Rep. Scott Tipton and the WildEarth Guardians butt heads over coal energy | CraigDailyPress.com
Erin Fenner

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Rep. Scott Tipton and the WildEarth Guardians butt heads over coal energy

Scott Tipton

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., came out strongly against a letter released by the WildEarth Guardians, an environmentalist group that challenged Western Area Power Administration's relationship to coal energy.

"The WildEarth Guardians letter, which reads like a blueprint for a lawsuit, demands that WAPA force non-federal entities to take up WildEarth Guardians agenda at ratepayer expense and in derogation of their goals and WAPA's core mission — which is to provide low-cost energy. This litigation threat letter singles out certain rural electric cooperatives which provide power to thousands of homes and businesses in the 3rd District of Colorado and specifically targets the Craig Generating Station," Tipton said in a press release.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director of the WildEarth Guardians, said the letter was meant to open discussion and not as a prelude to a lawsuit. He said it was to point out that WAPA was not considering environmental impact in regards to its coal plant energy consumers.

WAPA has "got to come up with a plan on how you're going to reduce environmental impact." Nichols said. The letter was meant to point out to WAPA, "You're not really scrutinizing the environmental impacts of your customers' portfolios."

This assertion did not look tame, according to Tipton.

"Put bluntly, WildEarth Guardians asks that WAPA stop approving power sales to entities which continue to provide low-cost, reduced-emission energy from the Craig Station in my district. This is market manipulation at its worst, and it calls on rural families and small businesses to pay the tab for WildEarth Guardians unfounded demands," Tipton said in a press release.

But Nichols said it was crucial for WAPA to consider how it indirectly or directly supports coal power plants, which he suggested should stop being a primary source of power. While it was a challenge to WAPA, it was not a legal one, he said.

"This is just broaching the issue, that's how we do things in America. We send letters to our officials. We'll see where it goes," he said.

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he was relieved there wasn't a threat of a lawsuit.

"It's good to know that the Guardians don't intend to initiate legal action," he said. "And, if there are things WAPA can do differently, and that would be better, that would be ok too; as long as the consumer comes out in the end."

The WildEarth Guardians should consider the negative impact regulation would have on WAPA, Kinkaid said.

"I can't speak to whether WAPA needs to change procedures about how they're doing things," he said. "I am concerned if we created too much bureaucracy for them to do their job effectively."

Kinkaid also said there was an error in the letter.

According to the WildEarth Guardians letter, Craig Station "discharges air emissions and water effluent into the Yampa River drainage, which supports populations and critical habitat for the endangered razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow."

Kinkaid contested one of the premises in that statement.

"The truth is that Craig station is a zero-discharge power plant," he said. "So whatever water they take in does not go back into the river."

While coming out against coal fire power plants, Nichols said they want to support a federal effort to phase out traditional plants while keeping jobs.

"I really challenge the WAPA to step up here and use the power of its power … to try to help the rural western U.S. to deal with the liabilities of coal that doesn't put the community at a disadvantage," Nichols said. "I think we're a long ways away but this is a starting point."

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@cragidailypress.com.