Coloradans Rejoice and Despair Over EPA’s Clean Power Plan

As expected, today, the Obama administration announced the release of final rules creating the Clean Power Plan.

In announcing the CPP, President Barack Obama said this generation is the first “to feel climate change – and the last that can do something about it.”

The emissions standards established in the Clean Power Plan will require a 32 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 2005 levels, according to the president. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 166 million cars, he said.

The finalized rules released by the Environmental Protection Agency on Sunday are more ambitious than the draft rules issued last year, according to Inside Climate News.

Many environmental groups in Colorado cheered the final release of the rules. Several pointed out that Colorado is already well on its way to complying with the new standards, given the state’s progress on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Carrie Curtiss, deputy director of Conservation Colorado, said the state has more than a decade of experience in reducing carbon pollution. “The new EPA standards will allow us to continue our leadership, advancing clean energy solutions and tackling the most pressing issue of our time, climate change,” she said.

Curtiss added that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which will help develop the state implementation plan, is well-equipped to reduce carbon pollution, given its successful track record in reducing Colorado’s brown cloud, and passing methane pollution safeguards.

The Small Business Majority’s John Arensmeyer said the new rules will create new market opportunities for small businesses. He added that polling shows a majority of small business owners support the EPA’s efforts to reduce emissions, and that a majority of entrepreneurs believe clean energy investing will stimulate the economy and create jobs.

The President cited several major companies that have already taken steps to reduce their own climate change impacts, such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and General Motors. In addition, several hundred companies last week signed a letter of support for the Clean Power Plan that went to 29 governors of the National Governors Association. That included Colorado companies like Aspen Skiing Company and New Belgium Brewing Company.

Critics claim the rules will force the closure of coal-fired power plants and cost a million jobs.

The impact on Colorado varies, depending on who you ask. The National Mining Association said in a 2012 report that nearly 74,000 jobs are tied to the coal mining industry in Colorado. That includes 17,000 direct jobs in coal mining and another 57,000 in indirect jobs. However, the Economic Policy Institute reported the total number of direct jobs is much lower, about 24,000 nationwide, with a total direct and indirect job loss of 96,000.

Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado, said today that this “very strict, and extreme, so-called power plan is dirty, expensive and unnecessary. What we are seeing is a job-killing ideological push that will increase energy costs on Colorado families.”

Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said Senate Republicans will offer legislation next session to require full public hearings and approval from the Public Utilities Commission before any state agency “adopts rules to implement this costly electric power generation mandate in Colorado. This President continues to show complete disdain for Congress with another end-run around the legislative process. The liberal extremists are conspiring with the White House to eviscerate federalism, the separation of powers and state’s rights.”

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, called on Gov. John Hickenlooper to “commit to a true public process, including a rigorous review by the people’s representatives in the Colorado General Assembly, before giving a green light to Colorado’s implementation of this new federal mandate.”

Last year, 12 states filed suit against the EPA, attempting to block the rules. But a federal judge tossed the suit in April, calling it premature. Now that the rules are final, more lawsuits are sure to follow. At least two states have already announced their intention to sue, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallon issued an executive order in April that would bar her state from complying with the CPP requirement that each state come up with its own state implementation plan.

Congressional Republicans have also introduced legislation that would allow states to opt-out of power plant regulations. The House voted 247-180 in June to put the CPP on hold until its court challenges are completed, but that is a guaranteed veto from the president.

The Clean Power Plan does leave the administration open to criticism from some environmental organizations. In Colorado, Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians told The Colorado Independent today that the Obama administration is trying to have it “both ways.”

WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department last year, seeking to block the expansion of two coal mines near Craig, Colorado. A federal judge in May ruled that the Interior Department had approved the expansion illegally.

Nichols, the organization’s climate and energy program director, said Monday that the CPP “has been a major contradiction that we’ve seen with the administration. They get ‘props’ for cutting carbon from smokestacks, but at the same time the Interior Department is propping up the coal industry and keeping it viable. This is hugely inconsistent,” he said.

Nichols said the Interior Department is undermining what the EPA is trying to accomplish. He pointed to a hearing on the Clean Power Plan rules held in Denver a year ago. The very same day, the Interior Department was auctioning off coal leases in western Colorado from its Lakewood office.

“It’s a vivid example of how much the Interior Department is out of step,” Nichols said.

He hopes that with the Clean Power Plan Obama is signaling to his agencies that he expects progress, and that the message gets to the Interior Department.

According to an EPA fact sheet, fossil fuels will continue to be a “critical component of America’s energy future. The Clean Power Plan simply makes sure that fossil fuel-fired power plants will operate more cleanly and efficiently, while expanding the capacity for zero- and low-emitting power sources.”


Photo credit: Greg Goebel, Creative Commons, Flickr.

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