On Monday, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to finalize new clean air rules that environmentalists say will be a major step toward reducing global warming.
Opponents, however, claim the rules will drive up electricity rates for consumers and harm Colorado’s coal industry.
The Clean Power Plan has been in the works for two years. It seeks to set the first nationwide limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, power plants account for 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA believes the rules will result in a 30 percent reduction of CO2 emissions nationwide by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
Thursday, environmental groups held a “solar picnic” in Denver to support the Clean Power Plan. Environmental activists asked about 100 in attendance to contact Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, to urge his support for the EPA rules.
Kim Stephens of Environment Colorado said the plan “will speed Colorado and the rest of the country toward a clean energy future, one that draws 100 percent of its energy from renewables.” In addition, this plan is a “key piece to an international agreement on climate change,” she explained.
Emissions contribute to climate change, and Coloradans know it, Stephens said. Because of climate change, farmers have to adjust their growing seasons, she said. Ski and snowboard resorts are seeing shorter seasons.
The EPA says that CPP will cut “hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful particle pollution, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.” That will be better for the health of the most vulnerable Americans, such as children and seniors, the EPA explained.
The CPP is made up of two rules. First issued in 2013 and modified last year, the rules impact power plants that generate electricity through natural gas or coal. The first rule sets national limits on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions a natural gas or coal-fired plant can produce. The second rule sets goals for each state for CO2 reduction. Under the goals set by the EPA, Colorado could lower its CO2 emissions by 35 percent by 2030.
Opponents argue the plan will cost the nation jobs and result in higher electricity costs.
The Institute for Energy Research, an energy industry-funded non-profit, claims the Clean Power Plan will result in the loss of one million jobs and cause higher electricity costs, and will threaten the nation’s electric power grid.
“Even if the wind energy industry tripled in size over the next two decades, these job losses will overwhelm any modest gains in the subsidized wind industry,” according to an Institute press release. These regulations, combined with others on mercury standards and cross-state pollution, are the most expensive in the EPA’s forty-year history, the Institute said this week.
Lee Boughey handles public affairs for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the state’s largest wholesale supplier of electricity to 44 rural electric co-ops. He said Friday that until they see a final rule, “it is impossible to predict the impacts on Tri-State and Colorado rural electric cooperatives.” He noted that co-ops expressed legal and technical concerns during the rulemaking process. “We hope the EPA took those concerns seriously and will address them in the final rules,” Boughey told The Colorado Independent.
But most importantly, he said, when the final rules are released, “we are committed to working with Colorado officials to create a plan that will continue to allow the state’s co-ops to serve members with affordable and reliable electricity.”
The impact on Colorado’s coal industry could be devastating, according to Watchdog.org, an investigative media outlet tied to the Koch brothers-funded Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Watchdog.org claimed yesterday Colorado could lose 17,000 jobs in the coal industry. The National Mining Association said that every job in coal creates four others, so the total impact could be up to 74,000 jobs lost in the state.
But the CPP does have the support of the Hickenlooper administration. In May, Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who had sent a letter in March to the governors of all 50 states, urging them to ignore the CPP.
“Colorado is already a leader in reducing carbon emissions from power plants, on track to hit an estimated 20 percent reduction over 2012 emissions ‒ and we have done this all while keeping energy rates affordable,” Hickenlooper wrote. “We will continue to engage with our industry to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan, as required by federal law.”
Although complying with the Clean Power Plan will be a challenge, “states tackle problems of this magnitude on a regular basis. We think it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law, and that is why we intend to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan,” he concluded.
Once the finalized rules come out on Monday, opponents have 60 days for challenges, either in Congress or in court. Congressional Republicans vow to fight the rules, but any bill headed to the President’s desk will likely be vetoed and Congress lacks a veto-proof majority. The stronger challenge is likely to come from trade associations and states that may file suit against the EPA.
Photo credit: Señor Codo, Creative Commons, Flickr.