Withdrawal of Clean Power Plan a relief to Northwest Colorado power plants
Craig — Energy took center stage in Washington this week when Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks to roll back coal, oil, gas and emissions regulations enacted under the Obama administration.
With an emphasis on promoting American energy independence, the new policy orders a halt to the Clean Power Plan and lifts a moratorium on new federal coal leases.
The move may not have an immediate or direct impact on Northwest Colorado’s energy industry, but could smooth the way for continued and future development of coal and oil and gas resources.
“It’s certainly a signal that the war on coal is over and so is the punitive regulation that was directed specifically against coal,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on a media call Wednesday. “The president has made it clear that such regulatory policies that have been targeted at coal, those are over.”
Signed by Trump Tuesday, the order sets government agencies to the task of rescinding regulations that “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources,” according to the order.
The Clean Power Plan, enacted in 2015 by President Barack Obama, called for a 32-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Colorado sought a 38-percent reduction in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants under the plan.
The Clean Power Plan never cleared federal court, where it was tied up in lawsuits by 27 states, 24 trade associations and 37 rural electric co-ops, according to the White House. Nonetheless, the president’s order came as a relief to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., which was among the electric co-ops that sued over the plan and is partial owner and operator of Craig’s coal-fired Craig Station.
“Tri-state had worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to provide comments on the proposed rule and when the rule was finally issued, we believed it was significantly flawed and unlawful,” said Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications and public affairs for Tri-State.
Trump’s directive to rescind the Clean Power Plan “will help us to continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity to our members,” he added.
Environmental groups, however, were not pleased.
“President Trump shows an incredible level of disregard for our clean air, the scientific consensus around climate change, and our nation’s health and security,” said Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith in a statement. “But no matter what bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. do or say, here in Colorado we will fight to clean up air pollution and combat climate change.”
The withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan has the greatest impact on Tri-State’s operations in Northwest Colorado, which includes Colowyo Coal Mine in addition to Craig Station.
Colowyo was able to move forward with its Collom expansion despite the moratorium enacted on federal coal leasing in early 2016, and a single lease or permit can often provide access to enough coal to last a decade or more.
Trump’s executive order also targets several federal oil and gas rules, described as “job-killing restrictions on the production of oil, natural gas and shale energy,” in a White House press release. But with greater sage grouse rules constricting oil and gas development in Moffat County, it’s unclear whether the action will help.
Though the executive order can’t erase these rules in a single signature — the process will require review by agency heads, public notices and comment periods that could take multiple years — it provides a directive to create a more industry-friendly environment by cleaning house of regulations considered burdensome by the administration.
“As a Westerner, I’m particularly sensitive to the heavy handedness of last few years,” Zinke told reporters. “I think if you’re a smaller community across our country, it’s a sign of relief that those smaller communities have a voice and that voice is being heard.”