Bob Gardner
Bob Gardner

When the nation’s highest court put a hold on the Obama administration’s overreaching, budget-busting air mandates earlier this year, it not only did a big favor for the nation’s consumers; it also got our own state’s governor out of a tough spot.

After all, John Hickenlooper was expected to follow the lead of a president who also is his party’s standard bearer — no matter how hard the burden of the proposed EPA rules for power plants would fall on Colorado ratepayers.

The Supreme Court did the heavy lifting for him and took a weight off his shoulders. So did Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who over Hickenlooper’s objections, joined our state with 28 others in the lawsuit that led to the high court’s order in the first place.

That is why it was mystifying when the media reported recently that the governor has been drafting an executive order to impose sweeping new air mandates of his own in the wake of the Supreme Court’s injunction. The move would bypass our elected General Assembly and blindside Colorado’s energy consumers with rules that are, incredibly, even more extreme than those sought by the White House.

As Hickenlooper must know, either mandate would wreak havoc with our state’s economy. Among the casualties would be a wide range of energy consumers, from some of the state’s largest job creators to mom-and-pop businesses struggling to get by; from seniors on fixed incomes to cash-strapped families of modest means.

And that’s not even to mention the devastating impact the rules would have on Colorado’s coal-mining communities. The underlying aim of the mandates, of course, is to curtail the use of coal despite its pivotal role in fueling America’s power grid. Our state is among the nation’s top 10 producers of coal, which not only provides a reliable, stable and low-cost source of energy to the public but also has created a solid employment base and local economic lifeline in Colorado’s high country.

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Sure, the unfortunate political reality is that the governor must play ball to some extent with the extreme-environmentalist wing of his party. Yet it is hard to understand how kowtowing to a noisy special interest like that would assume a higher priority than looking out for everyday energy consumers.

Colorado has in fact been making strides toward cleaner air and lower emissions, including a reduction in the carbon dioxide being blamed for higher global temperatures. As noted recently in reports by the news media, the U.S. Energy Department has tracked a steady decrease in emissions by the state’s power plants from 2012 to 2015. The Pikes Peak region’s largest electricity producer, Colorado Springs Utilities, has kept pace with that progress, including with its plans to phase out the Martin Drake Power Plant downtown by 2035.

In that light, both the president’s and the governor’s attempts to ratchet up the rules to extreme levels seem to have a lot more to do with the politics of the debate over climate change — and perhaps with a perceived need to demonstrate ideological solidarity on the issue — than with any feasible, real-world effort to improve air quality.

We all want clean air, and a host of policies and checks and balances implemented over the years has been seeing to that aspiration. Meanwhile, we also want a viable economy that can create jobs rather than be waylaid by unreasonable — and avoidable — energy costs.

The plain reality is Colorado has done plenty to reduce emissions, but has it really done nearly enough to create the kind of climate that can allow our economy to truly thrive and create 21st-century jobs? Affordable and reliable energy is a cornerstone of a healthy economy. As alternative, renewable energy sources evolve over time into more feasible technologies, and with safeguards already in place to assure clean air, our economy depends on abundant and cost-effective natural resources like coal and natural gas.

Up against those realities, the Obama administration’s EPA mandates make no sense, and the governor’s proposal to one-up the federal government with even stricter rules seem even harder to fathom.

This is no time to strangle Colorado’s economy by upending the sensible balance of interests now in place with a political agenda disguised as an energy policy.

Bob Gardner is a practicing attorney. He served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2007-2014.  He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and earned a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and a master of law degree in government procurement from The George Washington University.