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.”