WASHINGTON — Three Coloradans have emerged as key players in the polarized debate as to whether the federal government should impose far-reaching new regulations on coal-fired power plants or seek to expand plants’ production.
Official Washington returned from a one-week-and-change July 4 holiday break Tuesday. Although proposals to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and change student loans’ interest rates gained the lion’s share of national headlines, members of Congress and White House officials wasted little time in returning to the battle over coal production and emissions.
In the afternoon, Rep. Doug Lamborn chaired a Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on proposals to expand production in a coal-rich region of Wyoming and Montana.
“American coal, mined by American workers, generating revenue for the American treasury can and should be part of the solution for the future. And yet, it appears to me that every opportunity for coal miners to work is under attack from the Obama administration,” the Colorado Springs Republican said in a statement.
Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Mark Udall huddled at the Capitol with about a dozen other Democratic senators to talk with a White House advisor about the Obama administration’s recent directives on energy and climate change, according to The Hill newspaper. The Colorado Democrat did not release a statement about the meeting and his office did not comment by press time.
Yet Udall hailed President Obama’s climate-change address at Georgetown University last month, a speech in which Obama said he would order the Environmental Protection Agency to draft and finalize for the first time rules to govern carbon emissions from new and existing coal plants.
“Global warming is one of the defining challenges of our time, and how we handle the issue will have profound implications for the planet we leave our children,” Udall said in a statement.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue Tuesday, a leader with an environmental group that Udall’s wife Maggie Fox runs received an award at a White House ceremony. Dr. Susan Pacheco, a member of the leadership corps of the Climate Reality Project, of which Fox is the chief executive officer, was feted as a “Champion of Change.”
Pacheco, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, has examined the effect of climate change on asthma.
Fox hailed Obama’s executive order on regulating carbon emissions from coal plants for “remov(ing) the series of false choices that Big Oil and Big Coal have worked so hard to perpetuate.”
Fox also equated the threat of carbon emissions with terrorism.
“Just as the global threat of terrorism united our country in the last decade, it is imperative that the American people rally behind the President in supporting these initiatives to dramatically reduce the 90 million tons of carbon pollution that is dumped into our atmosphere each day…” Fox said.
As the comments suggest, Lamborn’s priorities differ sharply with those of Udall and Fox.
For Lamborn, spurring job creation and lowering energy costs are top goals. He hopes to accomplish those in the Powder River Basin in southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming. Although the region is not well known, it produces more coal than any in the Appalachian Mountains, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Lamborn has the general support of House Republican leadership. Last Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that the lower chamber would vote on a related coal-production bill this month.
For Udall and Fox, decreasing the amount of carbon emissions released in the air is paramount. Fox claimed that 40 percent of the country’s carbon comes from coal-fired power plants.
The differences between Lamborn and Udall and his wife reflect those of their partisan supporters and constituents.
According to a Gallup poll in April, 64 percent of Democrats said protecting the environment should be a higher priority than energy production. Seventy-one percent of Republicans said energy production should be more important.
The partisan gridlock is likely to frustrate Lamborn’s efforts to expand coal production and Udall’s support of global warming legislation.
The White House ordered the EPA to draft language for new federal regulations of carbon emissions from coal plants in 2014 and finish them in 2015.