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Wind farm with solar panels in southern California. 4kodiak / E+ / Getty Images

By Jeff Deyette

Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.

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A powerful explosion at Husky Energy's oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin sparked a massive fire and injured multiple people on Thursday.

The blast sent thick, dark smoke across the city and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents 10 miles downwind of the refinery, 2 miles to the north, and 3 miles east and west. All Superior schools closed Friday due to the fire.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Wisconsin State Capitol. Joseph / Flickr

By Steve Horn

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has sued Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers for what it alleges was a state education agency's violation of an anti-regulatory law—long pushed by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers—known as the REINS Act.

Wisconsin's version of REINS, or Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, is a piece of legislation heavily lobbied and advocated in favor of for over half a decade by Americans for Prosperity, a policy and electioneering advocacy front group founded and funded by the Koch Family Foundations and Koch Industries.

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By Steve Horn

A bill with the potential to hobble government agencies' ability to propose regulations, known as the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, has passed in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker's office has told DeSmog he intends to sign it into law.

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Wisconsin's Republican-controlled government may be moving to control state-produced scientific research and tamp down emphasis on climate, according to a new report.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal contains an item that would dissolve the science services bureau within the Department of Natural Resources and transfer the scientists to other programs.

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Rooftop solar installation at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Madison, Wisconsin and Abita Springs, Louisiana are transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy following respective city council votes on Tuesday.

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Whoever is managing Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources website must be wearing out the delete key. The word "climate" has been quietly stripped from the department's webpage dedicated to explaining the state's response to climate change, Raw Story reported.

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How is mining related to fracking

Well, the process of hydraulic fracturing forces fluid into the rock at extremely high pressure. This pries open natural pre-existing cracks (fractures) in the bedrock, and also causes new cracks (induced fractures) to form. This network of enhanced and induced fractures is what allows gas and oil to flow out of the rock and into the well. To keep these fractures from snapping shut when the fracking operation is completed and the pressure is eased, you need to prop them open with something. That's why fracking fluid—a highly engineered fluid that is mostly water by volume, but can contain dozens of different chemicals—always includes a "proppant." The drilling industry has developed manufactured proppants, but often the proppant of choice is a clean, consistent, well-rounded, tough, fine-grained sand. A typical fracking operation in the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, for example, can use 4 million pounds or more of sand.

Where is all the sand coming from? As you might expect, Texas is one place where sand-mining is booming. But surprisingly, most of this sand comes from a place more famously associated with beer and brauts: Wisconsin. The rapid proliferation of sand-mining operations is getting a lot of attention there and raising concerns about public health and safety, property values, quality of life and environmental impacts.

Responding to these concerns, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just published an interactive map showing the locations of all the facilities, active and inactive, involved in the mining and processing of sand in that state. Their map doesn't have imagery, so you can't actually "see" any of these mining operations. But when we asked, the DNR promptly gave us the facilities data (updated as of May 1, 2014), so we could make our own map using Google Maps Engine: 

Voila! Here is our map of the Wisconsin frac-sand operations. We decided to only include "active" facilities on this map. Now you can explore and zoom in on any facility, and see the latest high-resolution imagery available through Google (July 2011 in the example shown below).

SkyTruth interactive map of active Wisconsin sand mining and processing facilities, as of May 1, 2014. Data from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource. Detail from map. Click on the marker to get a popup box with more information about that facility.

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Greenpeace

By Cassady Sharp

The same law that contributed to George Zimmerman walking free out of a Florida courtroom last weekend after taking the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was primarily written by the same super lobbying group behind legislation protecting natural gas companies from disclosing chemicals used in fracking.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a unique kind of lobbying front group responsible for pushing legislation designed to enhance the bottom line of their corporate funders. Corporations like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Duke Energy, along with industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide more than 98 percent of ALEC’s funding, whose members, which includes elected officials and corporations, write and pass laws that will benefit those corporations.

Via the laws ALEC pushes through state legislatures, the lobbying group impacts Americans nationwide from voting right laws to environmental regulations (or lack thereof) to guns like Stand Your Ground. We’ve collected the most significant ALEC laws that could be coming to a state legislature near you, if they aren’t there already.

7. Electricity Freedom Act 

This act prevents states from requiring their energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources, killing a key government incentives for clean energy projects. ALEC falsely claims that any renewable energy mandate sacrifices economic growth and American competitiveness, a dead horse they have continued to beat for decades.

Because of the economic benefits of renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina and Kansas and in spite of support from ALEC’s other Koch-funded friends in the State Policy Network, ALEC’s most heated attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) were shot down by Democrats and Republicans alike. Quieter ALEC-supported attempts to repeal or weaken RPS laws also failed in Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine and Oregon—not a good start for ALEC’s top energy-related priority this year.

Greenpeace has initiated an action to demand that the nation’s largest utility company, Duke Energy, cut ties between ALEC, a relationship that is polluting Americans and democracy.

6. Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline

ALEC is trying to use state resolutions to add pressure to the federal government to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In fact, ALEC took its member legislators on a Big Oil-funded trip to Alberta, Canada, to promote tar sands, courtesy of lobbyists from TransCanada, Shell, Devon Energy and other oil and gas interests. ALEC’s conferences have featured seminars on the controversial pipeline, featuring speakers from oil companies and the Canadian government alike. The Center for Media and Democracy, which runs ALECexposed.org, has filed an ethics complaint in Nebraska for a legislator’s failure to disclose the trip and its sponsors. Keep in mind that ALEC is a tax-exempt organization, and their lobbying doesn’t count as lobbying to the IRS.

While ALEC has its own model resolution, its state legislator members introduced resolutions straight out of a TransCanada press release, coordinating across state borders to get an apparent jump in support for Keystone XL in Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi all at once.

5. Voter ID Act

These laws prohibit about 11 percent of citizens from voting by requiring a government-issued ID to vote at the polls.

This 11 percent overwhelmingly consists of elderly people, low-income and minority voters and students. Thirty-three states now have voter id laws and four states now have strict photo id requirements in effect. With the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, we can expect this number to increase with ALEC's full support.

4. Arizona’s SB 1070 Immigration Law: “No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act” 

In short, this bill was ALEC’s way of making private prison companies rich by rounding up brown people without documentation and tossing them in jail. Although most of this law was struck down in Arizona, the “papers please” provision survives requiring law enforcement to check a person’s status if they are stopped, detained or arrested. State legislators and prison and bail industry lobbyists met at an ALEC meeting to write the law which originally stated that law enforcement had to check a person’s status only after “contact.” The Arizona legislature changed narrowed the law to the current language.

3. Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act

The title of this bill is a lie–ALEC’s flagship fracking bill prevents oil and gas companies from having to disclose the chemicals in frack fluids that qualify as “trade secrets.” Who took the idea to ALEC? ExxonMobil. Bloomberg reports that the ALEC bill has been introduced in at least eight states, although there appear to be more. Exxon’s bill became Ohio law with ALEC’s help, and a particularly controversial fracking law sponsorship by ALEC legislators passed in North Carolina last year without anyone reporting ALEC’s fingerprints. DeSmogBlog has documented attempts in Florida, Illinois and several other states.

ALEC previously drafted a state resolution that puts the regulating authority into the hands of state agencies, which are woefully understaffed, underfunded and ineffective at regulating the powerful gas and oil industry, creating a one-two punch that leaves fracked communities in the dark on chemical disclosure and at the mercy of insufficient and often captured regulatory agencies for protection from fracking pollution.

2. Intrastate Coal and Use Act

This act serves to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating the coal industry. Specifically, the act prevents the EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state. This act relies on the “Commerce Clause” claiming that the federal government can only regulate commerce that goes beyond state lines, flying in the face of settled Supreme Court interpretation of the “dormant” Commerce Clause. The first version of this bill was passed in West Virginia in 2011, a state with 273 operating coal mines as of 2011.

1. Stand Your Ground

Considering the recent national tragedy of the Trayvon Martin ruling and the violence “Stand Your Ground” releases, this law should be repealed immediately in the states it’s active. In strong conjunction with the National Rifle Association (NRA), ALEC has managed to push versions of this law in over two dozen states. It allows any killer to claim immunity if they felt a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The Florida version of this law passed in 2005 and was written by a NRA lobbyist.

ALEC is behind loads of more dangerous laws or proposed resolutions that must be exposed, blocked or repealed if active. Please let us know other significant ones we missed in the comments below. 

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

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