State officials spent approximately $150,000 to help Colorado implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, most of it before the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the rules last month, records obtained by Watchdog.org show.
And while future meetings to discuss the CPP are planned, the meeting scheduled for March in Pueblo was postponed in part because of the stay and in part due to logistical reasons, according to Will Allison, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s director of the air pollution control division.
Allison said it has been difficult to determine the cost of CPP implementation or how much the state will spend in the future because the department is doing the work with existing staff and no new funds.
“We didn’t stop spending the date of stay,” Allison told Watchdog.org, adding the CPP planning is part of overall clean air work the department oversees. “We work on a wide variety or air pollution matters, including emissions from power plants, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
But state Sen. John Cooke, a Weld County Republican who is sponsoring two bills to address the consequences of the Clean Power Plan and may look to cut the Department of Public Health and Environment’s budget if it doesn’t stop working on the stalled EPA rules, isn’t buying CDPHE’s disclosures.
“I think they’re being disingenuous,” Cooke told Watchdog.org. “And I don’t think they’re being very transparent.”
CDPHE filed two documents, which officials provided to Watchdog.org after a Colorado Open Records Act request, with the Joint Budget Committee saying the majority of spending on the CPP stopped in early February.
“Much of the division’s CPP work took place between when the rule was published on August 3, 2015, and the February 9, 2016 stay of the CPP,” health officials wrote lawmakers. “In light of the stay of the CPP, we anticipate the same division staff having additional time to devote to other projects.”
The department estimated about $150,000 in costs so far for CPP implementation.
“(A)pproximately 10 Division staff worked on issues relating to the rule,” staff wrote in the documents. “We estimate that during this timeframe those staff members devoted a total of approximately 2,400 hours, which would equate to a total cost of $111,651.92, estimated using an average salary.”
The document also notes $14,008.56 in mostly meeting costs and $19,120 for legal services, adding that 28 percent of the personnel costs are from federal funds and the rest were covered with cash funds (non-tax revenue, such as money from fees or fines).
The department’s website shows that meetings on the CPP continued after the court stay, including one in Denver on Feb. 22 that included discussions about the stay and one scheduled for Craig, Colo., in April, though the exact date wasn’t set yet. Allison wasn’t sure what would happen with the Pueblo meeting that was postponed.
Cooke said health officials continue to spend on the CPP, haven’t provided a full accounting and shouldn’t be working on any rules about what kind of fuels power plants can use because the CPP, which attempts to eliminate or limit coal use, may die at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“They have the authority at the smokestack to regulate what comes out of the smokestack,” he said. “They shouldn’t be working on what kind of fuel (power plants) use.”
Cooke is leading the fight to block any additional spending on CPP. His Senate Bill 46 would suspend state implementation of the plan if there is court stay, and his Senate Bill 61 would create a fund to protect consumers from any rate hikes caused by the CPP.
He concedes the bills are unlikely to make it out of the Democrat-controlled House or, if they do, avoid a Gov. John Hickenlooper veto. But Republicans might cut the department’s budget if officials continue spending.
“We’re looking at their budget and the option of holding up their supplemental (request for additional funds) until we get answers,” he added.
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Cooke contends administration staff have been “speaking out of both sides of their mouths” on whether to continue spending on CPP rules. Hickenlooper and CDPHE director Larry Wolk have made statements and written an op-ed saying they plan to continue preparing the state for the rules.
Allison said he doesn’t know the exact cost of the meetings and whether they will continue, but the department doesn’t want to waste money.
“We are trying to determine what is the best investment of time and effort,” he said. “We don’t want to waste time or money on something, but there is ample opportunity (to reduce pollution) regardless of the” CPP.