EPA poised to deal death-blow to Colorado coal industry
Gov. John Hickenlooper has pledged that Colorado will comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, but this effort to cut so-called “CO2 pollution” could come at a dear price to the state’s coal industry.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave states some latitude in creating their own rules to meet the goal of decreasing carbon dioxide production by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Despite the timeline, such severe rules threaten the ongoing operation of Colorado’s coal-powered electricity plants.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, Colorado is among the top states in coal production and consumption. In the year 2013, 64 percent of energy produced in Colorado came from coal, 20 percent from natural gas, and around 15 percent from various renewables including hydroelectric, biomass, solar and wind.
The history of Colorado’s coal mining industry stretches over the past two centuries. Not to mention, coal jobs have a multiplier effect of about 1:4–for every coal job created, four other jobs are created to support it. In a 2012 report by the National Mining Association, it was indicated that over 17,000 actual coal jobs in Colorado have resulted in an overall contribution of around 74,000 total jobs.
Colorado, like other states complying with the EPA clean power plan, has formulated government mandates for renewable power, which is a less direct but equally deadly assault on coal.
In 2004 Colorado became the first state to create its own “Renewable Portfolio,” with the goal of 10 percent of all electricity sales being produced from renewable resources by the year 2020. In 2013 Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill doubling that mandate to 20 percent. To date Colorado’s renewable mandates have withstood both legal andlegislative challenges.
A report produced by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) indicates that coal-fired power plants are casualties in the EPA’s war on CO2. Coal-generated electricity is relatively cheap—much less expensive than that produced by renewable resources— nevertheless, the IER report states:
“To put 72 GW [gigawatt] in perspective, that is enough electrical generation capacity to reliably power 44.7 million homes—or every home in every state west of the Mississippi River, excluding Texas. In other words, EPA is shutting down enough generating capacity to power every home in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana…
While some of the effected units will be converted to use new fuels, American families and businesses will pay the price with higher utility bills and less reliability for their electricity.”
In 2010 the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) vowed that by 2017 there would be no coal-generated power plans in the Denver area, and as of 2015, 6 plants have been closed across the state.
The Denver Post reported, in February, of this year that Colorado coal production had slipped to a “20 year low.”
Without an expansion of coal exports to other nations, Colorado’s long-standing mines also face a bleak future. A 2014 USA Today article reported that U.S. exports of coal are plunging while imports from countries, such as Indonesia and Columbia, are rising dramatically. This trend seems to go against the grain of EPA clean power goals since the domestic coal industry has invested billions of dollars into the production and marketing of clean coal and clean coal technologies.
The Colowyo mine saga in Northwestern Colorado may be the best example of the government’s two-pronged assault on both coal production and coal-generated electricity. In May adistrict judge sided with the environmentalist organization, WildEarth Guardians, saying that the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) had erred in its review process for the Colowyo coal mine near Craig in Moffat County.
The judgement gave the mine, in conjunction with agencies such as OSM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a very small 120-day deadline to complete a new review process. This precedent-setting ruling will not be appealed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and so the Colowyo mine, and nearby Trapper mine, may face imminent closure. Closing those mines could result in the loss of thousands of jobs.
But the mines are not the only potential victims of the actions of the EPA and the Governor. The Colowyo and Trapper mines provide coal for the Tri-state generating plant near Craig. The cost of coal imported from other states could result in a significant increase in electricity prices for Tri-state’s customers.
Colorado’s attempt to comply with the EPA’s clean power plan has already resulted insteep increases in electricity costs to consumers. According to a report by the Heartland Institute, consumer electricity prices will continue to rise as the percentage of renewable-generated electricity increases to meet government mandates.
Although other states’ coal industries are in decline due to the EPA clean power efforts, Colorado’s rugged Western Slope faces particularly difficult challenges if the trend continues. With entire local economies based on coal production and coal-powered plant operations, the EPA’s clean power plan may result in the loss of thousands of jobs, and put an end to Colorado’s legacy as a coal-producing state.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.
Reposted with permission of the author–Marjorie Haun | Watchdog Arena 8/12/15