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Guest opinion: Clean Power Plan works for Colorado

Pete Kolbenschlag

This past summer, the Environmental Protection Agency took the greatest single step the U.S. has ever taken to address climate change, finalizing the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, reducing it, by the year 2030, 32 percent below 2005 levels. This will only further encourage the transformation already underway in the power sector and spur development of cleaner, safer sources of energy. That's good news for western Colorado.

The Clean Power Plan provides states flexibility to create customized plans to reduce carbon pollution and modernize energy portfolios. That will further encourage innovation in the power sector, creating jobs and leading to lower utility bills for consumers in the long run, according to the analysis that accompanied the rule-making. And this revolutionary shift that is occurring now is one upon which Colorado is uniquely poised to capitalize.

As is the case with all transformational change, there's a status quo that would benefit from keeping things exactly as they are. The Clean Power Plan triggered a rush of lawsuits aimed at the new standards. Unfortunately, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined in this lawsuit even as Gov. John Hickenlooper remained steadfast in his readiness to make the Clean Power Plan work for Colorado.

The polluter-backed litigation came as no surprise, with legal challenges launched virtually every time the Clean Air Act is used to protect public health and the environment. Among the usual tactics deployed were motions to stay the rule, and simply an attempt by polluters and their allies to do whatever it takes to block meaningful action on climate change.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied that request for a stay. Courts have historically upheld similar pollution limits, making it even more unlikely that the Clean Power Plan will be overturned. The court's decision is a rejection of arguments against the Clean Power Plan. Besides, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the federal government has both the authority and an obligation to act to limit carbon pollution.

Many states are already on the right track and weren't waiting around anyway. This includes Colorado, since our state agencies are directed by the governor and not the attorney general. States that have held back have no more excuses. Colorado's elected leaders who understand this are to be commended. Those who are working to actively block our energy future need to get out of the way.

Most importantly, and despite split support in our congressional delegation or the divide between our state's top elected state officials, Colorado is moving right ahead with developing a new energy economy. This is because it makes sense for our state and for our energy independence. Transforming America's energy and power economy can be a homegrown effort that sprouts right here on the Western Slope. And that's good news regardless of whether one accepts that carbon is a pollutant or not.

Many of Colorado's utilities seem to agree, and are taking action, taking advantage of opportunities that play to unique economic strengths and local potential for clean energy. Despite the intransigence of some politicians, and the self-interested obstruction of polluters, industry isn't waiting around either. Investment is shifting quickly and businesses and utilities alike are moving rapidly into clean energy and to limit carbon pollution.

The opportunity this offers for Colorado is tremendous. Our demonstration of success can be a model for the world. Just this week the solar installer GRID Alternatives announced a partnership with the state of Colorado and five rural electrical cooperatives, including Holy Cross Energy, Gunnison County Electric Association and the Delta Montrose Electric Association, to put more solar onto the local grid. In Garfield County, CLEER is modeling successful collaboration among private businesses, nonprofits and local governments to develop renewable energy projects.

Colorado is home to the National Renewable Energy Lab and a wealth of expertise. The Roaring Fork Valley itself is home to many pioneers and pioneering groups, including CORE — founded by the late visionary Randy Udall. Paonia-based Solar Energy International is taking its unique know-how around the world and bringing students from across the globe to western Colorado to get hands-on instruction in the latest solar technology and trends. These utilities, businesses and organizations are already showing the way, in installations on the ground and as global leaders in the new energy economy.

Disregard the political and polluter flack. The Clean Power Plan works for Colorado. The bottom line is that the Clean Power Plan rests on solid legal ground and will protect our health and our climate from dangerous carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan is part of a broader shift that is underway. The momentum is growing as business owners, utilities, local communities, public health professionals and faith leaders are calling for action on climate change. Coloradans should support policies like the Clean Power Plan and call on our elected leaders to do the same.

Pete Kolbenschlag works as a consultant on conservation, climate and public lands issues from Paonia.