The last ten years of Colorado energy policy can be defined as the decade of what former Democrat Governor Bill Ritter dubbed the “New Energy Economy,” (NEE) a fundamental transformation of how the state has powered its economy and provide electricity for its residents. The NEE goal was to move away from the baseload workhorse coal electricity and toward natural gas and industrial wind. During his 2006 campaign Ritter told his staff, “I want my first ad to be about turning wheat fields into wind farms.”
Analysis of financial reports from the state’s two largest utilities over the time span of the New Energy Economy shows both Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s electric monopolies, have enjoyed significant financial benefits without significant growth in their customer base.
Colorado: a ‘no choice’ state
Colorado is a regulated electricity state, meaning “vertically integrated monopoly utilities cover the entire value chain with oversight from a public regulator” – the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). “The utility makes sure that power is generated, sent to the grid, and reaches customers. Customers in regulated markets cannot choose who generates their power and are bound to the utility in that area.”
Electric service providers in the state include two “investor-owned” electric utilities, 29 municipalities, and 22 electric cooperative associations. The PUC has jurisdiction over both investor-owned – monopoly – utilities Xcel and Black Hills and one electric co-op, as well as partial regulation over the municipal utilities and electric rural co-ops.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission consists of three commissioners appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. No more than two commissioners may be from the same political party.
It’s up to the PUC to determine and “to achieve the appropriate balance between the needs of Colorado customers for safe and reliable utility services at reasonable rates and the needs of utility service providers to earn a reasonable profit and to sustain a reliable utility infrastructure throughout Colorado.”
Colorado’s largest electricity providers are Xcel and Black Hills, together servicing 2,922,037 ratepayers. Both monopoly utilities enjoy the exclusive right to serve defined markets and are publicly traded, for-profit corporations that provide yearly dividends to their shareholders.
Whether voters liked it or not, the Colorado Legislature addressed a big part of its budgeting issues during this year’s session.
While lawmakers took the hospital provider fee that funds health care programs out from under revenue caps mandated by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, freeing up millions of dollars for other needs, it doesn’t solve the long-term problem, said Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction.
And if that problem isn’t addressed, Thurlow said local governments won’t like where the Legislature may turn next to balance its budget: severance taxes.
“It will be an issue again,” he said. “The severance tax contributes to the issue in the same way as the provider fee did.”
That tax is paid by the extraction industries who mine the state for oil, gas, coal and other minerals.
Half of the money goes to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The other half goes to local governments, either directly or in the form of grants from the Department of Local Affairs to pay for impacts from that extraction.
Over the past few years, while the Legislature struggled with what to do about the provider fee, lawmakers diverted millions of dollars in severance taxes to other purposes.
For the most part, those dollars were diverted to help cover budget shortfalls during the recent recession. But in 2015, when state revenues were flush and severance tax collections were particularly high, money still was diverted because it forced the budget to hit the revenue cap.
Thurlow said Coloradans should make no mistake, state officials will again divert money from the severance tax in just a few years.
“When (the revenue) cap is small like now, it does not matter,” Thurlow said. “When it is large, like it will be in the next boom, it pushes us over the cap, and the tendency is to use (severance taxes) in the general fund rather than letting it go to DOLA or DNR.”
As a result, it is incumbent on state lawmakers who want to protect that money for local governments to have a plan to address the issue, such as passing a law preventing the tax from being diverted elsewhere, Thurlow said.
That’s why he’s scheduled a town hall meeting on the subject tonight. Thurlow said he will have experts on TABOR from the Colorado Fiscal Institute on hand to answer questions.
He said the event also will address the Gallagher Amendment’s impact on the budget. That 1982 amendment has greatly reduced residential property tax rates. While homeowners favor it, it also has reduced local funding to K-12 education, forcing the state to backfill an increasing amount every year.
“The goal of the town hall will be to foster some understanding and talk about possible solutions,” Thurlow said.
Charles Ashby has worked in newspapers across Colorado and in a handful of other states since graduating from college, but has covered politics and the Legislature in Colorado since 1997, working at the State Capitol Building in Denver for various daily newspapers in the state. Now he lives in Grand Junction, but still goes to Denver during the legislative session.
Approved by voters in 1992, the TABOR amendment mandates that state and local governments get voter approval for specified tax increases, and it limits the rate of government spending growth based on population increases and inflation.
Though a subsequent voter-approved measure eased the spending cap, critics like Jon Caldara, president of the Denver-based Independence Institute, say the legislature has turned to “dark money,” such as newly designated “fees” that don’t require votes of the people, to avoid TABOR’s restrictions. Colorado courts have tended to uphold those TABOR workarounds.
In a blog post, Caldara pointed to efforts to create a hospital provider fee as one of the ways lawmakers evade the spirit of the amendment and avoid difficult budget decisions. The bill exempting the hospital fee from the TABOR spending cap was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.
Caldara credits TABOR with helping the state avoid economic pain. When the nation went into a recession in 2002, other states saw huge drops in revenues that caused massive budget shortfalls, but that didn’t happen in Colorado, he said.
Other observers, however, say TABOR has made Colorado nearly impossible to govern.
“From my perspective, it’s an unmitigated disaster,” Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer told Watchdog.org. “It’s stripped the legislature of its fiscal authority.”
Under TABOR’s provisions, lawmakers can’t enact a new tax or continue a tax scheduled to expire without a vote of the public. School districts and counties also fall under the restriction, Straayer said.
At the same time, lawmakers must deal with the increasing costs of the Medicaid program as well as a voter-passed amendment in 2000 mandating a minimum level of funding for K-12 education, he said.
“We’re trying to run the state with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake,” said Straayer, quoting a line from former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.
The legislature has engaged in workarounds and has raised fees on things like license plates and vehicle registrations, and Republicans have been incensed by the increasing reliance on such fees, which they say are just taxes by another name, Straayer said.
“The reason is that the legislature, in desperation to balance the budget and keep programs going, had to pull one rabbit after another out of the hat,” he said.
A fee, according to the nonprofit TABOR Foundation, allows governments to recoup the cost of providing a service to a specific beneficiary. A tax, on the other hand, applies to a more broad population and has as its primary purpose to raise revenues.
One potential problem with the TABOR spending cap is that it is based on inflation and population growth, but those indicators do not track income and productivity, according to Straayer. In turn, the state has handed out TABOR-mandated rebates to taxpayers over the years while money for transportation and higher education has eroded, he said.
At the same time, the political climate in Colorado and the nation has changed as what Straayer calls the anti-government industry has gained ground, making changes to TABOR politically challenging.
However, one lawmaker this year advanced a bill that would have modified TABOR’s spending cap formula. Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, sponsored legislation that would have revamped the cap based on a five-year average of personal incomes within the state.
Using the national inflation rate as a benchmark to limit spending doesn’t really relate to what’s happening in Colorado, Thurlow said.
“What my premise is, is that it’s a false measurement to use,” he told Watchdog.org.
Personal income is outpacing inflation by 1.6 percent a year, according to Thurlow. That measurement would be more workable for Colorado, and it’s time to take a hard look at how TABOR is functioning after 25 years on the books, he said.
In terms of state support for K-12 education, higher education, and roads and highways, Colorado finishes at the bottom of the pack compared to other states, Thurlow said. He agrees that the concept of limiting government is a good one but says that the fiscal process is undermined by the current system.
“It creates a disingenuous relationship between voters and legislators …” Thurlow said. “There is constant pressure to, I guess the word is, cheat.”
Lawmakers have created a patchwork of fees that don’t technically increase taxation under the legal definitions of the words, he said. And others complain that this process is complex and often hidden from voters.
Thurlow’s bill passed the House but died in a Senate committee because the leadership did not want to give it a floor vote, he said.
State Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cannon City, continues to support TABOR.
“Taxes and fees should be levied only through the strict adherence to TABOR without circumvention through the use of fee increases and the Colorado Supreme Court,” he said in a statement on his website.
The Denver Post’s John Aguilar reported bad news from the Front Range’s eight-county Regional Transportation District last week — revenues are going to fall short of projections, meaning cuts will have to be made.
The good news is that RTD will be able to avoid most cuts to services by scaling back on the number of construction projects and new routes it undertakes. That’s a retrenching with a focus on increasing use of existing services and it will keep the district from being spread too thin.
But the bad news is that a significant driver of the budget woes is that ridership isn’t keeping pace with expectations and, consequently, fare revenue will be less than anticipated. RTD reported that per-capita ridership is stagnant as the population grows.
Heather McKillop, RTD’s chief financial officer, said beginning in 2019 RTD expects to fall $30 million to $40 million shy of expected outlays every year for several years. Also contributing to the budget woes, she said, is smaller than anticipated growth in sales tax revenue. RTD has little control over that portion of its budget, however.
As the Front Range grapples with traffic, increasingly metropolitan areas are arguing that it’s not possible to build capacity for more cars. Increased transit, officials say, is the only option to relieve congestion. But that plan makes sense only if people are willing to use RTD services to get where they are going.
That’s why we find news of RTD’s budget shortfall such a bad omen. Now would be the time to invest in ways to get more of a market share of commuters using the already existing rail and bus routes, not to scale back.
Aguilar reported cities across RTD’s region are trying to solve this issue by bridging the first-mile/final mile of commuters’ trips to work or home. The hope of cities like Golden, Centennial and Lone Tree is that removing barriers to get to the light rail station will increase ridership.
As it is now, RTD has tentatively proposed reducing trains on the W-Line from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes as part of its balanced budget. It’s hard to get too upset at RTD for entertaining that option, as ridership of the relatively new line between downtown Denver and Golden is significantly under-performing.
We hope Golden’s initiative to get more people on the light rail works, but until then it’s tough to justify the current level of services.
And that’s the kind of tough-love approach RTD must take with its services in the future. Because here’s the real pinch of the RTD budget: The base system — traditional bus services that weren’t a part of the 2004 voter-approved FasTracks rail lines and bus rapid transit commuter systems — is now subsidizing the FasTracks system.
McKillop said to balance the FasTracks side of the budget in coming years, money will have to be transferred from the base system to subsidize the commuter projects.
RTD must find a way to make FasTracks pull its own weight, and asking municipalities to step up and "invest" in increasing ridership seems to make good sense.
You know how in a good spy movie the spy has spent years building up a tolerance to some deadly poison, so when he poisons all the drinks, his victims die, but he doesn’t? Well, using that as mental model …
It finally happened. The TSA Pre-Check line at Denver International Airport was longer than the regular TSA line when I was there the other day. This is a small but landmark moment for the Orwellian state.
The TSA is a tiny example of the creeping government poison to which we build a tolerance. It gets a little more invasive by degrees, from using cameras that see us naked through our clothes to a physical pat-down that’s usually saved for a third date. We don’t even notice it anymore, much less complain.
To get out of the slow TSA line and into the “faster” Pre-Check line we write a check to the feds, get fingerprinted like criminals, and forfeit the privacy of all our travel itineraries to the state. No need for them to subpoena the airlines to find out where we’ve been or where we’re going. We give it to them freely, just so we can get out of a damn line they created in the first place. If this isn’t evil genius, nothing is.
Government intrusion creeps so slowly, and our lives are so busy, we rarely notice it. When we do notice it, we simply haven’t the time or energy to do more than sigh, or grunt, or chuckle at the absurdity.
At my neighborhood King Soopers in Boulder I considered buying a two-liter bottle of generic cola, on sale for 77 cents. But Boulder’s new soda tax brought the price to $2.11. That’s a 275 percent tax, even before the sales tax at the register. For perspective, Boulder taxes marijuana at a little over 7 percent. And if I wanted to carry my soda home, they charge me 10 cents for the bag tax (excuse me, bag “fee”).
That’s just smug, elitist Boulder, you say. Maybe. But social engineering creeps like a slowly developing cancer to infect the whole system. Like being first with urban growth boundaries (now making starter homes unaffordable all over metro Denver), Boulder was the first city to ban smoking in private establishments. Now it’s the law for all Colorado.
Before the ban the marketplace was giving us smoke-free bars and restaurants in Boulder. And by now customer demand would have made nearly every place smoke-free anyway — “nearly” being the key word. Instead today there isn’t a single place in the whole state where people can share a dinner, a martini and a smoke (sans some private club). Not one jazz bar, biker bar, gay bar or blues joint are Coloradans free to congregate and enjoy their lifestyle with others like them. The law keeps people apart.
By state law new housing developments are basically required to have homeowner associations even if you don’t want one. A lot of people like living free from the threat of a neighbor considering painting her house a different color than the four approved shades of beige. Fine. But some small minority of folks might crave the freedom for another color or no HOA at all.
Rumor has it that Colorado’s largest monopoly utility Xcel Energy is about to renege on a 2004 settlement that cost ratepayers dearly. And, Xcel will do it with the Governor John Hickenlooper’s blessing. Why? Because they don’t want to change their Electric Resource Plan (ERP) as I (and likely others) have suggested they should do following the 2016 presidential election and change in the federal political landscape that came with a Donald Trump victory.
According to two sources, here’s what you need to know:
We’ve seen this kind of backroom deal making before with the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. They love to claim that stakeholders came together. Plain and simple, that’s bullsh*t. Ratepayers are ALWAYS left out. Don’t think for a moment that the PUC or the OCC looks out for ratepayers either, we all know that is bullsh*t too. How else do you explain skyrocketing rates and profits and declining or flat demand and fuel costs? This is a form of taxation on low income Coloradans.
The real question now is, will the Colorado legislature have the political will and intestinal fortitude to stop this power grab. Who will be the voice of ratepayers?
This is one case where I hope I’m wrong.
Amy Oliver Cooke is the Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center for the Independence Institute, Colorado’s free market, state-based think tank. She has worked in both policy and operations since 2004.
Amy began working in energy policy in 2010. She is one of the few state-level, free market energy policy experts, and is famous for her provocative messaging like “Mothers In Love with Fracking” and “I’m an energy feminist because I’m pro-choice in energy sources,” which the eco-left called “hands down the worst kind of feminism.”
In December 2016, she was honored to be the second person named to President Trump’s Transition Team for the Environmental Protection Agency.
CASTLE ROCK – With four seats up for election on the Douglas County School District (Dougco) Board of Education, it appears interested parties are gearing up for something.
Although it is unclear what the motive behind a recent Colorado Open Records Act request from Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) President Kallie Leyba is, the teachers association that does not have a collective bargaining agreement with the school district does now have a lot of information about every certified and classified employee in the district.
On Aug. 10, the same day most of the district went back to school, Leyba filed an open records request for: “in a useful and searchable format, such as a spreadsheet, all current, as of Aug. 10, 2017, certified employees in Douglas County School District. In addition to full names, provide position, work location/school, hire date, salary and personal email addresses.”
Leyba requested the same information for all classified employees. Classified employees are all employees not required to hold a teaching certification.
Complete Colorado requested and received identical information to Leyba’s request. The only portion of the request not granted were the email address, which Leyba was also denied.
“Email addresses were not included in the CORA response due to privacy reasons and because DCSD does not maintain a document with all personal emails,” said Paula Hans, public information officer for Douglas County. “If an employee sends an email to a personal email address and that email is produced in a CORA request, the personal email is generally redacted for privacy reasons.”
News accounts of Gov. John Hickenlooper's recent decision to accelerate renewable energy goals for Colorado and join the "U.S. Climate Alliance," aligning the state with international commitments President Obama made as part of his Paris Climate pact, frequently missed the mark on a number of key points. So let me provide context that was missing from much of the coverage I saw.
One major Colorado newspaper, for instance, reported that Colorado was joining a "growing number of states" that were "committed to meeting or exceeding greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the international Paris climate treaty that President Donald Trump rejects." But that's wrong on three counts — quite an achievement for a single sentence.
The President is not jettisoning legally binding commitments because the Paris accord is not a treaty. No matter what name is attached to it — "accord," "agreement," "pact" or "deal" — it has no constitutional, legal or political standing comparable to a treaty because it was never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Why didn't President Obama seek Senate approval? Because, just like the Iran nuclear agreement he negotiated, his Paris pact had no hope of getting the two-thirds vote required for treaty ratification. The Constitution requires U.S. Senate ratification because the founders did not trust executive branch politicians to unilaterally commit the American people to international agreements. Nothing in the Constitution allows states or governors to engage in foreign policy freelancing. The governor thus has no authority to make a commitment to an international agreement of any kind.
And how far is the governor willing to go in order to comply with the terms of a nullified non-treaty that a former president approved in irregular and unconstitutional fashion? Is he also going to monitor compliance by China and other pact participants, and attempt to impose sanctions if they fall short of benchmarks or get caught cheating? And what about the $3 billion in payments Obama committed the U.S. to make as part of the "deal"? Will Colorado and other "Climate Alliance" members be stepping-up to make good on that commitment, using tax dollars?
Clearly, the governor has given too little thought to the legal, constitutional and practical implications of this proposal.
Kevin Grantham is a state legislator for Colorado. Elected to the Colorado State Senate as a Republican in 2010, Grantham represents Senate District 2, which encompasses: Clear Creek, El Paso, Fremont, Park and Teller counties. He currently serves as President of the Senate.
Each time you flip a coin there is a 50-50 chance it will land heads-up. But the chances of it landing heads two times in a row are 1-in-4. Three times in a row is 1-in-8, and so on.
The chances of it landing heads-up 13 times in a row are a whopping 1-in-8,192.
And because of that, I think the transgender rights movement is pushing so hard it’s harming its own goals. (Stay with me on this one.)
One of my guilty pleasures is the British sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” This clever and campy show stars a lovable human-looking space alien, called “the Doctor,” who travels in both space and time. The TV show started in 1963.
Like James Bond movies, which started about the same time, they have to replace the actor who plays The Doctor every now and then. So, they created a clever plot device.
In the magic that only science fiction allows, they have the Doctor die every so often and “regenerate,” a kind of instant reincarnation. So, the same character gets a new body, new face and new personality, via a new actor.
The current Doctor is scheduled to meet his on-screen demise soon. When he “regenerates” this time, he will become a she.
Sounding like it was ordered directly from the women’s studies department at Berkeley, the Doctor, who throughout all his incarnations since 1963 has always been a male character, will turn into a chick.
Of course they’re symbolically turning the Doctor transsexual to make a grand, politically correct, gender-bending social statement. It’s forced and over-the-top and worth the eye-roll many of us fans are giving it. Like so much lately, they’re pushing transsexual acceptance so hard it’s backfiring.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt recently delivered a strong message that EPA’s regulation of pesticides and other chemicals will be based on sound science, not political activism. It is welcome news for both the economy and the environment.
Mr. Pruitt denied a petition filed by anti-pesticide activists to ban chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide used around the world to protect crops and to control mosquitos. Exterminators once used it to control cockroaches in homes, too, though manufacturers took it off the home market 15 years ago because of the high cost of constant reviews required for EPA registration. In other words, EPA effectively banned home use by hiking registration costs so much that the product was simply no longer profitable (the same process banned diazinon, for years the most effective home pest control product). But chlorpyrifos remains enormously important to agriculture, and therefore, to everyone who eats.
I understand many people worry about overuse of chemicals, but they’re not all hazardous. Some are essential.
As Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Angela Logomasini recently documented, organophosphates like chlorpyrifos, properly used in agriculture, are not dangerous. The very low diluted doses farmers use are enough to kill some insects — but nowhere near enough to affect humans, thanks to very stringent regulations based on decades of scientific analysis. Such federal pesticide rules determine maximum quantities, though farmers use it in much smaller doses than allowed. That’s because such chemicals are expensive, so one uses the smallest amounts that will eliminate crop-destroying insects.
Some activists want to ban virtually all pesticides. Although chlorpyrifos meets the EPA’s extremely stringent safety standards, two such groups nevertheless petitioned EPA to ban it in 2007. That was ironic because the agency had just completed a 15-year review of the chemical and its approved uses. That is required every 15 years for all pesticides, and chlorpyrifos has been studied and re-approved several times since its introduction in 1965. Nevertheless, the legal saga continued for years, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ordered EPA to issue a new rule by 2016. Instead, EPA switched gears entirely, and commissioned a new study, which tried to connect use of the pesticide to rare birth defects in New York City minority populations. Although home uses had been discontinued for years, and agricultural use obviously has no effect on that population, the agency planned to replace decades of studies with this “junk science” anyway, and the court ordered an implementing decision by March of 2017.
By then, however, EPA had a new administrator, and Mr. Pruitt simply denied the petition to ban the pesticide (the same groups have already filed suit, though Pruitt will eventually prevail because science is on his side). In so doing, he has made clear that studies generated for the sole purpose of pushing a political agenda have no place in the EPA, and that decisions will continue to be based on sound scientific processes.
Debates about chemicals are mostly one-sided, because all the dubious hype about health concerns invariably ignores the clear public health benefits they provide. Pesticides are crucial to a safe and affordable food supply, and in fighting disease-carrying mosquitos, ticks, rats, and other pests.
Modern farming has produced previously unfathomable yields and made huge progress worldwide against starvation and malnutrition. Dennis Avery, of the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, says “per capita grain supplies have grown by 27 percent since 1950 and food prices have declined in real terms by 57 percent since 1980.” That’s why USDA’s Economic Research Service says Americans now spend less than 10 percent of their income on food.
This particular pesticide is not widely used in Palisade orchards, but it is vital in citrus groves. The national orange crop has plummeted because of “citrus greening,” a disease transmitted by a bug called the Asian citrus psyllid. Florida production declined almost 70 percent over the last 20 years, and many growers have quit the business, according to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (a grower himself). The Asian citrus psyllid is now on the march in California, too, and the only thing keeping it in check is chlorpyrifos.
EPA’s public comment process has documented serious impacts on a wide range of crops if the pesticide were banned, including alfalfa, nuts, corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, berries, and many others. That would drastically affect the price, and availability, of healthy foods. Mr. Pruitt is right to insist that all decisions with such an impact must rely on sound scientific process, not political agendas.
Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.
Cue Charlie Rich.
An encore of "Behind Closed Doors."
Just two weeks ago the Arvada city council went behind closed doors to get a secret lesson on Colorado urban renewal law.
Now they are scheduled to do it again.
A further seminar from the City Attorney on what the urban renewal law means is not sufficient legal reason for yet another city council 'executive session' -- where the information offered is supposed to remain secret.
Furthermore, any council discussion about Urban Renewal Authority policy is mandated by the Colorado Open Meetings Law to be open to the public.
Lack of transparency and accountability to the public and the taxpayers is what has brought about citizen outrage over the $30 Land Deal.
Arvada city government belongs to the people ... a representative democracy only works when the people are informed and can therefore hold public officials accountable.
Arvada for All the People asks that council members vote 'no' this Monday evening on going into 'executive session'. We ask that a majority of Arvada council members schedule a public meeting to discuss the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority and the $30 Land Deal — and allow citizens and taxpayers to participate.
The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. — John F. Kennedy
Coal production is swinging back up in Colorado and 2017 could end up being a year with 1 million more tons produced in the state than in 2016, Colorado Mining Association President Stan Dempsey said Wednesday.
The improvement in the outlook for coal coincides with a change of administrations in Washington, D.C., Dempsey said, noting that while President Donald J. Trump has been criticized for legislative failures, he has taken strides to reduce regulatory burdens on coal and other industries.
Trump has “done a tremendous amount of work and Congress has done a tremendous amount of work to improve the prospects” of coal and other industries, Dempsey said during the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s energy briefing at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Reversal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan was particularly helpful, Dempsey said.
“The Clean Power Plan was designed to put the coal industry out of business,” he said.
Dempsey declined to draw a direct connection between the change of administrations and increased Colorado coal production, but said, “The boot is off our throats from the Obama administration.”
Colorado produced more than 12.5 million tons of coal in 2016 and miners in Colorado had produced nearly 4.9 million tons of coal by the end of April so far this year, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
Efforts by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to establish Coal Community Zones in locales suffering from coal mine closures, such as Delta and Moffat counties, are appreciated, Dempsey said.
“Perhaps this could have been avoided,” though, he said, had the Obama administration not moved against the coal industry with the Clean Power Plan, a moratorium on coal leasing, requirements that projects account for a “social cost of carbon,” and other mineral-valuation and stream protection rules.
After the “repeal and replace” debacle there is, yet again, a very public crisis for the soul of the Republican Party. (As if we Republicans actually have souls.)
This existential crisis for Republicans boils down to this one question: Is it the primary goal of Republicans to limit the growth of government, or should Republicans let government grow, but at a slower speed than Democrats?
This seems like an oversimplified and flippant question, but to understand this question is to understand why Republicans fail to govern.
Democrats (who of course do have souls, as witnessed by how much they care for people, with other people’s money) have their issues of infighting, turf wars and conflicts over strategy and tactics. But they don’t have a constant battle over the overriding principle of their party.
All Democrats want to increase the size and scope of government. Their internal battle is over the speed at which it should be done.
But almost all Republicans say they are going to constrain government and reel in taxes, spending and regulations. Yet when given the chance, many don’t. And it doesn’t take but a few defections to make their attempt to govern fail.
John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins refused to vote to repeal even the tiniest parts of Obamacare, even though all three campaigned on repealing all of Obamacare.
The Colorado version of this was of course the recent Republican capitulation over the Hospital Provider Tax (Fee). Because Republican senate leadership crumbled like a Dixie cup, we will now be paying over half a billion dollars more a year in taxes, and taking on some $2 billion in new debt without even being asked first at the ballot box.
And some of those “grow government but at a slower rate than Democrats” state senators may have to answer for it in next year’s primaries. We will see how senators like Polly Lawrence, who is running for State Treasurer, and Owen Hill, who is challenging US Congressman Doug Lamborn, fare as pro-tax Republicans.
So, after failures on Obamacare nationally, and forsaking the Taxpayer Bill of Rights locally, the Republican party’s dysfunction is laid bare for the world to see. You’d think that would force a cathartic process to “fix” the party. But it won’t, because there are two Republican parties.
The Republican Party functions more like a parliamentary system. It cobbles together two fundamentally different groups to form a fragile coalition whose primary purpose is to keep the other team out of power.
Think of these two parties as the Taxpayer Party, who wish to shrink the Leviathan, and the Manager Party, who like a good legal custodian wishes to run the machinery more effectively.
The Taxpayer and Manager folks team up well in the minority. Both agree the Democrats are taxing, spending and regulating too much, too fast. But they have completely different operating systems which make them incompatible when they get in the majority.
You can’t simultaneously shrink and grow government!
This rift isn’t new. Over fifty year ago Barry Goldwater wrote Conscience of a Conservative in hopes of pulling Managers to the Taxpayer wing of the party. Current Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is making the same call in his daring re-write of the same title.
The Heritage Foundation takes the closest look to date of the Gold King Mine spill, and in a paper published this week debunks what they say is the EPA’s “fake accounts” of the disaster.
It’s a step-by-step take down of what EPA officials claim, and the evidence that contradicts those claims.
EPA accounts have constantly shifted. Within moments of water bursting from the mine, a crew member recorded video capturing his conversation with another.
They recorded their surprise at the blowout as they had been digging “so high.” Apparently, they were so surprised that they took the time to immediately make another video in which they again appeared surprised, as they had been digging “really high” above the mine—“about 20 feet up,” they claimed.
Now, with the inspector general’s most recent telling, the excavator bucket has somehow moved from “20 feet up” to “inadvertently” within a foot or two of the plugged mine entrance at the time of the disaster. It was not “inadvertent.”
Author Rob Gordon points out gaping holes throughout the EPA’s own fiction, and says that without being challenged, “the message will be that misleading, deceiving, and lying works, and that bureaucrats need not follow the laws they enforce on others.”
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has inherited not only an environmental mess, but also the mess created by an agency more interested in its narrow self-interests than truth. Pruitt now has an opportunity to send a message that would ripple far beyond the EPA.
The Peña Station Next development near Denver International Airport already sports a solar panel-covered parking lot, a huge battery system and other smart technologies — and now it’s aiming for neutrality on carbon dioxide emissions.
Several businesses — including Xcel Energy Inc., Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co., developer LC Fulenwider Inc. and Denver International Airport — are joining with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to study how to turn the area into a “carbon-neutral” energy district, they announced Friday.
The Peña Station Next development is at 61st Avenue and Peña Boulevard. LC Fulenwider is the master real estate developer for the mixed-use community which includes the North American headquarters for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co.
The development is being billed [touted] as a “smart city” that will integrate a variety of technologies into its transportation and operations.
"Net-zero" projects typically cover a building or small area and include enough renewable energy sources, such as solar power panels at the site, to offset electricity consumption from traditional fossil fuels over the course of a year.
The carbon-neutral initiative at the Next station aims higher — to leverage a wider set of technologies, including renewable energy, batteries, and potentially capturing carbon in the air, or credits for carbon capture projects elsewhere. The goal is “to fully offset the district’s climate impact due to electricity generation and consumption,” the partners said in an announcement.
Xcel is considering owning and operating the new infrastructure the development will need to achieve carbon neutrality — with an eye toward offering the test-driven technology to other Colorado communities in the future. Panasonic, in the announcement, said its executives are interested in how the company can replicate carbon-neutral districts on a larger scale elsewhere. NREL has the opportunity to strengthen its partnership with industry and also apply its facilities and expertise to this project as well as others.
Earlier this year, Xcel and Panasonic flipped the switch on a "microgrid system" that incorporated solar power and battery storage at Peña Station Next, a project done with the help of DIA and Fulenwider.
A mass-email from the Colorado Education Association Wednesday included a play-by-play account of that morning’s protest and rally at the Capitol denouncing Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s visit to Denver. So, even those who weren’t able to attend still got a feel for the event. And one of the feelings that was easy to pick up was that the overwhelmingly Democratic rally participants had little love for members of their own party who had embraced school choice and other education reforms.
A substantial slice of Democrats has done so, of course. There’s even a prominent national group, well represented in Colorado, called Democrats for Education Reform. Like-minded Dems include no less than the two most recent Democratic presidents, who supported charter schools, and closer to home, the current Denver Public Schools board. It has implemented a wide range of reforms including charters and innovation schools.
As we noted earlier this week, that probably explains why one of the Denver school board’s members, prominent Democrat and former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, was turned down when she asked to address Wednesday’s rally.
That privilege evidently was reserved for Democrats more in sync with the CEA — the event’s principal organizer — and its opposition to the reform movement. Democrats like state Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, who didn’t mince words about who he sees as the enemy. As recounted in the CEA press release:
“Once public education is taken from you, you no longer have power and that is what is happening here,” said State Rep. Joe Salazar, who spoke at the rally with State Sens. Andy Kerr and Michael Merrifield. “Betsy DeVos and Democrats for Education Reform and the charter school movement are stripping power from you, and they are doing it knowingly.”
Barbara O’Brien, that means you — among others.
Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.
In a decision evoking former President Obama’s environmental agenda, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in March expanded its authority in a way that’s likely to drive up electricity rates.
Every four years, Xcel Energy undergoes a resource planning process that outlines their ability to meet ratepayers’ energy demand. They present portfolios containing cost analyses regarding the utility’s generation, and the PUC selects the “lowest cost resources available to provide the company with enough capacity and energy to in turn be able to provide customers with reliable electricity.”
However, in the 2016 Energy Resource Plan (ERP), the PUC expanded their power by reinterpreting the second clause of a statute based on a 2008 bill, which authorized them to consider the economic damage caused by climate change when determining the energy sources for Colorado. In agreement with Western Resource Advocates (WRA), an environmental organization that only champions wind and solar energy, the PUC concluded they are allowed to consider future societal costs caused by carbon emissions in this ERP.
To account for those expenses, in a 2-1 decision, the PUC forced Xcel to run an analysis that values each ton of emitted greenhouse gas based on the Federal Social Cost of Carbon (FSCC)—which is a controversial measurement developed by an interagency working group during the Obama era. They believed it could accurately determine a dollar value for economic damage caused by a metric ton of carbon emissions in any given year and following until 2300 A.D.
The PUC’s ruling did not add a line item to bills, but pricing CO2 emissions eliminates market signals by artificially inflating the price of coal and gas generation. Suddenly, cheap, reliable sources become expensive, and the commissioners select portfolios filled predominantly with wind and solar farms.
So much for choosing the lowest cost resource.
Only 22 percent of Xcel’s energy generation in Colorado is carbon free, so their future resource planning will be significantly affected. They will have to acquire more wind and solar assets similar to the Rush Creek Wind Farm, which is already costing ratepayers $1.1 billion.
As of now, the PUC claims this is only an additional sensitivity analysis, meaning regulators will most likely not choose a portfolio adjusted for emission pricing. But coincidentally, the PUC delivered their ruling just days before the Trump Administration revoked President Obama’s social cost of carbon guidance. As the Denver Post’s Aldo Svaldi reported, “the Public Utilities Commission’s vote… represents a political statement as well as an economic one.”
So while the federal government steps toward rational energy and environment policy, Colorado steps away from it.
Possibly foreseeing the renunciation of the FSCC, in a politically charged ruling, the PUC applied it to an energy resource plan. However, Commissioner Wendy Moser was correct that the PUC should not use the FSCC when choosing what powers Colorado.
The reason? It’s completely inappropriate.
The FSCC considers multiple carbon producing entities including cars and cows. It would be understandable if the models only measured social costs associated with power plant CO2 emissions. But they do not. As a result, cattle in Nebraska or cars in India could affect the modeling, which ultimately could impact the PUC’s decision.
Moreover, the FSCC data represents a “‘comprehensive’ estimate of global climate change.” In other words, it punishes Colorado ratepayers for all global impact related to carbon emissions. The lawyers for Xcel captured this best when they revealed customers’ utility bills would compensate for the impact of sea-level change—something Colorado citizens rarely consider since they live in a landlocked state—if a portfolio is chosen that accounts for the FSCC.
Customers of both Xcel Energy and Black Hills Corporation should be concerned about higher energy bills. The PUC sidestepped their financial responsibility and in a seemingly politically charged move, ruled in favor of implementing a “crude and highly flawed measurement” that punishes ratepayers for possible climate change over one hundred years from now and thousands of miles away.
It is time the legislature reigns in the PUC and politics are taken out of their rulings. Because if they are not, Xcel customers will see rate hikes in the near future and Black Hills will not be far behind.
Brit Naas is an intern with the Independence Institute’s Future Leaders Project in Energy and Environmental Policy, and is a student at Concordia University Irvine.
Red State, Blue State, Independent State, Moocher State: I don’t know if Dr. Seuss would appreciate my borrowing from his children’s classic but given how I enjoy comparative rankings, I couldn’t help myself after perusing a new study from WalletHub that ranks states on their independence (or lack thereof).
Ranking the States
Being a policy wonk, what really caught my attention was the section on government dependency, which is based on four criteria.
As you can see, the four factors are not weighted equally. The “federally dependent states” variable is considered four times as important as any of the other variables.
That’s important, to be sure, but is it really more important (or that much more important) than the other categories?
Moreover, I’m not sure the “tax freedom day” variable is a measure of dependency. What’s really captured by this variable, given the way the tax code doesn’t tax low-income people and over-taxes high-income people, is the degree to which states have lots of rich people or poor people. But that’s not a measure of dependence (particularly if the rich people stole money instead of earning it).
DENVER Colo. (June 12, 2017) – Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law that will take a big step toward closing a federal asset forfeiture loophole.
A bipartisan coalition of two representatives and two senators introduced House Bill 1313 (HB1313) on April 3. The legislation primarily creates an extensive reporting system related to asset forfeiture that law enforcement agencies will have to follow.
But important provisions in the new law prohibit Colorado law enforcement agencies from transferring seized property to a federal agency unless it has a net value of more than $50,000. It also prohibits state and local police from accepting payment or distribution from a federal agency of all, or part of, any forfeiture proceeds resulting from the adoption, a joint task force, or other multijurisdictional collaboration, unless the aggregate net equity value of the property and currency seized in the case is in excess of $50,000, the case is commenced by the federal government, and it relates to a filed criminal case.
In most situations, passage of HB1313 slams closed a federal loophole that allowed state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws.
In March, a similar Senate bill sponsored by the same coalition failed to move out of the Senate Committee on Judiciary by a vote of 2-3. The vote was along party lines, with two Democrats in favor and three Republicans opposing. With the setback in the Senate, the same coalition tweaked the language and reintroduced the legislation in the House.
This time, when the bill passed the House and went to the Senate, it was sent to a different committee. In a matter of days, as the legislative session wound down, two committees passed the bill, and the full Senate approved it with a 32-3 vote. Due to technical amendments in the Senate, it needed to go back to the House, where it garnered final approve approval by a vote of 49-16. With Hickenlooper’s signature, the new law will go into effect later this summer.
While Colorado asset forfeiture laws don’t provide the level of protection they should, they are stricter than federal law. The Institute of Justice gives Colorado forfeiture laws a C. They do include a high bar to forfeit property, but they do not require a criminal conviction. They also provide relatively robust protections for innocent third-party property owners, and law enforcement can only keep up to 50 percent of proceeds.
Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center.He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of '98 - Kentucky.See his blog archive here and his article archive here.He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com and like him on Facebook HERE
Today, June 15, a coalition of immigrant-rights organizations debuted the Colorado Rapid Response Network, a 24-hour hotline that people can call to report, track and verify enforcement operations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Organizers say they already have over a hundred volunteers lined up to staff the hotline and go out into communities across Colorado to verify ICE operations firsthand. The number of the hotline: 1-844-UNITE-41 (1-844-864-8341).
“The intention of this network is to ease the fear in the community by being able to confirm or deny activity that is conducted by ICE,” said Carla Castedo, state director of Mi Familia Vota, in a prepared statement. “Our network is also trained to observe operations, ensure that rights are not being trampled, and stand together against injustices in Colorado.”
Another organizer, Celesté Martinez with Together Colorado, says the Colorado Rapid Response Network is modeled after existing networks run by the New Sanctuary Movement, based out of Philadelphia, and the PICO National Network, based out of Oakland.
“Both of those organizations have been doing rapid response network work for years,” Martinez says. “We evaluated what would work best by looking at their best practices, seeing what was missing, and then developing trainings and infrastructure here in Colorado.”
In Colorado, the network will consist of a dispatcher (shifts are twelve hours, either 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.), who will field calls and update an online database, as well as a “confirmer" who will go out into the field to confirm reported ICE activity.
Martinez says that dispatchers can be mobile because calls are routed to their cells phones. “But the expectation is that our dispatchers will always answer their phone during their shifts," she adds.
Chris Walker covers news and music as a staff writer at Westword. Prior to living in Denver, he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic.
Gov. Hickenlooper wants Western Slope counties to drop their lawsuit against the government’s sage grouse plan and instead try to talk through the problem.
But isn’t that what prompted the lawsuit? We talked, the government didn’t listen, and now we have this mess.
Hickenlooper aide John Swartout tells the Daily Sentinel that Hick has been meeting with governors from Nevada and Wyoming to find a way to avoid litigation.
“Our message was fix the plans but don’t scrap them. Don’t just jettison them,” Swartout said.
It wasn’t the counties intention to kill the government’s sage grouse plan outright, but what would happen if that occurred?
A new listing process would begin, but this time under a Trump administration that is friendlier towards ranchers and the energy industry.
Somehow, we think that if Clinton were president, Hick wouldn’t be sending out his people to try and talk Western Slope counties out of the lawsuit.