DENVER (AP) – A partisan tussle over the Obama administration’s stalled clean power plan dominated early debate as Colorado’s Republican-led Senate on Wednesday considered a $27 billion state budget.
Republicans previously stripped Colorado’s air quality enforcement unit of $8 million in funding, jeopardizing 95 jobs, after they became angry that Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration kept working on the Environmental Protection Agency plan after it was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, the state Senate restored all but $367,000 being spent on the EPA plan. Two jobs are still affected, but Republicans noted hundreds of coal-dependent jobs ultimately are also at stake.
Minority Democrats failed to restore the full $8 million after a debate involving federal intrusions in state affairs, Colorado’s own clean air needs, and statistics on wildfires, flooding and temperatures attributed to climate change.
The amendment tells the Department of Public Health and Environment it has no authority to spend “on a plan the Supreme Court has told us to stop,” said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who has led the GOP charge on the issue.
A visibly exasperated Hickenlooper vowed the state will keep working on its own clean air plan that addresses airborne particulates, ozone and renewable power sources in addition to coal.
The infighting, he said, is “the height of ridiculousness in terms of partisan politics. … Somehow they feel that’s going to help us burn more coal.”
Coal still accounts for roughly a third of Colorado’s electricity generation.
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court barred the Obama administration from beginning implementation of the federal plan until legal challenges are resolved.
“It’s bewildering the governor seems prepared to go to the mat with us over this completely reasonable request for a little regulatory and fiscal restraint,” Sonnenberg said.
Sonnenberg has proposed creating a state fund to reimburse utilities that comply with any eventual EPA clean power rules. It would spare taxpayers any EPA-related rate hikes.
The Democrat-led House has given initial approval to the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It includes a slight per-pupil increase for K-12 schools and spares state colleges and doctors who treat the poor from budget cuts. But it slashes $73 million from hospitals, part of a complicated arrangement to avoid even deeper cuts later.
The Senate is expected to approve its budget document Thursday. A conference committee will take up differences, with air-quality funding the dominant item.
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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