Bill favors gas over coal, senator says

It isn’t right to promote one industry at the expense of another, according to state senators who oppose a measure to convert Front Range, coal-fired, power plants to burn natural gas.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, and other senators argued Tuesday to no avail that while the idea likely would boost drilling jobs on the Western Slope and elsewhere in the state, there could be a corresponding decrease in the number of mining and railroad positions.

“We have a saying in northwest Colorado that when the wolf and the coyote and the sheep get together to decide what’s on the menu, the sheep doesn’t turn out in such good shape,” White said. “Well, let me tell you, this bill was put together by the wolf and the coyote, meaning Xcel and natural gas, and the sheep is the coal industry. It’s the one that’s on the menu here today.”

The Senate approved the measure on a 20-13 vote.

White said the bill would reduce coal sales in the state by about 2.5 million tons. For the Twentymile Mine near Oak Creek, the state’s largest coal mine, that means a potential loss of about 25 percent of its 500 jobs, he said.

At the same time, no one knows exactly how many additional drilling jobs would be created under the bill, particularly because the industry is already rehiring workers laid off during the recession, White said.

“I’ve got four coal mines and two coal-fired power plants in my district,” he said. “I also have the Piceance Basin and the Roan Plateau, one of the largest natural-gas-producing districts in this state. I’m afraid if this bill passes, we will see the unnecessary early demise of the coal industry in our state while the natural gas industry is on the recovery.”

But other Western Slope lawmakers disagreed the impact will be that great, if at all.

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is forcing the state’s hand in finding its own solutions to expected, stricter, air quality rules, and House Bill 1365 helps it do that.

Penry said estimates that coal-related jobs will decrease are overblown.

“House Bill 1365 is the most significant and positive piece of legislation in the state Legislature in the last decade,” Penry said. “This bill will increase demand to drill, demand for natural gas by 15 percent by itself in one fell swoop. That is jobs, that’s economic activity, and that’s entirely consistent with Republican and conservative values ... less government control and more energy production.”

The measure still requires a final Senate vote, which could come as early as today. If it passes, the bill would return to the House for a final vote before it can head to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk.


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