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Ethanol makers steer away from fuel, turn to booze

St Louis Post Dispatch | Posted on August 3, 2017

A U.S. glut of fuel-grade ethanol has major producers, including Green Plains Inc. and industry pioneer Archer Daniels Midland Co., pursuing other markets and idling excess capacity in an effort to rebuild sagging margins. ADM and Green Plains both said on Tuesday they are converting fuel-ethanol capacity into beverage and industrial alcohol production, as well as idling some mills. The announcements follow Pacific Ethanol's decision in June to buy a beverage-grade facility in Illinois, a diversification away from fuel ethanol. ADM said it was reconfiguring its Peoria, Ill., corn dry mill to produce more beverage and industrial alcohol. It will steer the plant's fuel to export markets, taking 100 million gallons of annual production out of the domestic market.

‘Solar for All’: Can Illinois energy bill live up to ambitious promises?

Midwest Energy News | Posted on August 3, 2017

After months of negotiations and surviving a contentious budget battle in the state legislature, the hard work of enacting Illinois’ comprehensive energy bill is underway.The Future Energy Jobs Act calls for the installation of about 2,700 MW of solar in Illinois by 2030, a dramatic increase from the state’s current 75 MW. “It’s going to be crazy, and it’s going to be really exciting,”said Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “We’ve seen such interest from around the country, from all types of developers focused on helping get this legislation built out correctly.”About 40 percent of the new solar is to be utility-scale projects over 2 megawatts, about 50 percent is to be distributed and community solar, and two percent is to be on brownfields, with the remaining 8 percent left up to state officials’ discretion.The state will deal with utility-scale solar much as it has in the past — through procurements carried out by the Illinois Power Agency.

Appeals court tosses lower biofuels levels set in 2015

Des Moines Register | Posted on August 2, 2017

A federal appeals court says the Environmental Protection Agency cannot limit the targets in the national Renewable Fuel Standard based on factors such as demand. Renewable fuel advocates praised the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia's ruling, which could prompt a revision of the Trump administration's proposals earlier this year to mostly maintain current requirements for biofuel production.The ruling dealt with targets set by the EPA during the Obama administration. The court dismissed several challenges to those targets but upheld an argument by the advocacy group Americans for Clean Energy that the EPA overstepped its authority under the laws requiring it to set numbers for renewable fuel use."The term 'inadequate domestic supply' refers to the supply of renewable fuel available to refiners, blenders, and importers to meet the statutory volume requirements" and not other market considerations, the court wrote. The EPA should reconsider its reduction of the total renewable fuel volume requirements, a unanimous three-judge panel said.

CMP wants to build 145-mile transmission line through western Maine

Portland Press Herald | Posted on August 1, 2017

Central Maine Power Co. submitted a plan Thursday to build a high-voltage transmission line through western Maine to bring large amounts of hydroelectricity from Quebec to Massachusetts, joining a multibillion-dollar regional competition to develop the next phase of clean-energy projects in New England and eastern Canada. The 145-mile line would follow a corridor owned by CMP from Beattie Township, on the Canadian border north of Route 27 and Coburn Gore, through Farmington and Jay to Lewiston, where it would connect to the regional electric grid.The project cost is confidential, but CMP has confirmed that it’s in the $1 billion range. The total cost would be paid by Massachusetts electric customers. Maine would benefit from construction jobs, added tax revenue and anticipated savings on wholesale energy costs over the 20-year life of the power contract.It’s also possible that a similar line being proposed by CMP and a partner could carry power from new solar and energy-storage projects in western Maine, as well as wind turbines on both sides of the border.

Meet the Rural Pennsylvania Town at the Forefront of Environmental Law

EcoWatch | Posted on July 27, 2017

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

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

Think Progress | Posted on July 27, 2017

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

Like Exxon, Utilities Knew about Climate Change Risks Decades Ago

Inside Climate News | Posted on July 27, 2017

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

Buried oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster still harming wetlands

The Times Picayune | Posted on July 26, 2017

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

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

Midwest Energy News | Posted on July 26, 2017

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

Trump administration seeks to repeal Obama fracking rule

The Hill | Posted on July 26, 2017

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