Ray Beck: As coal goes, we need help from all corners
This piece is reprinted with permission in full after appearing in the Oct., 2021, Colorado Municipalities magazine.
The top 10 Moffat County taxpayers are all geared toward energy in one form or the other. Tri-State Generation and Transmission is the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado, producing 1,283 megawatts of power. The county’s ten top taxpayers are equal to 46% of the assessed property valuations and 45% of the county’s revenue.
Moffat County is also known for agriculture and many opportunities for public land-based recreation, such as trails for hiking, biking, ATVs, and snowmobiles. The mighty Yampa River offers many recreational opportunities for those who like to float one of the last free flowing rivers in the Western United States as well as Class A fishing on the Yampa, White, Little Snake, and Green River. It is the second largest county in terms of land mass in the state with 40% private lands and 60% federal lands, which equals 4,743 square miles. Craig is the county seat with a current population of 9,060, and the overall population of the county is 13,292. Craig is the 55th largest city in Colorado, manages over 120 acres of parks and open space, and is the home of Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) that also has a campus in Rangely.
Like anywhere, Craig and Moffat County are always looking for opportunities to bring in more business and industry. There is much to offer, and the region is capitalizing on additional assets beyond the fossil fuel-driven economy. Current assets such as the Yampa River, outdoor recreation, and tourism are economies in their infancy in Colorado’s great northwest. The city and county are working together on two regional solar projects and a water park along the Yampa River. They have worked in partnership to build out and upgraded the boat ramp and river access in Loudy Simpson Park consisting of 450 acres along the Yampa River. The park’s electric infrastructure has been upgraded and replaced for current and future outdoor opportunities and signature events.
People in Moffat County know they have a future, but they are not exactly sure what that future looks like. The power plant and coal mines will be shutting down over the course of the next nine years or less. The fate of the coal industry in Moffat and Routt County is seen by many to be in the hands of the Colorado General Assembly, which has defined what our energy portfolio will look like by the year 2040. They know they are bound by state mandates, but they are also not sitting around waiting for someone else to solve their problems.
Recently, the state created the Office of Just Transition, following the passage of HB19-1314 in 2019. The State Transition Advisory Council drafted a plan that, once implemented, will aid local employees in the transition from the coal industry and provide financial aid for the benefit of boosting our local economy and opportunities for economic development. Moffat County is looking for a hand-up that will aid in the building out and maintenance of our infrastructure. The plans by local leaders that have been developed, or are currently being developed, will require financial help to be fully implemented and see projects to completion.
Moffat County is joined by at least 12 other coal-impacted communities that will be affected from the shutdown of fossil fuels and may need a hand-up for their economic recovery. Recent legislation signed by Gov. Jared Polis will direct $15 million to the Office of Just Transition, which is the only funding the office has received to date. While that is certainly a step in the right direction, it is a fraction of what will be needed from the state to mitigate the impact on coal-impacted counties and municipalities. Recent discussions between state legislators and some of Colorado’s congressional delegation have been centered on how to spend the remaining $1.8 billion of the $3.8 billion the state received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Many in Northwest Colorado have been disappointed that there appears to have been no discussion of economic recovery for the coal-impacted communities.
From the perspective of most in Northwest Colorado, state lawmakers looking to eliminate primary industries and employees across the state should consider an objective process to review and assess proposed legislation, the local and state costs to implement such legislation, and the impacts and effects that such legislation may have on rural communities. Retooling an economy can often take decades, but Moffat County and Craig do not have decades to develop and implement an economic plan that will care for our funding initiatives, bond obligations, infrastructure improvements, and massive overhaul of our economy and revenue streams.
The hearty souls that call Northwest Colorado home do have great optimism, tenacity, and creativity in considering what our economic future will look like. However, it won’t happen without help.
From “Just Transition Means Help is Needed for Colorado’s Great Northwest,” by Ray Beck, Oct. 2021, Colorado Municipalities, Vol. 97, p. 18. Copyright 2021 by the Colorado Municipal League. Reprinted with permission.
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