Colorado one of 24 states suing EPA over Clean Power Plan | SteamboatToday.com

Back to: News

Colorado one of 24 states suing EPA over Clean Power Plan

Craig Station

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined attorney generals from 23 other states on Friday in challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan in federal court.

"I think there is significant legal issue about the federal government's regulatory power that is at play here," Coffman said in an interview with the Craig Daily Press Friday morning.

The Clean Power Plan sets standards to reduce national carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels — a cause for concern in coal-reliant Moffat County.

Figures from Yampa Valley Data Partners, a nonprofit research organization, show the top 10 taxpayers in Moffat County are energy-related.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which operates Craig Station, the second-largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado, is the number-one tax contributor in Moffat County. In 2014, Tri-State paid $5,762,011 in taxes — accounting for almost one out of five dollars collected by the county.

A legal challenge of the plan was filed by Tri-State on Friday, as well.

Coffman said she thinks that in enacting the Clean Power Plan, the EPA has misused the authority granted it under the Clean Air Act.

As attorney general, it is Coffman's job to raise legal questions on behalf of the residents of Colorado.

"It's important for the states to put up a hand and say, 'stop, wait a minute, we need to explore the legal question and your authority before we're too far down the road with implementation,'" she said.

According to a news release from Coffman's office, a bipartisan, 24-state coalition filed claims against the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and requested the court put the plan's deadlines on hold pending proceedings.

A stay would allow states the option of waiting for a definitive court ruling before working on implementation of a rule that may be found illegal. The state plaintiffs also will seek an expedited court decision, whether or not the Clean Power Plan is stayed.

In the meantime, Tri-State, an electric power supplier owned by 44 electric cooperatives, is following through with plans to meet state and federal regulations on emissions.

Tri-State has added nearly 250 megawatts of renewable energy since 2008 and has plans to add another 281 by 2017, spokesman Lee Boughey said. In 2014, Tri-State generated 1,866 megawatts from coal, 897 megawatts from natural gas and 863 from renewable energy resources.

"Even as we work constructively with the states to develop state plans under the new rule, strong arguments exist to show EPA exceeded its legal authority and many of the requirements of the rule are legally flawed," Boughey said.

Coffman said she spoke with Gov. John Hickenlooper about her decision to join the lawsuit, and it will not prevent the state from moving forward with plans to meet requirements of the Clean Power Plan.

"We can both operate on parallel courses and not interfere with one another, but I'm asking the legal question," she said.

When introducing the plan in August, President Barack Obama called it the nation's "biggest, most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change."

The Clean Power Plan sets standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

States will be responsible for creating their own plans to meet the requirements and have the option of working with other states by trading in an emission-credit market.

Two options are set for evaluating emissions — rate-based and mass-based.

A rate-based plan looks at pounds of carbon dioxide produced per megawatt hour while mass-based considers overall CO2 emissions.

In 2012, Colorado produced 1,973 pounds of CO2 for every megawatt hour generated, meaning it will have to achieve a 40 percent reduction to meet the 2030 goal of 1,174 pounds per megawatt hour.

For a mass-based plan, Colorado would seek to reduce total emissions by 28 percent, reducing to 29.9 million short tons of CO2 in 2030 from 2012's 41.7 million short tons.

Colorado's goals under both categories are less stringent in the new plan, according to an EPA fact sheet.

According to the EPA document, "The 2012 baseline for Colorado was adjusted to be more representative, based on information that came in during the comment period."

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he is glad that Coffman is pursuing the lawsuit.

"This is a great outcome for us. I just hope that we get a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court in order to save what's left of the coal industry," he said.

Northwest Colorado is also home to another coal-fired power plant. Hayden Station is located 23 miles east of Craig in Routt County and operated by Xcel Energy. Recently, Xcel initiated a $160 million project to improve emission controls at the plant.

Mark Stutz, Xcel spokesman, wrote in an email, "Xcel Energy currently is at a 26 percent reduction from 2005 carbon dioxide levels in Colorado, and we are on track to achieve a 35 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020."

Conservation Colorado opposed Coffman's decision in a news release.

"Last time I checked, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman represented the interests of all Coloradans, not just a select few special interests. But it has become increasingly clear that Cynthia Coffman is more interested in doing the bidding of dirty fuel interests and out-of-state Texas lawyers than protecting and representing Coloradans," said Communications Director Chris Arend in a statement.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.