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Pete Maysmith Headshot

Taking on King Coal

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Bipartisanship is dead. At least that is what the chattering class would have you
believe. Look a little deeper however, and you'll see that there is a different story to
tell in the Rocky Mountains.

Colorado is energy country - it is home to the New Energy Economy and a strong
commitment to solar and wind generation but it also has a history of traditional
energy development including coal, oil, and natural gas.

Of course, there is broad agreement that we need to move away from coal. Our
dependence is killing us. Literally.

Three million Coloradans are harmed by air pollution spewing from old coal-fired
power plants in Metro Denver. Pollution from coal plants is linked to mortality,
emergency room visits, asthma, and sick days from work and school. Kids are
hit especially hard - over 65,000 children in Metro Denver suffer from asthma.
Let's not forget that carbon dioxide from coal plants is a major greenhouse gas
contributor too.

We can't just sit on our hands and wait for these aging monsters to die a natural
death. And more importantly, we can't invest millions of dollars to put them on life-
support. The good news is we have an opportunity to actually shut the coal plants
down. Very soon.

This is where the bipartisan element of the story comes into play. This spring,
Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature agreed it was time to act. They
joined forces with the Democratic Governor, Bill Ritter, the major utility in the state,
Xcel Energy, forward thinking leaders in the natural gas industry, public health
champions, and conservation groups to pass the Clean Air, Clean Jobs act (CACJ).

The measure calls for Xcel to replace 900 megawatts of coal fired power with
cleaner burning natural gas, renewables, and more energy efficiency. In an earlier
post, my colleague at the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Elise Jones, highlights
how Colorado positioned itself to be ready to pass CACJ.

The story isn't over though. Over the past few months the Colorado Public Utilities
Commission (PUC) has been evaluating Xcel's plans to implement the legislation.
The coal industry, locally and nationally, is fighting tooth and nail to derail the
measure, pouring in buckets of money in hopes the PUC will require the old coal
plants to be retrofitted rather than replaced.

After months of back and forth, the PUC deliberations will start on Monday. By
voting to shutter all five coal units under discussion by 2017, the PUC will hit a
home run for clean air and continue Colorado's leadership at the forefront of twenty
first century energy policy. We simply can't afford 19th century solutions to 21st century problems.

People live in and visit Colorado in large part because of our stunning mountains
and deep blue skies. Transitioning away from dirty coal will help protect what
makes Colorado unique. The PUC should honor the bi-partisan work that gave rise
to the Clean Air, Clean Jobs act, and the wishes of the vast majority of Coloradans,
and move to retire the region's aging coal plants next week.