Hazlehurst: EPA the wrong target in city’s Drake saga

The Martin Drake Power Plant.

The Martin Drake Power Plant.

Those of us unfortunate enough to report on politics are used to hysteria.

If, for example, it became publicly known that your boss was foolin’ around with his female subordinates, it would be unfortunate for those involved and their families, but hardly a matter of countywide concern.

But Sheriff Terry Maketa? Given the indignantly expressed fake outrage that dominated local public discourse for a few days, you’d think that the sheriff had thrown open the gates of the jail, armed every freed inmate with an AK-47 and led them into town to engage in an orgy of rape, pillage, murder and arson.

Instead, the term-limited Maketa issued a smarmy video apology of the “mistakes were made” genre, refused to quit, and is still on the job.

So we need new objects to vent our fake wrath upon, and what better target than the Environmental Protection Agency?

The usually reasonable City Councilor Andy Pico characterized the just-released, proposed EPA rules regulating carbon emission from existing power plants as not just a “war on coal” but a “war on the poor.”

Nice turn of phrase, Andy, but aren’t you stretching it a bit?

The EPA document setting forth the regulations is 645 pages long. It’s as dense and unreadable as such documents usually are, the more so because it’s highly technical.

I’m sure that we’ll hear from the professionals at Colorado Springs Utilities in due course, but a preliminary glance at the ponderous tome doesn’t inspire fear and loathing.

It isn’t a one-size-fits-all government mandate, but a set of flexible, multivalent guidelines that states can implement as they wish. Here’s the actual language:

“It should be emphasized that each state has many options for assigning the emission limitation obligations among its affected sources. For example, the state could impose emission standards that are consistent with the BSER (Best System of Emission Reduction). Under these circumstances, the state may assign to different affected sources emission standards with different levels of stringency because the state will have determined that those standards are consistent with the nature of each source’s participation in the state’s electricity system.

“In addition, the state could authorize emission trading as part of the emission standards for affected sources. Under these circumstances, if an affected source’s emission level was higher than the standard the state established for it, the source could achieve the standard by purchasing additional emission rights through the trading program.”

Also, the regulatory goal of reducing 2030 national carbon emissions from electrical generation by 30 percent from the 2005 levels is less onerous than it may seem, since 2005 was a peak emissions year.

Thanks to the retirement of many coal-fired units since, the proposed reduction is only 11.5 percent below 2012 emissions.

That’s not a terribly difficult hurdle to overcome, especially for Colorado. As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, one leading energy provider isn’t worried. Xcel Energy, which supplies power for much of Colorado, already has reduced carbon emissions by 19 percent since 2005 and “is on track to reduce its emissions by 31 percent by 2020.” The Times quoted Xcel Vice President for Policy and Strategy Frank Prager: “We think that you can see significant reductions and still have coal in our system.”

So maybe the EPA isn’t waging war on the poor. Maybe the Utilities Board (aka City Council) ought to look at its own policy preferences, such as raising the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant from the dead and running it indefinitely.

Coal may be cheap and convenient, but the externalities are a bitch — a stagnant downtown economy, hundreds of millions in parasitic pollution control equipment, not to mention our proud contribution to global climate change. It’s even possible that the city would be better off with an investor-owned utility, one better able to deal with fluctuating energy prices and the vagaries of national policies.

But oh well — better to be indignant than informed. Meanwhile, here’s a meeting where we can all vent! From the EPA document:

“On July 29, 2014, a public hearing  (on the proposed regulations) will be held in Denver, Colorado, at EPA’s Region 8 Building, 1595 Wynkoop Street. The hearing will convene at 9 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. Please contact Ms. Pamela Garrett at 919-541-7966 or at garrett.pamela@epa.gov to register to speak at one of the hearings.”

Andy, you and your colleagues ought to attend. An 11-hour meeting? You’ll feel right at home.