State health officials are staging a series of public relations rallies cloaked as "All Stakeholder" meetings to discuss President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. As explained in this space last month, a Jan. 14 meeting in Commerce City featured five panel experts who all supported the plan, which proposes federal mandates likely to close coal-fired electric plants, reduce mining and transportation jobs and require spending on emerging renewable technologies.
The audience appeared selected, full of people who knew each other, with about 30 comments coming only from activists who supported the plan. In the hourslong meeting, not one person expressed skepticism or opposition. It smacked of propaganda.
Reality struck when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment took the show to Brush, a rural eastern plains town where people work hard to earn a buck.
Four of five panel members were cheerleaders for the president's plan, which has the full support of Gov. John Hickenlooper. Panelist Kent Singer, an attorney and executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, offered the panel's only balance. He said public utilities and electric cooperatives are supposed to provide reliable energy at a price households, farms, ranches and businesses can afford. The president's plan, he worries, would impose hardships.
Audience participants crashed the party to explain how eastern Coloradans have invested in hundreds of wind turbines that won't count toward the proposed standards, as the plan would disqualify assets built before 2013.
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg told state officials he represents 21,000 square miles that host more wind turbines than the rest of the state combined, and most would not qualify. He worries about constituents having to fund investments they already made in vain.
"We can look at the lower middle class, the working poor, the poor and the elderly and see how they would be impacted, and how it would make it even tougher for them," Sonnenberg said. A farmer who spends $10,000 on energy to irrigate a field would take a big hit, the senator explained, at a time when some crop prices have plunged.
Sonnenberg read chunks of The Gazette's Commerce City editorial and admonished state employees for the panel featured in Brush.
"You come to rural Colorado, where agriculture is king," Sonnenberg said, explaining agriculture is Colorado's second-largest industry. "That we don't have an agricultural panelist... I think is a travesty."
David Churchwell, general manager of K.C. Electric Association in Hugo, said he supports Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman's lawsuit to stop the mandates, filed with 23 other state attorneys general. Hickenlooper asked the Colorado Supreme Court to stop Coffman's involvement, but the court declined.
In Brush, audience support for the Clean Power Plan came mostly from teenagers who identified themselves only as high school students concerned with global warming. Questioned afterward, a student said she and the others were from Net Zero Environmental Club at Fairview High School in Boulder.
Higher utility bills won't hurt the average Boulder family, where median household incomes exceed $70,000. In Brush, household incomes barely exceed $30,000. Minorities make up 12 percent of Boulder but more than a quarter of Brush.
State health officials need to get serious about their presentation for the remaining "All Stakeholder" meetings in Pueblo and Craig. This plan poses serious consequences for those who cannot afford haphazard and experimental efforts to control the climate. We need a balance of experts presenting a variety of views, not another panel stacked with support for a political agenda.