By Lexi Osborn
In an eye-popping column in the Denver Post last week, editorial page editor Vincent Carroll exposes the serious problems surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Clean Power Plan.
This past summer, everyone from former Gov. Bill Ritter to two of the state’s top regulators, Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Joshua Epel of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), assured the public that Colorado easily would be in compliance with this new plan; the proposal would have little impact on the lives of Colorado residents because Colorado is, “a long way down the road in being able to meet the [EPA’s] 2030 goal way ahead of time.”
Apparently, they spoke too soon.
As it turns out, the EPA did not give full credit to Colorado ratepayers for their significant investment in renewable energy and efficiency. Furthermore, the carbon mandate timeline is, by all reasonable assessment, impossible to meet. In an interview with Carroll, Wolk bluntly said “I don’t have a problem with saying I think it’s nearly impossible for us to meet the interim standard.”
The EPA’s failure to give full credit to Colorado ignited some panic among public officials. In December, Wolk, Epel and Jeff Ackerman, the director of the Colorado Energy Office, wrote a letter to the EPA criticizing in detail the mandate for Colorado, Carroll wrote. He breaks down their objections into five main points:
1) The EPA plan in effect punishes Colorado for being ahead of the game
2) The plan is technically naïve
3) The plan is oblivious to the momentum of efforts underway
4) The plan is absurdly frontloaded
5) The deadline of June 2016 for submitting a state plan is literally impossible
Not only is this previously touted pro-environment plan riddled with issues, but it has also created a power struggle between the PUC and the CDPHE. For the mandates of the Clean Power Plan to be implemented, regulatory authority needs to be designated. Currently, the PUC and CDPHE are both vying to take on this initiative.
The CDPHE believes it has the authority to create and impose the new energy standard, even though the PUC regulates resource planning, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs at investor-owned utilities, while the CDPHE only has authority over air quality. The CDPHE also lacks the infrastructure to hold public and open hearings and testimonies, which the PUC has. When directly asked by Carroll, “So you’ll give the marching orders to all of the utilities in the state?” Wolk, despite these many factors, said, “Yes, in consultation with the EPA, the PUC and others.”
As a way to settle the issue, Rep. John Cooke (R-Greeley) proposed legislation that would make the CDPHE the lead agency in developing and enforcing air quality issues, and would require all state plans be approved by the PUC and the legislature.
But, the issue has yet to be settled.
Carroll hopes this messy situation will be rectified through similar open and transparent legislation. And let us all hope that this regulatory authority, which impacts the cost and reliability of our energy, will have at least some democratic oversight.
Otherwise Colorado electric consumers are left with the bill for plans made in the dark.
Lexi Osborn is a Future Leaders intern. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science.