Officials attempt to answer H.B. 10-1365 questions

Congressman to attend Steamboat jobs fair

The Northwest Region of the Colorado Workforce Investment Board announced Thursday that Republican Congressman Scott Tipton will be attending a local job fair today in Steamboat Springs.

The event, sponsored by the Colorado Workforce Center, will feature worker assistance training sessions in addition to employee recruitment.

The job fair will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Olympian Hall, Howelsen Ski Area, 845 Howelsen Parkway.

Twenty-one employers will be participating in the job fair, including: One Steamboat Place, Resort Group, Steamboat Resorts, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation, World Wide Services and Twentymile Coal Company.

Rosemary Pettus, Northwest Colorado director for the Colorado Workforce Center, encourages Craig and Moffat County residents to attend.

There will be an opportunity for employers and business owners to speak with Tipton about the economy and general concerns before the job fair from 10 to 10:45 a.m.

For more information, contact Brian Bradbury at the Steamboat Workforce Center at 879-3075 or bbradbury@cwfc.net.

For Darcy Owens-Trask, director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, questions about coal miner retraining as a result of Colorado House Bill 10-1365 can be summed up in one word.

Accountability.

However, Owens-Trask believes state legislators and the Public Utilities Commission may be trying to back out of a pledge to provide worker retraining funds should the local coal mining industry be forced to shed jobs.

“In H.B.1365, I believe it was the legislators’ intent to take into account coal-producing regions,” Owens-Trask said. “Worker retraining funds are apart of the legislation and the PUC decision.

“Whether or not we lose a single job because of H.B. 1365 is irrelevant. It is my job to advocate on behalf of those folks (miners) and this is the method we are going to invite the PUC to live up to their comments.”

H.B.10-1365, also known as the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, was passed in the state legislature in March 2010. It assists Xcel Energy in converting three Front Range power plants from coal to natural gas by 2018.

The three power plants slated for conversion are the Cherokee and Arapahoe generating stations just north of Denver and the Valmont generating station in Boulder.

Because coal mined in the Yampa Valley has been a contributing source of fuel for Front Range power plants in the past, questions have surfaced about what will happen to local coal miners when those Front Range contracts are no longer needed.

Thirteen state officials and representatives from the mining and utilities industries attended a second meeting Thursday in Steamboat Springs in an effort to answer some of those questions, including:

• What is the anticipated job loss?

• What federal funds are available to assist with worker retraining programs?

• What legal avenues are available to local advocates should the PUC back out of its commitment to help fund worker retraining efforts?

Many of those questions remain unanswered.

According to a presentation by Keith Hay, demand side analyst representing the PUC, Peabody Energy’s Twentymile Mine could be affected the most by the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act because it has 27 percent of its current coal contracts wrapped up with Cherokee (24 percent) and Valmont (three percent) generating stations.

Owens-Trask said those numbers could lead some to assume that without those contracts, Twentymile may be required to release 27 percent of its workforce.

But Hay was reluctant to make that leap, and said he was unable to comment further on a specific number of potential job losses because of insufficient public data.

“In other words, I could not find anything in my research that says it takes X amount of employees to produce Y amount of coal,” Hay said. “So, I am uncomfortable trying to give you a specific number of how many jobs would be lost if those contracts go away because I don’t think I have the data I need at this point to support it.”

News about possible federal assistance for worker retraining was also limited.

Rosemary Pettus, Northwest Colorado director of the Colorado Workforce Center, said Workforce Investment Act funding is distributed in two ways: through formula funds and grants.

Northwest Colorado already receives annual formula funds for worker retraining and relocation, which are shared among Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.

Currently, federal formula funds are sufficient enough to retrain or relocate only 28 unemployed workers throughout the region each year and additional funding to assist coal miners in the future is unlikely, Pettus said.

In addition, Pettus doesn’t believe the region can depend on federal grants because:

• Only four federal WIA grants were awarded last year.

• The federal government does not have a pot of money to serve special needs such as worker retraining.

• Regions must wait for the federal government to announce grants that may correlate with current needs.

• Grants are limited and very specific.

Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner said the Colorado Attorney General’s Office has decided to investigate the legality of requiring the PUC to provide funds for worker retraining and is currently drafting an opinion.

However, that opinion is not yet available to the public.

Despite the unanswered questions, some officials attending the Thursday meeting felt their efforts to provide a safety net for displaced miners are not in vain.

Craig Mayor Terry Carwile, who is also a retired employee of Trapper Mine, said never in his lifetime has there been such a compassionate response to potential job losses at local coal mines.

But, he conceded that miners are resourceful people and they’ll figure out what to do with their lives long before the government steps in to help.

“If you look back historically at miners who have lost jobs, they’ve started their own businesses, gone to work elsewhere or gone to school to get a better job,” Carwile said. “Miners are resourceful people and I think that is what will happen to a great extent before anything governmentally can be deployed to help them.

“I think the problem will be solved by the miners themselves.”

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