Routt Commissioner candidates: renewables matter, but saving fossil fuels jobs are highest priority | SteamboatToday.com

Routt Commissioner candidates: renewables matter, but saving fossil fuels jobs are highest priority

Routt Commissioner candidates rally behind coal







— The gradually unwinding story of Peabody Energy's efforts to reorganize under protection of bankruptcy and the implications of that outcome for Routt County's Twentymile Coal Mine and the nearby Hayden Station coal-fired power plant were on the minds of many attending a candidates' forum Oct. 20 at the Steamboat Grand.

That included the candidates for Routt County Commissioner District 1 — incumbent Democrat Tim Corrigan, of Yampa, and Republican challenger Bob Dapper, who lives in the valley just south of Steamboat Springs.

Asked by moderator and Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman whether it is inevitable that the fossil fuels industry here will continue to decline and whether the county should place increasing emphasis on transitioning to new jobs in renewable energy, both candidates said preserving the health of the coal industry and, by extension, the power plant, is a matter of great importance.

"Energy is a bipartisan issue for Routt County," Dapper said, "The coal industry needs help right now, and we need to support it. The next step is to have a bipartisan, united front."

Corrigan said it's important to understand that the coal industry will continue to change, but quickly added that he has lobbied at the state level for Twentymile and its companion electrical generating plant to be given consideration.

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He said he's urged officials on Colorado's Front Range, where air pollution is a bigger problem, to meet federal clean air standards by closing coal-fired power plants there and preserving operations in the Yampa Valley.

"Why in the world would they close down a power plant at the mouth of a coal mine?" Corrigan asked.

Dapper said the county needs to be focusing both on existing opportunities with fossil fuels and renewables.

"We'd be silly if we didn't first take advantage of what we already have," he said. "We still have opportunities with the cleanest-burning power plant in the country and one of the cleanest extraction operations. This is everybody's problem. All of us working together can make energy clean and successful."

Corrigan wants to solve the problem too.

"I think we understand coal is on a long-term downward incline — our job isn't to fight that downward incline," Corrigan said. “Our job is to adjust to the future. If the (federal) clean power plan is implemented, we're probably looking at closing four or five plants around Colorado. My goal is to make sure our coal mine and power plant are the last ones standing.”

Colorado Senate District 8 race

Asked during Thursday’s candidate forum if he favors the statewide healthcare system proposed by constitutional Amendment 69, more commonly known as ColoradoCare, State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, didn't equivocate.

"No, I don't support 69," Baumgardner said. "It's a single-payer (program) that would support anyone who moves into the state and would create $25 billion in new taxes, initially," Baumgardner said. "It would be run by a board that decides if the tax is high enough and, if not, they can choose, without legislative oversight, to raise that tax if they see fit."

Baumgardner's Democratic challenger, Emily Tracy, of Breckenridge, said she had studied Amendment 69 sufficiently to take a position on the question, but hastened to remind her audience that Medicare is also a single-payer health benefit system and "many of us are pretty happy with it."

"Colorado has some of the highest health insurance premiums in the nation," Tracy said. "I don't think we should turn away from something just because it's a single-payer system."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1