A national debate over proposed new clean-air rules swept through Denver last week, resulting in a values clash of job security and environmental protection that attracted visitors from the around the country.
Denver was one of four cities chosen …
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Denver was one of four cities chosen by the Environmental Protection Agency to hold hearings on proposed power plant regulations that are aimed at combating global warming. The two-day hearings were held beginning July 29 from inside the EPA's Region 8 office in lower downtown Denver.
Through implementation of the agency's new plan; President Barack Obama's administration has stated it hopes to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent over the next 16 years. Supporters of the proposed regulations view the rules as a necessary step toward addressing the impact of global warming.
“This is the issue of our time,” said Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado. “If we don't take action we're going to see a much different Colorado in ways we don't really know.”
At the same time the conference was being held in the city, several opponents of the proposed rules rallied in Denver's Lincoln Park on July 29 to denounce the regulations. Many were coal advocates who said the EPA regulations would kill jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket in an already heavily regulated industry.
“This is the way I make my living,” said Bill Jones of Craig, a mechanic at a coal mine there. “We have a hard enough time as a society with energy costs as it is any way and I don't want to see prices go up — and I'm trying to protect my job.”
Coal producing power plants like the three that operate in the Craig area would be impacted by the new regulations.
Colorado is one of the top coal-producing states in the country. However, coal production has dropped over the years along with demand.
Still, miners like John Simonet, also of Craig, say their communities depend on the industry and that increased regulations would only hurt them more.
“If this goes through, unfortunately everyone will probably have to go elsewhere to find work and probably even, worst-case scenario, create another ghost town in our neck of the woods,” Simonet said.
The EPA considers the greenhouse gas that emits from power plants to be the country's largest source of carbon pollution. The organization says the pollution is a significant contributor to global warming and can have long-term impacts on the environment and public health, as supporters of the regulations tried to convey over two days of testimony here and in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.
State Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, who is the chairman of the House Transportation and Energy Committee, testified on behalf of the regulations on July 29. He said afterward that any industry job loss would pale in comparison to the economic impact that would continue to occur if climate change isn't taken more seriously.
“As we change the climate, there's going to be millions of jobs that disappear,” said Tyler. “There's no comparison at all between what's going to happen in the next 30 years and the fact that the coal industry has to change.”
Tyler and Arend said that Colorado has already taken the lead nationally in stemming carbon emissions. They point to recent legislation that has increased renewable energy mandates on utility companies and rural electric cooperatives, as well as other state regulations that promote natural gas and that have helped to clean up coal plants.
States would have leeway in how they implement the administration's rules. Because of that, Arend said he doesn't see much of a job impact at coal plants because Colorado has already put in place strong regulations.
“In Colorado, we've taken a lot of steps and we're well on our way to meeting what the EPA is asking us to do,” he said. “If Colorado doesn't have to do a whole lot more, I don't see how that can impact those jobs.”
But Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez doesn't buy that argument. He said prior to speaking at the Lincoln Park rally that energy industry regulations are already having an adverse impact and that adding more rules is an “ill conceived” policy direction on the part of the Obama administration.
“All of us want clean air and clean water,” Beauprez said. “The people that are closest to the industry ought to be concerned about negative impacts more than anybody and they're the ones here saying, `Let us keep our jobs.' We have never done energy cleaner, safer, more efficient in the history of mankind. That's something we ought to celebrate, not punish.”
But supporters of the regulations say complacency is not an option.
“I hate to say something extreme,” Tyler said. “But there is absolutely no doubt that humans are destroying the climate that allows us to have an economy at all. There is no doubt at all that humans are causing serious climate disruption. It's as certain as gravity.”
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