Good afternoon and welcome to August. A quick programming note — The Planet You Save will be off Aug. 17 and 24 as I take a much needed break, and the month's bonus edition will go out to members on Aug. 31. A reminder that you can become a member, get the bonus monthly edition and support the newsletter (and my work at large).
Early this year, I wrote an edition about what a highly-technical and highly-contested planning document from an electricity utility has to do with climate change and how the state regulator accepts comment from all residents — if you can figure out how to do so:
This year, DTE Electric, one of the major investor-owned utilities in Michigan, will be presenting an important case to Michigan’s utility regulator, MPSC. Known as an integrated resource plan, these plans describe how the utility serves their customers and with what kinds of energy.
Utilities submit the plans, and it’s up to the regulator to approve or push for changes. DTE is the largest utility in Michigan and it operates one of the heaviest power plant emitters of greenhouse gas in the country, Monroe coal plant, on the shores of Lake Erie, south of Detroit....
There’s a lot of officially-involved parties taking part in this resource plan case — environmental orgs, unions, business coalitions, electricity buyers, utility customer watchdog groups, etc. ...
But the Michigan Public Service Commission is also allowing for residents who don’t have official “intervenor” status to offer comments to the docket. This genre of civic involvement may not be the loudest language of climate action, but it’s available to a very wide range of people.
Earlier this week, Michigan's utility regulator accepted a settlement between DTE and the official intervenors that pushed up the date on the Monroe coal plant closure to 2032. That's still slower than what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's climate plan calls for (2030) and what Michigan's other major utility, Consumers Energy agreed to (2025). But it was good enough to gain the signatures of a variety of environmental organizations and the state government, even as they said DTE could do more.
Two other notable points from Bridge Michigan's coverage: The settlement forces DTE to file another plan in 2026, two years earlier than normal, that could include Monroe shutting even earlier (it's possible that economics of it could change by then). Another is a requirement for the utility to disclose political donations of $5,000 or more beginning in 2024 — including the type of dark-money outfits that don't require disclosure of their donors.
Put this in the "fun stories I wish I had thought of" pile: Politico identified 25 members of Congress who drive electric vehicles. It's both the usual suspects (Sen. Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a climate hawk, is a proud Bolt owner, twice-over) and the "huhs" including Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who was actually the first member of Congress to own a Tesla, pushed for charging in the Capitol parking garage and has "Friends of Coal" license plate. (My husband pointed out that coal doesn't drive traditional cars but it sure does power electricity in Kentucky -- 77% of it, it turns out).
As Politico points out, though, the slight bipartisanship in personal EV ownership doesn't exactly track with policy support. It also doesn't tell you anything about your congress member's support for that other transportation emissions killer — public transit — especially when one of the newest and youngest members of Congress drives a bike to work:
Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) doesn’t own an EV. Indeed, he doesn’t have a car at all.
“I wish I could say it was for environmental purposes,” 26-year-old Frost said. “But I just can’t afford it.” He bikes instead.
This story also includes Wawas, Ted Cruz wanting his daughters to think he's cool, and uh, the zombie apocalypse.
Connecticut has joined the ranks of places that severely underestimated the popularity of e-bike subsidies. CT Public Radio reports:
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) launched an electric bicycle incentive program earlier this summer that offered $500,000 in vouchers toward the purchase of an eligible e-bike.
Within a matter of days, more than 6,000 applications were submitted. The overwhelming demand caused DEEP officials to increase funding for the initial round of the program, but resulted in thousands of rebate applications getting rejected.
Full disclosure: I own an e-bike. But more so than Denver's also-wildly-popular e-bike program, I worry that Connecticut drivers and road design will discourage the kinds of daily car-replacement trips that makes up the emissions benefit.
Inside Climate News has a story of when bureaucracy does one thing and says another:
On a rugged stretch of the Gulf Coast in Texas, environmental groups called foul in 2020 when an oil company sought pollution permits to expand its export terminal beside Lavaca Bay.
Led by a coalition of local shrimpers and oystermen, the groups produced an analysis alleging that the company, Max Midstream, underrepresented expected emissions in order to avoid a more rigorous permitting process and stricter pollution control requirements.
In its response, Max Midstream did not respond to those allegations. Instead, it cited what it characterized as the “quintessential one-mile test” by Texas’ environmental regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to claim that the groups and citizens involved had no right to bring forth a challenge because they lived more than one mile from the Seahawk Oil Terminal.
The problem? TCEQ says the "one-mile test" doesn't exist, and indeed, there's no formal rule. But as Dylan Baddour reports, the one-mile test has been heavily present in Texas' permitting arguments for more than a decade, and in who gets a say on fossil fuel expansion.
Finally from Chicago:
Chicago is committing $15 million to help lower-income residents decarbonize their buildings, through grants for electric stoves, heat pumps and energy efficiency measures.
While Chicago has taken on other building emissions policies, updating buildings where residents have the highest energy burden (i.e. pay a higher percentage of their income on energy) is a priority in here. Utility customer advocates tells Energy News Network they hope the proposals in response to these grants looks to help older small multi-unit buildings, where residents are renters and who fall in the gap between high-income and qualifying for energy cost reliefs.
It's not a whole lot of money (the city estimates it will help between 200-350 households), but it could be an interesting test into seeing what works in the city.