Readying for Round 2
September 18, 2010
If you go
What: Colorado Public Utilities Commission public comment hearing
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: PUC offices, 1560 Broadway St., in Denver, Suite 250, hearing room A
— The PUC will hear public comment on Xcel Energy’s emissions reduction plan required by Colorado House Bill 10-1365. Anyone may comment to the PUC except those who have already testified. The PUC stated it will try to accommodate everyone hoping to speak.
Brian Bevel, a coal miner on the long-wall bull gang at Twentymile Coal Co., has good reason to travel next week to Denver to testify before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Xcel Energy's emissions reduction plan required by Colorado House Bill 10-1365.
The bill is more commonly known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.
"My motivation is my job," he said Friday as he prepared for his night shift at the mine.
Bevel's family has been living in the area for about 100 years. He said he plans to someday retire from Twentymile.
Bevel is one of many Twentymile and other local mine workers, community members and business owners planning to testify against Xcel's plan to retire 903 megawatts of coal generation at two Front Range power plants.
"I know some people are saying this won't directly affect us, but … if they are going to switch over to natural gas, it could affect our jobs up here which could affect this whole community," he said.
The PUC will hear public comment from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday in Denver at the PUC offices in hearing room A at 1560 Broadway St., Suite 250.
The PUC also hosted a public comment hearing Aug. 30 in Grand Junction. Hundreds of coal miners from the Western Slope attended that hearing, as well.
Bevel hopes to see more coal miners and community members at the PUC's Denver hearing.
"There are going to be a lot more of the people in favor of the bill … down there," he said.
A spokeswoman from Peabody Energy, which owns Twentymile, said the company would provide several buses for employees to attend the meeting.
Bevel attended the Grand Junction hearing, but did not have a chance to testify — something he hopes to change Thursday.
"That is on the day that I am scheduled to work so I'll be missing a day to do it," he said. "But, it's for our future, so I am more than happy to do it."
For Ryan Holmlund, a blast helper at Trapper Mining Co., the decision to attend the PUC hearing in Denver was an easy one.
"It's everybody's duty to kind of stick up for everybody if you live in a community that is reliant on that industry and (ours) truly is reliant on the coal industry," he said.
Holmlund, who testified in Grand Junction, said he plans to attend to support his wife, mother-in-law and oldest son — all coal industry employees.
"I think there are a lot of people that don't understand the benefit coal brings to their lives every day," he said. "If they don't understand, they need to find out. Somebody needs to be there to give them some education and help them understand that we are doing something good with coal."
Holmlund echoed Bevel's thoughts on getting more Northwest Colorado residents to attend the PUC hearing.
"I could see where if there isn't a thousand coal miners there expressing their opinions and helping to maybe stifle this legislation, I just hate to think that we would be out-numbered," he said.
Jeff Pleasant, co-owner of Rehabilitation Services of Craig, plans to attend the hearing to explain to the PUC that if emissions reduction plans are approved, they will affect more than just the coal industry.
"When those people have to pull stakes and leave town so they can make ends meet, it affects everybody," he said. "How many other businesses are going to go down the tubes because they don't have anybody to support them?"
Pleasant contends the community might not realize the consequences of the plans, if approved.
"Once the ball gets rolling downhill, it is going to take everybody else down with it," he said. "Who is going to survive it?"
The Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership is also getting behind the coal industry and plans to send representatives to the PUC's hearing, EDP Director Darcy Trask said.
"We will carry a message that acknowledges how critical the coal mining industry is to our local community," Trask said.
John Kinkaid, a control room operator at Tri-State Generation & Transmission's Craig Station, said he would attend the PUC hearing with his son, who works at Twentymile.
"This is his first real job with benefits and a salary that he can live on," he said of his son. "So this is huge for him."
Kinkaid also hopes to enlighten the PUC on economic benefits of the coal industry to the communities in the area, he said.
"It is my understanding that we would lose hundreds of good paying mining jobs, many of whom shop and live in Craig," he said.
Kinkaid said he and many others who work at the Craig Station feel the bill is "a slap at our face."
"Our contention is that we live here and we are putting out the cleanest air that we possibly can and we have invested a lot of money to improve air quality," he said.
Tami Barnes, a write-in candidate for Moffat County Commission District 2, said she would attend the meeting in support of the community and her husband, Rick, an equipment operator at Trapper Mining Co.
"This is our livelihood and the three people sitting on the PUC board are … going to decide our fate and they have never even lived our lives," she said. "They need to come up here and live with a miner for a month and see how we live our lives and how we depend on coal."
Rick Barnes said most residents are only talking about the hundreds of jobs that could be lost if the plans are approved, but they also need to look at financial impacts the bill would have on energy consumers.
"Every person, if they go ahead with this plan from Xcel and they enact it, every household, every business, is going to see an increase in their utility bills," he said.
Moreover, Rick said he was "fed up with the government" and "the way they are trying to run our lives."
Rick is unsure, however, if the community's support for the coal industry will have an affect on the PUC's decision.
"All we can do is voice our opinion and give them evidential statements of what will happen if this goes through," he said.
Forrest Luke, environmental manager for Trapper Mining Co., attended the PUC hearing in Grand Junction and said he was pleased with what he saw.
But, Luke said area coal miners and community members will have to "put some pressure" on the PUC before they will take their concerns into consideration.
"The whole process was kind of hatched behind closed doors, so I think they just wanted to quietly pass the legislation and pass the implementation without anyone noticing," he said. "I think the fact that somebody has noticed, (and) the more pressure that we put on them, they are going to have to listen whether they want to or not."