Legislative review of emission rules proposed

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Coal has again become a topic of discussion at the Colorado Capitol as legislative efforts begin in advance of federal regulations restricting carbon emissions from power plants.

Regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency will set carbon reduction targets for each state while allowing states to come up with their own rules and methods for reaching those targets. A measure introduced in the Colorado Senate would require any state rules promulgated to comply with EPA regulations also receive approval of the State legislature.

As it stands, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would formulate state regulations to meet EPA carbon emission targets for power plants and submit those regulations to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for adoption.

Legislation introduced by State Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and John Cooke, R-Greeley, would require any rules be first reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission in part to determine their effects on consumer electric rates and then be approved by the State Legislature before being adopted by the AQC.

“This gets right to the heart of the 10th Amendment issues we keep talking about,” said State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, referring to states rights issues. “Every time the EPA sets requirements on the states without seeking substantive input, it does not work out well.”

Scott said review of state rules by an elected legislature will help prevent the imposition of a plan that will drive up energy costs and kill jobs in coal-producing regions, which he fears the EPA rules have the potential to do. “Blindly falling in line with federal rules that did not incorporate state or local input will just not be good for anybody,” he added.

Mark Ourada, central region vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said such laws are vital for states to adopt in dealing with EPA regulations. “If you are going to radically redefine the way energy policy in this country is made, as this EPA plan does, then the state legislatures absolutely have to be involved.”

Ourada said part of the problem with the EPA rules is they make a number of ambitious assumptions in determining target carbon emission goals for states. “(The EPA) assumes that Colorado will increase natural gas use by 134 percent, reduce coal use by 34 percent and increase nonrenewable hydro power by  75 percent between 2015 and 2020.”

Ourada also said EPA is looking for a 6 percent increase in power plant efficiency. “But the utilities say that if they can get 2 percent, they are lucky.”

The end result could be increased electricity bills, he said.

Ourada said yet another assumption made by the EPA is that Coloradans will reduce electrical consumption by 11 percent during the same time frame. “If you don’t hit that, then you can see rates that go up 27 percent a year.”

In addition to considering the measure, the Colorado Senate passed a resolution recognizing the importance of coal to the state economy. The resolution, co-sponsored by Scott and State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, states in part:  “Maintaining affordable, reliable and diverse sources of fuel for the production of electricity is vital to Colorado’s economic growth, jobs and the well-being of its citizens.” The resolution further states: “Coal is an integral component of the state’s electricity generation portfolio, currently providing 64 percent of Colorado’s electricity.”

The resolution was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee and was open for remote testimony. The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado was among the organizations testifying in support of the resolution.

Scott said the  resolution is needed to draw public attention to the issue.

“A lot of folks in Colorado don’t realize why their electric rates are what they are and what precipitates an increase. The resolution, in conjunction with SB 258, identifies a problem and makes a case for how to fix it.” Scott said.