Coal counties deserve help with transition

Because coal is big in Western Colorado — as an abundant resource, a cheap way to generate electricity and a provider of good-paying jobs — President Obama’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions from power plants has more opposition here than other parts of the state.

The fact that Colorado has a voter-approved Renewable Portfolio Standard is proof that clean energy is important to Coloradans. In many ways, the coal industry has enjoyed the largesse of government policies favoring cheap electricity because it hasn’t been on the hook for spillover costs.

Not anymore. Any way you slice it, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan seeks to reduce the amount of coal America burns to meet energy demands. Coal and its big carbon footprint are at odds with the climate objectives of the Obama administration.

The good news is that Colorado is well positioned to meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan, and even profit from new technologies, as several environmental organizations told The Sentinel’s editorial board last week.

Colorado utilities’ plans to invest in renewable energy, advance energy efficiency and transition from coal to cleaner sources of power will significantly reduce emissions. Colorado is already on track to meet 75 percent of the emissions reductions required by the final goal. And going forward the state has a lot of flexibility in choosing how to bridge the gap.

Critics contend that enacting expensive changes in how we produce electricity won’t significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So why do it at all? Because if the overwhelming majority of scientists are right, we’re close to a tipping point with regard to climate change. Any decrease keeps us from getting there and finding out if the cataclysmic predictions are true.

And the plan simply seizes on a direction America is headed anyway. Coal has been in a steady decline, in part because of a natural gas boom, but also because consumers like green energy. The low costs of coal-fired electrical generation don’t reflect other costs, like treating respiratory diseases from pollutants. Things important to the Western Slope, like agriculture, wildlife, orchards, vineyards, snowpack and runoff all stand to be impacted by climate change.

So, there are important reasons to support the plan. But we’re bothered that a shift in government policy can be so devestating to communities that have built their economies around coal mining and coal-fired plants.

The federal government is responsive to natural disasters. Shouldn’t it be just as responsive to economic disasters of its own making? The EPA plan will impact places like Moffat and Delta counties. How about the equivalent of FEMA money going to these places to diversify the economy? And any large-scale renewable projects like solar arrays should go there too.


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