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Consumers Energy leads energy optimization in Michigan businesses and homes

The Renewable Portfolio Standard requires 10 percent of the state's energy portfolio be renewable by 2015, Malone says. In 2008, Consumers Energy was producing 4 percent renewable energy, he says, but opened its first wind farm in Mason County.

Michigan Saves makes going green easy and affordable

More than 2,000 homes have been improved through Michigan Saves, she says, and each homeowner saves, on average, $450 each year on their utility bill. Using a network of local credit unions, Michigan Saves brings financing and contracting experts together to identify ways to lower homeowners' utility costs, Metty Bennett says.

Valerie Brader: Working to ensure Michigan's energy and environmental future

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Hydraulic fracturing in Michigan lowers fuel costs and could create jobs, decreasing dependence on foreign energy

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Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be expensive and raises questions about

"It wasn't the Exxon Valdez captain's driving that caused the Alaskan Oil Spill.  It was yours." - Greenpeace advertisement (after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska)

By now, most everyone has heard the news of the collapse of a $600 million oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that tragically caused the presumed deaths of eleven crew and is currently spilling up to 42,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf.  The timing of the spill is more than a little coincidental with President Obama's announcement that the United States government would allow the expansion of offshore drilling for oil and gas in certain limited areas.  This, of course, was a response to the chants of "Drill, baby!  Drill!" during the 2008 National election in an effort by the Administration to get people on board to promote "green" energy.  Somewhat snarkily, those opposing offshore drilling are now chanting "Spill, baby!  Spill!"

The spill is causing some who wanted offshore drilling, like Florida Governor Crist, to reconsider their opinion.  President Obama has stated that the spill will not cause a change in the expansion of offshore areas for exploration and drilling.  But, regardless of the politics of offshore exploration and drilling, there is a more practical question: who will be paying to contain and clean up this mess?

News reports
indicate that BP Oil is working feverishly to stop the release of oil from the exposed well and containing the spill.  There is no question that it will exact a serious environmental toll and an even worse disaster awaits if the slick, now estimated at 48 miles by 80 miles wide, hits the shoreline.  While a serious spill, the current spill has a long way to go to equal the 11 million gallons spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska which covered 1,300 square miles of ocean.  But, a law enacted in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill will certainly have a part to play in the Gulf spill.

In 1990, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), which was designed to address liability and compensation related to  discharges of oil into the navigable waters of the United States.  Under the OPA, the owner or operator of a vessel or a facility from which oil is discharged into the waters of the United States is responsible for the costs of containing and removing the oil, as well as for the following damages: damage or destruction of natural resources; real or personal property, loss of subsistence use of natural resources; net loss of taxes, royalties, rents, fees or net profits from the loss of real property, personal property or natural resources; profits or impairment of earning capacity; and the net costs of providing public services during or after the removal of the spilled oil.

There are some very limited defenses.  In addition, there are limits on liability.  For example, liability for a spill from an offshore facility is the costs of removal (apparently unlimited) plus $75 million.  The OPA also created an Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which can provide up to $1 billion per incident.  OPA covers not only the oceans, but Great Lakes waters and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 has a contingency plan set up for potential spills into the Great Lakes.

It will take some time to sort out the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  For certain, the debate on whether to explore and drill for oil and gas in our nation's waters will heat up.  There is a mechanism in place to deal with the monetary damages resulting from the collapse of the oil rig.  But, the lives that were lost and the damage to the ecosystem are not so easily resolved.

UPDATE 1: The Coast Guard has increased the estimate of oil being released into the ocean by five.  The damaged well is now releasing  210,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf, which equates to about 9,000 barrels of oil, per day.

  On April 30, the Obama Administration announced that it is halting all new offshore drilling projects until the cause of the disaster that is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is determined.  Also, the slick apparently hit land sometime Thursday evening or Froiday morning.  There are now questions about whether this release of oil will be worse than the Exxon Valdez, mostly because the oil the is being released is coming from an area holding much more oil than the Exxon tanker held.  BP is now looking for help from all comers.  Developments on this environmental disaster are unfolding quickly.

UPDATE 3:  The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article discussing the possible cause of the blowout.  While preliminary, the article suggests that shortly before the blowout, Halliburton Company had just completed a cementing process that is designed to fill gaps between the well pipe and the hole that is bored into the ocean floor and prevent oil and natural gas from leaking from the well.  The article goes further and states that regulators have pointed to this process "as the leading cause of well blowouts."  

The author, Saulius Mikalonis, is an environmental attorney at the Bloomfield Hills office of Plunkett Cooney.  He is also the author of The Green Blawg, in which he writes about environmental law issues for the non-lawyer.  In addition to practicing law, Mr. Mikalonis is an adjunct professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills Campus, at which he teaches a course entitled "Sustainable Development Law & Policy" and a Board Member of the Detroit Regional Chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).


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