By Denver Business Journal

Coloradoâ¿¿s plan to curb pollution from power plants and large, commercial boilers in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act passed a key hurdle Friday when the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission gave unanimous approval in a 9-0 vote.

The plan, aimed at reducing ⿿regional haze⿝ in the state, will be submitted to the Legislature by Jan. 15 for review. If the Legislature approves the plan it will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan approved by the air quality commission is expected to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which contribute to regional haze, by more than 70,000 tons a year by 2018.

More than half of the reductions stem from pollution cuts at Coloradoâ¿¿s power plants through the controversial Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE: XEL) and Black Hills Energy (a unit of Black Hills Corp., NYSE: BKH) are shutting down several Front Range coal-fired power plants, adding pollution control equipment to others in Colorado and using more natural gas to supply electricity. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the Clean Air-Clean Jobs plans for the two utilities in December.

Burning more natural gas for power has been opposed by Coloradoâ¿¿s coal mining industry, which argues that jobs linked to coal will be lost and electricity prices will rise.

Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, criticized the air quality commissionâ¿¿s decision.

⿿They failed to perform a visibility analysis and they failed utterly to consider the [plan⿿s] impact on regional economies,⿝ Sanderson said. ⿿We⿿re still looking at the decision but, needless to say, we disagree strongly with it and feel that the commission did not follow the appropriate procedures or the law.⿝

The association hasnâ¿¿t yet decided how it might continue its opposition to the emissions plan, Sanderson said.

Supporters of the clean-air plan included the utilities, natural gas industry and environmentalists. Supporters say Colorado needs to reduce the amount of coal burned in the stateâ¿¿s power plants to comply with federal regional haze rules as well as new, tighter air quality rules expected within the next few years.

⿿This is another historic milestone,⿝ said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC), in a statement on behalf of the coalition, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Environment Colorado.

⿿Regional haze pollution not only mars the scenic vistas in our precious national parks, but also harms these sensitive ecosystems and damages public health, and we are finally on track to see dramatic improvements,⿝ Jones said.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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