Northwest Colorado fears Hickenlooper’s CO2 emission plan | SteamboatToday.com

Northwest Colorado fears Hickenlooper’s CO2 emission plan

Patrick Kelly

Craig Station, located in Moffat County, is one of Colorado's largest coal fired power plants. It's operated by Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Despite the federal Clean Power Plan being stalled in the courts, Colorado may still move ahead with plans to reduce green house gas pollution from power plants.

Northwest Colorado is home to two coal fired power plants, and many local officials take issue with what could come from the governor's office.

As reported by the Associated Press earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper helped draft a proposed executive order that would prompt state agencies to continue working on ways to bring 2012 carbon dioxide emission levels down by 35 percent by 2030.

“We have a very rough outline that we are in the process of vetting for input and discussion,” Hickenlooper spokeswoman Kathy Green said in an email to The Associated Press. “No decisions have been made.”

Citing increasing temperatures and weather related to global warming as threats to Colorado's economy, the proposal focuses on state agencies working with utilities to come up with effective pollution reduction while keeping energy prices stable.

Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said in a statement that Hickenlooper's actions might rob citizens of the right to petition government through elected representatives and participate in enacting policy.

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"Executive orders at both the state and federal levels strip citizens of this right," he said. "I’m disappointed that the governor has decided to push regulations that will have a devastating impact on Colorado’s economy, taking jobs away from families and raising energy costs.”

For coal-reliant communities, such as Craig and Moffat County, the executive order could have real implications if it were to become more than a proposal.

According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, a nonprofit research organization, the top 10 taxpayers in Moffat County are all energy related, with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the operator of Colorado's second largest coal-fired power plant, coming in at number one.

In 2014, Tri-State paid $5,762,011 in local taxes — accounting for almost one out of every five dollars collected by the county.

Lee Boughey, Tri-State's senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs, wrote in an email that Hickenlooper's "go-it-alone" strategy was contrary to the "unprecedented stay of flawed federal carbon rules by the U.S. Supreme Court."

In February, The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, halted implementation of President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan until legality is decided. Colorado was one of 29 states to participate in the lawsuit.

The plan set a nationwide goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and provided benchmarks for each state, but will have to survive the courts.

Boughey wrote that an executive order from the governor would put Colorado electricity consumers at risk and make our state less competitive in attracting new businesses, all while continuing to further depress communities reliant on the energy sector.

"We urge Governor Hickenlooper not to issue an executive order and instead await the decision of the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme courts," he wrote.

In the meantime, utilities such as Tri-State and Xcel energy are continuing to work with Hickenlooper's office to create workable solutions.

Xcel operates the coal fired power plant in Routt County called Hayden Station.

Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said his company has had time to discuss the proposed order with the governor but because it is only a draft, he couldn't comment in detail.

"Xcel Energy is appreciative of the opportunity to discuss the policies being considered by Gov. John Hickenlooper," he wrote in an email. "We are pleased that our 2016 filings are in sync with his objectives for Colorado's energy future."

In 2015, Xcel initiated a $160 million project to improve emission controls at Hayden Station and currently is at a 26 percent reduction from 2005 carbon dioxide levels in Colorado, with plans to achieve a 35 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.

Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said he would not comment on the proposal until he knows the specifics because of his seat on the state Air Quality Control Commission.

"I've got to be neutral in how I sit on the board," he said. "I can't go in there with a preconceived idea."

Grobe said if the executive order became official, it would be the commission reviewing proposals by the Air Quality Control Division for achieving the emission reduction goal.

"We just approve what the division comes up with on a solution, if we agree with it," he said.

For Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, the draft executive action is a "misguided effort."

"I think jumping ahead of the (Environmental Protection Agency) on these things just backfires on us," he said.

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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