additionality leads one to question how the concept of additionality should be applied to voluntary emission reduction goals. 

In the context of regulated organizations, the idea of additionality makes sense.  Organizations that must comply with a regulatory scheme to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases should not be allowed to claim credit for off-site actions if such actions do not, in fact, lower emissions beyond what they would have been absent the organization’s actions.  No organization (regulated or unregulated) wants to waste money paying for off-site actions that do not in fact lower emissions.  Establishing that a particular organization’s action will, in fact, lower emissions more than would have occurred absent that organization’s action turns out to be much more difficult than it at first appears given the multiplicity of variables that come into play:   who else might be inclined to take the same action?  When?  For what reason? Is the action occurring in an area governed by a renewable portfolio standard or not?  Many different criteria are used by regulatory agencies and voluntary verification programs.  Three examples are helpful.

The California Air Resources Board treats emission reductions as “additional” if they exceed what would be required by law or regulation and if they exceed what would “otherwise occur in a conservative business-as-usual scenario.”  17 CCR § 95802(a)(4).  The American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (“ACUPCC”) replaces “conservative business-as-usual” with “reasonable and realistic business-as-usual.” The Verified Carbon Standard adds a requirement that the reductions are additional only if they would not have occurred “but for” the offsite organization’s investment.  These different definitions have real consequences for the types of offset projects (i.e., emission reductions) qualifying as “additional.”  Energy efficiency projects at a school in an economically disadvantaged city might count as additional under ACUPCC’s definition because the schools are unlikely to undertake the energy efficiency measures themselves.  In contrast, such measures are unlikely to count as additional under the Verified Carbon Standard definition because the schools would save money from the efficiency measures if undertaken by themselves.

For unsophisticated organizations with limited resources, using the most conservative criteria for additionality that have been developed by other parties, whether regulatory agencies or voluntary verification programs, makes sense – emission reductions are assured and at minimal transactional cost to the organization.  For more sophisticated organizations with resources to experiment and innovate, strict adherence to conservative additionality criteria can be counterproductive.  Many large municipalities, large research universities and corporations have the in-house capacity to invest in bold and innovative experiments and to assess whether a given project or investment is in fact reducing emissions. Organizations such as these could use their in-house talent and money to develop creative, bold, innovative and novel projects that could reduce emissions, but will they do so if such projects might fail a strict additionality test?  At a university, such projects have the added benefit of complementing the core mission to teach, research, and demonstrate ideas that others beyond the university could leverage.  Should an organization abstain from pursuing such projects simply because they would fail a strict additionality test, which the organization is not legally obligated to apply?  Should we re-think the circumstances in which strict observance with additionality is necessary to avoid a public relations nightmare (i.e. being accused of not really meeting the voluntary goal)?

The application of additionality in the context of voluntary goals is also complicated by the fact that the electric grid itself is becoming greener.  Most organizations include in their greenhouse gas emission calculation the emissions resulting from their electricity consumption.  Many organizations first announced their voluntary emission reduction goals five to ten years ago when few predicted that the electric grid would become significantly greener so fast.  Here in Massachusetts, largely because of the increased use of natural gas, the electric grid now emits 20% less carbon dioxide per MWh consumed than it did ten years ago.  That means that an organization in Massachusetts that has not taken any action designed to reduce its emissions will nevertheless have lowered its emissions by consuming electricity from the local grid.  Crediting such emission reductions towards a voluntary goal is in tension with the concept of additionality because the reductions occurred without the need for the organization to take any action designed to reduce its emissions.   

Hence, the greening of the grid should cause an organization to re-think the nature of its voluntary emission reduction goal:  is the goal simply an accounting objective that can be met by actions external to the organization, such as the greening of the grid by electric utilities, or is it a a bigger, perhaps even moral, commitment to undertake a minimum level of effort to reduce emissions in addition to those resulting from the greening of the grid?  If the former, an organization committed to a voluntary goal can celebrate that the utilities have made its commitment cheaper to attain.  If the latter, perhaps an organization should make its goal even more stringent to avoid taking credit for emission reductions achieved by others.  Is this second approach more consistent with the concept of additionality?  Should we applaud an organization that is not required by law to make any emission reductions but that purchases some carbon offsets and declares it has accomplished its voluntary goal of emission reductions?  Should we applaud an organization that designs, invests in or otherwise makes an effort to create a project that actually achieves emission reductions even though it is possible that someone somewhere might also have the same idea and be willing to make the same investment?

I do not pretend to have the answers to these questions.  But, I do know that many organizations that have set voluntary goals are grappling with these questions now, and others will face them in the future.  I welcome your comments.  

Tenth Circuit Rejects Commerce Clause Challenge to Colorado’s RPS

Posted on July 16, 2015 by Jeff Thaler

On Monday July 13, 2015, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Colorado’s mandate that the state’s biggest utilities get 30 percent of their power supplies from renewable resources is legal, rejecting a dormant commerce clause challenge. In the case of Energy and Environment Legal Institute v. Joshua Epel et al, decision, Judge Gorsuch began the unanimous decision in an unusually clear, direct and non-traditional style; the opening paragraph says it all: 

Can Colorado’s renewable energy mandate survive an encounter with the most dormant doctrine in dormant commerce clause jurisprudence? State law requires electricity generators to ensure that 20% of the electricity they sell to Colorado consumers comes from renewable sources. Under the law, too, this number will rise over time. It may be that Colorado’s scheme will require Coloradans to pay more for electricity, but that’s a cost they are apparently happy to bear for the ballot initiative proposing the renewable energy mandate passed with overwhelming support. So what does this policy choice by Coloradans affecting Colorado energy consumption preferences and Colorado consumer prices have to do with the United States Constitution and its provisions regarding interstate commerce? The Energy and Environment Legal Institute points out that Colorado consumers receive their electricity from an interconnected grid serving eleven states and portions of Canada and Mexico. Because electricity can go anywhere on the grid and come from anywhere on the grid, and because Colorado is a net importer of electricity, Colorado’s renewable energy mandate effectively means some out-of-state coal producers, like an EELI member, will lose business with out-of-state utilities who feed their power onto the grid. And this harm to out-of-state coal producers, EELI says, amounts to a violation of one of the three branches of dormant commerce clause jurisprudence.

In the end, the district court disagreed with EELI’s assessment and so must we. 

Can States Procure Clean Energy through an RFP Process?

Posted on April 1, 2015 by Mark R. Sussman

In February 2015, the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced their intent to seek new large-scale clean-energy projects through a multi-state procurement process.  According to the draft Request for Proposal (RFP) the “essential purpose” of this procurement is to “identify any projects that offer the potential for the Procuring States to meet their clean energy goals in a cost-effective manner that brings additional regional benefits.”  The draft RFP seeks bids for the delivery of Class I renewable energy projects (i.e. solar, wind, biomass, fuel cells in Connecticut, and some hydroelectric) through power purchase agreements, combined power purchase agreements and transmission upgrades, or transmission projects with clean energy delivery commitments.  Because each state has different procurement laws and different definitions of “renewable energy”, the draft RFP notes that contracts for any selected projects must be negotiated with the relevant electric distribution companies (EDC) and approved in accordance with applicable state and federal laws.

To encourage the generation of renewable energy, many states have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to require electric distribution companies and retail electric suppliers to include an increasing percentage of renewable energy in their mix of generation resources.  Unfortunately, the RPS alone seems insufficient to encourage the development of enough renewable energy resources to address the renewable energy and climate change policies of the states.  Therefore, the three New England states, as well as others, are experimenting with different methods to incentivize renewable energy generation.  Given the substantial capital requirements for constructing new electric generating facilities and the need for an assured revenue stream, long-term power purchase agreements are increasingly being used to encourage the construction of new energy resources.  The RFP to be issued by the three New England states seeks to attract new large scale renewable energy projects by offering successful bidders long-term energy contracts.

One question raised by this new approach to encourage the construction of reasonably-priced renewable energy resources is whether federal law preempts the states from contracting for large wholesale electric generation, despite independent state policies designed to encourage the development of more renewable energy resources.  This issue has been raised in several recent federal lawsuits.  

Last year, both the Fourth and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals concluded that state programs awarding long term contracts to new electric generating facilities were preempted by the Federal Power Act.  In PPL EnergyPlus, LLC v. Nazarian, 753 F.3d 467 (4th Cir. 2014), the Fourth Circuit held that a fixed, twenty-year energy contract for a new Maryland generating facility was preempted by federal law. Using an RFP process, Maryland selected a company to build a power plant and sell its energy and capacity on the federal interstate wholesale market.  Under the approved contract, the winning project was eligible for payments from the local EDC that amounted to the difference between the price paid in the interstate market and the amount approved in its EDC contract.  The Fourth Circuit concluded that the Maryland law was field preempted because it functionally sets the rate that the generator receives for sales in the interstate energy market, an area within the exclusive jurisdiction of FERC. 

Similarly, the Third Circuit, in PPL EnergyPlus, LLC v. Solomon, 766 F.3d 241 (3d Cir. 2014), held that federal law preempted a New Jersey statute under which the state solicited and awarded bids for new electric generating capacity using long-term energy capacity agreements.  The Third Circuit, however, acknowledged that states have a role to play in energy markets, and stated that not every state program that has an effect on interstate electric rates will be preempted.  The court explained that states may utilize measures that subsidize generators without being preempted, as long as such subsidies do not essentially set wholesale prices.   

In 2013, Connecticut solicited proposals for large scale renewable energy through an RFP process.  That solicitation resulted in the selection of a 250 MW wind project in Maine and a 20 MW solar project in Connecticut.  Both projects were awarded long term power purchase agreements for the energy produced by these projects.  A disappointed bidder, Allco Finance Limited, filed suit alleging preemption, following Nazarian and Solomon.  On December 10, 2014, the district court dismissed the case, finding that a disappointed bidder lacks standing. Allco Finance, Ltd. v. Klee. Nevertheless, the court ruled on the merits.  The district court concluded that the state RFP process was not preempted, rejecting Allco’s argument that the state-approved contracts set the wholesale price for energy produced by the successful bidders.  The court ruled that the effect of the Connecticut program on the interstate market was at most indirect and would cause no market distortion.  Allco has appealed the district court’s decision to the Second Circuit.

The use of an RFP process to encourage the development of renewable energy projects through the award of long term energy contracts is an effective way to procure lower cost renewable generation.  The Connecticut Z-REC program, which awards long term Renewable Energy Credit (“REC”) contracts, has proven to be successful in driving down the cost of solar renewable energy credits from small (less than 1 MW) solar projects.  In light of the federal preemption obstacles in awarding long-term wholesale electricity contracts, another approach may be to support large scale renewables by procuring long term contracts for RECs and allowing the energy price to be set by the interstate markets.  Since a REC represents the renewable attribute of electricity, and not the energy itself, such procurement should avoid the preemption issues identified by the Third and Fourth Circuits.  This may provide a path forward for states to pursue their clean energy goals by incentivizing larger scale renewable resources. 

Hazardous Waste Recycling Regulations – the Latest Chapter

Posted on December 15, 2014 by Susan Cooke

 "A long time ago in a [May 19, 1980 Federal Register] far, far away [or so it seems]", EPA declared its authority to regulate all hazardous secondary material, whether discarded or reused, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and that it would exercise its authority to promote properly conducted waste reclamation.  Ever since then, a kind of Empire/Rebellion struggle has played out over the scope and extent of broad based recycling exclusions to the RCRA solid waste definition.

Over the years, recycling exclusions generally focused on particular industries.  However, EPA’s last final rule, issued in the October 30, 2008 Federal Register during the Bush administration, contained several much broader exclusions.  Those exclusions covered a waste generator’s onsite recycling, offsite recycling in the U.S., and transfers of hazardous secondary materials for recycling conducted outside the U.S.

The 2008 rule prompted litigation from both industry and the Sierra Club.  The Sierra Club also filed an administrative petition seeking EPA repeal of the final rule.  On September 7, 2010, EPA reached a settlement agreement with the Sierra Club under which EPA agreed to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking and a final rule that addressed the Sierra Club’s concerns.  EPA’s final rule announced on December 10 is the latest chapter in the ongoing saga.

The new final rule rolls back many of the Bush era provisions that minimized agency filings and involvement.  It contains revisions to the onsite generator recycling exclusion, replaces the exclusion for offsite recycling in the U.S., eliminates the exclusion covering recycling outside the U.S., and introduces a new exclusion for recycling of certain solvents.  It also contains some new requirements applicable to all recycling activities, and to new variances and non-waste determinations for recycled materials. 

EPA’s new final rule is intended to provide greater safeguards against sloppy and sham recycling.  These provisions address accumulation of hazardous secondary materials when there is no near term prospect for recycling, and require an up-front demonstration that the recycling process will generate a valuable product suitable for reuse.  They also require offsite recycling by a facility with a Part B permit or interim status under the RCRA regulations, or by facility that has obtained a variance after meeting the same types of requirements imposed upon permitted and interim status facilities. 

Offsite recyclers and waste generators engaged in onsite recycling must adopt new procedures that include notification and periodic updates of recycling activity, demonstration that the recycling is legitimate, documentation of when accumulation has commenced for the material being recycled, and compliance with recordkeeping requirements and with emergency response and preparedness procedures like those imposed on hazardous waste generators.  In addition, the new rule provides a definition of “contained" that is intended to ensure proper storage of hazardous secondary materials.  

Beside adding safeguards to two of the three exclusions instituted in 2008 and eliminating the third one, the new rule introduces an exclusion to cover the recycling of 18 commercial grade solvents.  Under that exclusion, such solvents must be used in one of four industrial sectors that do not include waste management, and the remanufactured solvents must be employed for specified uses that do not include cleaning or degreasing.  

The solvent exclusion is subject to notification and recordkeeping requirements similar to those contained in the previously described recycling exclusions.  In addition, there must be compliance with the tank and container standards covering Part B permitted facilities and with air emission control requirements imposed under the federal Clean Air Act or, where not applicable, to the air emission standards covering Part B permitted facilities.

In its 2011 proposal, EPA sought to impose the new notification and containment requirements on facilities covered by a pre-2008 exclusion or exemption.  In the preamble to its new rule, EPA has deferred adoption of those requirements have been deferred in order to more fully consider the comments and concerns that were raised.  One pre-2008 exclusion that received particular attention is scrap metal recycling, since scrap metal being recycled may be left on the ground rather than in a receptacle. 

This link summarizes the new provisions and identifies a few other items of interest. 

Another Legal Victory for America’s First Offshore Wind Project

Posted on December 5, 2014 by Katherine Kennedy

The 468 megawatt Cape Wind project, slated for construction in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts in Nantucket Sound, is the first offshore wind project to be proposed and approved in the United States.  The project has strong support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, many national, state and local environmental groups, organized labor and many others. 

But being the first in an innovative venture is always difficult, and unsuccessful litigation by project opponents – some funded in large part by billionaire Bill Koch – has slowed the pace of the project.  By Cape Wind’s count, thirty-two cases have been filed by project opponents.  Cape Wind has ultimately prevailed in all of these actions.

A recently issued but unheralded district court decision now signals yet another legal victory for Cape Wind.

In April 2010, after a lengthy and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process which included preparation of two environmental impact statements, the U.S. Department of Interior approved the Cape Wind project.  Project opponents then filed three complaints in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The complaints, which were ultimately consolidated, challenged approval of the project by various federal agencies and alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006. 

Cape Wind intervened in the actions as a defendant-intervenor.  Because of the project’s clean energy significance, NRDC attorneys (including me), joined by the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon, the state’s leading wildlife protection organization, filed two “friend of the court” briefs in support of the project.

In March 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton issued an 88-page decision granting summary judgment to the defendants, rejecting the bulk of opponents’ challenges to the federal government’s 2010 approval of the project.  The court dismissed outright a host of claims that related to the government’s environmental review of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act and to the Coast Guard’s review of navigation issues under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

The court remanded two limited issues back to the federal agencies. First, it directed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to make an independent determination about whether a potential operational adjustment for the project was a “reasonable and prudent measure”.  The court explained that it was unable to tell, based on the record, whether the Fish & Wildlife Service had made an independent determination or had adopted a position taken by a sister agency.

Second, the court directed the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to issue an incidental take permit covering right whales.  While the NMFS biological opinion stated that the project “was not likely to adversely affect right whales” and that “incidental take was not likely to occur,” the court found that the opinion did not state that an incidental take would not occur or determine the volume of any potential take.

After the court’s decision, the two federal agencies complied with the district court’s instructions.  FWS issued its independent determination with respect to the potential operational adjustment.  NMFS amended the incidental take opinion to state that no take of right whales was anticipated, and thus the incidental take amount for this species could be set at zero.

However, that did not end the matter.  As the district court noted in its September 12, 2014 order, “history should have forewarned that any attempt to bring this [protracted] litigation to an expeditious conclusion would prove difficult.”  And as expected, the plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint challenging the two agencies’ actions on remand.

On November 18, 2014, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ supplemental complaint.  The court made short work of the claims, finding them all to be barred – some because they had been previously waived or abandoned and some because the Court had previously considered and rejected them.  Indeed, the court noted that some of the claims were “difficult to understand.” With that decision, this chapter in the long string of legal challenges was concluded, at the district court level at least.  The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Cape Wind project continues to move forward.  In July, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a conditional loan guarantee commitment for the project, the first step toward securing a $150 million loan guarantee.  In August, the project selected its lead construction contractors.  Construction is expected to proceed in 2015.  

And Cape Wind’s example has spurred forward movement in the U.S. offshore wind industry.  Currently, there are some fourteen offshore wind projects in an advanced stage of development along the East Coast and elsewhere, representing 4.9 gigawatts of potential renewable electricity capacity.  Despite the protracted litigation, it’s my hope that Cape Wind, buoyed by its legal victories, will herald the start of a new renewable energy industry that will fully and sustainably tap into the United States’ huge offshore wind resource.

Adjusting for Wind: USFW Extends Term for Eagle Take Permits

Posted on August 7, 2014 by LeAnne Burnett

Developing wind energy is a good thing, right?  Protecting eagles is too, isn’t it?  Both may not  be true given recent developments that highlight the tension between wind projects and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. 

First, it is official.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a final rule to extend the maximum term for programmatic “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“Eagle Act”) from five to thirty years.  [50 C.F.R. § 22.26.The rule took effect on January 8, 2014.  

With the removal in 2007 of the bald eagle from the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS issued new regulations to authorize the limited take of bald eagles and golden eagles under the Eagle Act.  In 2009 the FWS provided for eagle take permits for a maximum of five years.  [50 C.F.R. 22.26 and 22.27.]  The rule change to allow a 30-year permit is designed to facilitate development of renewable energy projects planned to operate for decades.  Generally the life of a project will coincide with the life of a 30-year permit, satisfying risk-averse financiers that their collateral is protected, at least with regard to eagle takes. 

The FWS committed to 5-year reviews of the 30-year permit, hoping to satisfy those concerned with eagle conservation. In addition, a permit applicant must implement measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate threats to eagles over the life of the project. Compensatory mitigation that offsets eagle mortality may also be required. Under programmatic eagle take permits, permittees are required to implement advanced conservation practices -- scientifically supportable measures that represent the best available techniques to reduce eagle disturbance and ongoing mortalities. 

There is no legal requirement for project developers or operators to obtain a programmatic eagle take permit under the Eagle Act.  However, the risk of proceeding without such a permit can be significant given the civil and criminal penalties that include fines and incarceration for an unpermitted take.  [16 U.S.C. § 668(a).] 

Second, it is official.  The American Bird Conservancy made good on its threat [April 30, 2014 Letter] to litigate the issue of the 30-year rule with the FWS [June 19, 2014 Complaint].  The claims are procedural -- that the FWS deemed the rule to be excluded from any National Environmental Policy Act review, and that the FWS privileged the interests of wind developers over protection of eagles, thereby violating the Eagle Act.  The FWS has strong defenses, including its conclusion in 2009 that the eagle take permitting rule as a whole would not have any impact on endangered species.  That conclusion will likely be approved under the deferential standard of review applicable in this type of lawsuit.

Third, it is official.  The FWS issued its first golden eagle take permit to a wind developer, EDF Renewable Energy for the 102.5MW Shiloh 4 wind farm in Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area within Solano County, California. The EDF eagle take permit is the first of its kind, allows for the take of up to five golden eagles over five years, and requires the company to implement conservation measures to reduce impacts to eagles.  EDF’s application process for its eagle take permit began in 2011, when the five-year permit was the only available option.  The application included an Eagle Conservation Plan, as well as a Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy, both of which describe current and proposed future actions to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects on eagles, birds, and bats.  The wind farm repowered at the end of 2012, and was able to incorporate some of those strategies, including compensatory retrofitting of 133 power poles in southern Monterey County formerly considered high risk to both bald and golden eagles. 

The first-issued five-year permit notwithstanding, a longer permit timeframe for wind developers may be important to long-term success, providing certainty as to regulations and permit requirements.  And take permits that call for affirmative conservation practices allow the FWS to ensure adequate species protection over the lifetime of the permit.  It’s a good thing, right?  

Or You’ll Sink Like a Stone—Changing Times Call For Revival of the Public Trust Doctrine

Posted on August 4, 2014 by Jeff Thaler

For those who may be interested in the interplay of renewable energy, climate change and the public trust doctrine, I have a new article out in the Ocean and Coastal Law Journal on how federal and state public trust doctrines can be more central in the work and advocacy of environmental lawyers. The article (co-written with one of my students, Patrick Lyons), “THE SEAS ARE CHANGING:  IT’S TIME TO USE OCEAN-BASED RENEWABLE ENERGY, THE PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE, AND A GREEN THUMB TO PROTECT SEAS FROM OUR CHANGING CLIMATE”, demonstrates how the public trust doctrine (PTD) can play a role in protecting ocean and coastal resources from climate change.  

More specifically, the Article proposes that both federal and state PTDs can help protect traditional trust values of commerce, navigation and fishing—in addition to modern trust values of protecting tidal wetlands, estuaries, and wildlife—through establishing ocean-based renewable energy (ORE) as a public trust value.  In addition to elevating ORE to equal footing with traditional trust values, we call for placing a “green thumb” on the scales of balancing competing trust values to explicitly guide courts and agencies alike to operate under a rebuttable presumption favoring ORE over other PTD values because of its ability to help reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This way, ocean based renewable energy would benefit public trust resources that are now being damaged by use of non-renewable energy sources—for example,  the National Research Council (NRC), using 2005 dollars,  that U.S. fossil fuel energy production caused $120 billion in damage, primarily through damages to human health from air pollution, and another $120 billion in damages from climate change, such as harm to ecosystems and infrastructure, insurance costs, negative effects of air pollutants, and national security risks.

The article first provides a brief overview of the history of the PTD in the United States, including its adoption from English common law and its evolution to its present status among the various states, and an introduction to the current legal framework governing federal ocean resources and sets up the argument for recognizing a federal PTD.   It then focuses on climate change, how it is currently impacting the earth’s ecosystems, and the potential detrimental effects to our planet if carbon emissions are left unabated.  We further document how climate change is affecting public trust resources and highlights the degradation and alteration these resources have already experienced, calling on all levels of government to fulfill their fiduciary obligation to protect ocean and coastal resources from the impacts of climate change.  

With that as the foundation, we move to a discussion of offshore wind, tidal and wave energy, and the variety of public trust-like language found throughout the federal legislation that has authority over the permitting and compliance of ORE projects.  We then bring PTD, climate change, and ORE together, in order to establish the basis for a federal PTD and legitimize its inception through common law, legislation, and executive order.  The Article concludes by providing examples of how ORE can be incorporated into both federal and state PTDs, providing courts and governmental agencies with a doctrine that encourages and requires the utilization of ocean and coastal resources for harnessing clean, renewable energy in an effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

I hope you find it useful in your law and non-law work. Ironically, it was exactly fifty years ago that one of the leading songwriters wrote and sang these words: 

Come gather around people, wherever you roam / And admit that the waters around you have grown / And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth savin’ / Then you better start swimmin’ or you'll sink like a stone / For the times they are a-changin’. 

Isn’t it well past time to heed that warning and combat the rising levels of greenhouse gases, temperatures, seas, health care costs and storm damages by making maximum use of the clean, renewable energy available and waiting off our shores?

CSK Tribes to Acquire Kerr Dam in Montana

Posted on May 5, 2014 by Irma S. Russell

Last month, after 30 years of negotiations between the parties, an arbitration decision set the price to be paid by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSK) to PPL Montana to acquire the Kerr Dam.  The tribes expect the dam -- the first major hydroelectric facility owned by a tribal entity -- will serve as a driver for economic development for tribal members, residents of the Flathead Reservation, and the surrounding area.  The dam will operate under the same licensing requirements applicable to PPL Montana and will sell energy generated by the dam on the open market.  The dam has the generating capacity of 194 megawatts, standing at 205 feet high and 541 feet long.

After considering arguments by the tribes and PPL Montana, a panel of the American Arbitration Association set $18,289,798 as the price to be paid by the CSK to acquire the dam.  This price includes $16.5 million for the existing plant and $1.7 million for required environmental mitigation and was the original price agreed to by the parties in a negotiated deal in 1985.  The tribes had argued to the panel that $14.7 million would be a fair price while PPL Montana maintained the tribes should pay close to $50 million for the dam. 

The arbitration decision is a culmination of a long history of the construction and operation of the dam.  Negotiation for purchase has been going on since 1984 when the 50-year lease terminated.  Understanding the debates surrounding the dam requires some explanation.  In 1934 a subsidiary of the Montana Power Company began construction on the Kerr Dam on tribal lands on the Flathead River despite opposition from members of the Flathead Indian Reservation.  In 1938 the construction was completed and named after the then CEO of Montana Power Co., Frank Kerr.  The construction financing for the project included a 50-year term lease that provided for lease payments to the tribes for the dam, which is located on tribal lands and uses tribal resources.  

The arbitration decision indicated that the purchase can occur after September 5, 2015.  Energy Keepers, a federally chartered corporation owned by the tribes is expected to tender the purchase money early in September 2015.  The CSK Tribes hopes to develop the dam as a self-sustaining energy source for the tribes as well as a revenue source.  The Tribal Council is expected to choose a new name for the dam after the transfer.  

In 2011 the tribes competed for and received a federal grant, which was available for energy projects. The grant money funded a feasibility study to assess energy efficiency improvement projects and to implement energy conservation measures in existing tribal facilities.  The grant funding also supported the development of an organizational structure to acquire the dam. 

Not all tribal members supported acquisition of the dam.  The arbitration process ran from February 3 to March 3, and some tribal members have objected that lack of notice means that public comment should be allowed at this time.  Additionally, some tribal members have noted in the media the need for caution in going forward.  For example, some have emphasized that, after the purchase, the dam will no longer be a taxable asset and tax support for schools in the area will be lost or will need to be funded from other sources.  Preparation for the transition to tribal ownership has begun, and the tribes are working with current employees at the dam who are tribal members and searching for engineers and information technology employees.

ExxonMobil Admits Climate Change Is Real. It also Imposes an Internal Cost on Carbon. Still Not Enough to Get Any Love From the Greens (Interesting Reading, Though)

Posted on April 14, 2014 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, in response to shareholder requests that it disclose information regarding how climate change might affect it in the future, ExxonMobil released two reports, one titled Energy and Climate, and one titled Energy and Carbon – Managing the Risks.  They actually make fascinating reading and seem to represent a new tack by ExxonMobil in its battle with those seeking aggressive action on climate change.

The reports do not deny the reality of climate change.  Indeed, the reports acknowledge climate change, acknowledge the need for both mitigation and adaptation, acknowledge a need to reduce fossil fuel use (at some point), acknowledge the need to set a price on carbon, and acknowledge that ExxonMobil in fact already is making future planning decisions utilizing an internal “proxy” price on carbon that is as high as $80/ton of CO2 in the future.

The reaction of the shareholder activists who pushed for the disclosures?  They are not happy.  Why not?

Because ExxonMobil has said explicitly that it doesn’t believe that there will be sufficient worldwide pressure – meaning government regulations imposing very high carbon prices – to reduce fossil fuel use sufficiently quickly enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.  It also does not believe that worldwide carbon regulation will leave it with any “stranded assets.”

I understand the moral case against fossil fuel use.  Personally, however, I’d rather rely on a carbon price that provides the appropriate incentives to get the reductions in CO2 emissions that we need to mitigate climate change.  On that score, sadly, it’s not obvious to me at this point that ExxonMobil’s analysis of likely outcomes is actually wrong.

My biggest complaint with the reports is the refusal to recognize that markets react dynamically to new regulatory requirements.  The history of big regulatory programs is that they pretty much always cost less than the predictions made before the regulations are implemented.  The lesson then is that the current projections of energy cost increases resulting from a high cost of carbon are likely to be overestimated.

Time will tell.  At least I hope so.

Innovative Renewable Energy Project Starts Up in Wisconsin

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Michael McCauley

Quarles & Brady recently represented Wisconsin Energy Corporation and Wisconsin Electric Power Company (doing business as "We Energies") in the construction and commencement of operation of a $250 million biomass-fueled co-generation plant. The project is located at Domtar Corporation's paper mill facility in Rothschild, Wisconsin. Wood, waste wood and sawdust are now being be used to produce 50 megawatts of electricity. The new co-generation project also supports Domtar's sustainable papermaking operations. 

The new facility adds another technology to We Energies' renewable energy portfolio. That portfolio includes the 145 megawatt (MW) Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center in Fond du Lac County and the 162 MW Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County. Under Wisconsin law, utilities must use renewable energy to meet 10 percent of the electricity needs of their retail customers by the year 2015. With the start of commercial operation of the Rothschild biomass plant, We Energies estimates that it now has secured enough renewable energy to remain in compliance with the state mandate through 2022. Together, We Energies' three renewable energy operations are capable of delivering nearly 360 MW of renewable energy, enough to supply approximately 120,000 homes.

The Rothschild biomass project created approximately 400 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs in the surrounding community. This includes independent wood suppliers and haulers from northern and central Wisconsin who are now securing waste wood for the project. We Energies appeared in proceedings before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in support of the Company's application for a Certificate of Authority for approval for the biomass plant. The Company filed an application for an air permit and other environmental approvals for the project, including the preparation of environmental assessments in support of the regulatory decisions. 

The air permit for the project was issued on March 28, 2011. We Energies obtained one of the first PSD BACT (Prevention of Significant Deterioration - Best Available Control Technology) determinations for this project for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. under EPA's GHG Tailoring Rule. The Company worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in developing a novel case-by-case Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) determination for the biomass boiler under the Section 112 (hazardous air pollutant) provisions of the federal Clean Air Act. The permit was challenged by several environmental groups. The Company prevailed in the permit appeal process. The appeal was dismissed on the merits by the Marathon County Circuit Court in October, 2011. The facility started commercial operation on November 8, 2013.

Coming Attractions: Sea-Level Rise, New IPCC Reports, and Floating Wind Power Projects

Posted on September 4, 2013 by Jeff Thaler

There has been a flood (no pun of course) of new stories this month about rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, drought-driven wildfires, and extreme weather events in the U.S. and globally. At the same time, with the official release of the eagerly-awaited Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due in several weeks, leaks of a draft portion of the Report are coming out in the media, indicating increasing confidence in the underlying science and in a substantial human role in warming, primarily as a result of burning fossil fuels. Additionally, as reported in the N.Y. Times, it appears that the draft projects that sea level could rise by only about 10 inches by 2100 under the “most “optimistic” scenario. But “at the other extreme,” with emissions continuing to swiftly increase, “sea-level rise could be expected to rise at least 21 inches and might increase a bit more than three feet” by the end of this century—which “would endanger many of the world’s great cities — among them New York, London, Shanghai, Venice, Sydney, Australia, Miami, and New Orleans.” Some believe that the FAR will still understate the likely forthcoming climate disruptions.

Coincidentally (or not?), those of you who still subscribe to the National Geographic Magazine would have seen in August a cover story entitled “Rising Seas”, which leads off with questions a panel of ACOEL members will (coincidentally?) in part be addressing at our Annual Meeting in Boston: “As the planet warms, the sea rises. Coastlines flood. What will we protect? What will we abandon? How will we face the danger of rising seas?” . And rising sea levels are especially of relevance to any ACOEL member living in a state on the Atlantic coast, because sea levels have been rising three to four times more rapidly off the Atlantic Coast than the global average, according to a recent study. For those of you living between the coasts, the San Francisco water supply and Yosemite National Park are both threatened by an out-of-control wildfire, while the western United States are experiencing significant drought.

And while forests burn and seas warm, acidify, and rise, one good news story was the recent launching in Maine of the first grid-connected floating wind turbine outside of Europe.

It also is the first concrete-composite floating wind turbine in the world, using advanced material systems with a unique floating hull and tower design.  The 65 ft tall turbine prototype is a one-eight-scale version of a 6 MW, 423 ft rotor diameter design.  Currently being developed by the University of Maine and beginning preliminary environmental and permitting work, Maine Aqua Ventus I had been selected by the Department of Energy early this year out of 70 competing proposals as one of 7 winners of $4 million in initial funding.  The project is now a finalist for an additional $46.6 million in funding. This project is critical, because floating offshore wind energy projects have the potential to generate large quantities of pollutant-free electricity near many of the world’s major population centers (but far enough away, in water depths up to 400’, to not be visible from shore), and thus to help reduce the ongoing and projected economic, health, and environmental damages from climate change. Wind speeds over water also are stronger and more consistent than over land, and have a gross potential generating capacity four times greater than the nation’s present electric capacity.

(Full disclosure:  I am legal counsel for the project)

What Direction Is The Wind Blowing?

Posted on August 16, 2013 by Gregory H. Smith

Ever since the shock of the oil embargo in 1973 we have been a nation in search of a comprehensive, sound energy policy. It was only a year later, in response to the proposal by Aristotle Onassis to locate an oil refinery on the coast of New Hampshire, that the New Hampshire Legislature adopted the first version of the State’s energy facility siting law.

Today, New Hampshire’s siting law, representing a balance of the need to develop new energy facilities with appropriate protection of the environment, preempts local authority and requires each project to undergo a rigorous comprehensive, consolidated evaluation before a  panel of high-ranking State officials from the several different departments having jurisdiction over all the relevant permits. To obtain all State permits and a Certificate from the siting committee, the applicant must be prepared to present the project in a consolidated process, subject to formal discovery, at an adjudicative hearing before the committee. Interested parties and municipalities may intervene and the Attorney General appoints Public Counsel for the case to represent the broad public interest. To take positions in the broad public interest, Public Counsel is charged with the responsibility to represent the interests of the public as a whole, and not simply the narrower positions adopted by intervening parties. To discharge this responsibility, which derives directly from that of the Attorney General in all other cases, the Public Counsel must take positions that balance the public interest in developing new, diversified energy facilities and the need to take into account environmental regulation.

This highly structured, energy facility permitting process is significant regionally and nationally because its standards tend to drive the design of interstate facilities. Current energy policy and its direction may be discerned from trends reflected in the written decisions of the siting committee over time.  Other states may be developing approaches to these issues.

Beginning in the late 1990s, a steady stream of energy projects have been presented to the committee. Until the mid-2000s, the majority of those projects involved fossil fuel generation, and in particular natural gas generating stations and transmission lines. As public policy, driven by concerns for global warming, has put increasing emphasis on renewable energy sources, there has been a significant increase in proposals to construct wind energy facilities. What is most striking from this perspective is that no energy project was rejected until 2013, although some facilities were subject to hundreds of conditions in their certificate.

This year, a proposed 30 megawatt wind farm in Antrim was rejected on its “aesthetics”, an indisputably highly subjective standard in search of criteria that will avoid arbitrary and capricious adjudications. Three previous wind power projects have all been approved with essentially the same characteristics, but for the first time the committee, at the urging of public counsel, has declined to approve the project rather than setting forth criteria and conditions that would bring essential predictability to this important technological advance in energy production.

The region and the nation will be well served by a steady expansion in the number of renewable energy projects, and this opportunity has the attention of large, even international, experienced and capable developers. Does the rejection of the Antrim project, despite public support, on the basis of the objections of special interests actively supported by public counsel risk a slowing down or abandonment by developers to the detriment of the region’s public interest in a diversified energy portfolio? Is it coincidence that a wind energy project was rejected recently in Maine, also on highly subjective grounds of aesthetics, a case that was referenced in the New Hampshire proceedings? And shouldn’t we ask whether advancing wind turbine technology is something we find in most places attractive, when it represents a great benefit to the environment and the public interest?

These cases bear watching. The New Hampshire case appears to be headed to the State Supreme Court. Will it turn out that these developments represent a turning away from favorable conditions promoting wind energy, so that wind energy development will decline in the years ahead? For environmentally sound economic development in this region and elsewhere we should hope not.

SHOULDN’T WE BE WATCHING AFRICA’S ENERGY CONSUMPTION?

Posted on March 13, 2013 by Eileen Millett

We’ve all seen the head shaking over how energy conservation efforts in the United States are dwarfed by energy consumption increases in India and China.  But, what about Africa? 
 
The African continent, with close to 600 million people, 15% of the world’s population, now consumes about 3% of world energy production.  However, Africa’s energy picture is changing rapidly due to growing investment, upgraded infrastructure, and success in tackling corruption.  Africa always rich in natural resources, is expected to replace more basic energy sources with more efficient and environmentally friendly sources like oil and gas. However, huge areas in Africa — the Sudan, Uganda and even Kenya lack national electricity grid systems.  But improving infrastructure and abundant energy resources hold promise for the future. 

Most of Africa is not flicking a switch for lights, but instead is using matches to light a kerosene lamp or igniting a charcoal stove for heating or cooking.  This will continue for the foreseeable future, which means more tree-cutting for fuel, more wood burning, and thus, more harmful air emissions.  Using kerosene lanterns and charcoal stoves correlates directly with increased respiratory disease.  Unfortunately, environmental health and safety will, in the short term, take a back seat to the need to rely on fossil fuels.

Renewables?  Why shouldn’t a continent known for its hot sun be a natural for solar power?  In Africa, questions about reliability and the lack of trained personnel are being taken seriously.  So for the foreseeable future, the more likely result is that fossil fuels will increase, and renewables will take aback seat.  The developing world views energy/environment trade-offs as part of the price for advancement, particularly in nations where energy resources and infrastructure is so underdeveloped.  Opportunities are enormous, but so are the challenges and risks.  Africa’s test will be how much financing, regulation and environmental mitigation is needed to propel the continent forward. 

Getting serious on climate change and reforming regulatory review of clean energy projects

Posted on December 19, 2012 by Jeff Thaler

The attached article will be published in the upcoming issue of the Lewis & Clark Law School Environmental Law Review.  The article is among the first to integrate current climate change science, particularly ongoing impacts and predicted impacts, with a detailed roadmap for substantial reform of our environmental processes for reviewing proposed renewable energy projects.
 
Most existing articles either focus only on climate science or on minor modifications to the regulatory system. Using offshore wind power as a case study, this article demonstrates how, in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, our existing environmental laws and regulatory process no longer achieve their underlying goals of long-term ecosystem conservation. To the contrary, these laws and regulations are supporting a system with increasing greenhouse gas emissions that is annually costing trillions of dollars.

We have little time left to create a practical path to achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050—with failure resulting in average global temperatures rising more than the internationally-agreed targeted ceiling of 2°C. After examining the obstacles confronting a potential developer of offshore wind, this article clearly lays out why and how the existing regulatory process should be quickly reformed so that offshore wind and other clean renewable energy sources can help us escape the escalating consequences of our carbon-intensive economic system.

OREGON’S AMBITIOUS 10-YEAR ENERGY ACTION PLAN

Posted on June 8, 2012 by Rick Glick

On June 6, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber released his draft 10-Year Energy Action Plan. Written comments on the draft plan may be submitted to tenyearenergyplan@odoe.state.or.us and accepted through July 31.  Three public workshops will be held at times and places to be announced. 

The plan consists of a broad range of goals for the state government, private sector and public-private collaboration to address what the Governor calls the:

fundamental challenge—that is, to develop a comprehensive energy strategy that meets the state’s carbon reduction, energy conservation and renewable energy goals and timetables, and that balances complex needs– including affordability and reliability – while enhancing Oregon’s economic objectives.

The plan seeks to build off of existing programs and redirect funding to advance its three central strategies, the details of which are to be developed through a lot of public participation:

1.  Maximizing energy efficiency and conservation to meet 100 percent of new electric load growth.  The plan is unclear as to when this goal would be achieved, but refers to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s goal of using conservation to meet new electric demand by 2020.  Key to implementing this goal is creation of a new State Building Innovation Lab.  The Lab would focus initially on improving efficiency in four million square feet of state office space and then using the Lab as a model and resource for others.
2.  Enhancing clean energy infrastructure development by removing finance and regulatory barriers.  Streamlining the siting process, including use of a strong project manager to help navigate state regulatory requirements, would bring certainty to developers of facilities.  Also, conducting planning on a “landscape level” would help to ensure protection of natural resources.
3.  Accelerating the market transition to a more efficient, cleaner transportation system.  Central to this goal, over the next ten years the plan would convert 20% of large fleets to electric, compressed or liquefied natural gas or other alternative fuel vehicles.

The plan is self-congratulatory on various initiatives already in place and reads like a compendium of good ideas on how to secure a clean energy future.  So ambitious a plan requires continual commitment over a long period of time—at the highest levels of state government—to keep it from becoming yet another plan on the shelf.  Such sustained effort of course is not assured. 

In the early 1980s I was chair of the City of Portland Energy Commission whose job it was to further develop the City’s Energy Conservation Policy, which at the time was seen as cutting edge.  Then as now, energy planning was a hot topic for policy makers.  Champions arise to push forward change.  In those days it was Mayor Neil Goldschmidt and Commissioner Mike Lindberg, today it is Governor Kitzhaber.  While Portland has made progress, many of the elements of the Governor’s plan echo what we were talking about back then.  I hope that the Governor builds a governance platform to continue work on the plan after he departs the scene.

Implementation of the plan depends on new legislation and regulatory reform among several state and local agencies.  Whether the plan can develop the consensus necessary to achieve such change will depend on how the details emerge over the coming months and the enthusiasm the plan can garner. 

Fiddling While Rome – and the World – Burns: An Update on Climate Change

Posted on June 1, 2012 by Jeff Thaler

How can each of us leave the world to our children and grandchildren at least as healthy as when we were born? How can we more quickly move from fossil-driven economies to ones more based on renewable sources, in an increasingly carbon-stressed world? And how can policy makers, at various governmental levels, make changes in how energy projects are evaluated and developed before we use up too much of the atmosphere’s and oceans’ capacities to safely absorb carbon dioxide?

These and similar questions were tackled at two recent conferences in which I participated: a small climate change justice forum at Chicago Law School, and the much larger World Renewable Energy Forum in Denver. In Chicago, participants tackled approaches to bridging the who-pays-how-much gap between developing and developed nations – should it be per capita, or total carbon shares based on past emissions (if so from when), or a polluter-pays approach bridging past and future (next 20 years) CO2 emissions? Some say the US should pay less than China and India, others say more. Ultimately, all agreed that human-induced climate change is the single greatest threat facing human society—not just environmental, but also posing huge economic, public health, and military security costs.

Denver discussions focused on how to quickly increase the amount of renewable energy used for electricity, heat and transportation. My presentation, “U.S. Renewable Law and Policy: Catch Up or The Clock Strikes Midnight”, provided an overview of existing and predicted impacts from the still-increasing carbon dioxide emissions accumulating in our air and oceans; a comparison of the direct and indirect costs of different fossil and renewable energy sources; a summary of the permitting and regulatory hurdles facing renewable energy projects; and a roadmap to level the regulatory playing field to help renewables catch up.
Brief high (or low) lights: In April 2012, the International Energy Administration warned that, under current policies, energy use and CO2 emissions will increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050 – sending global temperatures at least 6⁰C higher. What would the world look like with such an increase?

What are the “true” costs of energy to be factored into pricing?  In 2009, the National Research Council’s “Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use” estimated in 2005 dollars (higher now) that non-climate damages from our use of fossil fuels exceed $120 billion, with climate damages possibly being equally as large – and both numbers exclude ecosystem, infrastructure, insurance,  and national security costs.

Those bucks stop with each of us and this generation.

Wisconsin DNR Seeks Additional Authority to Protect Against Adverse Impacts of Wind Projects

Posted on December 7, 2010 by Linda Bochert

 

WDNR has issued “Siting Guidelines” available here to help wind project developers site projects in ways that minimize impacts and will be revising its current “Bird and Bat Study Guidelines” to provide more comprehensive information.

 

The WDNR report was submitted in response to 2009 Wisconsin Act 40, which required the agency to determine if its “statutory authority is sufficient to adequately protect wildlife and the environment from any adverse effect from the siting, construction, or operation of wind energy systems.”

WDNR’s legislative agenda is in development. Whether the legislature will take up these recommendations is currently unknown. While WDNR's interest in more comprehensive authority is consistent with its view of its responsibilities, the risk for project proponents and developers is that it will create new grounds for project opponents to rely on to challenge siting decisions. For many the goal of alternative energy sources -- solar, wind, biomass -- is still only desirable when it isn't in their backyard.

 

 

In response to a legislative directive, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in November submitted a report to the Wisconsin Legislature making four recommendations to enhance its authority to protect wildlife and natural resources from wind project impacts:

 

  1. require WDNR to prepare a formal “biological opinion” and require the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) to consider that opinion before PSCW approves a wind project; this opinion would 1) describe the potential impacts of the project to wildlife and natural resources; 2) identify potential conflicts with wildlife protection laws; 3) reach a conclusion as to whether the project has the potential to cause a significant adverse impact to habitat and fish and wildlife resources; and 4) reach a conclusion as to whether mitigation measures can be implemented to substantially reduce those impacts below the level of significance;
  2. require a wind project developer to obtain Incidental Take Permits or Authorizations under the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law (Wis. Stat. s. 29.604) before constructing a wind project; currently, developers are encouraged but not required to obtain such authorizations;
  3. expand the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law to protect endangered and threatened species habitat, to mirror the federal Endangered Species Act; currently, Wisconsin law only protects habitat if a direct take of a species will occur and an Incidental Take Permit or Authorization is required; and
  4. require easements for wind facilities to authorize access to those properties for the conduct of biological studies by developers, WDNR personnel and/or authorized agents.

 

These recommendations reflect WDNR’s view that its standard regulatory authorities over wetland and waterway impacts don’t reach the agency’s growing concerns about protecting wildlife and habitat from turbine siting and operation. Current WDNR authority addresses impacts to waterways and wetlands from project construction, and obligates developers to implement construction site erosion control. Threatened and endangered species are protected from intentional and incidental “takes”. WDNR has implemented this authority through consultation and use of general Incidental Take Permits and Authorizations. Violations of general wildlife protection laws (Wis. Stat. ss. 23.095(1g), 29.011(1) and 29.039) are subject to enforcement, but are limited to intentional taking by unlawful activities, and WDNR does not consider them generally applicable to construction or operation of state or locally approved wind projects.

Managing the Legal Risks of Green Buildings

Posted on August 23, 2010 by Joseph Manko

As with “green washing” of products, which are subject to existing product liability law, there is an emerging area of law regarding liability for claims that a building marketed as “green” or alleged to achieve the desired platinum, gold, silver or standard Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has failed to do so.

As the LEED requirements and techniques for sustainable development become better understood and more widely adapted, more and more developers are seeking to build “green.” To the extent that the construction costs permit a manageable return on investment (ROI) and the specifications and requirements for such development are clearly spelled out in the various contractual documents, including especially the agreement with architects, we will likely see more and more claims that the resultant buildings are “green.”

Although some theories of liability will track areas in construction law, e.g., deficiencies in design, construction or installation, green buildings claims will face an additional layer of risk. Without such statutory coverage, cf strict product liability, today’s bases for liability may include breach of contract, tort, fraud and false advertising claims.

For example, in the Maryland case of Shaw Development v. Southern Builders, which was settled without an opinion, the loss of a tax credit based upon compliance with a LEED Silver certification level led to a claim of liability.

The best way to mitigate these risks is to ensure that all contractual documents are clear and consistent, project management is assured, information disclosures are accurate, and finally that insurance coverage, where available, is provided. With regard to documents, AIA form contract B214-2007 has been developed to provide some model contractual language; more than forty insurance carriers are now underwriting green building liability; and in many law firms, some of their attorneys and other technical people have become LEED accredited.

This is an area that will continue to develop as more and more green buildings are constructed. For more in-depth information on potential liability and tips to mitigate claims, see the Harvard Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic White Paper, “The Green Building Revolution: Addressing and Managing Legal Risks and Liabilities”.

Managing the Legal Risks of Green Buildings

Posted on August 23, 2010 by Joseph Manko

As with “green washing” of products, which are subject to existing product liability law, there is an emerging area of law regarding liability for claims that a building marketed as “green” or alleged to achieve the desired platinum, gold, silver or standard Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has failed to do so.

As the LEED requirements and techniques for sustainable development become better understood and more widely adapted, more and more developers are seeking to build “green.” To the extent that the construction costs permit a manageable return on investment (ROI) and the specifications and requirements for such development are clearly spelled out in the various contractual documents, including especially the agreement with architects, we will likely see more and more claims that the resultant buildings are “green.”

Although some theories of liability will track areas in construction law, e.g., deficiencies in design, construction or installation, green buildings claims will face an additional layer of risk. Without such statutory coverage, cf strict product liability, today’s bases for liability may include breach of contract, tort, fraud and false advertising claims.

For example, in the Maryland case of Shaw Development v. Southern Builders, which was settled without an opinion, the loss of a tax credit based upon compliance with a LEED Silver certification level led to a claim of liability.

The best way to mitigate these risks is to ensure that all contractual documents are clear and consistent, project management is assured, information disclosures are accurate, and finally that insurance coverage, where available, is provided. With regard to documents, AIA form contract B214-2007 has been developed to provide some model contractual language; more than forty insurance carriers are now underwriting green building liability; and in many law firms, some of their attorneys and other technical people have become LEED accredited.

This is an area that will continue to develop as more and more green buildings are constructed. For more in-depth information on potential liability and tips to mitigate claims, see the Harvard Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic White Paper, “The Green Building Revolution: Addressing and Managing Legal Risks and Liabilities”.

Opposition to Wind Farm Siting Based on Adverse Health Effect from Infrasound?

Posted on February 9, 2010 by Roger Ferland
One of the big hurdles for further development of wind power in the U.S. is landowner objections to placement of turbines near their homes.  The rationale du jour for such objections is that the sound produced by turbines causes a broad range of health effects.  In particular, objectors point to infrasound, which is sound generally below the level of human perception.  A recent case in Wisconsin was one of the first in the country to test the objectors' theories.  When a Wisconsin utility applied for permission to build 90-turbine development north of Madison, objectors argued for extremely low limits for wind turbine sound and a mile-and-a-quarter setback, limits which would have made the project impossible. 
 
The principal proponent of the theory that wind turbine sound causes physiological harm is a New York pediatrician, Nina Pierpont.  Dr. Pierpont has written and self-published a book, entitled "Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment," which chronicles complaints by 10 families around the world who have lived near wind turbines.  As presented by Dr. Pierpont, the symptoms include everything from headaches to nausea,  tachycardia, irritability and panic episodes associated with sensations of movement or quivering inside the body.  Dr. Pierpont argues that infrasound works in two principal ways to cause these symptoms:  first by exciting the human vestibular (balance) system; and second vibrating the diaphragm and organs, thereby passing on confusing messages to the body. 
 
Dr. Pierpont draws upon and supports the work of noise control engineers George Kamperman and Richard James, who, in various proceedings in the U.S. and abroad, advocate very low thresholds for sound from turbines (35 dBA, which is approximately the level of a quiet bedroom).  In the Wisconsin case, objectors hired Mr. James to provide expert testimony, which he did, relying heavily on Dr. Pierpont's theories.
 
Quarles & Brady retained two experts to address sound issues on behalf of the utility.  Dr. Geoff Leventhall is an acoustician, consultant and professor from the U.K. who has been involved in studying infrasound for nearly 50 years.  Dr. Leventhall testified that neither of Dr. Pierpont's theories make sense.  In fact, he testified, the author of the study Dr. Pierpont relies upon for her vestibular disturbance theory specifically disclaimed that his work supported her conclusions.  As for Dr. Pierpont's theory that infrasound vibrates the diaphragm and organs, Dr. Leventhall testified that simple math dooms her argument.  Sound from turbines results in movement of the diaphragm of less than 10 microns (one tenth the thickness of a human hair), while during normal breathing, the diaphragm moves several centimeters.  Dr. Leventhall also pointed out that Dr. Pierpont's analysis completely ignores another, much stronger, source of internal infrasound--the heart.
 
Quarles & Brady also retained Dr. Mark Roberts, a Chicago-based epidemiologist, biostatistician and physician.  Dr. Roberts testified that "wind turbine syndrome" is not a medical diagnosis supported by peer reviewed, published, scientific literature.  He completed a review of the literature, and found no support for the claim that wind turbine sound causes physiological harm. Dr. Roberts also identified several flaws in Dr. Pierpont's methodology, limiting the usefulness of her research, including selection bias and a failure to adhere to accepted epidemiological principles in developing her theories.  Summarizing Dr. Pierpont's work, Dr. Roberts concluded that it consisted of  "opinions that are unsubstantiated," and as he pointed out, "everyone has opinions."  Dr. Roberts warned against allowing such "science" to shape public policy.
 
Both Dr. Leventhall and Dr. Roberts agreed that sound from wind turbines may annoy neighbors or disturb their sleep.  Dr. Roberts summarized such concerns as follows:  "The underlying complaint of annoyance is, in and of itself, not a disease or a specific manifestation of a specific exposure, but instead a universal human response to a condition or situation that is not positively appreciated by the human receptor."
 
Ultimately, while the Wisconsin Public Service Commission recognized that no development is without cost to those who live nearby, it adopted the utility's suggestion of a 50 dBA sound threshold, with a lower 45 dBA threshold during summer nighttime hours, when neighbors are likely to have their windows open.  These thresholds allow the utility to move forward with the project, while, in the Commission's view, striking an appropriate balance between neighbors' interests and those of the utility.

"MEGA" SHALE AND TIGHT SANDS GAS - A GAME CHANGER

Posted on January 19, 2010 by R. Kinnan Golemon

In the past several decades, due in large measure to the persistence of innovative independent oil and gas operators, advancements in drilling and completion technology and the increased demand for natural gas during the expanding economic times that existed prior to year-end 2008, a paradigm shift occurred in the domestic natural gas market that will have significant impact in areas of the U.S. that, heretofore, were not significant producers of the commodity. Prior to this development, supply tightness and price volatility were characteristic features of the natural gas market. Now, due to these " Mega" shale and tight sands gas plays, there will be increased environmental scrutiny of this sector's activities, in addition to the dampening of price swings.

 

            The U.S. gas supply currently is predicted to be at least 150 years at use levels similar to those existing in 2008. Only a few short years ago, forecasters were predicting the need for massive imports of liquefied natural gas to meet predicted near term demand. This change in conditions has very significant implications politically and certainly presents interesting opportunities on a variety of fronts for environmental attorneys.

 

            One particularly interesting aspect of these newly found natural gas reserves is the fact that a significant portion of this exploration, production, processing and transmission activity will be occurring in areas of the U.S. that have had limited exposure to such activity. The last ten (10) years of rapid expansion of natural gas activity in the Barnett Shale area of Texas, i.e., North Central Texas and the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, is a forerunner for what is likely to occur as the resource development expands to other known shale deposits.

 

 

            Needless to say, there is opportunity for tremendous growth in local tax base, ample employment opportunities for certain skill sets, increased income to property owners, and, most certainly, a variety of allegations of environmental harm from anti-drilling opposition. Much of the latter in the very recent past in the Barnett Shale area has been directed at perceived increases in emissions of air contaminants, e.g., VOCs and "toxic" constituents. To date, snapshot air quality sampling has not confirmed any problem. (see January 12, 2010, Texas Environmental Quality Press Release – Oil and Gas Air Tests in Ft. Worth find "No Cause for Concern".) However, on the same date, the Mayor of Dish, a rural community of less than 200 residents, was appearing before another state agency, the Texas Railroad Commission, seeking a cessation to all natural gas drilling, production, processing and transmission activity with the contention that this community was besieged by toxins and odors emanating from nearby natural gas activity. (Additional TCEQ air sampling results from recent tests in that rural setting are due to be released this month.) 

  

           Numerous other environmental related contentions relative to the development of the Barnett Shale reserve have generally been directed at the well completion phase where large volumes of fresh water with additives are utilized in hydraulic fracing (pressurized mixture for breaking apart the formation rock to allow for the natural gas to flow), the disposal of wastewater and the specifics of the proprietary formulas for the additives. In addition, there are a variety of claims relative to general safety, increased truck traffic and disturbances of property for the placing of associated gathering and transmission lines.           

 

            This paradigm shift in the natural gas reserve potential should afford many in our profession an excellent opportunity to provide sound advice and counsel utilizing the experiences we have gained in addressing similar issues in the past.

"MEGA" SHALE AND TIGHT SANDS GAS - A GAME CHANGER

Posted on January 19, 2010 by R. Kinnan Golemon

In the past several decades, due in large measure to the persistence of innovative independent oil and gas operators, advancements in drilling and completion technology and the increased demand for natural gas during the expanding economic times that existed prior to year-end 2008, a paradigm shift occurred in the domestic natural gas market that will have significant impact in areas of the U.S. that, heretofore, were not significant producers of the commodity. Prior to this development, supply tightness and price volatility were characteristic features of the natural gas market. Now, due to these " Mega" shale and tight sands gas plays, there will be increased environmental scrutiny of this sector's activities, in addition to the dampening of price swings.

 

            The U.S. gas supply currently is predicted to be at least 150 years at use levels similar to those existing in 2008. Only a few short years ago, forecasters were predicting the need for massive imports of liquefied natural gas to meet predicted near term demand. This change in conditions has very significant implications politically and certainly presents interesting opportunities on a variety of fronts for environmental attorneys.

 

            One particularly interesting aspect of these newly found natural gas reserves is the fact that a significant portion of this exploration, production, processing and transmission activity will be occurring in areas of the U.S. that have had limited exposure to such activity. The last ten (10) years of rapid expansion of natural gas activity in the Barnett Shale area of Texas, i.e., North Central Texas and the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, is a forerunner for what is likely to occur as the resource development expands to other known shale deposits.

 

 

            Needless to say, there is opportunity for tremendous growth in local tax base, ample employment opportunities for certain skill sets, increased income to property owners, and, most certainly, a variety of allegations of environmental harm from anti-drilling opposition. Much of the latter in the very recent past in the Barnett Shale area has been directed at perceived increases in emissions of air contaminants, e.g., VOCs and "toxic" constituents. To date, snapshot air quality sampling has not confirmed any problem. (see January 12, 2010, Texas Environmental Quality Press Release – Oil and Gas Air Tests in Ft. Worth find "No Cause for Concern".) However, on the same date, the Mayor of Dish, a rural community of less than 200 residents, was appearing before another state agency, the Texas Railroad Commission, seeking a cessation to all natural gas drilling, production, processing and transmission activity with the contention that this community was besieged by toxins and odors emanating from nearby natural gas activity. (Additional TCEQ air sampling results from recent tests in that rural setting are due to be released this month.) 

  

           Numerous other environmental related contentions relative to the development of the Barnett Shale reserve have generally been directed at the well completion phase where large volumes of fresh water with additives are utilized in hydraulic fracing (pressurized mixture for breaking apart the formation rock to allow for the natural gas to flow), the disposal of wastewater and the specifics of the proprietary formulas for the additives. In addition, there are a variety of claims relative to general safety, increased truck traffic and disturbances of property for the placing of associated gathering and transmission lines.           

 

            This paradigm shift in the natural gas reserve potential should afford many in our profession an excellent opportunity to provide sound advice and counsel utilizing the experiences we have gained in addressing similar issues in the past.

"Fast-Tracking" of Solar Development Not a Bypass of Environmental Review

Posted on November 20, 2009 by Linda Bullen

On June 29, 2009, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced several initiatives to aid development of solar energy facilities on federal lands in the Western U.S. Working with Western leaders, the DOI initiative would:

 

  • Designate prime zones for utility-scale solar development
  • Open new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices to facilitate permit processing
  • Expedite project proposals. 

Twenty-four tracts of BLM land were designated as Solar Energy Study Areas, upon which projects of 10 megawatts or greater would, under this initiative, be eligible for priority processing. This “priority processing” is commonly referred to as “fast-tracking.” In early November 2009, Secretary Salazar announced the fast-tracking of six renewable energy facilities located on federal land in the State of California. 

 

Fast-tracking is not intended to circumvent any environmental or other process, but rather to facilitate the identified projects identified by the federal agencies involved (most commonly the BLM), giving priority to those that are marked as fast-tracked projects. Nevertheless, several fast-tracked projects, and fast-tracking in general, has come under criticism by some members of the environmental community and others.

 

This criticism is misplaced to the extent that it suggests that fast-tracked projects are not subject to the same rigorous scrutiny as non-fast-tracked projects. Every utility-scale project on federally-owned land is subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). NEPA mandates thorough review of all environmental aspects of any utility-scale energy project on federal land. 

 

The NEPA process does not allow for “short cuts” or circumvention of any part of the process on projects upon which NEPA applies. Accordingly, fast-tracking of renewable projects does not result in a less meticulous or careful environmental review, just an expedited one. Efficiency does not equate to inadequacy, and such criticisms are misplaced.