Moffat County grills EPA about Clean Power Plan on Wednesday | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County grills EPA about Clean Power Plan on Wednesday

Noelle Leavitt Riley

Rick Johnson, plant manager for Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station, speaks to nearly 600 people Wednesday night about the EPA's proposed Clean Energy Plan.





Rick Johnson, plant manager for Tri-State Generation & Transmission's Craig Station, speaks to nearly 600 people Wednesday night about the EPA’s proposed Clean Energy Plan.
Lauren Blair

— Hundreds gathered at Moffat County High School on Wednesday night to hear the Environmental Protection Agency talk about its proposed carbon emission plans for coal-fired power plants that are coming down the pike from the Obama administration in the next year.

EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath and other EPA staff visited Craig to discuss the Clean Power Plan and how the EPA is dissecting hundreds of thousands of comments on the issue before recommendations are made to the federal government about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Moffat County residents, coal and power plant employees and government officials quizzed the EPA on the plan, highlighting the fears of what strict federal regulation might do to the local economy.

Concerned officials from Denver, Routt County and Grand Junction — to name a few — also attended.

Public comments concerning the Clean Power Plan must be submitted to the EPA by Oct. 16, and it then will finalize its ruling by March of next year.

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The proposed EPA plan would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by roughly 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, a plan that was announced by the Obama administration in June.

"No matter how many times extremists say carbon dioxide is a pollutant, it does not change the fact that it is not," said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, who invited the EPA to visit Craig.

McGrath had a different take.

"That's inconsistent with what science is telling us. The Supreme Court is confident that carbon dioxide is harmful to human health," McGrath said, citing the 2007 Clean Air Act ruling.

The event opened with McGrath giving a 20-minute speech about the national climate action plan, the EPA's Clean Power Plan, the need for cleaner power as it relates to global warming and a summary of the proposal.

After McGrath spoke, 14 others, including coal miners and local business owners, took the stage to explain the importance of the coal industry to Colorado's economy.

Mardi Anson, who owns Anson Excavating with her husband, Mike Anson, gave a heartfelt speech about how the coal industry affects her life.

"I know that it doesn't matter if you work in the coal mines or around the coal mines, everyone is affected," Anson said about the EPA's proposed regulations.

Roughly 35 percent of Anson Excavating's business used to come from the coal industry.

"With the recent EPA scare, we only did 7 percent in 2013," Anson said. "With more regulations on the mine and power plant … it may cause our business to decline or close."

McGrath assured the audience that the EPA does not want to "shut down" the coal industry.

"There is nothing in our proposal to close a facility. We didn't say, 'Let's close coal-fired power plants,'" he said. "The EPA has done more outreach in building this proposal than any other issue in decades. Colorado has already (taken) considerable steps" to reduce emissions.

The EPA broke down state goals and highlighted that the proposal is not a "one size fits all" model. The proposed rule establishes individual state goals using a national approach, according to McGrath's PowerPoint presentation.

McGrath outlined four state goal building blocks, including carbon dioxide emission reductions in coal fleets, re-dispatch to natural gas combined cycle plants, renewable energy and nuclear energy and demand-side energy efficiency.

Rick Johnson, plant manager for Tri-State Generation & Transmission's Craig Station, interpreted these in a different way, saying the building block's 6 percent heat rate improvement is unrealistic, factors are ignored for 70 percent capacity factor from the natural combined gas cycle and the building blocks ignore existing state laws.

Johnson asked on behalf of Tri-State that the EPA allow more time to develop plans for compliance, as power plant operators and owners think the 2030 deadline is unrealistic. He also wants the EPA to provide more realistic goals that are achievable and for the EPA to reevaluate the state goals and use realistic assumptions.

"We honestly believe that we have a clean power plant," Johnson said.

Yampa Valley Data Partners Executive Director Keith Kramer outlined the economic impacts that the coal industry has on Moffat and Routt counties.

YVDP is a nonpartisan organization that researches economic indicators in Northwest Colorado.

Craig Station specifically contributes $276 million per year in direct spending to the local economy, which includes $51 million in operational and maintenance purchases and an average of $9.1 million spent for scheduled outages. Purchases with local businesses and vendors tally $11.5 million per year, purchases of capital equipment totals more than $17 million per year, and the list went on and on, according to Kramer's presentation.

Kramer also discussed the wages that coal miners make in Northwest Colorado, with Routt County workers making nearly $52.15 per hour and Moffat County workers logging $39.83 per hour.

Christian Reece spoke on behalf of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., about the concerns Tipton has about the EPA's plan.

"It is Congressman Tipton's position that the proposed EPA rules on affordable electricity we have heard about this evening amount to a back-door energy tax that would force states to comply with heavy-handed regulations that will cause the energy costs to skyrocket for countless Americans, kill jobs and further slow the economy," she said.

Local Democrats gave the Craig Daily Press written statements on their positions to the EPA's proposals and climate change.

"We have an obligation to protect our children and future generations from the impacts of climate change," said René Littlehawk-Calicurra, a Moffat County outfitter.

However, not everyone thinks climate change is a threat, including Glenda Bellio, who works at Trapper Mine — a position she expressed to McGrath at the end of the forum.

Likewise, local businessman John Ponikvar, owner of Napa Auto Parts, said one only needs to look upward to see the supposed effects of coal on Northwest Colorado.

“Every day, I feel blessed to live in such a beautiful community that has some of the cleanest and beautiful skies in Colorado,” he said.

Contact Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.