The Moffat County Commission took action on a bill Thursday the commissioners believe could reduce coal mining jobs in Moffat County.
During a special meeting, the commission approved, 3-0, to send a letter of opposition to state senators and representatives regarding Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the “Clean Air - Clean Jobs Act.”
The bill, which was introduced into the state senate Tuesday, would require some Front Range rate-regulated, coal-fired power plants to be retired, retrofitted with emissions-reducing technology, or re-powered to be fueled by natural gas, or other low energy emitting sources.
It requires that power plants 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.”
In the opposition letter, the commission wrote, “Moffat County is directly negatively impacted by the implications of HB 10-1365.”
The commission cited that Moffat County provides about 25 percent of Colorado’s market share of coal.
“The coal industry is vital to our economic health and provides high-paying jobs that have no likely offset by additional gas production from our county,” the commissioners wrote in the letter.
Twentymile Coal Co., which is in Routt County but employs many Moffat County residents, supplies coal to at least one plant on the Front Range and could be affected by the legislation.
“I believe it is an anti-pollution bill, but they haven’t taken into account the anti-coal part,” Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said. “It might be put out as anti-pollution, but it has a direct effect on the coal market.”
Mathers contends Xcel Energy, which owns plants that could be affected by the potential legislation, has alternative motives for supporting the bill.
“If a power-generating station wants to go to natural gas…there is nothing to say they can’t go to natural gas,” he said. “They’re looking for a way to go to natural gas and get paid to do it.
“I think it’s all about dollars, the whole thing.”
Mathers is also concerned about the bill’s potential effect on jobs in Moffat County.
“Are we going to let environmentalists and the EPA shut down all of America?” he said. “That is what is happening. There are too many rules and regulations that is making it too hard for any jobs to exist.
“We’re going to put ourselves right into starvation.”
Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Henley said the company would not speculate on jobs potentially being lost if the bill were to pass.
“We’re going to do a study, where we are going to go through the process to see what the options are,” he said. “What is going to be most beneficial to all customers, what is going to be most cost effective both in the current term and long term.”
Commissioner Audrey Danner said she is concerned with the manner in which the bill has been handled.
“This bill was prepared for over a year with the gas industry and that is pitting one industry against the other,” she said. “If you wanted to have a good bill that meets both sides of the equation — gas and coal — you would have had them all at the table I assume.”
Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy group, said the process in which the bill was developed “is just bad policy.”
“This discussion has been going on for a year and there is no excuse, nor any reason, that this bill should have been kept so quiet for so long and then dumped in everyone’s lap in the waning stages of the legislative session,” Brown said.
Brown also believes that the government should not be “implying judgment on different energy sources.”
“The appropriate role for government is to establish the rules and regulations that concern energy development, to establish the emissions standards, to establish the penalties for non-compliance, and then leave it up to the free market to come up with the best approach to meet those requirements,” he said.
Mathers said the bill is “another Ritter back-door deal that we in Northwest Colorado are going to pay for.”
“The state has learned well from the federal government on how to have back door meetings because this should have been brought out way long ago,” he said. “The coal companies ought to have been brought to the table.
“All of the sudden it’s almost done and we just heard about it.”
State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said he is opposing the bill as well.
“I hate to see two constituencies that I care about in conflict with each other but in this situation I’m supporting the coal industry,” he said.
He said the bill could lead to a loss of jobs in the Northwest Colorado coal industry.
“I believe that if this bill passes, it will do more serious damage to the coal industry than will be done to the oil and gas industry if this bill fails,” he said. “I’m trying to pick winners and losers and I think the biggest loser here is the coal industry.”