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Gov. Hickenlooper's call for reduced emissions in Colorado meets criticism

August 26, 2016 Updated: August 27, 2016 at 7:12 am

Gov. John Hickenlooper is facing criticism from both the environmental advocates and the oil and gas industry for his proposed strict reductions of carbon emissions from electric power generators.

"I should know better than trying to do anything during an election year," Hickenlooper said Friday, two days after a draft of his executive order. "The one thing that we have to accept as a state and a country is that we are going to continue to move toward cleaner energy. Our challenge is how do we do that without increasing the financial burden on especially low income houses and so far we've been pretty successful at that."

Not everyone agrees with that statement.

"This seems to be another attempt at driving coal and those people working in the coal mines out of business," said state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. "We've already seen one coal mine close, we're worried about others. We're also worried about how electricity will be generated, at least in the short term it's going to drive up costs."

Sonnenberg was among Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly who tried to ensure the state didn't move forward with implementation of Clean Power Plan, a new regulation put out by the Environmental Protection Agency that calls for nationwide reductions in carbon emissions.

That plan has been put on hold after the Supreme Court issued a stay on its implementation, pending a court ruling on the legality of it.

Sonnenberg said the governor was deliberately trying to act against the will of lawmakers who had refused to fully fund the Department of Public Health and Environment that is responsible for implementing the Clean Power Plan.

"I have huge heartburn when a governor thumbs his nose at the legislator and the legislative process," Sonnenberg said. "There was a bill and a budget discussion. It's a page right out of President Obama's playbook."

Hickenlooper said Colorado should move forward with more strict emissions goals despite the stay.

But he emphasized that his executive order does not carry the rule of law, rather he described it as a "vision" for a state that relies on its natural beauty.

"This is in no way taking the legislator out of the loop, in no way is it short circuiting the rule making process," he said. "We're not saying the state has to do this."

The governor went so far as to say he wanted to include a plan to help those who may be adversely impacted by a state plan that favors cleaner natural gas-fired power plants and renewable energy like solar and wind over the historic coal burning plants.

He said he'd like to provide job training for those in the coal industry who may lose their jobs.

The draft of his executive order was careful to highlight the job growth in Colorado in both the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy market.

"In 2015, there were 2,070 cleantech companies operating in Colorado, and the industry supported 25,260 direct jobs and an additional 62,500 indirect jobs," the order says. "These cleantech jobs provided $3.6 billion in wages."

Sonnenberg said Colorado has already drastically improved air and water quality curbing pollution. He said coal-fired power plants have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on scrubbers to lessen the impact of emissions.

He said further edicts would only harm the economy and those who struggle to pay their electric bills.

It's a complicated balance. Scientists around the world acknowledge the impact greenhouse gases are having on the climate and are urging caution.

The United Nations set global emissions standards recently.

"Those goals represent roughly one-tenth the emissions reductions that Colorado would need to achieve over the next two decades in order for our state to be fully supportive of maintaining a livable global climate. They're not even a good start," Kevin Cross, a spokesman for three different Colorado climate change advocacy groups told The Denver Post. "Colorado needs to do much better if we are to reclaim a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis."

Hickenlooper said the fact that he's getting criticism from both sides is a sign it's an election year and there are politics at play.

House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver, lauded Hickenlooper.

"This has been a partisan issue, but it doesn't need to be," Duran said. "A business-friendly Colorado and clean air are not mutually exclusive values. Debate over policy is entirely appropriate, but the Republicans are trying to debate facts. The facts of climate change are unassailable."

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