EPA chief keeps up the pressure

Jackson touts approach to replace coal with natural-gas generators

DENVER – Regulators will continue to push for cleanups at coal power plants in the Four Corners despite a rough economy, the Obama administration’s top environmental official said Monday.

Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, visited Denver to tout the state’s approach to retiring coal plants and replacing them with natural gas-powered generators.

Jackson’s agency in 2009 blocked a permit for the proposed Desert Rock coal power plant in Northwest New Mexico, and it is requiring better pollution-control equipment on existing power plants.

“The problem with many plants that we’re facing today is that they have not in good economic times invested in pollution control technologies. And now they are sort of gasping on the very end of life support to keep running. But the people who are paying the price are these children and our elderly people who have respiratory diseases,” Jackson said when asked about the New Mexico plants.

Jackson noted that President Barack Obama has pledged that his administration will not reduce environmental rules because the economy is dragging.

The EPA will finalize by Dec. 16 a rule limiting mercury pollution from power plants, Jackson said.

Jackson was in town to participate in a panel discussion on Colorado’s “Clean Air Clean Jobs” Act, a 2010 bill that calls for replacing Denver-area coal plants with natural-gas plants.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was one of the act’s prime sponsors, along with former Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, who Roberts beat in the 2010 election.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter, the law’s biggest champion, moderated the discussion in front of a friendly crowd at National Jewish Health, a respiratory hospital.

The act brought together a new coalition of natural-gas companies and environmentalists, but it caused divisions in traditional alliances. Local environmentalists opposed expanded gas drilling, and Republicans split between a faction supporting coal companies and one backing gas drillers.

Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the political splinters posed a challenge.

“Another challenge was the aggression and persistence of the opposition, and that continues to this day. We have been surprised at the continuous spread of misinformation about the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act and also about the natural-gas industry,” Schuller said.

Jackson applauded the act and said the same kind of alliance could be forged on a national level.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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