Club 20 to lawmakers: Don’t choke economy

Group is meeting with Colo. delegation to U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON – Regulatory burdens on business were named as a key barrier to economic vitality and job creation in meetings between a Western Slope lobbying group and members of the Colorado congressional delegation

Club 20, a group of business owners, community leaders and other individuals from Colorado’s 22 western counties, are meeting through today with the Colorado delegation to the U.S. Congress and agency department heads to discuss concerns about the sluggish economy.

Tuesday meetings with Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, centered on the double-digit unemployment in much of Colorado, rising national debt, access to public lands and energy production.

While Club 20 members said some regulation is appropriate, several raised concerns about the impact on the economy of what they said were stricter and mounting regulations. Many cited “one-size-fits-all” agency rules that they said unfairly burdened rural business.

“We keep seeing tighter and tighter new regulations … that are going to drive us to not have economical price and power for the consumer,” said Rick Johnson, the manager of the Craig Station coal-fired power plant, which is owned by Tri-State Generation. “That seems counterproductive to build industry, get more jobs in Colorado, get more people to pay into the federal reserves to help the deficit.”

Some members, including Johnson, expressed frustration with a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule of the Clean Air Act. The rule would place limits on mercury and other hazardous air pollutants emissions from coal power plants.

Members argued the rule could severely restrict the operations of existing plants and may prevent new plants from opening. They also said that it would disproportionately affect many plants in western Colorado that have lower mercury emissions.

The EPA said in a fact sheet that the rule would prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma episodes. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of airborne mercury emissions in the U.S.

Other members of Club 20 were concerned that regulation could set back development in energy resources. Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, told The Durango Herald that research and development in oil-shale recovery methods could be delayed for three to four years in Colorado because of a Bureau of Land Management decision to revisit regulations governing that research.

“This resource, if developed, we really could cut back on the amount of oil we import,” he said. “If we can demonstrate to the world that this is technically possible and economic and environmentally sustainable then it’s going to have an impact on prices.”

The BLM estimates there are 1.5 trillion barrels of recoverable oil in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. However, the process of extraction is difficult and expensive, and a profitable method may be years away.

The BLM is considering whether oil-shale development could impact water quality and availability. Past studies have found about 500 gallons may be needed to produce one barrel of oil, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report.

Bonnie Peterson, Club 20’s executive director, told the Herald she liked some ideas she heard from the Colorado delegation that would address problematic regulation.

She pointed to legislation Tipton is working on that would require regulations to pass periodic reviews in order to stay in effect. She also mentioned another idea Bennet is considering known as regulatory pay-as-you-go, which would require at least one regulation to be eliminated for each new regulation put into place.

She also said decision-makers need to set aside partisanship to implement other policies that could help the struggling economy. She pointed to some “sacred cows” such as tax exemptions for business that could be considered for elimination.

“I think we have to keep everything open and keep open minds in how we’re going to do this,” she said. “We’ve got to come together like the great people that we are and solve this problem.”

Club 20 was formed in 1953 to influence public policy, with the original goal of improving transportation and paving rural roads. It has since expanded its issues to include water, energy, agriculture and natural resources, economic development as well as other issues.

Karen Frantz is a student at American University and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com

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