coal power

A loader moves coal outside Colorado Springs Utilities' Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008, toward the hopper that will transport the fuel into the power plant. (Christian Murdock, The Gazette)

Greenhouse gases and noxious emissions from coal plants would increase under newly proposed Trump administration guidelines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

But it’s unclear how the proposed Affordable Clean Energy Rule could affect Colorado Springs Utilities’ coal-fired downtown Martin Drake Power Plant and Ray Nixon Power Plant near Fountain.

“We will conduct a detailed review of the proposal and provide comments to the EPA as necessary,” Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad said. “We take being a responsible environmental steward very seriously.”

The rule also would allow states to relax emissions standards for coal plants. But the Colorado Department of Health and Environment doesn’t appear eager to do so.

“Colorado has already made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector and continues to look for ways to further reduce emissions,” said Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley. “The proposal is 236 pages, I’m told, and it was signed by the EPA administrator yesterday, so we are currently reviewing the proposed rule.”

The department’s response to the proposed rule won’t be made for some time, Salley said.

The Affordable Clean Energy Rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan created under President Obama’s administration. Its implementation is “expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health,” says the EPA’s regulatory impact analysis.

The EPA is conducting a 60-day public comment period before anything is finalized.

The plan would boost carbon emissions and rates of microscopic airborne particulates linked to heart and lung disease and known to trigger asthma and bronchitis, The New York Times reported.

In one of several possible scenarios allowed in the plan, the EPA predicts the U.S. will see as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased airborne particulates, The Times reported.

The new plan “empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation,” the EPA said in a news release.

But carbon pollution policies in that plan are “unlawfully weak,” the Sierra Club says in a news release Tuesday.

The proposal “is one of the Trump Administration’s most egregious attacks on clean air, public health, and our fragile climate,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in the release.

The Martin Drake Power Plant is scheduled to be decommissioned no later than 2035. The earliest that replacement transmission projects could be completed is 2023, Trinidad said.

“We have an experienced team planning and putting the infrastructure in place to efficiently and safely decommission and deconstruct it,” she said. “Meanwhile, our coal plants continue to meet strict state and federal air-quality standards. We have made significant investments in these plants over the past few years to comply with new emission limits.”

Yet in November, the state Air Quality Control Commission deemed the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions “unclassifiable” for a second time, rather than in compliance with federal standards.

And a study last year found that Martin Drake is the least efficient coal-fired plant in the state and would struggle to compete if Utilities partnered with other utilities in the region. Utilities representatives disputed those findings by Tufts University’s Applied Economics Clinic, however, saying Drake’s reliability and efficiency make it a primary energy generator.

Elsewhere, though, coal plants have fallen out of favor.

“Across Colorado, utilities and communities are finding cost savings by switching off coal plants and building new clean energy infrastructure,” said Zach Pierce, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado. “Regardless of the federal context, now is the time for (the Colorado Springs) City Council to plan a clean energy future to guarantee low electricity bills and protect our air and water.”

The proposed federal rule likely won’t change much in the city, said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of Colorado Springs’ Downtown Partnership. City and state officials will continue to promote reduced pollution because that’s most viable for economic development, she said.

“Our position remains the same because we think these issues are still vital. It doesn’t mean a big change in terms of a long-term arc when it comes to clean air,” Edmondson said. “We’re pointing in the direction of clean air energy, regardless of the decisions made by one administration. We know where we as a city need to be heading.”

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