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How Colorado Politics Could Interfere With New EPA Standards


Long before the Obama administration cracked down on coal-fired power plant pollution, Colorado acted by itself. The state's pollution regulations made it a leader years ago. The state's Democratic governor still favors those rules, but the Republican state attorney general is on the other side and may join a lawsuit against the latest federal steps. Here's Grace Hood of Colorado Public Radio.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Operations hum along at Xcel Energy's large Denver power plant. Coal-fired electricity generation here used to be a big source of carbon dioxide emissions. Later this year, this plant will fully transition to natural gas. It's the sound of progress to Frank Prager. He's vice president for policy at Xcel Energy.

FRANK PRAGER: You know, we've been working for a very long time to get ready for this very rule.

HOOD: Prager is referring to a new plan by the federal government to reduce carbon emissions at existing coal-fired power plants. Overall, the government wants to cut emissions 32 percent by 2030 with the Clean Power Plan. And each state has its own target. Some coal-rich states like Wyoming and West Virginia have strict goals. They're suing the Environmental Protection Agency. Xcel's Prager says other states like Colorado have less work to do.

PRAGER: This state has been on a path for a long time to reduce its emissions and to transition to a clean energy future.

HOOD: In 2004, Colorado voters passed one of the first renewable energy standards in the country. It prompted large utilities like Xcel to use more solar and wind. In 2010, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill to retire some coal-fired power plants. And now in 2015, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he's embracing the new plan.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Our state has to roll up their sleeves and say, all right, we recognize that we want cleaner air.

HOOD: Hickenlooper says he believes the state can reduce carbon while not significantly increasing the cost of power.

HICKENLOOPER: I mean, one of the amazing things about this moment in time is that inexpensive natural gas is a very, very clean fuel.

HOOD: But Colorado's Republic Attorney General Cynthia Coffman isn't so sure. She says the Clean Power Plan raises significant concerns. Citing the declining coal industry, she says she's weighing whether to join 15 other states suing the EPA. Coffman declined NPR's request for an interview. Her concerns are echoed by Colorado's coal industry.

DIANNA ORF: I think we've already seen a hit.

HOOD: Dianna Orf with the Colorado Mining Association says coal production is at a 20-year low in the state. And the plan is expected to further reduce coal production across the West. Orf says ultimately, it's electricity ratepayers who will get stuck paying higher bills.

ORF: We just don't believe this Clean Power Plan is going to be worth what it is costing in terms of jobs and in terms of cost to the consumer.

HOOD: The Obama administration says the plan will save the average family money. It may turn out that the politics over clean power are more complicated than actually producing cleaner energy. Stacy Tellinghuisen is an analyst with the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. She estimates the state is already committed to meeting three-fourths of the final goal.

STACY TELLINGHUISEN: With no additional actions that aren't already in utilities' plans.

HOOD: So can Colorado just kind of sit back and crack a beer and just let things happen?

TELLINGHUISEN: (Laughter) That would be great, but no, not exactly.

HOOD: Tellinghuisen points out large utilities have made big strides in Colorado. One challenge may come down to smaller, less technologically advanced utilities rising to the occasion. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Grace Hood