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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Environment - Indiana makes advances in net metering

The Indianapolis Star today, in a lengthy story by John Russell, reports that:

From 2010 to 2011, the number of Indiana customers taking part in net metering rose from 199 to 298 -- a 50 percent increase, according to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

The maximum output from those renewable facilities increased by 136 percent, from 783 kilowatts to 1,852 kilowatts.

It's not just households taking part. Schools, churches, apartment complexes, government buildings and commercial properties are jumping into the game, installing solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy systems, lessening their dependence on the electrical grid.

It's the beginning of a big change here. For years, Indiana lagged the nation in net metering and received low marks from renewable energy advocates. "Freeing the Grid," an annual report, regularly gave Indiana "D" and "F" marks.
But the most recent report, issued last week, awarded Indiana "B" grades in two broad categories, net-metering policies and interconnection procedures. That big leap earned Indiana the "most improved" ranking among all 50 states in the report, published by the Network for New Energy Choices and The Solar Vote Initiative.

Some local environmental groups are hailing Indiana for starting to catch up. They expect the numbers to multiply in coming years as more households and large commercial customers jump on board.

"It's good for Indiana, good for the environment, good for customers," said Bowden Quinn of the Sierra Club's Hoosier chapter.

A big reason for the improvement: the state's decision last year to expand net metering to allow commercial and industrial customers to participate through a rule approved by the IURC. Previously, only residential customers and K-12 schools could take part in net metering.

The IURC also expanded the maximum size of an eligible facility from 10 kilowatts (an average house uses between 3 and 5 kilowatts) to 1 megawatt (enough for a factory).

But Indiana still has a long way to go, and other states remain far ahead. Massachusetts, for example, allows up to 10 megawatts for net metering by a municipality or other government entity -- the equivalent of powering tens of thousands of households. It allows up to 2 megawatts for other large users.

And not all renewable energy advocates are sold that Indiana is pushing hard enough in this direction. They say Indiana has been dragging its feet and warn that recent improvements are not cause for a huge celebration.

"When you've been at the bottom of the barrel for so long, the only direction is up," said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.

For years, Indiana had one of the weakest net-metering laws in the nation. Efforts to expand the program died in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions despite bipartisan support. Some lawmakers wanted to limit net metering here to 200 kilowatts, saying it was enough capacity for every homeowner and most businesses.

There is much more detail, including how to participate, in the long story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 01, 2012
Posted to Environment

Ind. Decisions - "Ruling gives I-69 crews immediate access to Monroe County property to survey land for construction: Judge says tree-cutting ban presses INDOT to fell trees before April 1"

This story reported by Laura Lane appeared more than a week ago, March 24th, in the $$ Bloomington Herald-Times. It begins:

A judge’s ruling despite pleas of opposition from Monroe County property owners in the path of I-69 has opened the gates for survey and core-drilling crews to go onto their land to conduct tests to pave the way for the highway’s construction.

Monroe Circuit Judge Francis Hill’s late-Thursday ruling allows heavy equipment use, geo-technical drilling and tree removal so crews working for the Indiana Department of Transportation can bore deep into the earth to identify the topography. The purpose is to determine the depth of subsurface material necessary and the kind of surface that should be used to construct the highway through the area.

Workers also will conduct archaeological surveys to locate special features or artifacts.

Rudy Savich, a Bloomington lawyer representing several landowners who do not want workers on their property before the state has taken ownership, lost their battle in court seeking a reprieve. And when Savich filed an emergency motion Friday morning asking that his clients be given 48 hours notice, Hill denied it.

She ruled that “irreparable harm” would result if INDOT does not have “prompt access” to the property and said contractors could proceed with the survey work “immediately.” Quick access is necessary because of restrictions banning the felling of trees larger than three inches in diameter between April 1 and Nov. 15 for protection of the Indiana bat’s habitat.

“We’ve got to get all of the trees felled by the end of March in the area of construction surveys because of the bat restrictions,” confirmed INDOT spokeswoman Cher Elliott.

Today the H-T has a long story by Dawn Hewitt headed "Indiana bat dictates I-69 work schedule." It begins:
All trees greater than 3 inches in diameter that must come down for construction of I-69 must have been cut by now. Those that weren’t will have to wait until October to be felled — because of a bat.

Female Indiana bats, a species on the federal endangered species list, give birth to their pups under loose bark on big trees between April 1 and Sept. 30.

This time of year, female bats form maternity colonies — about 100 bats each — under the loose bark of old trees, said Lori Pruitt, the endangered species coordinator for the state of Indiana for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Bloomington.

Fourteen such maternity colonies have been found along the route of I-69 in Indiana, including four in Section 4, between Bloomington and southeastern Greene County, according to the highway’s final environmental impact statement.

“By the deadline of April 1, we will have removed all trees 3 inches in diameter or larger that need to be removed for construction purposes on the contracts that have been awarded,” said Cher Elliott, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

There is much more interesting information about Indiana bats in the story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 01, 2012
Posted to Environment | Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions

Ind. Decisions - "Judge denies injunction; Evansville smoking ban to take effect Sunday"

That story by Arek Sarkissian II appeared in yesterday's Evansville Courier & Press. Some quotes:

EVANSVILLE — The rejection of two temporary injunctions against a city smoking ban set to start Sunday left bar and club owners wondering if they should continue fighting, learn to cope or close.

But for officials at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1114, one item of recourse was clear.

“Well, the only thing we can do now is make sure the City Council doesn’t get reelected,” said Randy Muston, quartermaster for the West Side VFW post. “Other than that, we aren’t sure what we’re going to do.”

On Friday afternoon, Judge Robert Pigman denied two injunctions filed by 29 bars and eight private clubs to stop a city smoking ban that takes effect 12 a.m. Sunday.

Vanderburgh County Health Department Director David Gries said his agency shares enforcement of the smoking ban with local law enforcement, but reporting violations is up to the public.

“We’re leaving it in the hands of the clubs and tavern owners to follow the law,” Gries said. “What we’ll rely on is the general public making any calls or complaints, and we’ll follow up on those.”

Today this follow-up story that begins:
Plaintiffs of two failed temporary injunctions against a city smoking ban said on Saturday they plan to meet this week to determine whether they will appeal.

Attorney Les Shively, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of eight private clubs, said he will meet with his clients Monday and reveal their official decision Wednesday in a meeting with Judge Robert Pigman in Vanderburgh County Circuit Court.

Also on Saturday, Joe DeVasier, who owns the Corner Pocket, said he plans to meet on Monday with fellow bar owners to determine the next step.

More quotes:
On Friday afternoon, Pigman ruled against two temporary injunctions accompanying the lawsuits. Berger and Shively argued in court Wednesday that their clients are similar to Casino Aztar, which City Council exempted from the ban. The attorneys said the bars, clubs and Aztar all pay taxes and offer similar entertainment.

Pigman wrote in his ruling that Aztar was liable for different taxes that have a more direct effect on the city. He also ruled Aztar provides a different experience for its customers.

Berger and Shively filed lawsuits on March 12 after City Council voted in the smoking ban on Feb. 13. The smoking ban is a more strict version of one passed last month by the General Assembly, which exempted casinos, bars and private clubs. A clause in the state law allows the city's ban to be enforced because it is more restrictive. Evansville was the first major city in the state to force its bars and private clubs to go smoke free.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 01, 2012
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana Youth Group, a support group for gay youth, is now in the spotlight"

Updating a long list of ILB entries, including this most recent one from March 21st, headed "Fallout over gay youth group's license plate continues: Gay youth support group vows legal fight against state action," the Indianapolis Star today has a long feature story on the organization reported by Chris Sikich that begins:

Indiana Youth Group is the small, and for a time, unnoticed organization at the center of a long-simmering controversy over sexual orientation.

The group helps self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, ages 12-20.

Advocates say it boosts the self-esteem of young people at their most vulnerable age. But conservative activists and politicians disagree with the efforts of the nonprofit, questioning the age-appropriateness of the material it uses.

The debate over issues regarding sexual orientation of the young and old has been a political tempest in Indiana for several years. Republican lawmakers will take their final steps in 2013 to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions -- and that will be settled by popular vote in 2014.

The Indiana Youth Group found itself in the spotlight after some conservatives protested its specialty license plate.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued the plate in December after the nonprofit filed a lawsuit. Less than three months later, state senators found a contractual miscue and convinced the BMV to revoke the plate. The issue likely is headed to the courts.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 01, 2012
Posted to Indiana Government

Law - "Ex-partner in Big Law blogs it all"

From a long story yesterday by Ameet Sachdev of the Chicago Tribune:

Steven Harper had a long and successful career as a trial lawyer. He was a partner at Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation's largest and most prestigious law firms, and made enough money to leave the practice in 2008 at the age of 54.

He hasn't quietly gone into retirement. Harper is one of the most outspoken critics of large law firms, writing a blog titled "The Belly of the Beast" and self-publishing a novel that paints a harsh picture of life inside a big firm.

His transformation hasn't gone unnoticed among friends and former colleagues.

"I was surprised that a guy with all his talent as a trial lawyer would suddenly become a commentator on the business of law," said Fred Bartlit, a former Kirkland partner best known for guiding George W. Bush's legal effort in Florida's disputed election in 2000. "What happened?"

Harper shrugs when asked and says he didn't have an epiphany. His commentary also doesn't come across as the ranting of a frustrated lawyer with deep-seated bitterness that could only be expressed after leaving the profession.

"I was never unhappy at Kirkland," said Harper, who is working on a nonfiction book about the legal profession that will be published next year. "I'm simply observing an evolution of a practice. The practice of law inside large firms in the 1990s was dramatically different than it is today."

Harper spent his entire 30-year career in private practice at Kirkland. He would be regarded as an anachronism in today's large law firm, often colloquially called "Big Law," where lawyers come and go like free agents in professional sports.

Here is the blog, The Belly of the Beast.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 01, 2012
Posted to General Law Related