Senate passes final step to Clean Air, Clean Jobs, approves new PUC chair

Last session, arguably the most critical piece of environmental legislation passed by Colorado lawmakers was the landmark Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, which mandated the shuttering of several Front Range coal-fired power plants and conversion of others to natural gas or renewable energy sources. This session, the legislature just completed the final step in implementing the law that was so bitterly opposed by Colorado’s coal industry last year.

Sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, House Bill 1291 (pdf) passed out of the Senate 25-10 on Wednesday after clearing the House by a 58-7 vote earlier this month. The bill approves Colorado’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP), which was released in January and outlines how Colorado will reduce emissions to comply with current federal regional haze standards.

“This is the final piece of the puzzle for Clean Air, Clean Jobs,” Pam Kiely, program director for Environment Colorado, said in a release. “Today the legislature has answered Coloradans’ call for clean air and a stronger economy by finalizing a plan that makes Colorado the envy of the nation.”

Colorado’s coal industry has launched a concerted and ongoing campaign to undermine Clean Air, Clean jobs, going so far as to run ads critical of the methane leaked by natural gas drilling and pipelines. Natural gas is generally believed to release about 50 percent of the carbon dioxide that coal generates when it’s burned to produce electricity.

With the backing of several Republican lawmakers, the Colorado coal lobby blasted outgoing Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairman Ron Binz for his role in helping to shape Clean Air, Clean Jobs.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate unanimously confirmed Joshua Epel as the new chairman of the PUC. Epel was the assistant general counsel for the natural gas processing company DCP Midstream, where he was in charge of environmental, public health and safety matters. Epel also served as chairman of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates natural gas drilling in the state.

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