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Feds give final approval to Colorado air quality plan

DENVER – With Congress back in session this week and exactly eight weeks left until Election Day, most observers have low expectations for any real bipartisan accomplishments.

But on Tuesday, all nine members of Colorado’s congressional delegation applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s final approval of the state’s ground-breaking plan to reduce regional haze.

The plan, crafted over the last couple of years by a bipartisan group of lawmakers looking to get ahead of looming federal mandates, was given initial approval by the EPA back in March.

“The EPA’s decision means Colorado can move forward with its plans to help improve public health, increase visibility and reduce haze pollution in our national parks and wilderness areas, which are strong drivers of Colorado’s tourism and recreation economy,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat.

The Clean Air-Clean Jobs act, passed by the state legislature in 2010, is the centerpiece of the regional haze plan.

It looks to reduce harmful pollution through emissions controls, by retiring old, inefficient coal-fired power plants and converting certain some coal plants to produce cleaner-burning natural gas.

By 2018, the plan is expected to result in more than 70,000 tons of pollutant reductions annually, including 35,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, which leads to ground-level ozone formation.

“This plan will significantly reduce emissions and improve visibility, and Colorado will realize significant public health benefits,” said Dr. Christopher E. Urbina, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It is a great example of the leadership role Colorado has taken for so long in public health and environmental protection.”

Environmentalists have heralded the plan, as have representatives of XCel Energy and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Only Colorado’s coal industry, understandably, fought the new law.

“This approval is an important endorsement of Colorado’s state-led collaboration,” said Tisha Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will support job creation in Colorado’s natural gas sector while measurably reducing air pollutant emissions.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who supports hydraulic fracturing and has been lauded by oil and gas executives for engineering a compromise on new rules for greater disclosure of “fracking” fluids that also drew support from environmentalists and the oil and gas industry, also celebrated another instance of Colorado-esque collaboration.

“The EPA’s approval of the Regional Haze Plan is a ringing endorsement of a comprehensive and collaborative effort between many different groups,” Hickenlooper said. “Colorado’s utilities, environmental community, oil and gas industry, health advocates and regulators all came together to address air quality. We embrace this success as a model for continuing to balance economic growth with wise public policy that protects community health and our environmental values.”