Colorado air pollution funding caught in climate rule crosshairs

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Colorado’s top air official has condemned an effort by Republican lawmakers to block about $8.5 million in funding over concerns about federal climate change regulations.

If passed, the move “would significantly interfere with our ability to do our job of ensuring clean air and reducing emissions,” said Will Allison, Air Pollution Control Division director with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

GOP lawmakers have said they are concerned the state is preparing for U.S. EPA’s climate rule to curb carbon emissions from power plants, despite a Supreme Court ruling last month to block it.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) supports the federal Clean Power Plan. Following the Supreme Court stay, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced it would continue efforts to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, prompting Republican opponents to hit back.

In a vote last week, three lawmakers on Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee moved to block the funds for air pollution and control the division’s stationary sources subdivision.

This would affect about 95 state workers and the planning, permitting and enforcement of regulations to control air pollutants beyond just CO2, according to Allison and Joint Budget Committee staff.

Republicans on the committee argued the funding curtailment is necessary.

“This is a very important issue to me and my constituents. I actually spent the weekend with folks who are terrified of the fact that although the Supreme Court put a stay on this, our governor has said we are going to proceed,” state Rep. Bob Rankin (R) said during a committee meeting last week.

A partisan tug of war

Rankin represents one of Colorado’s major coal-producing regions — Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in the state’s northwest.

“I have major objections to just proceeding with this budget where the Clean Power Plan work is in fact integrated,” he said.

Rankin had initially proposed a smaller funding reduction based on a cost estimate for the division’s Clean Power Plan implementation work. That motion was blocked by the budget panel’s three Democrats, so the panel’s three Republicans countered by blocking the full budget request.

Democratic committee member Sen. Pat Steadman (D) objected to Rankin’s motion during the committee meeting, arguing, “I’m not afraid of clean air. I want clean air. I want to think that this state is taking steps to make sure that stationary source emitters are doing what they can to emit less emissions that have an impact on our atmosphere and our environment.”

The budget bill must now clear the full General Assembly. Environmental advocates in Colorado expect that the Democratic-controlled House will move to restore the funding, but the Republican-controlled Senate could fight to put the block back in place.

According to Allison, the agency had not requested any additional money for Clean Power Plan-related work and is not planning on submitting a final implementation plan to EPA “until we are required to do so,” he said.

“It makes no sense to now seek to cut funding that we did not get simply because the courts have stayed the federal rule,” Allison said.

Greens: Budget block ‘misguided’

Colorado’s environmental and public health community raised alarm over the budget bill after it passed out of committee Thursday.

“We are holding 100 jobs and most of the air quality regulations in Colorado hostage over there is some concern that Colorado is acting on climate change,” said Becky Long, advocacy director with Conservation Colorado.

“This to us is a really misguided, ideological war against climate action,” she said.

It is not the first time Colorado’s political leaders have sparred over EPA’s climate regulation, which would require the state to reduce its power-sector emissions rate 38 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) defied Hickenlooper’s wishes and took part in the multistate legal challenge of the Clean Power Plan.

When the stay was announced, Coffman said in a statement that with the Clean Power Plan, “the current federal administration — and particularly the EPA — has been ignoring state sovereignty and the rule of law.”