Thanks to a decision on April 11 from state electricity regulators, Xcel Energy now has stronger energy efficiency goals that will save Coloradans roughly $165 million between 2019 and 2023 while also lowering pollution from coal and gas plants. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directed Xcel, Colorado’s largest electric utility, to raise their energy efficiency ambitions after hearing expert testimony from Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, and the Colorado Energy Office.
The operator of Colorado’s single largest source of methane emissions is asking to pay Coloradans even less to continue polluting our air and water, bulldozing our forests, and exacerbating the climate problem.
Arch Coal operates the West Elk coal mine — Colorado’s largest coal mine — in Gunnison National Forest, and they are filing a request to pay nearly 40% less to Coloradans for each ton of coal they dig up. The process that allows coal companies to request to pay a lower rate is intended to “promote development” of resources that would otherwise not be mined, but Arch Coal’s request goes even further, including a retroactive payment from Colorado taxpayers for mining that has already occurred. Unsurprisingly, the nearby town of Crested Butte has voiced their opposition, and the Gunnison County Commissioners withheld support due to lack of both transparency and opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Arch Coal’s request now sits on Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk for consultation, and the Bureau of Land Management has given the governor until Sept. 2 to respond.
In order to dig out the underground coal at the West Elk mine, Arch Coal bulldozes the forest above to vent methane that would otherwise build up and pose a threat of explosion deep in the mines. This one mine emits more methane than any other mine, well, or operation in all of Colorado. That’s a problem because it’s a complete waste of a valuable public resource that belongs to Coloradans, and because it’s a major contributor to climate change, since methane traps up to 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide. All of these methane emissions, of course, are in addition to the carbon dioxide, and other toxic air pollutants, released into our air when the millions of tons of coal dug out of this mine are eventually burned at a power plant.
Earlier this summer, the governor took a stand against the inaction on climate policy at the federal level by issuing an executive order to commit Colorado to the greenhouse emissions cuts laid out in the Paris Climate agreement. This was an important step toward continuing the growth of the state’s booming clean energy economy, confronting our state’s role in changing the climate, and protecting our air, water and public lands for future generations. Now, the governor has an opportunity to oppose Arch Coal’s royalty rate request and to show that Colorado can no longer offer preferential treatment to companies that reward their CEOs millions of dollars each year at the expense of Colorado’s communities, public health, and environment.
While the use of coal played a historically important role in powering this state, there are now more affordable, cleaner, and sustainable alternatives that are already significantly benefiting our energy economy. More Coloradans are now employed in clean energy and energy efficiency than all fossil fuels. Not only do wind and solar employ far more people in the state than coal, they are increasingly the most affordable sources of energy available to us. Since 2009, wind costs have dropped about 66% and utility-scale solar has dropped 85%, and those trends aren’t expected to stop.
The end of coal is in sight, despite the Trump administration’s delusions, but coal companies won’t disappear without a fight. Arch Coal’s efforts at West Elk are brazen and, unfortunately, they may work without strong opposing leadership. Now is the time for Gov. Hickenlooper to stand up for Colorado communities and lead our state toward a clean, sustainable 21st century economy by opposing Arch Coal’s rate reduction request.