A Colorado coal town and EPA jitters

If not quite as common as pink ribbons, these signs are common enough in Craig, located 42 miles west of Steamboat and about a 90-minute drive from Dinosaur National Monument. Photo/Allen Best

If not quite as common as pink ribbons, these signs are common enough in Craig, located 42 miles west of Steamboat and about a 90-minute drive from Dinosaur National Monument. Photo/Allen Best

Anxiety in a Colorado coal town

Meeting with EPA officials draws a full house to talk about plan to crimp carbon dioxide emissions

CRAIG, Colo. – Located 42 miles west of Steamboat Springs but two hours away from Dinosaur National Park, the town of Craig is also located in the cross-hairs of the debate about our shifting energy paradigm.

A quiet ranching center, the town became a boom town 30 to 40 years ago when three coal-fired power plants were built. Together, they can produce 1,139 megawatts of electricity. Customers include many of Colorado’s ski towns.

By one estimate, this trio of power plants called Craig Station contributes $276 million in direct economic spending to the local economy. More paychecks yet come from operations of the Twentymile Park coal mine, located southwest of Steamboat Springs.

Signs proclaiming “Coal keeps the lights on” are ubiquitous in Craig, a reference to lights elsewhere but even more so to local households. How will these paychecks be affected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clear Power Plan?

The federal agency was pushed into taking action after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be controlled under the nation’s Clean Air Act. The Aspen Skiing Co. had filed a brief in support of that position with the court.

Announced in June, the EPA’s plan proposes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by roughly 30 percent by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

A report issued recently by Environment Colorado and associated groups lists the Craig plants as No. 52 in the United States in terms of carbon pollution. Wyoming’s Jim Bridger, located about two hours south of Jackson Hole and three hours east of Park City, was listed as No. 17.

In Craig, not everyone sees carbon dioxide as a problem. A meeting at the local high school earlier this month drew more than 500 people, among them John Kinkaid, a Moffat County commissioner. Carbon dioxide, he insisted, is not a pollutant. And the manager of the local coal-fired power plant declared that the plant is clean, reported the Craig Daily Press afterward.

The Daily Press says Shaun McGrath, the regional EPA administrator, responded that scientists are clear that carbon dioxide is a pollutant—and so was the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2007 decision that triggered the regulations.

He said that the EPA does not want to “shut down” the coal industry. “There is nothing in our proposal to close a facility. We didn’t say, ‘Let’s close coal-fired power plants.’”

A local motel owner, talking with this visitor, seemed to agree that the Craig coal plants are likely to be around for awhile, even if some other plants in Colorado that are older and less efficient are not.

There’s a decidedly partisan element to the discussion. In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made one of his first stump speeches in Craig before coal miners who had been given time off from work to provide an audience.

On a recent Saturday, a volunteer at a local museum told visitors that coal miners used to vote for Democrats but now that’s changing because President “Obama has declared war on coal.”



About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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4 Responses to A Colorado coal town and EPA jitters

  1. Give EPA an inch it will take a mile. They deserve a bucket of coal for Christmas. Santa CaUSe/Chris KrINKle/Pied Piper of Rofo=Royersford, Pa.

  2. jamie says:

    If the epa idiots knew more than they just flock their light switch on and rada there is power, they might understand this coal power plant a little better. Living here 35 plus years, tell me one day that you can wake up and see smog like you see in any city. You won’t! ! What you see coming out of the stacks is NOT smoke it is steam! ! We have less carbon monoxide then any city and we put ours to use by powering almost 13 states, oh bright ones! ! Go shut down the cities, when you actually know your head from your ass then let’s talk about carbon monoxide!!

  3. knee her reaction says:

    Well the fact that you think carbon monoxide is not a harmful by-product then you most certainly are the un-educated one. If it is so clean run a generator “in” your house and see if the oxygen does not dissipate and you slowly die. No one is trying to kill coal and certainly not take away the importance of being able to “flock” there light switch on and have power. But if there was a way to clean up our emissions whether it be by switching fuel sources to burn or by simply putting a co2 scrubber on the exhaust system then you truly are incompetent.

    • Justin says:

      Making a comparison to the high consentration of carbon monoxide created by a gasolline powered generator in a small enclosed area and a coal burning powerplant venting already scrubbed emmisions in the atmosphere is a farce. Who is the uneducated one? Just what is it that you exhale and what comes out of your vehicles tailpipe? Multiplty that by every human being on the planet. Think larger, people…
      Yes CO2 by itself is toxic to humans, but coal generated power is able to supply mass quantities of power inexpensively, is already developed, relatively low maintenance, and RELIABLE. Instead of killing an already thriving technology in favor of an underdeveloped, high-maintenance, inefficient, more toxic to build, aesthetically displeasing (when was the last time you drove across the plains) and unreliable technology like wind/solar power (in mass qualtities), lets work on not removing the natural resources that convert CO2 to O2 in mass quantities and maybe develop a technology that does it in. Astronauts did it with cardboard and duct tape…

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