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Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his administration yesterday missed a legally required deadline to propose new climate regulations, further setting back progress toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the state.

By law, the Polis administration was required to propose new regulations to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets by July 1, 2020. That day has now passed with no new regulations.

With reports confirming the state was already not on track to meet its climate goals, WildEarth Guardians is stepping up to soon file suit to enforce the July 1, 2020 deadline and upping calls for Governor Polis to fulfill his commitment to climate progress in Colorado.

The Polis administration’s lack of effective climate action isn’t just jeopardizing the state’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a major environmental justice concern. Landmark climate legislation passed in 2019 required the state to prioritize reducing greenhouse gases where emissions disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities, low income neighborhoods, and Indigenous peoples.

Calls for Governor Polis to confront environmental racism and advance environmental and climate justice have mounted in the wake of the George Floyd protests, emphasizing that social inequities are directly related to environmental inequities.

In spite of some positive steps to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the Polis administration has fallen behind in achieving meaningful reductions. A recent letter from Polis’ Air Pollution Control Division confirms that current progress is “not sufficient” to meet the state’s legally required climate milestones. 

In response to Colorado’s missed climate deadline, WildEarth Guardians is doubling down on calls for Governor Polis to:

  • Immediately suspend approving air pollution permits for new sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Help retire the state’s largest industrial sources of climate pollution, including the Suncor oil refinery in north Denver, as quickly as possible.
  • Commit Colorado to achieving 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030.
  • Phase out fracking in the state by 2025.

Under House Bill 1261, which passed and was signed into the law by Governor Polis in 2019, Colorado must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050.

In case you missed it, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program is restarting weekly Facebook Live updates, sharing with you the latest insight, news, and perspective on our work to confront the climate crisis here in the American West.

Join us every Wednesday at 1 PM mountain time on WildEarth Guardians’ Facebook page!

Our hope is that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can maintain effective outreach to our members and supporters and continue to keep people engaged, involved, and active. Our push for more virtual engagement is part of WildEarth Guardians’ broader effort to adapt and remain effective in this time of unprecedented  crisis.

If you can’t make the live update, don’t worry.  All updates are posted on WildEarth Guardians’ Facebook page and you can watch them anytime, check ’em out >>

In the meantime, you can watch our update from earlier this afternoon, we were joined by WildEarth Guardians’ Staff Attorney, Daniel Timmons, and Climate and Energy Program Attorney, Rebecca Fischer. The main topic of discussion was WildEarth Guardians’ latest call for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to put the brakes on selling public lands for fracking in New Mexico.

And stay plugged in to all of WildEarth Guardians’ upcoming virtual events, they’re all listed on our website here >>

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting us all. Not only is it upending our lives and taxing our time and attention, it’s directly putting our health and safety at risk.

In spite of this, Colorado oil and gas regulators are pressing ahead to approve hundreds of fracking permits. Even worse, at the same time they’re also halting development of new rules to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Colorado’s oil and gas industry is doing everything it can to avoid accountability to health in this time of crisis. They’re even suing to sidestep safeguards imposed by local communities. Sadly, the state’s regulators seem to be doing everything they can to bolster this unconscionable response.

While we’re weighing in on individual drilling permits and pleading with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to “Pause Permits During This Time of Crisis,” we’re also urging people to sign the petition calling on Governor Jared Polis to suspend all oil and gas extraction in the state.

In the meantime, we’re circulating the open letter below to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, please share widely! Join us in keeping the pressure on to put people before polluters.

Dear Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission:

WildEarth Guardians writes to object to the ongoing approval of drilling and location permits.  In light of the current emergency declarations and stay at home orders issued by the Governor and numerous local governments, it is not appropriate for the Commission to approve new drilling permits that further threaten public health, safety, and the environment, or that require the public to engage in administrative processes.

Given the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coloradans are not able to meaningfully participate in the Commission’s permit review and approval process. 

For many Coloradans who may be impacted by new drilling permits, their ability to weigh in is severely limited given the need to prioritize focusing on health, family and community stability, and work.  An increasing number of Coloradans may actually be too sick to weigh in. 

Additionally, the public is not currently able to request or obtain hearings to review any approved permits.  With the Commission suspending new rulemaking proceedings, it is not acceptable to still require the affected public to engage in the permitting process.

Please deny proposed permits or suspend their approval until Colorado has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and Coloradans can meaningfully engage in Commission activities that may affect their health, safety, and environment.

Sincerely,

WildEarth Guardians

Over two dozen Indigenous, environmental, and community groups have called on the New Mexico State Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis, which has prevented the public and tribal governments from meaningful engagement in the agency’s management of public lands and resources, and immediately suspend all open public comment periods, planning processes, and major policy development.

Incredibly, in spite of the COVID-19 crisis and Governor Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home order, the New Mexico BLM continues to move forward with plans to sell public lands for fracking, rollback environmental safeguards, adopt new plans for the management of public lands and resources, and authorize private development. The BLM has already taken extraordinary steps in New Mexico to minimize public participation in oil and gas decisions by reducing protest periods from 30 to 10 days, and the agency is currently accepting public comment on its controversial Farmington Resource Management Plan amendment, despite requests from the NM Congressional Delegation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors for suspension.

“It is unconscionable for BLM to be propping up polluters during a public health pandemic. Rolling back pollution controls will only exacerbate health issues; urgently, the agency must put public health first and halt the rubber stamping of more fracking approvals.” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.

Read the press release.

Our nation’s bedrock environmental law–the National Environmental Policy Act–is under attack by corporate polluters and their cronies in the Trump Administration, threatening our right to a healthy environment in the United States.

Fortunately, we have a chance to fight back against this brazen assault and defend our health and communities.

The Most Important Environmental Law You’ve Never Heard Of

Most people have no clue what the National Environmental Policy Act is, but virtually everyone knows what it does.

Passed 50 years ago, the law ensures federal agencies analyze and fully disclose the environmental impacts of their activities. More importantly, it gives the public the right to be involved and to influence federal actions that may affect their environment.

Described as “our basic national charter for protection of the environment,” the National Environmental Policy Act has been a critical check on the activities of our federal government.

Often called NEPA (that’s pronounced “nee-puh”), the law enshrined the goal of environmental protection in the United States and enforced the need to involve the public in federal decisions. And since its passage, NEPA has worked tremendously.

It’s given communities a voice and sway when new highways are proposed through neighborhoods. It’s empowered local and state governments to stand up to federal agencies. It’s provided Tribes the tools needed to defend sacred lands. And it’s enabled watchdogs across the country to make a difference for people and the planet.

Most recently, the National Environmental Policy Act has proven critical for holding the federal government accountable to confronting the climate crisis.

The law has truly been a ray of sunshine and for Americans.

NEPA has been critical for defending the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from unchecked fracking.

A Critical Tool For Environmental Watchdogs

For WildEarth Guardians, NEPA is absolutely key to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health in the American West.

For over 30 years, we’ve relied on the law to confront proposals by federal agencies to log old growth forests, dam rivers, decimate wildlife, destroy the climate, and desecrate sacred lands. We’ve relied on the law to mobilize support for safeguarding endangered species, protecting wilderness, and saving lands and waters throughout the American West.

Just last month, we filed suit in federal court to block the sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking in five western states over the federal government’s failure to comply with NEPA. The case confronts the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to account for the climate impacts of authorizing more fossil fuel production and more greenhouse gas emissions.

For WildEarth Guardians, as well as countless other environmental, health, community, justice, Indigenous, and other advocates, NEPA is the backbone of our accountability efforts. It’s given us all the tools needed to stand up to private, often well-financed efforts to exploit our environment at the expense of our health and well-being.

A Strike on our Nation’s Environmental Charter

Sadly, because groups like WildEarth Guardians have successfully used NEPA to defend our environment, it’s come under fire by polluters who view the law as an impediment to their ability to exploit communities and public resources.

Claiming the law is inefficient, cumbersome, and ineffective, corporate interests have for many years called for its gutting. Now, with Trump and his pro-polluter cadre in the White House, these interests are launching an unprecedented strike on our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection.

In a draft released on January 10, the White House Council on Environmental Quality published a proposed set of regulations that, if adopted, would effectively roll back and destroy NEPA as we know it (watch our recent Facebook Live check-in to learn more about these rollbacks).

The Trump administrations proposed rollbacks to NEPA would leave public lands vulnerable to fossil fuel exploitation, fueling the climate crisis.

The rules would completely rewrite regulations originally promulgated in 1982 and in doing so, completely upend our ability to hold our federal government accountable to protecting our environment. It’s not surprising that lobbyists for the nation’s polluters have described the rules as “exactly” what they recommended to the Trump administration.

Among the sweeping changes, the Trump administration’s proposal would:

  • Strike language describing NEPA as “our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection” and instead describe the law as procedural and only requiring federal agencies to minimally disclose the environmental impacts of their actions;
  • Severely restrict opportunities for public involvement in federal agency actions affecting the environment;
  • In many situations, exempt federal agencies from having to complete environmental reviews;
  • Let agencies shortcut environmental reviews and to reject science and public comments;
  • Undermine transparency by allowing agencies to withhold environmental information from the public;
  • Make it more difficult for watchdogs to enforce NEPA before administrative appeals boards or federal courts; and
  • Prohibit federal agencies from analyzing and disclosing cumulative environmental impacts, or the impacts of their actions when added to the impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities.

That last proposed change is particularly distressing. The duty for the federal government to address the cumulative impacts of its actions is a critical and powerful means of ensuring agencies don’t worsen environmental problems, like climate change.

By eliminating the duty to account for cumulative impacts, the proposed changes would completely erase the federal government’s responsibility to protect our environment.

In keeping with the anti-public spirit of the proposal, the Council on Environmental Quality has also provided only 60 days for people to provide comments on the draft regulations and scheduled only two public hearings–one in Denver and one in Washington, D.C.–where only a little more than 100 people will be allowed to comment.

There’s no doubt that if approved, the proposed rules would effectively shut the American public out of the operations of the federal government, leaving our environment, our communities, our health, and our families more vulnerable than ever.

Which is Why We’re Fighting Back

In response to Trump’s attack on NEPA, a massive coalition of advocates across the country are gearing up to fight back.

The resistance is kicking off in Denver, Colorado this Tuesday, February 11. That day, the Trump administration is holding its first of two public hearings on the proposed rollbacks.

While many will be speaking at the formal hearing, the Council on Environmental Quality provided only 112 speaking slots that were filled in less than five minutes due to extremely high demand.  That’s why most people will be speaking and rallying across the street as part of the “Peoples Hearing to Protect NEPA,” an all-day action meant to uplift and empower the voices that were excluded by the Trump administration.

You can join us on February 11, 2020, click here for more info. and to RSVP >>

Groups are also pushing back in other critical ways. Last month, WildEarth Guardians joined hundreds of other groups in demanding the Trump administration extend the public comment period for the proposed rollbacks and calling for more public hearings.

Congressional leaders are also rising up to defend NEPA. In a bipartisan letter last month, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a Democrat, and Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, a Republican, were joined by hundreds of other members of the U.S. House in calling on the Council on Environmental Quality to back down from the proposed rollbacks.

In the meantime, now, more than ever, we need your voice to help derail these terrible rollbacks to NEPA. If you haven’t yet, sign our petition and join thousands of others who are rising up to speak out for our environment and our voice.

Together, we can thwart Trump and his gang of polluters in the White House. Together, we can #ProtectNEPA.

Today, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, with the support of State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, introduced the “Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act,” in the U.S. Senate and House, which would create a Chaco Protection Zone around Chaco Canyon.

The legislation would withdraw the oil, gas, coal and other minerals from federal public land within an approximate 10-mile buffer zone around the Park. Importantly, the legislation would allow for the termination of non-producing federal leases within the Protection Zone and prohibit the Secretary of Interior from extending them.

The legislation also acknowledges the broader Chaco cultural landscape across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, and recognizes the need for “additional studies…to address health, safety and environmental impacts to communities.”

From my perspective, this legislation is worthy of some major applause.

We are grateful to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Lujan and Haaland for introducing a Greater Chaco bill that better protects Indigenous communities, sacred lands and the climate. The intersection of climate justice and sacred landscapes calls for bold leadership and that’s what all Americans are getting in this bill.

I want to commend both Senators and Representatives for listening to community concerns over the last year and responding by better protecting Navajo communities and the climate from the threat of fossil fuel extraction. When this bill becomes law it will provide a beachhead of protections for the Greater Chaco region that, we hope, will be the beginning of a regional transitions to more equitable economies.

We still have considerable work to do enact this legislation and defend communities and the climate from the reckless actions of the Trump Administration and yet today we pause to acknowledge the hard work that Senators Udall and Heinrich have engaged in.

We live in increasingly complex and challenging times and we believe our solutions must reflect that complexity. By recognizing the intersectionality of climate justice, community resilience and the need for energy and economic transition in the Greater Chaco region this bill creates a framework to protect the health and well-being of this sacred region and its peoples.

Thank you to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Haaland and Luján.

UPDATE (12/28/2018):  Interior’s proposed rule was published in today’s Federal Register, you can access it here >>

Although Interior is asking for public comment until January 28, 2019, the agency is not actually capable of receiving and processing comments due to the government shutdown.

Despite a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing changes to its transparency regulations that threaten to make it more difficult for Americans to request and obtain records from the federal government.

In a proposed rule slated to be published tomorrow, Interior is calling for sweeping rule changes in order to, in its words, respond to “the unprecedented surge in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and litigation.”

Click here to view our annotated version of the most insidious provisions of the proposed rollbacks and how they completely undermine our federal transparency laws.

The proposal is a blatant attack on our democratic right to know. The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s bedrock transparency law and it’s meant to ensure Americans have the ability to know what their government is up to.

WildEarth Guardians uses the Freedom of Information Act extensively as we watchdog the Interior Department and other government agencies. In fact, we post all records we obtain on our website so all Americans have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable.

It’s undeniable there has been a surge in Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation in response to the Trump Administration’s assault on transparency and the public interest. In fact, the number of lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act has hit record highs under Trump.

WildEarth Guardians has been among the most prominent litigators. Our most recent complaint challenged the Interior’s failure to respond to a request for records related to the Department’s report on “Energy Burdens.”

Our Most Recent FOIA Lawsuit

Yet Interior’s claim that this is a problem is belied by the fact that the Department utterly flouts the Freedom of Information Act and actively promotes a culture of secrecy, opaqueness, and unaccountability to the American public.

In our experience in dealing with the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found the agency regularly ignores deadlines, consistently finds ways to deny access to government records, purposefully drags its feet in responding to requests for information, and refuses to provide the resources and staffing needed to meet its legal obligations under federal transparency law.

To boot, among federal agencies, Interior is one of the worst in terms of making information available online.

It’s no wonder the Department gets sued. Yet rather than truly address the underlying lack of legal compliance and disrespect for transparency, Interior is instead proposing to change the rules.

Without a doubt, the proposed regulatory changes are an assault on transparency. Among the more insidious changes:

Currently, agencies have to honor all records requests, regardless of the amount of times and resources required to search for records. This reflects the fact that the Freedom of Information Act mandates full transparency and does not allow agencies to selectively censor information simply because they believe it would be “hard” to provide records.

This proposal would effectively condone footdragging and deny access to government information. The change would allow agencies to impose baseless “quotas” on information requests.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies provide records at no cost to organizations intending to use information to advance the public interest. Although the law requires fee waivers be granted liberally, Interior’s proposed changes would effectively turn the tables on public interest groups.

The new wording would set higher and nearly unattainable criteria, provide more discretion to deny fee waivers, and allow the Department to second-guess claims that information would serve a public interest.

For example, the proposal would allow Interior to deny fee waivers if it deems a request does not “concern discrete, identifiable agency activities, operations, or programs with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.”

This essentially lets the federal government deny fee waivers simply because it believes the requested information isn’t relevant.

Overall, the proposed rule aims to add more subjectivity into the Interior Department’s transparency regulations, clearly intending to give agencies more discretion to deny access to information and to deny fee waivers.

Overall, the changes appear to be blatantly contrary to the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to see our annotated version of the Department’s proposed rule with our comments on how it runs afoul of federal law.

Earlier this year, we led a coalition in calling on the Interior Department to defend the Freedom of Information Act and government transparency. In a letter to outgoing Secretary, Ryan Zinke, we stated:

It is an affront to the bedrock of democracy that the agency would suggest asking Congress to make changes to the law in order to limit requests for information, impose burdensome fees, and otherwise seek changes that are clearly meant to stymie, not promote, public engagement.

– Coalition Letter to Ryan Zinke

Sadly, it’s clear Interior has no interest in defending the right for Americans to know what their government is up to.

Rather than uphold the democratic ideal of the freedom of information, Interior is instead treating our transparency laws as a “burden.”

Ironically, and perhaps not surprisingly, while Interior is moving ahead with transparency rollbacks, the Department is refusing to accept requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

In response to the proposed rule, we submitted a request today for records underlying the changes. The response from Interior? “Due to the government shutdown, no FOIA requests can be accepted or processed at this time.”

Rest assured, we will be pushing back against Interior’s attacks on transparency and our democracy. Access to information is critical for ensuring Interior is defending our public lands, wildlife, National Parks and Monuments, climate, and more.

America can’t afford rollbacks of Freedom of Information rights. Whether you’re on the right, the left, in the middle, or anywhere else in between, we simply can’t allow our government to retreat into the shadows.

We will do everything we can to ensure these illegal rules never see the light of day.

The future of Tri-State Generation and Transmission is more uncertain than ever as the western utility faces revolts from its customers and the reality that its utility partners are actively moving away from costly fossil fuels.

Reliance on Fossil Fuels a Big Problem

In the past two weeks, Tri-State has probably faced more threats to its existence than ever before.

The utility, which provides wholesale power to 43 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming, is heavily reliant on coal and natural gas-fired power generation, which is becoming more expensive to sustain.

In fact, the company generates more than 70% of its power from fossil fuels, the majority of which comes from coal.

Tri-State owns more than 1,800 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity at power plants in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Not only that, the company fully owns coal mines in northwestern Colorado, as well as a stake in a massive mine in northeastern Wyoming.

Tri-State Owns the Colowyo Coal Mine in northwestern Colorado.

That’s certainly a problem for our climate. Studies show that Tri-State is the most carbon-intensive utility in the U.S. because of its reliance on fossil fuels.

More importantly, that’s a huge problem for its customers, including rural communities throughout the American West.

Because Tri-State’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and in particular coal, is leading to higher rates for its rural electric co-op members.

What’s worse is the company has its members locked into long term contracts requiring that they buy at least 95% of their power from the wholesale provider.

As the cost of coal goes up, Tri-State’s members are on the hook for the increase, whether they like it or not. Not surprisingly, many members are not liking it.

And not only are members not liking it, but neither are Tri-State’s utility partners, including its coal-fired power plant co-owners.

These winds of change are casting more doubt than ever on the future economic viability of Tri-State and raising legitimate questions over the future of the utility.

In The Last Two Weeks, Everything Has Changed

While Tri-State has kept its house in order for many many years, in the past two weeks, events have occurred that indicate its house is collapsing.

At the end of November, United Power, which serves the north Denver Metro area, sent a letter to every other co-op served by Tri-State calling for changes to allow members to purchase and develop cleaner and more affordable renewable energy.

United Power generates more than 12% of Tri-State’s revenue, more than any other member of Tri-State, and serves nearly 80,000 customers, also more than any other member. Although United is one of 43 members of Tri-State, it’s clearly the most economically important one. The co-op was very blunt in its criticism of Tri-State:

Tri-State’s reluctance to embrace additional sources of renewable energy generation due to constraints of its largely fossil fuel generating fleet creates growing problems with our environmentally conscious residential, commercial, and industrial members.

– United Power, Member of Tri-State

That was just the beginning.

Following the release of United’s letter, Tri-State’s utility partners last week made announcements signaling a massive and unprecedented move away from fossil fuels.

First off, Pacificorp, which operates the largest fleet of coal-fired power plants in the western U.S., released a report showing that 60% of its power plants were more expensive to operate than renewable energy options.

Although the company has made no decisions related to this report yet, the writing on the wall is pretty clear that these plants are up for retirement.

This announcement was significant because among the uneconomic power plants identified by Pacificorp was the Craig coal-fired power plant in northwestern Colorado. The utility co-owns a portion of the Craig plant, but Tri-State largely owns the facility. In fact, the Craig power plant is Tri-State’s most significant coal-fired power plant investment.

The Craig Station, which is co-owned by Tri-State, Platte River Power Authority, Salt River Project, Xcel Energy, and Pacificorp

Next, Xcel Energy announced last week a new bold energy commitment of going 100% carbon-free by 2050 and reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2030.

This announcement was significant because if Xcel is seriously going to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030, it will have to retire all of its coal-fired generating capacity. That’s huge because Xcel also co-owns a portion of the Craig plant together with Tri-State.

Next, the Platte River Power Authority, which serves northern Colorado, also announced last week a new bold energy commitment of reducing carbon emissions 100% by 2030.,

Without a doubt, this announcement means the Platte River Power Authority will have to shutter all of its coal-fired power generation by 2030. That’s significant because the utility, like Pacificorp and Xcel, is also a co-owner of the Craig coal-fired power plant.

Taken together, it means Tri-State faces the near-term departure of most owners of the Craig coal-fired power plant, which means the utility faces the immediate prospect of either shouldering the added expenses of operating and maintaining the power plant or shutting it down completely.

Either way, Tri-State faces more costs and more uncertainty.

To top  it off, last Thursday, the Delta Montrose Electric Association, filed a formal complaint with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in an effort to  buy itself out of its contract with Tri-State.

Described as a “seismic shift,” more than any recent events, this probably represents the biggest sign of Tri-State’s impending failure.

What it Means for Tri-State

The Delta Montrose Electric Association, which serves the western Colorado communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss, Delta, Montrose, and others, isn’t the biggest Tri-State customer. However, the fact that they’re leaving is a sign of more widespread impending attrition among Tri-State’s membership.

In fact, Delta Montrose has explicitly cited the ability to generate more affordable, locally developed renewable energy as reason for divorcing Tri-State.

And as more attrition unfolds, Tri-State faces an impending death spiral.

If Delta Montrose can buy out their contract with Tri-State, then other members will surely follow. As Tri-State loses customers, its revenue will decline, although its costs, especially associated with coal mining and power generation will stay the same.

To recoup costs Tri-State will be forced to raise rates, which will fuel more attrition among its customers. As customers defect, revenue declines further and costs go up for remaining customers.

Which means ultimately, Tri-State loses customers and money and has no choice but to go bankrupt.

Time for Bold Action

Given that its utility partners are also actively divesting in fossil fuels, it seems that Tri-State’s future grows more dismal by the day.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. 

If Tri-State Generation and Transmission were to make serious and significant commitments to retiring fossil fuels and investing in more affordable and cleaner, renewable energy, the company may have a chance of avoiding demise.

Although shuttering coal and natural gas-fired power plants has a cost, the key is to cut the loss and pay off debts as soon as possible.

Because ultimately, investing heavily in renewables appears to be the new model for economic sustainability.

A utility competitor of Tri-State, Guzman Energy, is already showing that renewable energy can be provided at lower rates and with greater returns. The company just this week announced plans to develop 250 megawatts of new wind and solar in the American West, a major testament to the economic viability of fossil fuels.

And incidentally, Guzman is likely to be the power provider for the Delta Montrose Electric Association if they break free of Tri-State.

For Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the time to act is now. As other western utilities move away from fossil fuels, the company is increasingly going to shoulder the cost of maintaining coal and natural gas-fired electricity generation.

Tri-State has an opportunity to not just power, but empower the rural American West with 100% clean and affordable renewable energy.

WildEarth Guardians this month stepped up to confront Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s failure to guarantee more than $120 million in coal mine clean-up costs.

In a brief filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, we challenged the utility and mining company’s failure to honestly disclose its coal mine reclamation obligations.

Tri-State has been allowed to post “self-bonds,” essentially corporate IOUs, to guarantee cleanups at four mines, including the Dry Fork mine in Wyoming and the Colowyo, New Horizon North, and New Horizon South mines in Colorado.  However, Tri-State hasn’t actually accounted for these self-bonds in its financial reporting to state and federal regulators, meaning the company hasn’t actually allocated any real money toward these liabilities.

As we’ve written about before, Tri-State has over $120 million in coal mine reclamation obligations related to the company’s Dry Fork mine in Wyoming and the Colowyo, New Horizon North, and New Horizon North mines in Colorado. Unfortunately, with the company’s empty promise of self-bonding, there’s no guarantee these mines will ever be fully reclaimed.

With no tangible financial backing, Tri-State’s “self-bonds” are effectively empty promises. This means that if the company were to go out of business, it would have no money on hand to actually assure the restoration of its mines. This would put taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up their mess.

Put another way, we strongly believe that Tri-State is lying and our latest brief challenges the failure of mine regulators to confront their BS.

Colowyo Coal Mine in northwest Colorado.

The need to address Tri-State’s coal mine reclamation bonding is more critical than ever. The company is the wholesale power provider for 43 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Yet with its heavy reliance on coal, the utility is facing serious financial headwinds and its ability to guarantee mine cleanups is increasingly in question.

In fact, the utility’s reliance on coal is costing its members more than ever, leading to defection and unrest among its customer base. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado recently took steps to get out of its membership with Tri-State and the La Plata Electric Association in southwestern Colorado is eyeing similar moves.

Most recently, the United Power Cooperative north of Denver, which purchases more wholesale electricity from Tri-State than any other member, voiced its concerns over the company’s rising costs.

Tri-State’s future is anything but certain at this point, making it crucial that the company post real assurances–not empty IOUs–that its coal mines will be cleaned up.

With our latest filing, we’re keeping up the pressure to ensure utilities like Tri-State are held accountable to the true costs of coal and not allowed to pass those expenses onto their customers and to taxpayers.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is barreling ahead to auction New Mexico public lands for fracking and steamrolling, sidelining, and shunning the American public in the process.

The agency yesterday announced its intent to sell more than 84,000 acres of the Land of Enchantment to the oil and gas industry this December. This includes more than 43,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico and 41,000 acres in southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad Caverns region (the sale also includes more than 5,000 acres in Oklahoma and Texas).

See for yourself where these lands are located, click here or check out the interactive map below.

Simultaneously, the Bureau of Land Management rejected a request from WildEarth Guardians and many others for public hearings around the proposed sale. A broad coalition of environmental, Tribal, health, and clean energy advocates had requested the meeting to have an opportunity provide more direct and meaningful comments to the agency.

Not only that, but the proposal has drawn widespread condemnation, including from the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, and U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham.

I urge you to suspend the planned December, 2018 lease sale until a comprehensive cultural resource study can be completed in coordination with impacted tribes.

– New Mexico U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham 

The message from the Bureau of Land Management is loud and clear: they don’t care at all what we have to say.

Their rejection comes as the agency has launched unprecedented rollbacks of public involvement opportunities around public lands oil and gas management.

In New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management eliminated an opportunity for the public to submit early comments on proposed fracking auctions. The agency also shortened the opportunity to file “protests,” or appeals, of proposed sales from 30 days to 10 days and now only allows protests to be mailed or hand delivered in hard copy.

That latter move was held illegal by a Federal Judge in Idaho, who found the Trump Administration violated Americans’ right to due process and environmental review.  The Judge said succinctly:

The evidence illustrates that the intended result of the at-issue decisions was to dramatically reduce and even eliminate public participation in the future decision-making process.

– U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush

In spite of this, the Bureau of Land Management is only altering its process where oil and sales overlap with greater sage grouse habitat. For New Mexico, which is outside the range of the greater sage grouse, this means no reprieve.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the Bureau of Land Management’s contempt toward the public, including Tribal and community leaders, is the agency’s still-relentless push to open up as many New Mexico public lands as possible for fracking.

Beyond its plans for December, the agency has already signaled its intent to sell off 55,000 acres in March 2019. These involve more than 11,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region, including lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

And the agency continues to shamelessly embrace what’s described as an “Energy Dominance” agenda, where public lands are being entirely committed to the oil and gas industry.

Rest assured, we’ll be pushing back against the Bureau of Land Management’s blatant disregard for the public interest in New Mexico and beyond.

In the sacred Greater Chaco region and other irreplaceable western landscapes, we can’t afford to let the Trump Administration succeed in its quest to condemn our lands and our future to fracking.