Taking one for the natural gas team: Penry backs Ritter clean air plan

Gov. Bill Ritter’s Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act brought together some strange bedfellows this morning in the west foyer of the State Capitol in Denver, with frequent Ritter energy-policy critic Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, joining in a press conference to announce the bill.

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But Penry, one of the main Senate sponsors, clearly sees a bump for his district’s languishing natural gas industry if the plan becomes law. First unveiled earlier this month, the bill, which has the backing of utility heavyweight Xcel Energy, would cut nitrogen oxide emissions at Xcel coal-fired plants by up to 80 percent over the next eight years by retrofitting or shuttering several metro-area plants.

Not surprisingly, natural gas industry officials love the idea because the Xcel plants would have to be retrofitted to use mostly gas, which is produced in abundance in Colorado and burns 50-percent cleaner than coal. And the goal of the bill is to get Colorado out ahead of more stringent EPA rules that will penalize greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Potential pitfalls include the volatility of gas prices compared to coal, and the ongoing environmental concerns about the impacts of natural gas drilling on air and water quality, especially on the state’s Western Slope.

Penry, joined in the House by gas-patch Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, supports Ritter’s bill for fairly transparent reasons. Switching from coal to gas in Colorado means lower emissions and more drilling jobs on the Western Slope.

But Penry hasn’t always been so transparent in his relentless support for oil and gas industry interests. While simultaneously blasting any Obama administration initiatives aimed at addressing environmental concerns on public lands, Penry also has been behind groups like the Western Skies Coalition, a nonprofit set up to green wash Republican candidates and attack any new enviro regs as anti-gas, anti-jobs.

Ritter, lawmakers and other experts were slated to testify on the merits of the bill before the House Transportation and Energy Committee later this morning.

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