DENVER — A months-long attempt by Republican lawmakers to halt state action on the Clean Power Plan came to a predictable end Wednesday in the Democratic-majority state House.
The House Transportation and Energy Committee shot down two bills attempting to stymie the Clean Power Plan, both on party-line votes. Both proposals started in the Senate and were sponsored by Republican Sens. John Cooke of Greeley and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. Republican Rep. Tim Dore of Elizabeth carried both in the House.
The first proposal would have set up a $5.4 million “ratepayer protection fund” within the Public Utilities Commission to cover any electricity cost increases tied to Colorado’s implementation of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
The bill acknowledged that the Hickenlooper administration had committed to a state plan that would not hike utility rates. Nonetheless, the measure stated that implementing Environmental Protection Agency rules related to the power plan would increase the cost and hinder the reliability of electricity services. As a result, the state should bear the implementation costs, not the ratepayers.
The second proposal was more directly tied to the February 9 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily halt implementation of the Clean Power Plan. That measure would have ordered Colorado to halt its action on the EPA rules related to the Clean Power Plan, noting that the state should not spend money on the federal mandate “that may never be reinstated in its current form.”
A healthy environment is a human right, said House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Denver at a press conference championing the Clean Power Plan held before the hearings.
“We will fight proposals that will make our air dirtier or our water less clean. And we will fight to make sure that every single man, woman, and child in this state can live in a home and a community that is free from pollution.”
Angela Alfaro of the cultural advocacy group Servicios de la Raza told reporters Latinos often live in areas with direct exposure to pollution from power plants and highways.
“Our government should act affirmatively and with resolve to address this major issue,” she said.
The advocacy group Environment Colorado also cheered the transportation committee’s actions. Executive Director Kim Stevens noted the Clean Power Plan’s chief opponents are the biggest global warming polluters.
“We applaud our legislators who sided with our children and future generations today instead of the big polluters,” Stevens said
Wednesday’s committee action marks the end of Republican efforts this session to halt the state’s progress on the Clean Power Plan.
The most significant environmental battle of the session took place during debate over the 2016-17 budget, when the Joint Budget Committee deadlocked over funding the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, which is responsible for implementing a variety of air quality mandates, including the power plan.
Democrats on the budget committee refused to entertain any cuts to the division’s budget. Republicans fought back by not allowing the division to be funded at all, which would have resulted in the layoff of 95 employees and a budget cut of about $8.4 million.
House Democrats restored the division’s funding during the budget debate. Senate Republicans responded by cutting the division’s budget by roughly $328,000, the amount they said it would cost to implement the power plan.
When the budget returned to the Joint Budget Committee, the group compromised on cutting the Air Pollution Control Division budget around $112,000, but without slashing staff.
Republican lawmakers argue the Clean Power Plan, which would require Colorado to cut power plant emissions by 28 percent by 2030, will kill the state’s struggling coal industry.
Arch Coal, the state’s largest coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January. Western Slope lawmakers have said the loss of coal mining jobs has devastated local economies, particularly in Delta County, where more than 800 mining positions have been slashed in the past three years.
Photo credit: Jimmy Thomas, Creative Commons, Flickr.