Category Archives: Energy

Trump Administration’s March 28, 2017, Executive Order on Climate/Energy Policies of the Obama Administration, Including Review of Clean Power Plan

On March 28, 2017, the Trump Administration issued an executive order affecting several energy and climate policies implemented by the Obama Administration, including most prominently the Clean Power Plan, issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 2015.  (For more on the Clean Power Plan regulation, please see the following News Grouper items: Final Version of “Clean Power Plan” Announced by President Obama and the U.S. EPA on August 3, 2015; and Clean Power Plan Lawsuit Against U.S. EPA Overview and Information Sources; or the U.S. EPA Web site, https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan).

The order, “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” is available online at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/28/presidential-executive-order-promoting-energy-independence-and-economi-1.

The order’s actions include the following:
reviewing the Clean Power Plan regulation;
rescinding an August 2016 guidance on climate change issued by the Council on Environmental Quality;
starting a 170-day process for each executive agency and department to identify regulations or policies that inhibit domestic energy production;
stopping the use of estimates made during the Obama Administration of the social cost of greenhouse gases;
rescinding a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands;
ordering a review of regulations issued in November 2016 on methane releases from oil and gas production facilities; and
rewriting a regulation issued in 2015 on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands.

Sources:
Trump signs executive order to review Clean Power Plan, Utility Dive, 3/28/17.

Trump moves decisively to wipe out Obama’s climate-change record
, Washington Post, 3/28/17.

Background Briefing on the President’s Energy Independence Executive Order
, White House Press Secretary, 3/27/17.

Additional sources and news accounts related to the March 28 executive order:

“Clean Power Plan Hub,” E&E News, online at http://www.eenews.net/interactive/clean_power_plan (subscription required; trial subscriptions available).

The big announcement is over. What happens now?, E&E News/Climate Wire, 3/29/17 (subscription required; trial subscriptions available).

States vow to defend rule
, E&E News, 3/28/17 (subscription required; trial subscriptions available).

Trump signs executive order rolling back Obama-era energy regs, Fox News, 3/28/17.

Trump launches aggressive campaign to dismantle Obama climate agenda; Barrasso: Trump climate rollback helps U.S. as an energy superpower [with U.S. Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.]; and “Difficult slog” ahead to undo Obama climate legacy, says former EPA chief [with former U.S. EPA Director Gina McCarthy] – all on PBS NewsHour, 3/28/17.

Trump signs order dismantling Obama-era climate policies
, Reuters, 3/28/17.

What to Know About Trump’s Order to Dismantle the Clean Power Plan
, New York Times, 3/27/17.

Water in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly: Coal Ash Management Bills – Updated 3/23/17

This is one of a series of posts on particular water-related bills in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly.  For an inventory of about 160 water-related bills in the 2017 General Assembly, please visit the Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s “Virginia Water Legislation” page, online at http://www.vwrrc.vt.edu/virginia-water-legislation/.  Each post includes a summary of the bill(s), their legislative status (in committee, passed, failed, etc.), and a list of hyperlinked headlines for news media items on the bill(s).  Information on the bills’ provisions and status is taken from the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), online at http://leg1.state.va.us/lis.htm.  Each bill number is hyperlinked to the LIS entry for that bill.

SB 1398, sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36th District) of Mt. Vernon, passed the Senate on Feb. 7.  As passed by the Senate, the bill would prohibit the DEQ director from issuing a draft permit for the closure of a coal combustion residuals unit (CCR unit) located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (that is, at facilities of Dominion Virginia Power) until the director has reviewed an assessment of closure options prepared by the owner or operator of the CCR unit.  Prior to receiving a permit, the permit-seeker would have to identify water pollution and address corrective measures to resolve it, evaluate the clean closure of the CCR unit by recycling the ash for use in cement or moving it to a landfill, and demonstrate the long-term safety of the CCR unit and its ability to keep ash out of wetlands and other sensitive areas.  A substitute version passed by the House on Feb. 17 removed the requirement that the information be provided and reviewed by the director before the director may issue a draft permit for closure of a CCR unit.  The Senate agreed to the House version on Feb. 21.  On March 22, Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed an amendment that would place a moratorium on any Dominion coal-ash closures until 2018, when the information required by SB 1398 will have been provided.   The amendment will be taken up in the reconvened session on April 5, 2017.

SB 1399, also sponsored by Sen. Surovell, was stricken from the docket of the Senate  Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources (ACNR) Committee at the request of Sen. Surovell.  The bill would have directed the DEQ to require the closure of surface impoundments of coal combustion by-products, commonly called coal ash ponds, by July 1, 2021.  The bill would have applied to impoundments that managed such by-products from the generation of electricity by an electric utility or independent power producer prior to December 22, 2016, including those impoundments that, prior to December 22, 2016, have been closed by capping in place or have received DEQ approval for closure by capping in place.  The bill would also have required that the coal combustion by-products be removed for disposal in a permitted landfill meeting federal criteria and that the impoundment site be reclaimed in a manner consistent with federal mine reclamation standards for the closure to be deemed complete.  The bill would have allowed the electric utility to recover the costs of closure from customers.

SB1383, also sponsored by Sen. Surovell, was stricken from the docket of the Senate ACNR Committee at the request of Sen. Surovell.  The bill would have required electric utilities to recycle as much of their stored coal ash as is imported into the Commonwealth each year, on a pro rata basis.

Related News Media Items on this Legislation

If amended bill passes, coal ash closure process at Possum Point could slow, Potomac Local, 3/27/17.

Virginia governor proposes moratorium on coal ash permits, Bay Journal, 3/22/17.

McAuliffe seeks coal ash pond alternatives with permit moratorium, Inside NOVA, 3/22/17.

McAuliffe moves to place yearlong moratorium on coal-ash pond closure permits, Prince William Times, 3/22/17.

Governor requests pause in coal-ash permitting, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/22/17.

Sen. Chase asks governor for help with coal ash, Chesterfield Observer, 3/1/17.

Coal ash bill goes to governor without important moratorium provision, Virginian-Pilot, 2/21/17.

Coal Ash Bill Results In General Assembly Compromise: Bill Requires More Information Before Slurry Disposal, The Flat Hat (College of William and Mary), 2/21/17.

Virginia environmentalists disappointed by “watered down” coal ash bill, WTKR TV-Norfolk, 2/22/17.

Environmentalists disappointed by House’s coal ash bill, WTVR TV-Richmond, 2/17/17.

Virginia House of Delegates committee defangs coal ash bill, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/15/17.

Coal ash bill clears House subcommittee, though not unscathed, Richmond Times-Dispatch, as published by Roanoke Times, 2/14/17.

Coal ash bill clears Senate, but faces challenges in the state House, Fauquier Times, 2/13/17.

Surovell bill to delay Dominion’s coal-ash plans moves to the state Senate, Prince William Times, 2/3/17.

Bill that would require more information on coal-ash closure plans clears Va. Senate committee, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/2/17.

Is Recycling a Practical Solution for Coal Ash?, Bacon’s Rebellion, 2/2/17.

Coal ash revaluation, recycling bill that could affect Chesapeake energy site passes Senate panel, Virginian-Pilot, 2/3/17.

Virginia General Permit for Discharges from Petroleum Contaminated Sites Under Review in 2017

The Virginia State Water Control Board and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are considering reissuance and possible amendments to the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) general permit for discharges from petroleum contaminated sites, groundwater remediation, and hydrostatic tests.  As of March 2017, meetings were being held by the DEQ’s technical advisory committee formed for this regulatory review (for example, see the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall entry for the March 24, 2017, meeting).  The relevant section of the Virginia Administrative Code is 9 VAC 25-120.  The Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) was published May 30, 2016.  According to the NOIRA, the “general permit covers point source discharges of wastewaters from sites contaminated by petroleum products [or by] chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents, and also the point source discharges of hydrostatic test wastewaters resulting from the testing of petroleum and natural gas storage tanks and pipelines.”

More information on the process of this regulatory action is available online at http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewAction.cfm?actionid=4548.

Virginia’s and the Nation’s Infrastructure Gets Graded by the American Society of Civil Engineers – 2017 Edition

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes a “report card” on the state of engineered infrastructure in the United States.  The report covers infrastructure in aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, school facilities, solid waste, transit, and wastewater.  The latest national report (as of March 13, 2017) gave a grade of D+, the same as the grade in 2013.  The report estimated the cost of making necessary infrastructure improvements at $4.59 trillion, compared to the 2013 estimate of $3.6 trillion.  The full national report for 2017 is available online at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/.  A chart of results from previous reports–back to 1998–is available online at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/making-the-grade/report-card-history/.

According to the “What Makes a Grade” section  of the Report Card Web site, grades were assigned based on capacity to meet current and future demand, condition, funding, future needs, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.  The grades are described as follows: A = exceptional; B = good; C = mediocre; D = poor; F = failing.

The 2017 national report also includes reports for each state.  As of 3/13/17, the Virginia assessment was a 2015 report compiled by the Virginia Section of the ASCE (ASCE-Va.).  The Virginia report is available at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/virginia/.  The Virginia report give the Commonwealth an overall grade of C- (compared to a D+ in 2009), and the following grades in each category: aviation = no grade; bridges = C; dams = C; drinking water = C; energy = no grade; parks = C+; rail and transit = C-; roads = D; school facilities = C-; solid waste = B-; stormwater = C-; and wastewater = D+.

Infrastructure cartoon

Cartoon that accompanied a February 2010 Virginia Water Central newsletter article on the 2009 infrastructure report by the American Society of Civil Engineers-Virginia Section.  Illustration by George Wills, Blacksburg, Va. (http://www.etsy.com/people/BlacksburgArt).

Virginia’s First Commercial-scale Wind-energy Project–in Botetourt County–Receives DEQ Permit in March 2017, Clearing Way for Construction to Begin

On March 2, 2017, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved a permit for the proposed Rocky Forge wind project, a commercial-scale, 25-turbine, 80-megawatt-capacity wind-energy facility in Botetourt County.   The project is to be built by Apex Wind Energy (headquartered in Charlottesville, Va.; Web site: http://www.apexcleanenergy.com/).  The DEQ permit is the last regulatory step Apex must clear prior to beginning construction.  The project, which APEX expects to have ready for operation in 2018, would be the first commercial-scale wind-energy project in Virginia.  (The proposed Highland New Wind Development project in Highland County, Va., received local permits, survived a legal challenge, and received a State Corporation Commission Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience in 2007, but as of 2015 no construction had started.)

The DEQ permit included certain restrictions on the operating times allowed for the 550-foot-high turbines in order to reduce their impacts on bats

Apex first filed application with Botetourt County for the permit in October 2015.  In January 2016, the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors approved a special exception permit to allow construction of the project; the special permit included 17 items on a conditions list that APEX must address, including the following, according to the Roanoke Times on 1/28/16: noise, dust, flicker shadow, lighting, hours of construction, emergency response, decommission, remedies, compliance, traffic, and other issues.

Botetourt County passed a zoning ordinance in June 2015 to regulate wind turbine size, location, noise generation, and other impacts; the ordinance set the maximum-allowable turbine height at 550 feet.  In late July 2015, several county residents filed a lawsuit in Botetourt County Circuit Court, alleging that the ordinance would inadequately protect against noise, visual impacts, and wildlife impacts.  At a hearing on that lawsuit on December 16, 2015, Judge Paul Sheridan dismissed the citizens’ lawsuit, ruling that the case was premature because the county had yet to decide on the company’s request for a special exception permit, which the local ordinance requires.

Apex filed an application in October 2015 with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a determination from that agency as to whether the proposed project—with turbines at 549 feet high—would interfere with aviation.  In January 2016, a FAA preliminary report asserted that the proposed project would in fact pose a hazard.  In October 2016, the FAA made a final determination that the project would not endanger aircraft.

APEX’s application to the DEQ involved two public-comment periods.  The first ran May 5-June 6, 2016.  In July 2016, APEX announced a second public-comment period, Aug. 4-Sep. 6, 2016, resulting from a request by the consultant that conducted a report on potential impacts on birds to make a correction to that report.

In October 2016, APEX stated that it had moved back to 2018 the anticipated start of producing electricity.

The Web site for Apex Clean Energy, headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., is http://www.apexcleanenergy.com/.

Sources for This Post, Plus Additional Related News Media Items

At Last, a Wind Farm Virginia Can Call Its Own, Bacon’s Rebellion, 3/3/17.

Apex’s Rocky Forge Wind Moves Ahead In Virginia, North American Windpower, 3/3/17.

Plans OK’d for Botetourt’s North Mountain as site of Virginia’s first commercial wind farm, Roanoke Times, 3/2/17.

Neighbor says he’s happy about the Botetourt Co. wind farm, WSET TV-Lynchburg, 3/3/17.

Wind farms coming to Botetourt County, WDBJ TV-Roanoke, 3/3/17.

Rocky Forge Wind Turbines Not a Threat to Aviation, Bacon’s Rebellion, 11/1/16.

FAA gives clearance for wind farm atop Botetourt County mountain, Roanoke Times, 10/31/16.

Botetourt wind farm project completion pushed back one year, Roanoke Times, as published by Charlottesville Daily Progress, 10/25/16.

Botetourt wind farm developer reopens public comment period, Roanoke Times, 7/19/16

Botetourt wind farm developer files plan, seeks to avoid bat deaths, Roanoke Times, 5/8/16.

FAA approves test towers for Pulaski County wind farm, Roanoke Times, 5/20/16.

Wind farm proposal in Botetourt County begins state approval process, Roanoke Times, 4/20/16.

Botetourt County approves wind farm permit unanimously, Roanoke Times, 1/26/16.

Botetourt wind farm would be a hazard to aviation, FAA says in preliminary report, Roanoke Times, 1/19/16.

Judge dismisses lawsuit filed by wind farm opponents in Botetourt, Roanoke Times, 12/16/15.

APEX files for SEP permit for Botetourt wind farm, Roanoke Times, 11/5/15.

Company seeks permit for a wind farm in Botetourt County, Roanoke Times, 10/31/15.

Company seeks FAA approval for wind farm in Botetourt County, Roanoke Times, 10/13/15.

Wind turbine company seeks Botetourt County’s approval for test towers, Roanoke Times, 7/29/15.

Wind turbine foes sue Botetourt County, Roanoke Times, 7/28/15.

Rockbridge County goes on record against Botetourt’s wind farm, Roanoke Times, 6/5/16; and Citizens Voice Their Concerns About Rocky Forge, Lexington News-Gazette (approximately 6/15/16; date not indicated in article).

Energy company hears from those for and against wind power project, Roanoke Times, 5/25/16.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe links Botetourt wind farm proposal to economic development, Roanoke Times, 4/6/16.

Rockbridge County asks Botetourt to delay wind farm action; Rockbridge’s board of supervisors said they first received formal notice of the project on Jan. 4, Roanoke Times, 1/25/16.

Wind farm could be an economic windfall for Botetourt County, Roanoke Times, 12/9/15.

Website offers preview of Botetourt wind farm, Roanoke Times, 11/22/15.

Other Sources of Information on Wind Energy in Virginia

James Madison University’s Center for Wind Energy, online at http://wind.jmu.edu/projectdev/utilitywind.html).

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, “Virginia Activities,” online at http://www.boem.gov/State-Activities-Virginia/.

Virginia Energy Plan 2014—Updated 2016, online at http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DE/2014_VirginiaEnergyPlan2.shtml.

Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, online at http://wind.jmu.edu/offshore/vowda/.

Water in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly: Coal Employment and Production Tax Credit

This is one of a series of posts on particular water-related bills in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly.  For an inventory of about 165 water-related bills in the 2017 General Assembly, please visit the Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s “Virginia Water Legislation” page, online at http://www.vwrrc.vt.edu/virginia-water-legislation/.  Each post includes a summary of the bill(s), their legislative status (in committee, passed, failed, etc.), and a list of hyperlinked headlines for news media items on the bill(s).  Information on the bills’ provisions and status is taken from the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), online at http://leg1.state.va.us/lis.htm.  Each bill number is hyperlinked to the LIS entry for that bill.

HB 2198, Coal tax; extends coal employment and production incentive tax credit and limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed.  This bill, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1st District), of Gate City, passed the House on February 2 and passed the Senate on February 10, but it was vetoed by the governor on February 21.  The veto will be taken up in the reconvened session on April 5, 2017.  According to the Virginia Legislative Information System summary, the bill as it passed the House would “reinstate the Virginia coal employment and production incentive tax credit.  The credit, which expired on July 1, 2016, could be earned on and after January 1, 2017, but before January 1, 2022. The bill limits the aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for the coal employment and production incentive tax credit in each fiscal year to $7.3 million.  An electricity generator must file an application with the Department of Taxation each year to determine the amount of credits that it may claim or allocate, including credits earned in prior taxable years.  If the total amount of credits earned in a taxable year exceeds $7.3 million, the Department of Taxation shall apportion the credits on a pro rata basis.  The bill also extends the sunset date of the coalfield employment enhancement tax credit through taxable years beginning before January 1, 2022.”   SB 1470, sponsored by Sen. A. Benton Chafin (R-38th District), of Lebanon, is identical to HB 2198.  That bill passed the Senate on February 3 and the House on February 15, but was vetoed by the governor on March 13.  The veto will be taken up in the reconvened session on April 5, 2017.

Related News Media Item
Governor vetoes coal tax credit bill for third year in row, Roanoke Times, 2/22/17.

Stream Protection Rule Regarding Coal Mining Impacts on Waterways Rescinded in February 2017 After Finalization in December 2016

In early February 2017, Congress used the Congressional Review Act to rescind the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) “Stream Protection Rule,” on impacts of coal mining on waterways.  The rule had been finalized with Federal Register publication on December 20, 2016.  OSMRE’s Web site on the proposed rule is at http://www.osmre.gov/programs/rcm/streamprotectionrule.shtm; a link to the text of the proposed rule is available there.  OSMRE first proposed the rule on July 16, 2015 (the draft rule was published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2015).

According to the OSMRE Web site on 2/14/17, the rule was intended to have done the following:

“…[Define] ‘material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area’ for the first time…clarifying that the statutory prohibition on the approval of proposed operations that would result in material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area applies to both surface and underground mining operations.  Under SMCRA [the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, passed in 1977], the regulatory authority may not approve a permit application unless the application demonstrates, and the regulatory authority finds, that the proposed operation would not result in material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.

“…[Require] that the regulatory authority specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would constitute material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area reach that level of damage.  It further provides that the regulatory authority must specify threshold values for surface water and groundwater parameters that will trigger an evaluation of whether the permit must be revised to prevent the occurrence of material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.

“…[Expand] the baseline data requirements for permit applications for proposed coal mining operations to ensure that the permittee and the regulatory authority have a complete picture of pre-mining conditions to which the impacts of mining can be compared.  Monitoring during mining and reclamation will include a comprehensive suite of parameters for both surface water and groundwater to ensure that the impacts of mining are identified in a manner that will enable timely initiation of corrective measures.

“…[Require] the restoration of the physical form, hydrologic function, and ecological function of the segment of a perennial or intermittent stream that a permittee mines through.  Additionally, it requires that the post-mining surface configuration of the reclaimed mine site include a drainage pattern, including ephemeral streams, similar to the pre-mining drainage pattern, with exceptions for stability, topographical changes, fish and wildlife habitat, etc.

“…[Require] the establishment of a 100-foot-wide streamside vegetative corridor of native species (including riparian species, when appropriate) along each bank of any restored or permanently-diverted perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral stream.”

The proposed rule’s announcement in July 2015 raised immediate objections from the National Mining Association, some elected officials from mining states like West Virginia, and others about its potential economic impacts.  On the other hand, some environmental organizations criticized the proposal for allowing some variance, under certain conditions, from the 100-foot buffer requirement established in 1983; those conditions are described in the proposed rule on p.364 (part of the section entitled, “What additional requirements apply to proposed activities in, through, or adjacent to streams?”).

The Stream Protection Rule was the latest in a series of regulatory and litigation developments since the 1977 passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.  Some of those developments that led to the Stream Protection Rule were the following:
*1983 OSMRE rule requiring a 100-foot buffer zone along streams;
*2008 OSMRE Stream Buffer Zone Rule allowing deposition of mining materials within the 100-foot zone, with certain requirements for reducing impacts;
*2009 Memorandum of Understanding among the Interior Department, U.S. EPA, and Army Corps of Engineers on reducing stream impacts of coal mining, simultaneously starting OSMRE’s process to develop the current proposed regulation; and
*February 2014 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacating OSMRE’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule and reinstating the 1983 buffer zone.

Sources:

House Republicans Vote to End Rule Stopping Coal Mining Debris From Being Dumped in Streams, Associated Press, as published by Time, 2/1/17.

Republicans Move to Block Rule on Coal Mining Near Streams, New York Times, 2/2/17.

Congress passes first rollback of Obama environmental rule, USA Today, 2/2/17.

Federal Register, “Stream Protection Rule,” 81 FR 93066, 12/20/16, online at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/20/2016-29958/stream-protection-rule.

Interior Department Finalizes Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Impacts, U.S. Department of the Interior News Release, 12/19/16.

Interior Department Unveils Proposed Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Operations, U.S. Department of Interior News Release, 7/16/15.

National Mining Association Calls on Congress to Block OSM’s Costly, Unnecessary Stream Rule
, National Mining Association News Release, 7/16/15.

Interior unveils rule aimed at protecting streams from mining
, and Industry vows to fight ‘needless and conflicting’ stream rule, both from Greenwire, E&E Publishing, 7/16/15 (subscription required for access).