Chuck McConnell: All-energy solution | SteamboatToday.com

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Chuck McConnell: All-energy solution

The passage of House Bill 1365 by the Colorado Legislature likely will have a very negative impact on jobs and tax revenues in Routt and Moffat counties. This bill strongly suggests conversion of a significant amount of electric generation in Colorado away from coal to natural gas. Estimates are 400 gas-related jobs will be created in the state if gas production is increased. Statewide, however, 500 jobs are estimated to be lost in coal mining and related industries. We could lose more than 100 jobs here in Northwest Colorado. The shift to natural gas also will drive our electric bills higher.

Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign the new legislation. The governor, along with other Colorado political leaders at the federal level, fought hard for years to block natural gas drilling and production through unrealistic regulations on the industry. Gas drilling activity moved to other parts of the country more friendly to the industry. Inexplicably, the governor and a bipartisan group of legislators now are embracing natural gas, to the determent of coal, through HB 1365.

When are our political leaders going to stop trying to pick winners and losers in the U.S. economy? Not long ago, the governor trumpeted the New Energy Economy as the answer to Colorado's future economic growth. Part of the plan was to encourage new companies to move here to produce "green" jobs building windmills, solar panels and the like. Even under robust economic circumstances, the New Energy Economy would require several years to evolve and benefit jobs and the economy. Last year, one of the new windmill companies here in Colorado was forced to lay off 500 employees.

Fossil fuels will be absolutely necessary to keep our economy moving for the next 12 to 15 years while wind, solar and nuclear power slowly become affordable. Natural gas is the cleanest of the carbon-based fuels and is plentiful here in Colorado. Coal is even cheaper than gas and is another fuel in plentiful supply in Colorado. America needs to produce both of these conventional fuels as we transition to renewable fuels.

Domestic coal and natural gas exist in sufficient reserves to quickly and meaningfully reduce our dependence on foreign sourced crude oil — much of which comes from a very unfriendly part of the world. In February, 59 percent of America's oil was imported at a cost of nearly $25 billion. If we had an intelligent domestic energy policy that included aggressive expansion of our domestic energy resources — coal and natural gas — those numbers would fall dramatically and thousands of jobs would result. That effort can begin immediately.

All of this leads to some important questions. Why have our political leaders eschewed and even fought natural gas energy that produces jobs right now? Why do our leaders plan to spend money to convert from coal to natural gas and not simply scrub the coal plant stack gases? Why have our political leaders in the past encouraged only "new" energy and not "all" energy?

Colorado workers need jobs now, and we need plentiful, domestically sourced fuels to transition us into the renewable era. Our economy and our national security hang in the balance.

Chuck McConnell

Steamboat Springs