Colorado Springs Utilities to move forward with Martin Drake decommission plan despite reversal of Clean Power Plan

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (The Gazette/AP) - Colorado Springs Utilities' plan to decomission Martin Drake Power Plant will not change despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief's Monday announcement that he will override the Clean Power Plan.

The Obama-era plan limited carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants such as the downtown Drake.

Utilities is on track to decommission Martin Drake no later than 2035. Earlier decommissioning dates are being studied and will be presented to the Utilities Board in December, said spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

Utilities also is moving forward with contract negotiations for 100 more megawatts of renewable solar energy, part of its "Energy Vision" plan to reduce energy consumption and increase use of renewable energy.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt has fought the Clean Power Plan since he was elected attorney general of Oklahoma. He was among about two dozen attorneys general who sued to stop President Barack Obama's 2014 push to limit carbon emissions, stymieing the limits from ever taking effect.

"The war on coal is over," Pruitt declared in the coal mining state of Kentucky. He said no federal agency "should ever use its authority" to "declare war on any sector of our economy."

Pruitt, closely aligned with the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma,doesn't believe the consensus of scientists that man-made emissions from burning fossil fuels are the primary driver of global climate change.

President Donald Trump, who appointed Pruitt and shares his skepticism of established climate science, promised to kill the Clean Power Plan during his 2016 campaign as part of his broader pledge to revive the nation's struggling coal mines.

In his order Tuesday, Pruitt is expected to declare that the Obama-era rule exceeded federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.

It was not immediately clear whether Pruitt will seek to issue a new rule without congressional approval, which Republicans had criticized the Obama administration for doing. Pruitt's rule wouldn't become final for months and is expected to face legal challenges filed by left-leaning states and environmental groups.

Pruitt appeared at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at Whayne Supply, a Hazard, Ky., company that sells coal mining supplies. The store's owners have had to lay off about 60 percent of its workers in recent years.

While cheering the demise of the Clean Power Plang, McConnell conceded most of those lost jobs are never coming back.

"A lot of damage has been done," the Kentucky Republican said. "This doesn't immediately bring everything back, but we think it stops further decline of coal-fired plants in the United States, and that means there will still be some market here."

Obama's plan was designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule specified targets for states based on power-plant emissions and gave officials broad latitude to decide how to reduce them.

The Supreme Court put the plan on hold last year after legal challenges by industry and coal-friendly states. Even so, the plan helped drive a wave of closures of coal-fired plants, which also are squeezed by low-cost natural gas and renewable power. In the absence of stricter federal regulations curbing emissions, many states have issued their own mandates promoting energy conservation.

The withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan is the latest in a series of moves by Trump and Pruitt to dismantle Obama's legacy on fighting climate change, including the delay or roll back of rules limiting levels of toxic pollution in smokestack emissions and wastewater discharges from coal-burning power plants.

On Thursday, Trump nominated former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to serve as Pruitt's top deputy at the EPA - one of several recent EPA appointees with direct ties to fossil-fuel interests.

The president announced earlier this year that he will pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries have committed to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

"This president has tremendous courage," Pruitt said Monday. "He put America first and said to the rest of the world, 'We are going to say no and exit the Paris Accord.' That was the right thing to do."

Despite the rhetoric, coal mines employ only about 52,000 workers nationally - a modest 4 percent uptick since Trump became president, government statistics show. Those numbers are dwarfed by the jobs created by building wind turbines and solar arrays.

In Colorado, 16,165 people work in solar, wind and hydroelectric power generation, whereas coal generation employs 3,812 people, reports the Department of Energy.

Four cities in Colorado - Pueblo, Boulder, Aspen and Nederland - have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

Environmental groups and public health advocates quickly derided Pruitt's decision as short-sighted.

"Trump is not just ignoring the deadly cost of pollution, he's ignoring the clean energy deployment that is rapidly creating jobs across the country," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

"Replacing the Clean Power Plan with a polluter-approved alternative is not making America, or Colorado, great," said Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado.