Moffat County’s federal legislators say they’re not against coal |

Moffat County’s federal legislators say they’re not against coal

Collin Smith

Moffat County’s congressional representation said it is committed to coal’s future.

Democrats John Salazar – Moffat County’s U.S. representative – senator-elect Mark Udall and Sen. Ken Salazar said they support coal and all other domestic energy resources as a means to achieve energy independence.

John Salazar and Udall made similar statements during their recent election campaigns, as well, when they visited the Tri-State power plant in Craig this October.

However, members of the Moffat County Commission and Craig City Council recently expressed concern that new leadership in Washington, D.C., may degrade the coal industry’s vitality.

They worried that aggressive funding of government programs for renewable energy could cause traditional fossil fuel industries to suffer.

Of specific concern for some was the Democratic takeover of the country’s federal leadership, marked with Democratic president-elect Barack Obama’s victory and Udall’s ascension to the Senate after being a U.S. representative for Colorado’s second congressional district.

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Moffat County is heavily dependent on the local coal industry, local government officials said, which includes three nearby mines and the Tri-State power plant.

Commissioner Tom Gray said the coal industry is the community’s largest employer and one of its largest taxpayers.

Each of Moffat County’s three federal legislators, though, reiterated their “all of the above” positions. America must utilize all its resources to meet energy demands and achieve energy independence.

“Coal is a very important part of becoming energy-independent,” John Salazar said.

He added he wants to “make sure” the federal government fully funds clean-coal technology initiatives, such as carbon sequestration, which traps carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere.

His brother – Colorado’s now-senior senator – Ken Salazar shares many of the same views, said Matt Lee-Ashley, the senator’s Washington office spokesman.

“If America is going to be serious about reducing its dependence on foreign energy, coal is going to have to be a big part of the country’s energy portfolio,” Lee-Ashley said.

Ken Salazar has a track record of supporting energy development, he added, including advocating for “responsible” offshore oil exploration and funding clean-coal programs.

At the same time, however, the senator believes a true all-of-the-above approach includes developing renewables.

“The bottom line is Colorado has about 17,000 natural gas wells now, and the projections are we will increase that,” Lee-Ashley said. “Senator Salazar supports that. But, as we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to support wind and solar, as well.”

The senator sees a burgeoning renewables industry as an opportunity for rural Colorado, Lee-Ashley said.

So does Udall, Colorado’s new junior senator, said Tara Trujillo, a spokesperson for the senator-elect’s Denver office.

Udall’s “first goal is to create more jobs in Colorado, whether they come from wind farms or coal plants,” Trujillo said. “When it comes to coal energy production, oil and gas drilling and renewables, Mark thinks we need it all equally.”

The three legislators were split, however, on Obama’s stated plan to tax greenhouse emissions from power plants. Obama said he would support such taxes – in part to discourage building new coal-fired power plants – to the San Francisco Examiner in January.

Udall had not had a chance to dissect all of Obama’s policies, and needed more time to gather information before making an informed decision, Trujillo said.

Ken Salazar will approach climate change policy with an eye for what is best for Colorado, Lee-Ashley said.

John Salazar, on the other hand, supports the president-elect’s position.

“I know there are some concerns about president-elect Obama’s plans to tax greenhouse gas, but I think it’s something we have to do worldwide, not just nationwide,” John Salazar said.

Such an initiative will allow the fossil fuel industry to maintain its position in the national economy as a primary energy source, he said.

Representatives from Obama’s media team, though contacted last week, could not prepare comments by press time.

The Daily Press will publish statements from Obama’s team when they become available.