Sparks fly in Colorado over the EPA's Clean Power Plan

State attorney general may challenge the emissions limit, though a top state environment official supports it.


Colorado’s top environment official blasted the state’s attorney general for suggesting that she may challenge President Obama’s first-ever federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“In no way shape or form would I want her legal challenge to be a reflection of the state’s position on reducing carbon emissions,” Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told High Country News.

Wolk was responding to reports that that Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, is considering joining other states in opposing the rule, which Obama released Monday as the centerpiece of his climate change agenda. The coal industry and states that rely heavily on coal mining and electricity generation from coal are expected to launch a major effort to overturn the rule in the courts.

“I will carefully review the EPA’s plan and evaluate its long term consequences for our state,” Coffman said in an email to HCN. “But as I put the best interests of Colorado first, it may become necessary to join other states in challenging President Obama’s authority under the Clean Air Act.” 

Coffman charged that the new rule has the potential to put Colorado’s nearly $9 billion mining energy industry in jeopardy and threaten more than 74,000 Colorado jobs.

The president’s clean power plan would forge major changes in the nation’s electricity sector, promoting wind and solar over fossil fuels. But Wolk said the state is on board: “I think it’s a challenging plan but an obtainable plan.”

Changes made to the rule since the proposal, such as allowing states until 2022, two additional years, to meet their first greenhouse gas reduction targets, will enable Colorado to make a quicker transition to renewable fuels, Wolk said. It was a mixed blessing for Colorado that the rule is not as encouraging of natural gas as the proposal. The state has abundant natural gas, but it also has air quality problems that would be alleviated by less fossil fuel generation.

Colorado has already taken strides to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as emphasized in this White House release. The state led the nation in addressing greenhouse gases emissions from natural gas production because of methane leaks. The state’s 2010 Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act facilitated the retirement of coal-fired power plants and its renewable electricity standard requires large utilities to provide 30 percent of electricity from renewable power by 2020.

Since he’s not a lawyer, Wolk said he’ll give Coffman the “benefit of the doubt” that her concerns are legal in nature: “I would hope there’s no reason from a philosophical standpoint, especially since she used to work for the Department of Public Health and the Environment.”

Most Western states were not ready to comment on their reaction to the new rule. Some are sure to challenge it in court. Fourteen states tried that even before the rule was released.

Wolk hopes Coffman will not join in: “Hopefully, in the interest of preserving the intent of reducing carbon, we could fix the legal issue without impacting something so important to the public health and the environment.”

Elizabeth Shogren is HCN's DC correspondent. 

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