Associated Governments of NW Colorado Can challenge PUC Coal to Natural Gas Ruling
This morning, the Colorado Supreme Court announced its decision giving the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) a green light to proceed with its claims against the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). AGNC is an association of northwestern Colorado counties and municipalities which includes Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt Counties. The AGNC region boasts some of Colorado’s most abundant natural resources.
In 2011, AGNC filed suit against the PUC, asking a District Court in Routt County to invalidate the PUC’s approval of Public Service Company of Colorado’s (PSCo) requested plan to switch from continuing to use low cost coal to building new high cost natural gas power plants. AGNC’s case is based on several legal defects in the PUC’s proceedings-including that the PUC ignored the plan’s massive costs to Colorado’s economy and to northwest Colorado and because two of the three PUC commissioners should have recused themselves from the PUC’s process.
The PUC and PSCo sought to have AGNC’s case dismissed. Routt County District Court Judge Shelly Hill denied those efforts. In an unprecedented move, the PUC appealed Judge Hill’s decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“We are very pleased that the Colorado Supreme Court has today made clear AGNC’s right to its day in court. The adverse impacts of the PUC approved PSCo plan on Northwest Colorado communities are staggering. Northwest Colorado communities rely on valuable jobs associated with responsible coal mining and the PUC’s ill-conceived decision threatens these jobs” said Mike Sampson, Garfield County Commissioner and Chairman of AGNC.
House Bill 10-1365, the “Clean Air Clean Jobs Act” (CACJA), which served as the basis for the PUC’s decision, was rushed through the Colorado legislature in a mere 17 days, with little opportunity for meaningful legislative or public consideration. Under the Act, extremely short deadlines also severely limited the public and local governments’ opportunity to review and comment on the proposals made by PSCo to the PUC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The PUC approved PSCo plan will cost Colorado consumers more than $1.3 billion. The PUC overlooked lower cost alternatives that would have cost far less and still met required emission reductions. The PUC also failed to protect northwest Colorado communities from devastating impacts from greatly reduced coal production. The PUC approved PSCo plan is projected to displace anywhere from 3 to 4 million tons of Colorado coal, annually.
AGNC will now benefit from Court review of bias exhibited by two of the PUC’s Commissioners – discovered after a review of hundreds of emails which chronicled then PUC Chairman Binz’s and Commissioner Baker’s closed door participation in secret drafting and negotiation of the CACJA. The Commissioners’ own emails confirm they engineered a deal with PSCo to switch PSCo power plants from coal to natural gas and for Colorado consumers to pay for the massive costs associated with doing so.
According to Daniel Vigil, an Assistant Dean and Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a recognized expert on state official ethics, the PUC Commissioners violated governing standards of impartiality and their own regulations by “actively engaging in negotiations with a regulated entity regarding issues that would come before the Commission for decision directly involving that regulated entity.” In an affidavit filed with the PUC, Vigil concluded that “the Commission’s conduct undermines public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary as the Commission is advancing the interests of some parties, including the single largest regulated entity in the state, to the detriment of the public and other interested parties.”
Said AGNC Chairman Sampson “with the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision today, these important issues will now proceed before a Court of law without further delay or stalling by the State or PSCo.”
CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION EVENT TO TAKE PLACE IN CRAIG
A number of child abuse prevention organizations are teaming up together for a project intended to make the Craig community aware of child abuse issues. Connections 4 Kids, the Moffat County Child Protection Team, Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA, McDonald’s, and Prevent Child Abuse Colorado are all sponsoring the Pinwheels for Prevention Garden in Craig. The garden is made up of blue and silver pinwheels, which represent efforts to change the way people think about prevention, focusing on community activities and public policies that prioritize prevention right from the start to make sure child abuse and neglect never occur. The pinwheels will be on display from Friday through Monday at McDonald’s of Craig. Connections 4 Kids and the Early Childhood Council of Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties will offer free pinwheels and information to kids who attend the Celebrate Children Festival Saturday from 10 to 2 in the Centennial Mall in Craig. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATES IN MOFFAT, RIO BLANCO COUNTIES UP
Colorado’s unemployment rate for the month of March was unchanged from February’s numbers, and the numbers in Northwest Colorado are reflective of that. The state’s unemployment remained at 7.8% last month, 4 percentage points lower than the national rate of 8.2%. In Moffat County last month’s rate was recorded at 8.6% up from 8.4% in February. In Rio Blanco County the rate was 6%, up from 5.9% last month. Routt County’s rate actually declined, lowering from 6.9% last month, to 6.8 percent this month.
PLANS TO SHUT DOWN RURAL POST OFFICES ARE PUT ON HOLD
A plan to shut down 53 post offices in Colorado and hundreds of others nationwide has been put on hold – at least for now. David Rupert, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s Colorado operations, says they planned to close the post offices by May 15. But because Congress hasn’t acted on a request to make changes, including ending Saturday delivery, the closures have been postponed indefinitely. The Postal Service says it needs to begin closing low-revenue post offices and mail processing centers this year in an effort to become profitable. Rupert says it’s unclear when federal lawmakers will allow the changes. He adds that dozens of amendments already are attached to the measure, some of which have nothing to do with mail delivery.
SWEETWATER COUNTY DEPUTIES CHASE DOWN FUGITIVE
Sweetwater County Deputies chased down a wanted fugitive in Rock Springs last week. According to a press release, 26-year old Wesley Carter was wanted on a range of charges that included domestic violence, failure to pay on drug charges, and probation violation. Authorities were following up a lead on his whereabouts when they stopped at Carter’s aunt’s home. The aunt, 49 year old Jamie Carter, told deputies her nephew wasn’t there, but he was spotted running from the residence. Deputies took off after him and caught up within three minutes. Carter and his aunt were both arrested, the latter on charges of interfering with a peace officer. She has already pleaded guilty and was given a suspended fine of $300, and is being made to contribute $200 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund. Wesley Carter remains jailed pending a court appearance.
SEATBELT CAMPAIGN RESULTS IN OVER 2,100 CITATIONS
The state’s recent Rural Click-it or Ticket campaign netted over 2,100 seat belt citations. That’s according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. 30 law enforcement agencies, including the Colorado State Patrol and the Craig and Steamboat Police Departments took part in the campaign. 98 of those violations involved children not properly restrained. Craig Police issued 28 of those tickets, Steamboat police handed out 17, and the Colorado State Patrol Craig dispatch cited 54 people. The seatbelt campaign also resulted in 33 drug arrests, 18 DUIs, 19 fugitive arrests, 165 suspended license citations, and the recovery of a stolen vehicle.
HICKENLOOPER SIGNS BILL TO CHANGE HOW YOUTH OFFENDERS ARE CHARGED
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed a bill into law to dramatically curb prosecutors’ ability to charge juveniles as adults through the state’s longstanding “direct file” system. House Bill 1271 passed the legislature by wide margins and with bipartisan support but was still bitterly opposed by prosecutors and other law enforcement officials. Lawmakers from both parties split on the issue. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he struggled with whether to sign the bill but decided the wave of bipartisan support among lawmakers was hard to ignore. The bill bars district attorneys from charging juveniles as adults for many low and mid-level felonies, while raising the age at which young offenders may be charged as adults for more serious crimes from 14 to 16. While the bill would allow prosecutors to charge young offenders as adults in cases of murder, violent sex offenses, kidnapping and violent assaults, it also would allow defendants to appeal to a district judge, who would have the final say on whether they are tried as adults.
ELECTRONIC RECYCLING BILL SIGNED INTO LAW
In anticipation of yesterday’s Earth Day celebration Governor John Hickenlooper Friday signed into law the bipartisan Electronic Recycling Jobs Act. Backers say Senate Bill 133 will protect groundwater and create an estimated 2,500 recycling jobs by ensuring that used electronics are recycled rather than dumped in landfills. Coloradans throw away between 40,000 and 160,000 tons of electronics per year, wasting important materials within the devices that can be reused for manufacturing. The Act is expected to help strengthen local economies by helping waste and recycling businesses expand or create new facilities throughout Colorado. It does not create any additional fees or require any state dollars, and it creates a waiver process for communities that do not have access to electronic recycling. In addition, state agencies will be able to take advantage of existing private national certifications for handling electronic waste.
LAWMAKERS ENTER FINAL STRETCH OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Colorado lawmakers facing the final stretch of the legislative session this week will deal with a wave of high-profile, emotional issues, from civil unions for gay couples to in-state tuition for undocumented students. There are only two full weeks left in the 2012 session, which by law must end May 9. The House Education Committee will hear a bill creating a separate tuition category for undocumented students. The cost will be more than in-state tuition but less than the out-of-state fee. Meanwhile, the state Senate is expected to debate a civil-unions measure similar to the one that died last year in a GOP-controlled House committee. Also a Senate committee will hear a literacy bill, which was backed by Democratic Governor Hickenlooper but opposed by some members of his party. House Bill 12-1238 recommends holding back students if they can’t read by third grade.
PARKS AND WILDLIFE ANNOUNCE FISHING CONTEST FOR SUMMER
Colorado Parks and Wildlife are giving advanced notice to anglers, that they could win millions of dollars, for simply doing what they love. The Wanna Go Fishing For Millions?” event is sponsored by Cabelas, offering anglers the chance to win up to $2 million in cash and more than $225,000 in additional prizes. The goal is to catch specially tagged fish at select lakes across the U.S. Species that will be tagged this year include largemouth and small mouth bass, spotted bass, white bass, striped bass, perch, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, walleye, crappie, bluegill and channel fish. Site selections haven’t been announced yet. An annual fishing license in Colorado costs $26. Kids 15 and under fish for free.
OBAMA TO STOP AT C-U BOULDER CAMPUS ON CAMPAIGN TRIP
President Obama will spend this week visiting college towns in three swing states. The stops will be at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He’ll be speaking specifically about student loans. A White House Announcement says that unless Congress steps in to keep student loan interest rates low, they will double on July 1st. Obama’s camp says for each year Congress allows the rate to double, the average student will rack up another $1,000 in debt.
In high school sports:
Over the weekend:
In girls soccer:
Moffat County fell to Palisade.
In girls lacrosse:
Steamboat lost to Durango both Friday and Saturday.
In girls tennis:
Steamboat won a tournament in Longmont.
Steamboat won both games of a double header with Eagle Valley.
Moffat County lost both games of their double header with Palisade.
In girls soccer:
Moffat County hosts Delta at 4.