DENVER - Opposition hardened to Sen. Bruce Whitehead's bill on coal-fired power plants Tuesday, although a bipartisan
coalition held together well enough that the bill could pass the Senate as early as today.
The debate caused a family feud between the top two Republicans in the Senate and the other 12. Meanwhile, three
Democrats voted against the bill by Whitehead, a fellow Democrat from Hesperus.
The plan would tell Xcel Energy to clean up or shut down some of its coal power plants in Denver and Boulder. They
likely would be replaced with natural-gas power plants, which pollute less than old coal plants.
This is not about coal against natural gas," Whitehead said. It's about the future of our children. It's about clean
air. It's about health. It's about jobs."
Senators approved House Bill 1365 on an initial 20-13 vote, thanks to support from two key Republicans. The loss of
support from three Democrats made the vote margin much tighter than it was in the House, where Durango Republican Ellen
Roberts was the sponsor. The bill breezed through the House on a 53-12 vote on March 22.
Xcel Energy supports the plan because it allows the company to start charging its customers for the conversion to
natural gas in 2012, ahead of the usual schedule allowed by law.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, who shares sponsorship of HB 1365 with Whitehead, repeatedly took on his own party
Tuesday to argue in favor of the bill. If Xcel signs long-term contracts with gas companies, drilling in Colorado will
rise by 15 percent, Penry said.
Penry tried to convince fellow Republicans that it is better to vote for this bill than to let Barack Obama's
Environmental Protection Agency" dictate clean-air standards to the state.
This is Colorado going on offense, solving problems for itself," Penry said.
The EPA is on a nationwide crackdown on clean-air standards for ozone, mercury, haze and greenhouse gases. Some of the
tighter rules began during the Bush administration.
The bill set up a choice that is especially painful for Republicans, who are usually friends with both the coal and
Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, has large coal mines and a major gas basin in his district.
We have a saying in Northwest Colorado that when the wolf and the coyote and the sheep get together to decide what's
on the menu, the sheep doesn't turn out so great," White said.
In this case, Xcel is the wolf and the gas industry is the coyote, White said, while the coal industry is on the
White said the natural-gas business doesn't need more help because it is already recovering from a slump, which he
blamed on the global recession.
The only Republican to back Penry was Assistant Minority Leader Greg Brophy of Wray.
The bill has a third and final reading today in the Senate. If it is approved on third reading, it goes back to the
House for approval of amendments in the Senate.