U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton: Let’s balance environmental protection with common sense on jobs, economy

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton/For the Craig Daily Press
Congressman Scott Tipton
Courtesy photo

Environmentalists have taken to the courts in an effort to shut down the Colowyo Mine in Moffat County, a move that could cost over 200 Coloradans their jobs and devastate the local economy. Fortunately, a bipartisan effort is underway to fight for the future of these workers and the estimated $274 million dollars in regional economic benefits that the mine has provided.

I’m pressuring the U.S. Department of the Interior to take swift action to prevent the impending closure of the Colowyo, including an appeal of the court’s decision, and Sen. Cory Gardner is joining us in this effort. On the state front, Gov. John Hickenlooper has vowed to join the battle to save the mine as well.

“If we need to have more environmental assessment, do more environmental assessment, but don’t shut the mine down. Don’t kick people off their jobs,” the governor said.

I agree.

This battle offers a vivid and all-too-familiar lesson in how environmental special interests, if not balanced against the practical need for a healthy and growing economy, can wreak havoc in the everyday lives of Coloradans.

Coloradans are blessed to live in an outdoor paradise, a place of unparalleled beauty that attracts visitors from around the world. They marvel at our majestic views, our wineries, our miles and miles of biking and hiking trails, and endless skiing, hunting and angling opportunities. We are also fortunate to live in a place where industry and outdoor enthusiasts don’t simply coexist side by side — they thrive.

The careful balance between environmental protection and economic prosperity is, regrettably, missing from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to dramatically tighten air quality standards for ozone. The federal agency wants to reduce the permissible level of ozone from the current 75 parts per billion to 65 parts per billion. The regulations are being rushed into place with little thought about how they will be implemented or acknowledgement that the existing standard has yet to be achieved in much of the country.

In fact, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment told federal regulators in a March 17 letter that, at 65 parts per billion, “substantial” portions of the state would likely find itself in “nonattainment” status. The proposed EPA ozone standard “would raise additional questions about scientific basis and Colorado’s ability to craft an attainment plan,” Colorado officials wrote. “This is particularly the case when considering background levels, interstate transport, and Colorado’s inability to impose controls on sources outside of its jurisdiction.”

In a letter sent to the EPA the same day, three leading business and economic development groups — the Denver Metro Chamber, Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. and the Colorado Competitive Council — warned of “unique challenges” the state faces on the ozone issue. “In fact,” the groups wrote, “60 to 65 percent of ozone pollution influencing the Front Range of Colorado originates from Western Boundary conditions, which is ozone entering the continental United States.”

Another report that looked at naturally occurring background levels of ozone in the Mountain West – caused by such things at wildfires or atmospheric drift – noted that levels have “regularly been measured” between 55 to 65 parts per billion. Ozone levels exceeding the current EPA standard of 75 parts per billion have been measured in remote rural areas and national parks at high elevations. Researchers at the University of California at Davis recently found that approximately 10 percent of ozone pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley – one of the most polluted air basins in the nation — is coming from outside the state’s borders, particularly from Asia.

In other words, the EPA could impose a new standard on Colorado without any consideration of natural occurring levels of ozone or the level of ozone that wafts across the border from other states and countries. “Non-attainment” status could trigger countless regulatory remedies and control plans that would be disastrous for all businesses, not just those in energy development.

The EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach is the kind of regulatory overreach that causes even supporters of high air quality standards to object. What’s more, the agency seems not to take into account that ozone emissions have decreased by 25 percent in the last 35 years, during which time the nation’s economy has more than doubled in size. When businesses are given a chance to invest in and phase in new technologies, it is possible to both achieve growth and mediate or reduce environmental impacts. But these same businesses must operate in a regulatory framework that understands the key factor of economic growth in any sustainability ethic.

With this in mind, I was glad to cosponsor The Clean Air, Strong Economies (CASE) Act and the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act in Congress. The CASE Act would ensure that air quality continues to improve, while giving states and counties time to meet the existing standards, and does so without adding another layer of regulatory burdens that are nigh impossible to achieve The REINS Act would require Congressional approval of any regulation coming from the Executive Branch with an economic impact greater than $100 million to ensure that legislative intent is being followed in the rule-making process and put an end to bureaucracy-run-amuck in Washington.

If we’re going to continue to improve air quality and grow the economy, we need to strike a better balance going forward. The EPA is, without question, missing the mark.

Scott Tipton, a Republican, is the Third District Representative in the U.S. Congress.

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