Colorado businesses, tourism industry and health care officials are scrambling to counteract an ongoing push in the U.S. Senate to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., today was set to introduce legislation to impose a two-year moratorium on the EPA effort, which was first unveiled by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in December. Some accused Jackson at that time of gunning for big polluters like stationary coal-fired power plants to give the Obama administration more ammo headed into United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen.
The U.S. House passed a climate change bill last summer, but the Senate version has been stalled. In January, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, floated a disapproval resolution aimed at forcing Senate debate on whether the EPA should be able to impose penalties on big polluters.
Just this week Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pressed Jackson during a hearing of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, demanding to know whether she preferred a regulatory path or a cap-and-trade solution approved by Congress.
“The Clean Air Act was written by Congress to regulate criteria pollutants, not greenhouse gases, and its implementation remains subject to oversight and guidance from elected representatives,” Murkowski said in a release. “We should continue our work to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation, but in the meantime, we cannot turn a blind eye to the EPA’s efforts to impose back-door climate regulations with no input from Congress.”
Colorado critics say Murkowski and coal-state Democrats like Rockefeller are pandering to entrenched fossil-fuel-based power sources and mining interests at the expense of a growing clean-energy sector like the one currently booming in Colorado.
“We are very concerned that the dialogue that Murkowski is supporting has the priorities wrong: Investing in climate solutions is profitable and creates jobs,” said Paul Sheldon of Natural Capitalism Incorporated, a Longmont-based consulting business. “Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy could generate $440 million in economic development in Colorado and as many as 20,000 new jobs.”
Others say climate change legislation or at least letting the EPA enforce the Clean Air Act as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 goes far beyond mere economics and verges into public health.
“Coal is a particularly dirty and harmful fuel source, both because of its disproportionate contribution of greenhouse gases to the problem of global warming, and because of its production of numerous other air pollutants and environmental toxins,” said Dr. Roberta M. Richardson, president of Colorado-based Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Richardson said PSR, along with other public health organizations such as the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, oppose Murkowski’s resolution because of science-based findings by the EPA and others that “greenhouse gases are air pollutants that threaten human health.”
The ski and outdoor recreation industries, made up of cross-over Colorado businesses touching on both health and economic vitality, are perhaps the most threatened by climate change, advocates say, making climate change legislation or EPA regulation all the more imperative.
“Colorado is a climate state,” said Auden Shendler, director of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. “Colorado’s economy is climate-dependent – whether it’s fishing or hunting, skiing, hiking, ranching or river rafting. At the same time, we’re teed up for solutions, with great sun and wind resources, and a growing green-tech industry.”
And all arguments for stepped-up regulation of coal-fired power plants ultimately seem to circle back to pure economics for many Colorado companies engaged in Gov. Bill Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”
“There are federal lawmakers who are ignoring the science and health experts for short term political gain,” said George Danellis, Principle of The Vector Group, a Steamboat Springs-based consulting firm. “Investments in clean energy would spur innovation and generate economic growth.”