Gov. Bill Ritter signed Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, into law Monday in Denver surrounded by bill supporters.
But there was little celebration among coal miners in Craig.
Michael Kirby, an electrician at Colowyo Coal Co., said if he could have been at the bill signing, he would have given Ritter “an earful.”
“Not only are you going to cut out jobs instantly when you pass a bill like that, but I don’t think they actually researched what it takes to convert these power plants,” Kirby said. “The cost is going to come right down to who is going to pay for it, which is going to be the consumer.
“It’s a lose-lose battle.”
The bill, introduced in the House on March 15 and approved in the Senate on March 31, requires some Front Range power plants to submit an “emission reduction plan” and “the plans have to give primary consideration to replacing or re-powering coal-fired electric generators with natural gas and to also consider other low-emitting resources including energy efficiency.”
Kirby said consumers and coal miners will be hurt by the legislation.
“Coal is our livelihood,” he said. “It is what keeps our families going and with the cut backs that have already taken place, the future is not looking too good for us.”
Mike Warne, a Colowyo maintenance planner who has worked for the company for 30 years, said the bill is unfairly targeting coal.
“They are focusing on green environment and coal miners are focused on that, as well,” he said. “But coal gets a bad rap because it is black and yucky, but the technology is there to burn it clean.”
Like Kirby, Warne isn’t happy with Ritter’s decision.
“I think he has got his mind made up regardless of the facts,” he said. “We’re for green energy but that doesn’t exclude coal. That should include coal.”
Several local officials opposed the bill before it passed, including the Moffat County Commission, which sent a letter of opposition to state legislators March 25. State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, also opposed the bill.
White said the bill would harm the coal industry in Northwest Colorado and could mean a loss of jobs at Twentymile Coal Co., which supplies coal to the power plants impacted by the bill.
Ritter said in a news release that the law “is a template for tomorrow that allows us to transform our energy portfolio, our economy, and our environment …
“By shifting our oldest and least efficient coal plants to cleaner, Colorado-produced natural gas, we send a strong message to the rest of the country that we absolutely can cut air pollution and protect public health, while also creating jobs and protecting ratepayers.”
Warne disagrees with Ritter.
“The natural gas will cost more to fire the power plants so utilities are going up,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. Coal can be cleaned up and it can burn clean and it’s a cheaper fuel than natural gas.”
Cody Bebensee, a Colowyo warehouse yard technician, said Ritter “didn’t consider these towns up here (when) looking at the bill.”
“I think if he would have known (the impact), he would have thought a lot harder about it, but I don’t think he looked into it all that much,” he said.
Bebensee said the way the bill was handled and the speed in which it passed is “disappointing.”
“Most of us are just (angry) about the whole process of the way it went,” he said. “I think a lot of us have theories that the gas companies are putting big bundles of money on their desks and pushed the bill through without considering anybody else.”
In a news release, the Colorado Mining Association condemned the bill, which was “crafted behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with little opportunity for study or debate.”
“This legislation is decidedly anti-coal,” CMA President Stuart Sanderson said in the release. “It will hurt Colorado coal production, which already suffered dramatic losses in 2009.”
Ray DuBois, Trapper Mining Company president and general manager, said he “can’t specifically say that Ritter is anti-coal, but his policies and actions certainly don’t favor coal.”
Although DuBois said it is hard to know how the bill will affect the coal industry in Northwest Colorado, he did agree that it could mean “substantial” lost jobs in addition to the “trickle down effect of how many jobs each coal job creates.”
DuBois said he doesn’t agree that the bill will create jobs in the state gas industry, either.
“What I am hearing out of the gas industry is that there is a high likelihood that the natural gas to feed these plants will come from out of the state,” he said. “Even if they bring in people to retrofit these plants, I would be interested to see how many of those would be in-state jobs. I would speculate that those would be out of state jobs as well.
“It is not what it says it is. It is not a clean air, clean jobs bill. It’s not that at all.”