Leading health experts explain the broad effects of poor air quality
Denver — With the debate picking up in earnest at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission over Xcel Energy’s proposed plan to comply with Colorado’s landmark Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, new data was released this morning at an event at National Jewish Health demonstrating broad and deep support among Coloradans for Xcel Energy’s proposal to shut down five metro-area coal units.
The bi-partisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz &Associates (D) examined public perceptions of Xcel Energy’s plans to comply with the state’s new clean air statute. Data demonstrate overwhelming voter support for shifting Colorado’s electricity generation from coal to renewable energy, energy efficiency efforts, and natural gas. Research also shows what happens to support levels after hearing the cost implications of the proposal.
“Cleaning up our air is a no-brainer, something everyone can get behind,” said Pam Kiely, program director for Environment Colorado. “Colorado’s in the fast-lane, truly building a new energy future– and in order to clean up our air and protect our communities it’s clear that coal has to quickly take a backseat.”
Key findings include:
- Voters strongly prefer (79% to 17%) renewable energy and natural gas over coal as an energy source for Colorado.
- 76% of poll respondents said they support Xcel’s plan to shift away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar, as well as increase energy efficiency efforts.
- This support is strong among all sub-groups, including Democrats (89%), Independents (73%), Republicans (64%) and Denver Metro (78%) and West Slope residents (70%). No subgroup demonstrated less than 62% support for the proposal.
- Support remains solid after voters hear about cost implications of plan. 71% support with 1% increase in consumer prices; 68% support with a 3% increase.
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Coloradans reject recent coal industry objections, and agree that these changes will yield critical health benefits to Colorado.
- Enthusiasm for this proposal may be rooted in long-held concerns about air quality in Colorado– nearly four in ten (38%) respondents volunteered air pollution as their top environmental concern.
“It comes as no surprise that a strong majority of Coloradans support moving in this bold direction,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director Colorado Conservation Voters. “This effort has always been a testament to bi-partisan solution seeking in an era of “me first” politics because Coloradans across the board understand that clean air is critical for a healthy Colorado.”
Replacing the aging, high emitting coal plants in the metro area with cleaner power is the single most cost-effective solution to cut air pollution and prevent disease, save lives, reduce hospitalizations and improve human health.
“We have 20 years of medical research clearly showing that higher levels of air pollution are associated with adverse health effects, not only in the lungs, but also the cardiovascular system,” said Karin Pacheco, MD, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at National Jewish Health. “Switching from coal-fired to natural-gas fired power plants will reduce concentrations of airborne pollutants, and can reasonably be anticipated to improve asthma, COPD, and cardiovascular health throughout the Denver metro area, as well as to lead to significant healthcare cost savings.”
The Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act was widely supported by a diverse group of energy companies, legislators from both parties, public health advocates, local governments and conservation groups.
“Today’s results confirm what we knew from the start,” said State Representative Judy Solano, one of the principal sponsors of the Colorado Clean-Air, Clean-Jobs Act. “Coloradans are ready to move to a cleaner, healthier energy future– one that cleans up our air, strengthens our economy, and brings a better quality of life.”
Xcel’s move is attracting statewide and national attention because it will fundamentally transform Colorado’s electricity sector and put us on a much cleaner path.
“Moving forward with implementing the Clean Air, Clean Jobs act will help millions of Coloradans impacted by poor air quality,” notes Natalia Swalnick, Air Quality Manager for the American Lung Association in Colorado. “Air pollution, such as particulates generated from coal-fired power plants, can have a negative impact on lung health by aggravating existing conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
Xcel’s proposal, submitted in mid-August, is an important step in complying with HB10-1365, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act that passed the Colorado General Assembly in early April and creates a framework for replacing old, inefficient and dirty coal-fired power generation with cleaner energy solutions that provide for healthier air and clean energy jobs for Colorado.
The coal-fired plants that Xcel has proposed to replace are over forty years old. These plants face major capital investments in modern pollution control equipment to protect human health and the environment. By acting now, Xcel Energy expects that its proposal will result in savings of at least approximately $225 million when compared to the traditional approach of retrofitting all of these plants with emissions controls.