Energy, Environment, Featured, Gold Dome, Politics

Hickenlooper embracing federal overreach on EPA's energy mandates

If the U.S. Postal Service eventually goes broke, no one can blame it on a lack of business between bureaucrats in Colorado and the EPA in Washington. For a year now, they have been dueling by mail over the appropriate way to implement President Obama’s controversial EPA carbon-cutting plan for power plants.

While the letter between US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was the focus of the media, it’s a third letter dated December 1, 2014, from the heads of Colorado’s three environmental agencies to the EPA, which will impact Colorado’s three million business and residential utility customers. After 2017, those customers will likely be paying much higher prices as a result of mistakes and miscalculations made over the past year by state and federal officials.

icon_op_edSen. McConnell’s March 19 letter called on all 50 state governors to delay compliance with an EPA carbon-cutting plan until the legality of the plan has been settled in court. Thirteen states are suing to block the EPA plan on legal and constitutional grounds.  Hickenlooper’s response, which some climate crusaders cheered as a brush-off of McConnell, indicated that Colorado intends to comply with EPA mandates, which the governor believes are legal.

McConnell’s three-page letter goes to great lengths explaining why EPA is exceeding its authority in implementing its “Clean Power Plan.”  He warns that compliance with the plan invites a virtual federal takeover of each state’s energy sector, something never envisioned by the Clean Air Act, which EPA is using as the pretext for the new regulations on power plants.

Hickenlooper’s reply addressed none of the substantive issues McConnell raises.  The Governor dismisses McConnell’s concerns with this statement:  “Although complying with the Clean Power Plan will be a challenge, states tackle problems of this magnitude on a regular basis. We think it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law, and that is why we intend to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan.”

There it is. The governor intends to fully comply with whatever mandates the EPA imposes, without considering what that might mean for Colorado’s energy producers and consumers—and regardless of whether the EPA rule is unconstitutional.   So, mind your own business, the governor tells Senator McConnell. We’ve got this handled.

Governor Hickenlooper’s attitude was completely ignored when another letter from Colorado’s three top environmental officials (at the Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Energy Office and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission) shared their grave concerns about whether the state can comply with the looming EPA mandates. This December 1, 2014 letter identifies numerous problems and pitfalls and points to the impossible timetable in EPA’s plan. That 2014 letter made it clear that state compliance won’t be quite as routine as Hickenlooper’s McConnell brush-off suggests.

Among the worries cited by Hickenlooper’s top energy officials are these:

  •  First, the EPA plan described in its June 2014 announcement gives Colorado no credit for our past work in reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.
  • Then there is the problem of the lack of flexibility in the plan in not allowing states to tailor plans to unique circumstances. The 2014 letter complains on page six that, “…the forgoing issues call into question whether or not the [EPA’s] state goals may be overly ambitious….Therefore, it is imperative that a final rule increase the flexibility afforded states in EPA’s proposal.”
  • Colorado’s officials devoted a full page to insisting that “States must have the ability to revise their plans,” a detail overlooked in the EPA proposal.
  • Finally, Colorado officials explain to EPA that “a one-year timeframe would not be sufficient” for submission of a state plan. They were telling the EPA in December of 2014 that a state plan cannot be submitted by 2016. “The shortest scenario for Colorado’s plan submitted to EPA would be summer of 2017,” reads the letter, “…and in reality, the state’s plan may not be ready for legislative review until 2018.”

So we are left to wonder, which is it?  Are we going to challenge EPA overreach or pretend it’s just one more “challenge”? Is the EPA carbon-cutting mandate just another Washington curve ball, or is the EPA’s plan a major game-changer, which will cost consumers more for their energy?electric1

In an effort to help bring this process into the public square, where it belongs, Republicans offered a bill this past session, SB-258, that would require that any plan submitted by the state to EPA must first go through two additional steps. It would undergo review by the energy experts at the PUC, who would report on the plan’s likely impacts on grid reliability and ratepayer wallets.  The 100 elected lawmakers at the Statehouse would have an opportunity to debate its provisions and vote “yea“or “nay.”

Yet that bill, which passed the Senate with significant Democrat support, was summarily shot down by House Democrats, who did not even afford the bill a hearing in the chamber’s Transportation and Energy Committee.  Instead, it was sent to the House’s kill committee and defeated on a party-line vote.

The only consistent theme of Democrat opposition to SB-258 was the “warning” that a legislative review might cause the state to miss the EPA deadline for submission of a state plan.  The irony of using the bogeyman of possible federal intervention to argue for a too-eager response to federal intervention seems lost on Statehouse Democrats –and many journalists as well.

The bottom line here is that Gov. Hickenlooper has been consistently inconsistent when dealing with recent regulatory onslaughts from Washington.  For example, he’s been reasonably proactive in opposing a threatened species listing for the Sage Grouse, and he’s also been forceful in responding to the potential shut-down of the Colowyo coal mine near Craig.  But on the EPA’s “climate change” agenda – and the new EPA rules further restricting the state’s control of small bodies of water — that healthy skepticism has been missing.

The potential economic harm caused by a mine closure or Sage Grouse listing, though obviously serious, could pale in comparison to what EPA’s climate schemes will do to our electric power utilities and the prices paid by millions of residential and business consumers. Is it too much to ask that Gov. Hickenlooper apply the same fervor to fighting the EPA’s dubious attacks on the Colorado economy as he brings to other regulatory issues?

Jerry Sonnenberg, from Sterling, represents Senate District 1 in the Colorado Statehouse.

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