Legislature must protect reliable, affordable energy from EPA regulatory takeover

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If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has it’s way, Governor John Hickenlooper simply will instruct the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to implement the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan, dubbed “ObamaAir” by some of its many critics.

ObamaAir is an executive branch fiat to usurp control of each state’s electric grid, dictate energy source portfolios, generation, and dispatch under the guise of carbon emissions reduction.

A dozen states plan to sue the federal government, including Wisconsin, which announced recently that it plans to join the growing chorus of affordable power proponents that understand the gravity of the situation.

icon_op_edThe plan is both economically devastating (as we’ve said in previous columns) and environmentally pointless. By the EPA’s own admission it “does not anticipate that this proposed rule will result in notable CO2 emission changes.”

What should Colorado do to protect consumers and our power grid? Pass SB 15-092 from Senators John Cooke and Jerry Sonnenberg. With this one piece of legislation three very important things can be accomplished.

First, the State Legislature can reassure Colorado ratepayers that it, not the EPA, has authority over Colorado’s electric power grid. The EPA cannot be allowed to dictate what it wants our state’s energy policy to be and have the Governor unilaterally implement it.

Any state implementation plan (SIP) must have legislative approval so that voters know who to hold accountable when job losses occur and families are forced to spend an additional $613 per year to heat and cool their homes. And that’s assuming we’ve maintained a reliable grid, which isn’t guaranteed with these new regulations.

Second, demand an open, transparent process to develop any SIP. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must hold a comprehensive evidentiary hearing prior to crafting the plan. This hearing should include evaluations of and testimony on everything from whether the plan preserves grid reliability to ability to meet the carbon goal to rate impacts.

The best state agency to conduct this type of proceeding is the PUC. The EPA, the Governor, and CDPHE may want the environmental regulators to take charge, but CDPHE simply does not have the human capacity or technical expertise to adjudicate this type of hearing.

Entities such as Municipal and electric cooperatives that don’t fall under PUC jurisdiction may bristle at participating in a PUC proceeding. But language can be included making it clear that the PUC only has jurisdiction regarding a SIP. It would not mean that the PUC has complete regulatory control over them.

Third, in order to make an informed decision about whether to comply with the EPA’s carbon emissions edicts, the General Assembly needs the PUC and CDPHE to provide with the plan a coordinated and exhaustive assessment of the SIP’s impacts on reliability, economic development, job loss, utility rates, transmission, state and local government tax revenue, and ability to meet the carbon goal and deliver affordable, reliable power.

Once this process is completed, then the State Legislature will be in a position to give an up or down vote on the carbon emissions SIP, but it needs SB-092 to do so. Absent legislation, the Governor may just do what the EPA wants.

For the sake of every Coloradan, the legislature needs to reassure the state that it, not Washington, D.C. and the EPA, will be in charge of our electric grid and the ability to deliver affordable, reliable power.

Doing nothing is not an option.

Michael Sandoval is research associate, and Amy Oliver Cooke is director of the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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