COLUMN: Not much for Craig to celebrate in Denver-controlled energy requirements
Last week, Governor Polis gave his ‘State of the State’ address to sell his administration’s track record from last year and provide insight for Coloradans to the upcoming year. In his speech, he called the shutting down of Craig’s largest employers “exciting news,” as Tri-State announced the closure of the Craig Station and the Colowyo mine by 2030.
The impending lay-off of over 470 workers is not what I would call “exciting,” but devastating.
I certainly welcome Tri-State’s commitment to reduce pollution from their energy production and I largely attribute their previous success in doing just that to their embrace of an all-of-the-above energy strategy which incorporates energy from all sources, including the rapidly growing renewable sector. This model has been effective at the federal level where just this last year, the Washington Post reported a 2.1% net reduction of emissions from 2018, despite a thriving and growing economy.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: the decision to completely shut down the Craig Station and the Colowyo Mine was not done by market-driven decisions, rather this was forced by the State Legislature and Governor Polis through market manipulation. Tri-State’s press release cites “supporting state requirements and goals” as one of the leading contributors that led them to this decision. The state requirement referenced is Colorado House Bill 19-1261, which was signed into law May of last year. Supporters of this legislation should be forced to look these impacted families in the eyes and explain to them why they think their livelihoods are not important enough to save.
As families in Craig and Moffat county worry about their futures, supporters of this legislation will tout a victory in Colorado as the state appears to be making great strides in reducing greenhouse gasses, but they will likely fail to point out this bill does not do that. Regardless if Colorado shuts down of all remaining coal mines and power plants, the state will remain connected to the main power grid which continues to rely on coal-generated power to sustain baseload operation levels. Instead of using energy resources from our backyard, Colorado will be dependent on surrounding neighbors like Wyoming and Nebraska.
Aside from the net emission reduction claims being misleading, this announcement will be economically devastating for Craig. 472 direct jobs will be lost. Based on the population of Moffat County, that would be the economic equivalent of about 98,000 jobs lost in the Denver Metro Area. The indirect impact could be even worse as some estimates figure there are more than 2,100 people impacted by the closures. Regardless of what can be done for the workers of the power plant and mine, Governor Polis’ newly created—and still unfunded—Just Transition Office has no way of compensating these other families. There was little assurance to these communities that a sufficient plan was in place before the legislation was passed to force these closures.
Every community in Colorado has their own needs when it comes to energy production. A quick look around the state, especially in Colorado’s Third Congressional District, shows how each community is uniquely capable of contributing to an all-of-the-above energy plan that suits the needs of families and businesses for the rest of the state. From the wind power production in Pueblo, solar farms in the San Luis Valley, hydro dams surrounding the Continental Divide, much progress has been made to bring clean energy to Colorado without heavy-handed legislation to force these changes.
The news this week is certainly not what we wanted to hear to begin 2020; however, I know the resiliency of the Craig and the surrounding area will help overcome this setback in this ensuing decade. Working with Tri-State and other agencies will be critical to provide families and businesses the necessary resources to keep their livelihoods in their hometowns.
My office stands ready to work with the Craig community to help wherever we can at the federal level, including with economic development grant proposals and assistance, appropriations requests, job fairs, and access to other federal services. We are in touch with local officials and with Tri-State and will be sure to keep the community involved as future decisions are made.