State health officials say environmental and energy interests need to come together to advance a state-specific plan on carbon pollution.
A final rule from the Environmental Protection Agency is expected in the coming days, aimed at a 30-percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions nationwide by 2030. The proposal is state-based, with a target of 35 percent proposed for Colorado.
Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said interested parties need to work together to satisfy federal rules.
“At some point we all sort of have to come together between the EPA and the state – and in this case Colorado – to say, this is how we want to pursue this, and this is how we want our own Clean Air Act to look,” Wolk said Thursday at an event in Denver hosted by Latino environmental leaders.
Once the final rule is in, state health officials will launch a stakeholder process. Next year, officials will continue developing the state-specific plan, which would be submitted that summer. The Legislature will then discuss the plan in 2017, before a final plan heads to the EPA.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said that Colorado will move forward, despite cries from Republicans to defy federal regulators. Critics of the proposal suggest that it would hurt the economy by slashing jobs and revenue.
Republicans fired a warning shot this year at the Legislature, proposing legislation that would have required both chambers to approve any plan that is sent to federal regulators. That proposal was killed by Democrats.
“The executive branch does not write the rules,” said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “When I went to school, the legislative branch was the one that set the rules.”
Wolk said health officials are considering several steps, including improving the heat rate at existing coal units, shifting generation to natural-gas combined plants, increasing generation from renewable sources and improving efficiency to decrease electricity demand.
Operators might be able to trade carbon credits across other units in the state or even across state lines. State regulators might also establish carbon-pollution limits for power plants. There are 23 coal-fired electric generating units in Colorado.
Erny Zah, spokesman for the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Mine in nearby New Mexico, cautioned against thinking there is no future for coal, pointing to technological advancements like converting fossil fuel materials into less-harmful gases.
“We don’t expect some of these regulations, or the mood of the regulations, to change any time soon, so we’re thinking ahead,” Zah said. “That means that coal-based energy does have to get cleaner.”