Officials think ‘Clean Air’ bill will hurt jobs
State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said the state Senate approval of House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, on Wednesday, will harm the Colorado coal industry and mining jobs.
Numerous area officials opposed the bill, which is supported by Gov. Bill Ritter and will arrive on his desk for signing within the next few days.
The bill would require some Front Range rate-regulated, coal-fired power plants to be retired, retrofitted with emissions-reducing technology or re-powered to be fueled by natural gas or other low energy-emitting sources.
The bill requires that power plants submit an “emission reduction plan” and “the plans have to give primary consideration to replacing or re-powering coal-fired electric generators with natural gas and to also consider other low-emitting resources including energy efficiency.”
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray called the bill “politically driven” and said he was “disappointed” to hear the bill had passed in the Senate.
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“I’m disappointed mostly because that was presented as the only option for clean air on the Front Range,” Gray said. “It was crafted and worked on a long period of time, then introduced before we even knew about it.”
The Moffat County Commission sent a letter of opposition March 25 to state senators and representatives that stated, “Moffat County is directly negatively impacted by the implications of HB 10-1365.”
“The coal industry is vital to our economic health and provides high-paying jobs that have no likely offset by additional gas production from our county,” the commissioners wrote in the letter.
Gray said he was frustrated by the speed and manner in which the bill was presented.
“The talks have been going on about this for over a year behind closed doors,” he said. “It was brought out once all the support was gathered so that it could go so fast. Something of this magnitude and precedence-setting shouldn’t have been done that way.”
White opposed the bill, which he said is “going to cause severe adverse effects on the coal industry throughout Colorado.”
White said the passing of the bill could lead to “significant layoffs at Twentymile.”
Twentymile Coal Co., which is in Routt County but employs many Moffat County residents, supplies coal to power plants on the Front Range that will be affected by the bill.
White said that significant amounts of Twentymile’s coal production is shipped to Valmont Station in Boulder and the Cherokee plant in Commerce City, both rate regulated, coal-fired plants affected by the bill.
Stuart Sanderson, Colorado Mining Association president, said in a news release that passage of the bill would result in production losses of at least 2.6 million tons of coal statewide.
Commissioner Audrey Danner said the bill’s ramifications to county coal jobs concerns her.
“I am very concerned that it will mean a loss of jobs (but) we will have to see,” she said. “I know that those jobs in the coal industry are higher-paying and benefited positions that have been in our community for some time.”
Beth Sutton, spokeswoman for Peabody Energy, which owns Twentymile, would not comment on the impacts of the bill to Twentymile’s coal output or any potential layoffs at the mine.
“It is sure to affect every Coloradan by guaranteeing an increase in energy bills,” Sutton said. “Natural gas is three times more expensive than coal.”
Danner also is opposed to the tone of bill.
“This bill, this was billed as ‘clean air’ and Moffat County supports the concept of clean air,” she said. “However, the bill also included a switch from one natural resource to another and that is pitting one industry against the other when we are going to need all of our natural resources.”
Sanderson said the bill “will not solve Colorado’s air quality problems, as it only focuses on one source — coal-fired power plants.”
“It ignores mobile (automobiles) and other sources that contribute to air quality problems on the Front Range,” Sanderson said in the release.
Gray said he was disappointed the potential of operating vehicles on natural gas was not discussed.
“The bill has as its goal to reduce nitrogen oxides, which the biggest emitters of which are vehicles,” Gray said.
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Craig Middle School staff will continue to wear masks this week, and two other schools in the district are close to doing the same, according to numbers from the Moffat County School District’s COVID-19 dashboard.