Supporters and opponents gathered in Denver this week to air their concerns as the Environmental Protection Agency held hearings on proposed regulations to reduce carbon emissions in existing power plants.
Environmentalists and coal miners alike called on the Obama administration to think about the children when considering the proposed Clean Power Plan, which was unveiled in early June. It’s been described as a bold step to combat climate change by supporters and a naked power grab that threatens jobs by opponents. The EPA also held hearings the same days in Washington, Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
“We’re here to send a strong, clear message to the EPA,” said John Friedrich of Climate Parents at a rally held under a blazing sun on Tuesday in Lower Downtown. “The health and well-being of our children now, and throughout their lives, must be the top priority in setting new carbon pollution limits on power plants.” He asked that the EPA take “bold action” in order to “help turn the tide on climate change.”
Friedrich was among the parents whose children had earlier staged a “play-in,” bouncing inflatable globes and cavorting on the grass at Commons Park, near the Denver Millennium Bridge, where hundreds convened for a press conference urging the EPA to adopt strict standards on greenhouse gas emissions.
Across the street from the State Capitol, a similar-sized crowd urged the agency to reject the rule at a noontime rally sponsored by the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization. There were plenty of children there, too — “Proud to be a coal miner’s son,” read the sign held by one tyke — as well as energy company executives and politicians from throughout the region who blasted the EPA and warned the rule could cripple local economies.
“This is real life, real America. This is at the heart of America,” said Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez at the rally. “Keep your hands off our jobs, off our families, off our dignity of work.”
The proposed rule would require states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from current levels by 2030, though the goals and methods would be tailored to each state. In Colorado, for example, the target reduction would be 35 percent below 2012 levels using efficiency improvements at existing coal plants, moving some electricity generation to natural gas, adding renewable power capacity and boosting energy efficiency.
“If we’re really going to be about all-of-the-above, why do we take the biggest part of all-of-the-above right off the table?” Beauprez asked. “Right here, we’ve got the cleanest, the highest-quality coal in the whole country, maybe the whole world,” he added, and the coal miners in the crowd roared their approval.
“Affordable, sustainable energy is the root of a growing, sustainable economy,” Beauprez said. “How tough is that to understand?”
At the hearings, held Tuesday and Wednesday at the EPA’s regional office in Lower Downtown, Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith testified that Colorado was well positioned to comply with the proposed rule.
“Colorado has led the way on reducing carbon pollution in a collaborative, practical way because it is the right thing to do,” Maysmith said. “Colorado has a history of doing what is right when it comes to our families, our economy, and our environment. We have shown other states and the nation how a combination of policies and investments in cleaner resources can cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution while expanding our economy and protecting public health.”
It was similar to the point made by Jaime Travis, “head mom” and chief organizer of Colorado Moms Know Best, which was among the groups sponsoring the nearby rally in support of the new requirements.
“Our kids’ health should be the No. 1 priority,” she told The Colorado Statesman. “The health costs and the environmental impact costs of continuing to allow dirty power plants to pollute our air is much great than any energy cost increase,” she added. “We can’t continue paying with our children’s health.”
Julie Moyle, a nurse who practices in Boulder and works with the Healthier Hospital Initiative, told the crowd that advocating for the new power standards was part of fulfilling her oath to protect health.
“Carbon pollution is the public health threat of our time,” Moyle said. Reducing emissions, she contended, will lead to less illness, fewer school and workdays lost to illness, lower hospital costs, saving $1.3 trillion. What’s more, she added, cutting carbon dioxide and other emissions is wildly popular with American voters, and they’ve said they’re willing to pay for it.
A June Washington Post/ABC poll showed wide majorities of Americans — even across party lines — support federal limits on greenhouse gases produced by existing power plants, with 70 percent backing federal limits and an identical share of Americans supporting limits within individual states. In addition, 63 percent say they’d be willing to pay higher power bills each month if that led to reduced emissions.
“It is time to adopt these clean air standards,” Moyle said to cheers from the crowd.
Not so fast, according to a letter from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican, who was unable to attend the rally because of duties in Washington but had Orchard City Mayor Don Suppes — he’s running for the open Senate District 5 seat currently held by Democrat Gail Schwartz — read his letter to the EPA.
“The President’s proposed rules amount to a backdoor energy tax that would force states to comply with heavy-handed regulations that will cause electricity costs to skyrocket for countless Americans, kill jobs, and further slow the economy,” Tipton wrote. “What’s most concerning is that those who will be hurt worst by the President’s war against affordable energy are middle-class and low-income families, seniors on fixed incomes, rural Americans and small businesses. Instead of working toward a responsible all-of-the-above strategy needed for a secure and stable energy future, the President is picking winners and losers and waging a war on America’s most abundant and affordable energy resources.”
The crowd agreed. “Save America: Impeach Obama,” read signs at the rally, and some protesters attached “Coal Guns Freedom” stickers to the bright red “Stop the EPA Power Grab” T-shirts they wore.
State House Majority Leader Dickie Lee Hullinghurst, D-Boulder, told The Statesman that she fully supports the new rules.
“I’m all for it, it’s something we’ve needed for a long time. The nice thing about Colorado is we’re taking the lead on this, and we’re very close to meeting the standards, or will be,” she said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do to address harmful air emissions. After all, we all like to breathe clean air.”
Hullinghurst said fears were overblown that the rules could lead to painful increases in energy costs.
“I’m not positive that you’ll see (higher prices),” she said. “The way these standards go, you find very little change in the price of goods. I remember in the early 1980s when the states were implementing clean air plans, there were many industries that said they would be put out of business that are flourishing now and making big profits.”
But a Republican who hopes to join Hullinghurst in the House disagrees.
Marcy Freeburg, the GOP candidate for state House District 62, stretching from parts of Pueblo County across the San Luis Valley, said state rural electric standards have led to serious economic hardship.
“Our electric rates have doubled down there, and those are some of the poorest counties in the state, we can’t afford to pay more for electricity,” said Freeburg, who is challenging state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland.
“This ain’t Denver,” she said, referring to the sprawling HD 62. “The people down in Southern Colorado are sick of being told what to do and how to do it.”
See the August 1, 2014 print edition for full photo coverage.