Craig group defends coal in power-plant emissions hearing

CRAIG — Allen Swenson is a sixth-generation coal miner, and his son works in the mines as well.

So — despite the early departure time — the Craig resident jumped at the chance to head to Denver on Wednesday to show his support for coal to the Environmental Protection Agency as it considers limits on carbon emissions by existing power plants.

He and other miners, politicians, business officials and others from the Craig area hit the road before 6 a.m. Wednesday. They’re concerned that the action the EPA takes could impact plants such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s coal-fired Craig Station — and thus coal mining as well.

“Coal mining is my livelihood and without it I don’t live,” said Swenson, a surface equipment operator at Peabody Energy’s Twentymile Mine in Routt County.

The EPA is holding 11 listening sessions across the country on the issue and plans to issue a proposal in June. But people including Matt Winey, a continuous miner maintenance planner at Twentymile, have a feeling they won’t like what the agency proposes.

“It looks like they’re trying to shut down coal mining,” he said as he, 
Swenson and others waited on a bus chartered by Peabody to leave for Denver.

In September, the EPA released a plan proposing carbon dioxide limits for new power plants. That prompted debate on whether those limits specifically applying to coal-fired plants are attainable or would effectively rule out new coal plants.

The EPA’s proposals are part of an effort to deliver on President Obama’s climate action plan.

As it also turns its attention to existing plants, the agency said on its website, “Before proposing guidelines, EPA must consider how power plants with a variety of different configurations would be able to reduce carbon pollution in a cost-effective way.”

“The feedback from these 11 public listening sessions will play an important role in helping EPA develop smart, cost-effective guidelines that reflect the latest and best information available.”

A report released in September by Environment Colorado said the Craig plant is the nation’s 55th-dirtiest for carbon emissions, and the dirtiest in Colorado.

Numerous environmental, health-advocacy and other groups held a press conference in Denver on Wednesday in support of the EPA’s efforts regarding power plants.

In a news release, Curt Huber, executive director of the American Lung Association in Colorado, said, “Power plant pollution kills and makes people sick. … By proposing standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, the EPA is setting the stage for America’s power plants to be the least toxic and most modern in the world. It makes no sense to allow power plants to emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.”

Craig City Council member Joe Bird, one of those who gathered in a rally at a Craig McDonald’s before the pre-dawn drive to Denver, said coal mines and coal-fired power are major sources of jobs and tax revenues for the city.

“All of that equates to long-term stability for Craig,” he said.

Craig hotel owner Frank Moe drew attention last year when he persuaded Mitt Romney’s campaign to have the presidential candidate make a stop in Craig after Moe complained that over-regulation of coal was trickling down to hurt his business. Moe said Wednesday that he believes in all sorts of energy, including renewable sources, but renewables aren’t yet adequate to meet energy needs.

“Coal needs to be part of the mix,” he said.

Part of the coal industry’s problem involves utilities increasingly building plants powered by natural gas, which is now abundant and cheap. But Moe predicted tough regulations are ahead for gas-fired plants as well.

“It’s coal first they’re going after. After they get rid of coal, they’re going after natural gas,” he said.

Swenson said he spent a lot of time in the military.

“I fought for our freedom to do what we want to. … For our government to destroy our livelihood, that’s ridiculous.”


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