The issue: The federal government is loosening environmental regulations.

What we think: Colorado is right to maintain high standards.

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Almost lost amid the recent national hubbub surrounding Iran, immigration and the already-volatile 2020 presidential race, two contradictory stories erupted from opposite directions with a potential impact on Colorado.

At the federal level, the Trump administration unveiled its Affordable Clean Energy Rule, taking effect as soon as a month from now. The rule, certain to face immediate legal challenges perhaps rising to the Supreme Court, would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency — in other words, the federal government — from setting new nationwide limits related to emissions and pushing to phase out coal-fired electric plants. It would prevent any subsequent administration from attempting the plan of Obama’s EPA, which tried to create tougher anti-coal standards for the entire country before the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

If fully enacted, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule would relieve most pressure from the federal level to coal-fueled operations such as our own Martin Drake Power Plant, by removing standards and target dates for emissions compliance.

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But before local supporters of keeping the Drake plant open for the indefinite future celebrate a major victory, they should realize the new federal rule still allows states to determine their own standards.

Almost simultaneously, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was signing a batch of energy bills passed by the General Assembly, making it clear that this state won’t loosen its energy and emission standards. Instead, Colorado officially now has set a goal to cut statewide carbon emissions by the year 2040 to 90 percent below 2005 levels.

Along the way, the legislation also sets reductions of 26 percent (below 2005) by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.

So while other states might jump at the chance to soften their requirements, Colorado won’t. And that’s a good thing.

You already can see the returning, growth-enhanced pollution problem in the Denver area, merely by driving up Interstate 25. And though the weather has been cooperative lately in the Pikes Peak region, we’ve noticed with concern how changing conditions can produce dead air, inversions and pollution issues here, invoking memories of decades gone by.

Our area missed one chance to be a trendsetter, if we had embraced such solutions as solar power more readily. Remember how Colorado Springs shunned the innovative SunShare company, a true pioneer in community solar concepts that started here in 2011, before moving its base to Denver in 2013?

With the Front Range population explosion in full swing, the number of residents in the Denver-Boulder-Greeley corridor is projected to grow from 3.4 million in 2015 to 4 million-plus in 2025, an increase of almost 20 percent. Add in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and the 2025 Front Range total should surpass 5 million.

Amid so much inevitable growth, Colorado could not afford to wait any longer. Having Democratic majorities in both the state House and Senate led to a package of energy-related legislation in 2019. Polis did push for more lenient specific terminology, referring to new standards as “goals” instead of “enforceable mandates,” and that should make the new standards a little easier to swallow for those across the aisle.

Another piece of state legislation deserves applause for its lack of procrastination. SB 19-096 requires the state Air Quality Control Commission to collect carbon emissions data from any entity that emits greenhouse gases, and to put forward a potential new rule by just a year from now (July 1, 2020) to deal with any apparent problems or issues.

That’s being proactive, the only smart way for Colorado to stay ahead of the curve as pollution and climate change pose a renewed peril across the Front Range.  n