In Colorado and Utah, Western Resource Advocate’s (WRA) Clean Energy Program for 2016 monitored state legislative action affecting energy policy. We regularly provide analysis, context, and testimony on legislation impacting our ability to attain a clean energy future. Fossil fuel industry interests continue to have significant power at state legislatures, and this year we found ourselves defending against a number of attacks on clean energy.
In Colorado, there were a number of attempts to attack the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan and hinder future efforts to curb carbon pollution from the power sector. As WRA’s Senior Staff Attorney, I testified in opposition to two such bills, successfully helping stop these bad bills.
One, Senate Bill 61, would have required that costs associated with implementation of the Clean Power Plan in Colorado (which are predicted to be modest) would be paid from the State’s General Fund, rather than through utility bills like any other cost. This proposal would have increased the costs to comply with the rule, while also undermining cost-effective, holistic electricity system planning needed to reduce carbon pollution. Senate Bill 61 was defeated in the House.
The second, Senate Bill 157, would have prohibited environmental or utility regulators from undertaking any action to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector until the United States Supreme Court lifted a current stay of the Clean Power Plan. This bill would have undermined the State’s existing authority to protect public health and clean air, while halting any activity related to compliance with the Clean Power Plan. With its broad, vague language, the bill could have been interpreted as prohibiting the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from approving acquisition of any new renewable resources, as renewable resources would undoubtedly be relied upon for the State’s eventual compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Senate Bill 157 was defeated in the House.
Meanwhile, in Utah, our Clean Energy Program staff focused on Senate Bill 115, also known as Rocky Mountain Power’s “STEP” (Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan) legislation. WRA Staff Attorney Jennifer Gardner and Senior Policy Advisor Nancy Kelly attempted to improve this legislation as it progressed through many iterations. While the STEP legislation does have some positive components – such as incentives for energy storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure – the legislation, as a package, contains significant problems. For example, STEP provides incentives for “clean” coal research and technology in a bid to appease Utah’s coal interests and shifts financial risk for coal from the utility’s shareholders to its customers.
After successfully passing through the Utah Senate the previous week, on the last day of the legislative session, STEP was voted down in the House of Representatives, 33-40, thanks to persistent lobbying efforts by WRA and others. A few hours later, however, special interests prevailed through a formal vote reconsideration. As a result, mere hours after Senate Bill 115 initially failed in the House by 13 votes, it successfully passed with a final vote of 46-26.
Although the eventual passage of STEP was a disappointment to WRA and the larger Utah conservation community, there is a silver lining. WRA’s Jennifer and Nancy have been invited to participate on an Electric Vehicle Task Force organized by the utility. This task force is charged with developing recommendations for Rocky Mountain Power’s Electric Vehicle incentives and charging infrastructure. A final task force proposal is due to the Utah Public Service Commission by July 2017.
So all in all, WRA advocacy during the 2016 legislative sessions in Colorado and Utah helped stop some of the worst actions interfering with a clean energy future. At the same time, legislative battles demonstrate once again that well-funded fossil fuel interests continue to fight against progress and we must continue to build our resources and increase our efforts to address carbon pollution and usher in as quickly as possible cleaner energy and transportation.