Cli­mate of change

Trump’s EPA may put state at cen­ter of de­bate over en­ergy, emis­sions

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Eason

Un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the di­rec­tion set by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency was clear, al­beit dis­puted: States were ex­pected to take ag­gres­sive ac­tion to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing.

But un­der Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump? The de­ci­sion on how to com­bat cli­mate change — or not — may in­creas­ingly be left to the states, putting Colorado and its en­ergy sec­tor at the cen­ter of the na­tional de­bate over en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

State law­mak­ers on both sides are al­ready gear­ing up for a fight.

In the Se­nate, ma­jor­ity Repub­li­cans an­nounced the cre­ation of a Se­lect Com­mit­tee on En­ergy and the En­vi­ron­ment. Across the aisle, Se­nate Democrats will for the first time have a deputy mi­nor­ity leader for con­ser­va­tion, clean en­ergy and cli­mate change.

Mean­while, ad­vo­cates on both sides are clam­or­ing for ac­tion.

En­ergy in­dus­try lead­ers say they’re em­bold­ened by Trump and his pick to lead the EPA, Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Scott Pruitt, an ally of the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists see the na­tional po­lit­i­cal cli­mate as a threat and are push­ing for new poli­cies at the state and lo­cal lev­els to mit­i­gate what­ever losses they suf­fer at the fed­eral level.

Caught in the mid­dle may be Colorado

Gov. John Hick­en­looper and his draft or­der to cut power plant emis­sions 35 per­cent by 2030. The plan al­ready was con­tro­ver­sial, draw­ing op­po­si­tion from the right, who urged Hick­en­looper to wait for fed­eral guid­ance, and from some on the left, who said it didn’t go far enough. Now that there’s no as­sur­ance of fed­eral backup, the pres­sure from both sides may only be am­pli­fied.

The oil and gas in­dus­try al­ready scored one re­cent vic­tory in Colorado, when vot­ers ap­proved a mea­sure lim­it­ing con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments. Groups seek­ing re­stric­tions on drilling statewide have few op­tions, for now, other than work­ing through the split leg­is­la­ture.

Add it all up, and Colorado will be among the most in­ter­est­ing states to watch on cli­mate and en­ergy is­sues in the com­ing years.

Here’s what to look for:

A clean power plan?

Hick­en­looper in an in­ter­view with The Den­ver Post this week re­it­er­ated his sup­port for the emis­sions tar­get but stopped short of com­mit­ting to an ex­ec­u­tive or­der for­mal­iz­ing the pol­icy.

“You know, when I first came out (with the plan) there was a lot of push back, in July and Au­gust when I first started talk­ing about it, be­cause a lot of peo­ple have a bad taste in their mouth for any kind of ex­ec­u­tive or­der,” Hick­en­looper said. “I don’t care what it is. I want to lay a goal out: ‘This is how clean we can get our air.’ ”

The draft or­der, made pub­lic in Au­gust, would have di­rected state agen­cies to com­pel util­i­ties to cut pol­lu­tion, with an in­terim tar­get of cut­ting car­bon diox­ide emis­sions by 25 per­cent be­fore 2025. Hick­en­looper said the or­der also would have pushed to keep util­ity bills from ris­ing more than 2 per­cent or at the rate of in­fla­tion, which­ever was less.

Now, Hick­en­looper says an or­der or some other en­force­ment mech­a­nism may not be nec­es­sary.

“I’m not sure we need it,” Hick­en­looper said. “You need an en­force­ment mech­a­nism if no­body wants to do it. But if you can find ways to get ev­ery­one on the same page, ul­ti­mately, what util­ity doesn’t want to pro­vide cleaner elec­tric­ity at the same cost?”

In­dus­try groups, mean­while, have is­sued blan­ket warn­ings op­pos­ing any­thing that mim­ics what Obama was at­tempt­ing to do at the fed­eral level with the Clean Power Plan, which would have com­mit­ted Colorado to a roughly 32 per­cent cut below 2005 emis­sions lev­els by 2030. The plan stalled in the face of le­gal ac­tion, and Trump has pledged to re­peal it.

“It doesn’t make sense for states to be rush­ing into their own ver­sion of that while things are in flux at the fed­eral level,” said Kath­leen Sgamma, pres­i­dent of the West­ern En­ergy Al­liance, an oil and nat­u­ral gas trade as­so­ci­a­tion. She warned that a state-level clean power plan would put Colorado at an eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage vs. other states.

Hil­lary Larson, a spokes­woman for the Sierra Club Rocky Moun­tain Chap­ter, said the en­vi­ron­men­tal group isn’t ac­tively cam­paign­ing for state ac­tion on cli­mate is­sues. But, de­pend­ing on where Hick­en­looper goes from here, she said the group may take a more ac­tive role.

Law­mak­ers mull en­ergy mix

In the state leg­is­la­ture, Repub­li­cans and Democrats agree that Colorado needs to act now to pre­pare for its fu­ture en­ergy needs.

But they ad­vo­cate very dif­fer­ent routes.

State Sen. Matt Jones, the deputy mi­nor­ity leader, said he wants Colorado to con­tinue mov­ing to­ward clean en­ergy sources, such as wind and so­lar.

“They are bet­ter for the con­sumer as far as cost, plus they don’t pol­lute, so we don’t have those other costs that we live with,” said Jones, D-Louisville.

State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junc­tion, fa­vors an “all of the above” ap­proach that in­cludes re­new­ables such as wind and so­lar, but also coal, oil, nat­u­ral gas — even nu­clear. And, he dis­misses calls to aban­don coal and other fos­sil fu­els as “ex­trem­ism.”

“I think we have to look at ev­ery­thing,” said Scott, who chairs the new se­lect com­mit­tee. “We’re grow­ing like crazy in Colorado. Is it go­ing to make sense in the fu­ture for us to only lean on coal and nat­u­ral gas for our power gen­er­a­tion?”

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups feel like they’ll ul­ti­mately win the ar­gu­ment, whether at the state­house or at the na­tional level, for a sim­ple rea­son: eco­nomics.

“The price for wind and so­lar is just drop­ping like a rock,” said Pete May­smith, pres­i­dent of Con­ser­va­tion Colorado. “I mean, wind is cost-com­pet­i­tive and in many cases the cheap­est re­source. Pe­riod. End of dis­cus­sion.”

Colorado’s coal pro­duc­tion has fallen to about 12 mil­lion tons this year from 36.1 mil­lion tons in 2007, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the Colorado Di­vi­sion of Recla­ma­tion Min­ing & Safety. But coal still ac­counted for just un­der 60 per­cent of the elec­tric power gen­er­ated in the state last year, de­spite stiff com­pe­ti­tion from wind and nat­u­ral gas.

With each side con­trol­ling one cham­ber, the smart bet is on the sta­tus quo: a mix of coal and nat­u­ral gas, with an on­go­ing shift to­ward re­new­able en­er­gies, as mar­ket con­di­tions al­low. State law­mak­ers have al­ready es­tab­lished a tar­get of hav­ing util­i­ties gen­er­ate 30 per­cent of en­ergy us­ing re­new­able sources by 2020.

“This isn’t just about what the pres­i­dent does,” May­smith said. “It’s about what the in­vestors and the en­trepreneurs and the util­i­ties and the reg­u­la­tors do.”

Op­ti­mism, on both sides

Op­ti­mism is one thing both sides have in com­mon, strange as it may sound.

From the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try: “I can’t tell you the level of op­ti­mism. If Trump does noth­ing but stop be­ing hos­tile,” it’ll be an im­prove­ment, said Sgamma with the West­ern En­ergy Al­liance. “We’ve been in­un­dated with reg­u­la­tions in a hos­tile ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

And from the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists: “We re­ally think it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for the state to take the lead as far as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions are con­cerned,” said Larson, the Sierra Club spokes­woman. “As far as clean en­ergy is con­cerned, we don’t think that Trump’s go­ing to be able to stop the mo­men­tum that we’re see­ing around so­lar and wind.”

For the Sierra Club, the im­me­di­ate push is on the lo­cal level. The city of Boul­der this week adopted city­wide cli­mate goals that call for an 80 per­cent re­duc­tion of green­house gas emis­sions by 2050, and 100 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy by 2030, the Boul­der Daily Cam­era re­ported. And Den­ver Mayor Michael Han­cock has out­lined sim­i­lar goals.

Sgamma, mean­while, sees op­por­tu­ni­ties for her in­dus­try to ex­pand, even at to­day’s low com­mod­ity prices.

“If we can roll back some of this fed­eral reg­u­la­tion, then the cost of drilling any in­di­vid­ual well goes down, and then the price at which we need to break even on that, well, like­wise goes down,” she said.

Some­thing else both sides agree on?

“We have a lot of work to do,” Jones said.

As­so­ci­ated Press file

Wind tur­bines op­er­ate at the Na­tional Wind Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter near Boul­der.

Andy Cross, Den­ver Post file

The Jef­fer­son County Com­mu­nity So­lar Gar­den is a 13-acre, 1.5-megawatt fa­cil­ity.

RJ San­gosti, Den­ver Post file

The West Elk Mine near Som­er­set is the state’s largest coal mine.

RJ San­gosti, Den­ver Post file

An oil rig in Weld County is pic­tured in Jan­uary.

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