Commissioners heard before climate plan unveiled | CraigDailyPress.com

Commissioners heard before climate plan unveiled

Collin Smith

— Before Gov. Bill Ritter publicly unveiled his Climate Action Plan at Coors Field on Monday, the Moffat County commissioners were given a chance to give their thoughts.

On Thursday, the commissioners and Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, were part of a conference call with Harris Sherman, Colorado Department of Natural Resources director, and Heidi Van Genderen, the governor’s climate change adviser.

The commissioners have been upset about the lack of communication with state officials during the past year.

Their desire to have more dialogue with the governor’s office is due in part to Ritter’s unannounced flight to the Vermillion Basin in the summer.

That was followed by a letter from Sherman to the Bureau of Land Management, recommending no drilling occur in the basin for the life span of the proposed Little Snake Resource Management Plan, an estimated 15 to 20 years.

The commissioners said they were glad the state government gave them a chance to speak at Thursday’s affair, even if they had doubts they would have an impact.

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“What I hoped to gain from the conference call was to get assurances we would be included in talks before policy is made,” commissioner Tom Gray said. “I didn’t hope to get any changes to (the climate policy). I just wanted to be included.”

The Climate Action Plan is a set of principals to reduce greenhouse emissions. It includes a plan for Ritter to issue an executive order that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

It also includes a provision to promote clean coal technologies in an effort to make coal-powered utilities more environmentally friendly.

Moffat County officials worried the plan would harm Moffat County’s coal mining industry and the TriState power plant in Craig.

Sherman and Van Genderen assured the commissioners that would not be the case.

Coal production is very valuable to Colorado, and the governor does not want to hinder that, Van Genderen said.

“I don’t think anything in the plan would be an onus on those industries,” Van Genderen said. “We want to partner with natural gas companies and coal companies to reduce emissions. We plan to work with utility companies to see what goals work for them.”

Ritter plans to consult with his executive agencies during the next year to examine what coal plant incentives might look like to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she added.

The Moffat County commissioners “will absolutely be asked to participate in that,” Van Genderen said. “We are just at the outset of this process, truly.”

While the plan makes “green” energy sources a priority, it does not call for a phase out of existing coal plants, Sherman said. The goal is to develop new clean coal technologies, which Ritter hopes will make the coal industry able to expand in the future, he added.

Gray also worried the plan’s goals would eventually drive up energy costs in a state where heating is a necessity, not a luxury. If companies are required to invest in new technologies, they may pass the cost onto consumers.

Ritter’s administration is “very aware” that Coloradans enjoy relatively low energy costs, and the state does not want to “upset that apple cart,” Van Genderen said.

“I don’t know if (Ritter) would declare that a foregone conclusion,” Van Genderen said. “But we may be entering the time when energy is getting more expensive for everybody.”

She also pointed out that although the rates may increase slightly, consumers could save money elsewhere, such as needing less energy to heat their homes or gas in their cars, because of the Climate Action Plan’s emphasis on efficiency.

Finally, the commissioners cautioned goals can often become mandates, and a policy like that could be detrimental to Colorado’s future.

This plan, however, is envisioned to be a evolving process and nothing will be written in stone, Sherman said.

He invited the commissioners to call his office with comments when the plan was released.

“Oh, we’ll call you all right,” commissioner Saed Tayyara laughed.

Anyone interested in the plan’s specifics can read it at http://www.colorado.gov/governor. The press release can be found by following the Press Office link.