Colorado Air Quality Regulator Reverses Decision to Retire Coal Plants Early

Air Quality Control Commission sides with corporate polluters over decision to force the early retirement of three coal plants.

Denver, CO – Today, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted to reverse its decision to accelerate the retirements of three Colorado coal units by 2028. Today’s vote also reverses the AQCC’s November request to the Air Pollution Control Division to shutter Hayden coal units 1 & 2 by 2028.

On November 20, the AQCC made a preliminary final decision in Phase 1 of Colorado’s Regional Haze Plan, requiring utilities to retire several coal and gas plants no later than December 31, 2028.

Since then, Xcel Energy, Tri-State G&T, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Platte River Power Authority filed a motion to reverse the AQCC decision to accelerate retirement of Craig 3, Nixon, and Rawhide by 2028, so that the utilities could continue to operate their coal-fired power plants. Coal plants are a major contributor to haze pollution that mars public lands, and coal plants are responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases from the electric sector.

National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, were among the intervenors in the rulemaking, seeking to have all three coal plants retired by 2028.

Statement by the National Parks Conservation Association and Sierra Club:

“By reversing course and allowing three of the biggest polluting facilities in the state to continue releasing harmful emissions past 2028, the AQCC missed an important opportunity today for our national parks, public health, and climate. The state’s regional haze plan is an opportunity to clear the air in our treasured national parks and surrounding communities, and to move Colorado closer toward achieving its climate goals. As Colorado moves forward on its second phase of the regional haze rulemaking, we will continue our work to reduce air pollution.”

The three coal plants that would have retired by 2028, are:

  • Craig 3 coal plant (owner: Tri-State)
  • Nixon coal plant (owner: Colorado Springs Utilities)
  • Rawhide coal plant (owner: Platte River Power Authority)

In November, the AQCC deferred action on the Hayden coal plant, but signaled that it was interested in having the Hayden plant retire no later than the end of 2028. Had all five units been retired by 2028, it is estimated that cost savings for Coloradans would be approximately $68 million, while reducing nitrous oxide by 10,000 tons, sulfur dioxide by 12,000 tons, and carbon dioxide by more than 19.4 million tons (equivalent to over 4 million cars off the road) more than the originally-proposed closure dates.

“Throughout my career with the National Park Service and at the Environmental Protection Agency, I saw air pollution and climate change as a serious and increasing threat to our national parks and surrounding landscapes,” said Sarah Bransom of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Grand Lake, Colorado). “Today, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission had a golden opportunity to take immediate action to clear up our skies and reduce air pollution in our treasured national parks.Instead, because of industry pressure, they voted on a weaker option. As Colorado moves into its next regional haze rulemaking next year, I am hoping it will put real progress ahead of industry preferences. Places like Rocky Mountain National Park cannot afford any more delay.”

Today, concerned Coloradoans across the state have also taken to social media in support of early coal plant retirements. You can view the online activism by searching the hashtag #CO4PeopleNotPolluters.

“Our national parks— areas that most people think of as relatively untouched and protected — will suffer the consequences of today’s vote,“ said Ken Mabery, retired National Park Service superintendent (Fruita, Colorado). “Air pollution remains one of the most serious threats facing national parks, threatening the health of park visitors, park staff, wildlife and neighboring communities. Our national parks are plagued with haze pollution, and emissions from coal plants is a major reason why. On top of that, Colorado is already one of the fastest-warming states in the country and higher temperatures will lead to more severe droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves. The alternate proposal, with its earlier retirements, would have saved Coloradans money, and more importantly, would have better protected our well-being. While today’s vote is a missed opportunity, I would like the state to make real progress in 2021 regional haze rulemaking,”