DENVER – Environmentalists and coal advocates lined up in downtown Denver on Tuesday for the first of two hearings to address proposed federal carbon-pollution standards.
The emotionally charged and polarizing issue brought stakeholders and citizens from across the nation, though the majority of speakers represented the West.
The second listening session is scheduled for today. Other stops on the tour include Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.
“While Colorado has done a good job expanding energy conservation and renewable energy, given the huge problems we are facing, I think we should take it even further,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who attended the Environmental Protection Agency’s listening stop and spoke in the morning.
The hearing appeared to be dominated by environmental interests, who packed the overflow room and wore T-shirts that read, “I love clean air.”
“Colorado has led the way on reducing carbon pollution in a collaborative, practical way because it is the right thing to do,” Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said at the hearing. “Colorado has a history of doing what is right when it comes to our families, our economy and our environment.”
On the other side of the debate, Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid spoke of the economic impact the new standards could have on Colorado. Mines in western Colorado contribute $428 million a year to the economy, he said.
“The environmental extremists’ war on coal is really a war on prosperity,” said Kinkaid, who represents a coal-heavy part of the state near Craig. “This isn’t some abstract bureaucratic exercise to the people of Northwest Colorado. To us, this is personal.”
Kinkaid said he had a productive meeting with an EPA regional administrator for Region 8 on Tuesday, who assured him that officials are working on a listening session in the Craig area for September. Opponents of the proposed standards continue to complain that the EPA is not conducting hearings in rural parts of the nation, where coal miners and facilities would be directly impacted.
A spokesman for the regional EPA office confirmed that details are being worked out for the Craig visit.
As the first of two 11-hour hearings played out inside the offices of Region 8, dueling rallies and news conferences highlighted the rift that exists between fossil-fuel supporters and environmentalists who favor renewable resources.
On one side of downtown Denver, children and their mothers played along the South Platte River to demonstrate the importance of clean air and water for future generations.
“We need strong rules to ensure that our children don’t pay the price with their health,” said Jaime Travis, the “head mom” with Colorado Moms Know Best, who has a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
Playing into the kids theme, the crowd began chanting, “Carbon pollution yuck, clean energy that’s the way.”
Travis acknowledged that coal miners are also trying to support their kids by keeping a job.
“We must make this transition, and it’s not an easy answer,” she said. “There’s a financial cost in every change you ever make.”
On the other side of downtown, coal miners, free-market advocates and Republicans lambasted the Environmental Protection Agency for the proposed standards.
“These are real Americans with real American jobs,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez shouted to an audience of about 200 standing in the shadow of the state Capitol. “Keep your hands off our jobs, off our families, off our dignity of work.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, was unable to attend the coal-friendly rally, but he sent a representative to read a letter from him. He represents parts of Western Colorado where coal is a way of life, including Craig, Hayden, Gunnison and Delta.
“Instead of working toward a responsible all-of-the-above strategy ... the president is picking winners and losers and waging a war on America’s most abundant and affordable energy resources,” read the letter from Tipton.
The proposed standards pushed by President Barack Obama and the EPA aim to cut carbon-dioxide emissions nationwide by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The proposal is state-based, setting separate goals for individual states based on each state’s abilities.
Colorado is considered well-prepared, and a target of 35 percent has been proposed for the state.
Durango sits downwind from the San Juan Generating Station operated by PNM Resources, an energy company based in Albuquerque. The San Juan station is in the northwest corner of New Mexico.
Susan Sponar, spokeswoman for the company, pointed out that PNM already has a plan to close two units of the coal-fired station by 2018 in response to regional haze regulations.
“The good news is that we’ve already taken some steps that are going to start us down the path toward compliance,” said Sponar. “We’re working to understand the rule, but we plan to already ... significantly reduce carbon emissions.”