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Taking notice and lending a hand

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows, but when normally warring factions can set aside their different world views to come up with an acceptable compromise, it’s worth taking notice and lending a hand.

I’m referring to House Bill 1365 that I agreed to carry in the House as part of a bipartisan team with Rep. Judy Solano, (D-Brighton). The federal Clear Air Act has been in place for decades and the stricter regulations requiring change are the result of both Republican and Democratic administrations. First, though, I had a lot of questions as to whether it’s a bill I was willing to vote for.

HB 1365 allows Xcel Energy, the largest utility on the Front Range, to propose a plan to convert 900 megawatts of power from coal to natural gas. The plan’s reduction in emissions would significantly help the Front Range’s smog and health hazards from air pollution. For as many times as I’ve flown back and forth to Denver, the brown cloud hanging above it is a very familiar sight.

I didn’t support, and still don’t, the recently passed House Bill 1001, the newest renewable energy mandate for Colorado. My primary concern is legislatively adding another renewable energy mandate in these economic times. To be clear, I’ve supported many renewable energy bills, including a 2007 renewable energy standard bill, and there are solar panels on my home’s rooftop.

However, we should’ve allowed more time to see what effects recently passed legislation have on providing consumers with reliable and affordable electricity. Another objection I had to HB 1001 was the union provisions which I believe will hurt our local solar installers.

When I was approached about HB 1365, I needed to be convinced that we weren’t going down the same road with this bill. After an intensive week or so of spending many hours talking with the coalition who had put the compromise together, I was comfortable that this bill is not another mandate, but, if passed, will help Colorado meet air quality goals that must be attained in the very near term.

The federal EPA issued notice to metropolitan Denver in January, 2009, that it was out of compliance for haze requirements. If Colorado doesn’t come up with an acceptable plan in 2010 to reduce air pollutants, the EPA will write its own plan that will be imposed on us in early 2011. Most people in Southwestern Colorado know that we’ve been in a similar situation of being in non-attainment based on air quality monitor readings from air pollutants carried by wind up to our region from northern New Mexico.

For the past several years, I’ve been in close communication with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment about what it would mean to our area if we are determined to be out of compliance with the same federal requirements. This isn’t the global warming debate. This is ground level ozone and regional haze and they have significant environmental, public health and economic consequences.

Through HB 1365, Xcel is asking for legislative authority to set forth a plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission converting some of its coal power to natural gas. The natural gas industry, environmentalists and state regulators want to achieve cleaner air on a quick timeframe and seek a Colorado based solution, rather than one made in Washington, D.C.

Natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel and has been on the defensive in Colorado for the past several years as new state regulations have been imposed on its production. Under this bill, coal will remain an important Colorado resource and also has a strong market in other parts of the country who buy it to meet their air quality standards.

This bill has its challenges, but it’s worth serious consideration. Fragile coalitions are always vulnerable to opponents’ efforts to wedge them apart. Time will tell how this one weathers the political storms.