The flap in the Colorado Senate over funding for implementing aspects of the Clean Power Plan can be explained in one word: Obama. The state of American politics – and worse, governance – has devolved to the point where if President Obama says one thing, his Republican opponents will immediately and unanimously say the opposite.
That is no way to run a country – or a state.
The Clean Power Plan is an Environmental Protection Agency rule that requires reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 28 percent in Colorado and by 32 percent nationwide by the year 2030. It is a worthwhile effort that in the long run could help save lives and money.
Critics raise the usual objections: The plan will cost money and jobs. But the health and environmental benefits of clean air could easily save money over time. And given that the quickest and easiest way to clean power is to convert coal-fired plants to natural gas, any coal-mining jobs Colorado loses could well by offset by gains in the gas patch.
Nonetheless, Republicans in the state Senate cut $8.4 million from the state budget for the Air Pollution Control Division, which would have cost 95 jobs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by June 30. The Senate partially reversed itself Wednesday and added $8.1 million back in. The $300,000 left out was the expected cost of implementing the Clean Power Plan.
This was not an exercise in thrift or fiscal restraint. The Legislature is working through a roughly $27 billion budget, and in that, $300,000 hardly rises to the level of a rounding error. (It would be slightly more than one one-thousandth of 1 percent of the total budget.)
No, the point to cutting the budget for implementing the Clean Power Plan is political. Colorado, along with 28 other states, has sued to block implementation of the rule. But that lawsuit was brought by Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over the objections of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who favors putting the plan into effect.
The lawsuits turn on whether the EPA has the authority to enforce the Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act. The Obama administration thinks it does; critics say no. The courts will decide. In the meantime, because the plan is the subject of ongoing litigation, the Supreme Court issued a stay in February that put implementation of the plan on hold. (The decision to issue the stay was 5-4, and the court’s majority, which included the late Justice Scalia, also seemed ticked at the EPA’s handling of a previous case.)
But the court said only that the EPA could not enforce the Clean Power Plan, pending resolution of those legal challenges. It did not say that Colorado or other states could not clean up their air. And it was not true when state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the Supreme Court “asked us to put it on hold.”
Hickenlooper had the better take. “I think the whole thing is ridiculous; it’s like a shell game of who is doing which work,” he said. “We’re working towards clean air. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what the state is doing. That’s what people want us to do.”
And he is right. People want clean air. Even if Obama likes it.