- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Gov. John Hickenlooper rejected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for states to defy new federal pollution controls on coal-burning power plants, saying Colorado has a long history of protecting its environment - despite its heavy reliance on coal.

In a letter to McConnell dated Thursday, Hickenlooper also disputed McConnell’s contention that the rules would cause electric rates to soar. Hickenlooper said Colorado is cutting pollution while keeping energy affordable.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules have become a target for McConnell and other Republicans now that the GOP controls the U.S. Senate as well as the House.

The rules, which aren’t yet final, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels, and each state must develop a plan to meet the goal. In a letter to governors in March, McConnell - who represents Kentucky, the nation’s No. 3 coal-producing state - urged them to ignore the rules.

McConnell said the EPA overstepped its authority. He also said the plan won’t slow global warming unless other nations also take action, and that electric rates would soar, hurting the poor.

It wasn’t clear why Hickenlooper, a Democrat, waited until last week to respond to McConnell.

In his letter, Hickenlooper argued the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to impose the new rules and said it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law.

He also touted his efforts to build consensus among energy companies and environmental groups, citing the state’s new regulations for methane emissions from oil and gas facilities.

“In Colorado, we have a longstanding history of investing in our natural environment, with the engagement of local business and civic leaders,” he wrote.

Hickenlooper is a former petroleum geologist and is regarded as friendly to the energy industry, a key component in the state’s economy. Colorado is the No. 7 energy-producing state overall and ranks No. 11 in coal production.

Colorado mined nearly 23 million tons of coal, worth about $900 million, last year, the Colorado Mining Association said. More than 2,000 people work in coal mines or support industries, according to the state Department of Labor and Employment.

Last week, Hickenlooper expressed concerns that the Colowyo coal mine in northwestern Colorado is in jeopardy because of a federal court ruling that regulators must consider a coal mine’s effects on global warming in deciding whether to issue or renew a permit. If a new review of the Colowyo mine isn’t done within four months, it could be forced to shut down.

“If we need to have more environmental assessment, do more environmental assessment, but don’t shut the mine down,” Hickenlooper told a meeting of northwestern Colorado government leaders on May 12, according to KREX-TV in Grand Junction. “Don’t kick people off their jobs,” he said.

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Follow Dan Elliott at https://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

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