Badger-Coulee Court Appeal
Utilities Cite Non-Existent Studies of Alternatives
Members from more than twelve groups opposing transmission expansion were on hand in La Crosse, Wisconsin on October 10* to hear arguments in the appeal of the Badger-Coulee high capacity transmission line before Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Todd W. Bjerke. Seating on the side of the courtroom was filled in support for the Town of Holland and the request to have the controversial project withdrawn. On the side of the room representing the Public Service Commission’s decision to approve the $600 million, 170 mile facility from La Crosse to Madison, a single man sat behind five utility lawyers.
Crucial arguments for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin were made by legal counsel for American Transmission Company. The commission was asked by the court to provide evidence that the commission had fulfilled two legal obligations: (1) To prove that superior benefits for electric customers were not overlooked in the agency’s failure to study non-transmission alternatives (like accelerating energy efficiency and developing local power) and; (2) To prove that the addition of this seventh, high capacity transmission line in ten years line would not subject electric customers to unnecessary electricity cost increases.
The Town of Holland cited the lack of the non-transmission alternatives analysis in the PSC’s official Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and probable losses that would stem from Badger Coulee under flat and declining electricity use in initial briefs.
The oral arguments made directly to Judge Bjerke on the stand lasted about two hours and he placed no time restraints on presenters. Attorney Frank Jablonski, representing the Town of Holland, used language that electric customers can understand and adhered closely to written evidence previously submitted.
The statements made on behalf of the PSC’s position, however, differed from prior written accounts and relied more on technical language that many electric customers would be challenged to follow.
By state law, transmission expansion lines should be not approved if they add new costs for electric customers. It was telling when attorneys for ATC and the PSC made no attempt to show that the economic calculations they used to justify Badger-Coulee were different from those that predicted losses for the Paddock Rockdale line under low energy use. Instead, the lawyers side-stepped explanation asking the Judge to grant the PSC “great deference” in their judgment and did attempt to argue the decision was adequately documented.
In response to the PSC’s failure to document analysis of non-transmission alternatives in required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ATC attorney Brian Potts relied on the judge being unfamiliar with both technical language and a citation within the EIS concerning economic "futures" for Badger-Coulee. The cited "futures" have no relation to examining the benefits that electric customers would receive if Badger Coulee was not built and same millions was spent instead on energy efficiency, local power and other improvements to homes, farms and businesses.
When Mr. Potts asserted to the Judge, “The EIS also analyzes three other non-transmission alternatives... there were three different alternatives that involved not building a transmission line...” courtroom observers looked at each other in disbelief. Potts had used occurrences of the words "energy efficiency" and "load reduction" referencing irrelevant economic "futures" elsewhere . These "futures" pertain to transmission studies that assume Badger Coulee would be in place and operating.
Observers were shocked at the attempt to claim the PSC had conducted the analysis in question before the judge. There is no reference in the EIS to a single dollar of energy savings or ton of avoided CO2 emissions if the same millions was spent in stead on energy efficiency, load management and solar. "Unfortunately, I was not surprised how ATC attempted to hide their energy planning omission, "said Rob Danielson who is an ATC stakeholder for the Town of Stark in Vernon County. "For years, ATC and MISO energy planning has forced their leading competitors: energy efficiency, load management and distributed generation, into designed energy "futures" that assume expansion transmission lines must be built.
"As a private company who profits from building transmission, one would expect ATC to shun studying competition that might guarantee greater energy savings and carbon emission reductions than the new transmission line can produce. But its the fact that we as electric customers have been forced to hold our public commission accountable for over-looking, indeed quoting utility prejudice in the agency's official policy statement that is most instructive."
‘Mr. Potts’ statements left me stunned,” said court observer Jon Lund who studied the Badger-Coulee materials extensively as a board member of SOUL of Wisconsin. “Hopefully the judge will not be misled by Potts' inferences and will find time to examine the economic futures referred to in EIS.“
Lack of PSC responsiveness is further concerning because more than 90 municipalities across Wisconsin including eight counties asked the Commission to conduct this comprehensive analysis that the appeal is now focusing on.
One Wisconsin utility is thankfully revealing the approximate costs of transmission expansion in their billing. Alliant Energy is tagging the monthly cost of regional transmission service for its customers at $20 per typical household compared to about $33 for cost of the electricity itself. Just the additional 2.1% or $2.30 per month Alliant added in 2016 to pay ATC and other transmission operators would have tripled rebate funds in Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and solar programs for decades. And unlike transmission expansion which produces mandatory debt over 40 years without guaranteed carbon emission reductions or energy savings, dollars that are invested in energy efficiency and solar flow directly into the state's local economies improving our homes.
The experience in the court room has intensified efforts of local governments and organizations opposing the Cardinal Hickory Creek line proposed to span from Madison to Dubuque. Observed David Stanfield of the Town of Vermont in Dane County, “We are learning from Badger Coulee communities and are mounting a public education effort that will not stop until economic justice is served. More is at stake than a transmission line. We are establishing the right of our energy dollars to realize economic and environmental gains – not just add to pointless utility debt.”
"It is the fact that we, as electric customers, have been forced to hold our public commission accountable for over-looking, indeed quoting utility prejudice in the agency's official policy statement that is most instructive. Energy planning that can take advantage of lower cost, more environmentally effective improvements in our homes, farms, businesses and communities is waiting to be reclaimed by state lawmakers."
*Apologies for the delay until court transcripts could be obtained. Article
by Chris Hubbuch, La Crosse Tribune Oct., 11,2016
Area Meetings- Cardinal Hickory Creek
Grassroots and local government efforts opposing the possibility of yet another high capacity transmission line across Wisconsin lands and communities
Congratulations to the Town of Wyoming (Iowa County) who is the first municipality in Wisconsin to adopt an updated and improved version of the PSC Information Request Resolution on November 15th to help ensure transmission builders provide cost benefit analysis of all energy options and the PSC conducts their own analysis for the Environmental and Economic Impact Study. Interested citizens are encouraged to attend meetings at:
- Town of Ridgeway (Iowa Co.) Wed.,, December 7 at 8:00 p.m, 6300 Prairie Road, (608) 924-2247
Contact Katie McGrath to help notify residents.
- Town of Ellenboro (Grant Co,) Wed., December., 7 at 7:30 , Highway 81, Contact Laurie Graney for location
PUBLIC INFORMATION MEETING
Awareness & Responses to
CARDINAL HICKORY CREEK
Thursday Dec. 15 from 6-9 PM
Arena Elementary School Gymnasium,
314 Willow Street, Arena, WI
Residents and elected officials from the towns of Arena, Wyoming, Vermont and beyond are invited to attend presentations by David Clutter of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Rob Danielson of the Town of Stark Energy Planning Committee and SOUL of Wisconsin. Town Chairpersons, John Hess, David Lucey and Barbara Grenlie will describe approaches they are taking and will be on hand for questions.
A few of the topics that will be addressed are: rights of local governments; the PSC transmission review process and opportunities for input; applicant accountability during the public information stage; effects on property values and local economies; documenting environmental, cultural and economic impacts; utilities' claims for high voltage transmission; the low voltage "reliability" options; FERC incentives and long term costs of transmission expansion; non-transmission alternatives and roles of state and federal elected officials.
Contact David Stanfileld or David Giffey for more information.
by Winona LaDuke
As the situation at Standing Rock continues to escalate, we ask you to continue standing with us, and to take one step deeper into this movement. Our fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is a crossroads in the global battle for environmental and social justice.
Over 550 people have been arrested, and many face trumped up felony charges. Water protectors have been attacked, beaten, strip-searched, held in dog kennels, and tortured. On Sunday, November 20, hundreds were injured at the encampments when law enforcement blasted them with water cannons in freezing temperatures and attacked with less-lethal weapons. One person had a grand mal seizure, one elder went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated, and multiple people were evacuated unconscious and bleeding after rubber bullets struck them in the head. Many more suffered serious fractures, blunt traumas, hypothermia, and contamination from CS gas and mace. Twenty-one year old Sophia Wilansky was struck at close range with a concussion grenade and may face the amputation of her arm.
Despite all this, water protectors continue to show incredible courage, resolve, principle, and determination. We are peaceful and standing in prayer, and even as winter arrives, our numbers keep growing. There are over 7000 people on the land now, and we intend to stay. On December 4, thousands of US veterans are coming to stand with us.
Honor the Earth continues to support the legal defense effort at the encampment and works closely with the jail support teams, the NLG Water Protectors Legal Collective, and other attorneys, on both criminal defense for those arrested and civil litigation in response to rampant human rights violations. Yesterday, the team filed a class action lawsuit against the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies for excessive use of force on November 20. Other civil lawsuits are in progress and jury trials begin next month.
It is unclear what is going to happen with this pipeline.
On Friday, November 25, after the last turkey had been pardoned, the Obama Administration issued an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin encampments. We issued a statement in response
, as part of a coalition of grassroots groups on the ground: we will not be moved, and we do not recognize the US Army’s authority to evict us from territory never ceded to the US government and affirmed as sovereign land in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie. Last night, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an eviction notice as well, via Executive Order, cutting off emergency services to the camp. At no time during the past year has Governor Dalrymple shown concern for our well being. Instead, he has overstepped his authority and spent millions of public dollars on the militarization of his police forces and the brutalization of our people. All of this is for the benefit of Energy Transfer’s profits. We are here to say no. We stand united in defiance of the black snake and committed to defending our water, our Mother Earth, and our rights as Indigenous people. We call on all people of conscience, from all Nations, to join the encampments and stand with us as we put our bodies on the line.
photo by Rob Wilson Photography
While the US Army Corps continues its consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe about the river crossing, the Dakota Access pipeline project is in financial jeopardy. It is likely impossible for the company to meet its January 1 deadline, and if it does not, producers and shippers who two years ago committed to use the pipeline will have the option to renegotiate or even terminate their contracts. A new report shows that they may well want to do that, because oil prices plummeted soon after the contracts were signed in 2014, and the economics of Bakken drilling are dismal now in comparison. Production has declined dramatically and there is no longer any economic need for the Dakota Access pipeline, as existing infrastructure is more than sufficient.
We ask you to take action today. Sign the petition
, call the White House, and write to President Obama demanding that he immediately deny the last outstanding easement, revoke the permits, and order a full Environmental Impact Statement. As Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II noted in his response to the eviction notice, denying the easement is the only way to end the violence and protect public safety.
Also, join people all over the world this week in a push to cut off investment for the pipeline. Honor the Earth is one of many groups on the ground calling for an international day of action on December 1st against the banks financing the project. In fact, let’s make December a month of action, with bold and courageous actions every single day, all over the world. Join or host local actions to shut down banks. Close your accounts and move your money. If you live in a jurisdiction currently sending law enforcement to Standing Rock, use this contact info to demand their removal. More and more police forces are declining to come join North Dakota in the service of oil companies and the violation of civil and human rights. North Dakota, in fact, is becoming a political pariah.
photo by Rob Wilson Photography
The winter will be relentless in Lakota territory, but our resolve is strong. As we face a desperate corporate push for more fossil fuels in the time of climate crisis, we ask you to join us. Join us through action, and through contributing financially to our work. We are here for the long haul, not only to oppose the pipeline and challenge the racism of North Dakota, but to make a renewable energy future with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as we begin to install our solar projects on the reservation over the winter and spring.
We are very grateful for your ongoing support
. We will continue to stand our ground for the water and the unborn generations. This fight is not just about a pipeline project. This is our moment, our chance to demand the future we all deserve.