New Bill Written With Input from Northwest Colorado Leaders Would Support Economic Development and Diversification in Communities That Have Historically Relied on Fossil Fuels to Power Their Economies
Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the National Energy Community Transition Act to support economic development and diversification in communities across Colorado that have historically relied on fossil fuel-related power generation, production, or extraction and now face significant declines in tax revenue that sustain core public services, such as hospitals and schools.
“I have heard time and again from Coloradans about the effects coal mine and power plant closures have on our rural communities and their economies,” said Bennet. “My legislation was carefully crafted with feedback from local leaders in Northwest Colorado to create an enduring way to support economic revitalization in our communities. This bill is a true reflection of how people across Colorado and the West come together to develop sustainable solutions to the biggest challenges facing our communities. I will continue to work with Coloradans to make sure our local economies can thrive today and into the future.”
Bennet began work on the National Energy Community Transition Act after meeting with Northwest Colorado leadership in February 2020 to discuss the challenges they are facing as a result of the announced closures of the coal-fired power plants in Craig and Hayden, which they expect to result in a significant loss of revenue as part of their tax base. He continued to gather input from community leaders while developing the bill, including at a 2021 roundtable discussion in Craig. They underscored the importance of getting ahead of this “fiscal cliff” and the need to provide the resources to plug projected local government budget gaps for core services such as hospitals and schools, and to diversify their economies. Right now, limited resources are available to communities that are expecting a loss of tax revenue due to anticipated closures in the near future. The National Energy Community Transition Act seeks to rectify this oversight by providing immediate support to these communities to smooth the transition before closures occur.
The National Energy Community Transition Act would:
- Establish a federally chartered, non-governmental, nonprofit Corporation overseen by a diverse and carefully constructed Board to provide economic support to local governments and other eligible entities in transitioning communities.
- Provide a significant down payment to a newly established permanent Endowment and outline a framework to grow it over time.
- Direct the Corporation to distribute funding from the Endowment to support local government services and transition efforts in eligible communities.
"Tri-County leaders have had an ongoing conversation with Senator Bennet about how we can achieve an economic future that honors traditional industry and land uses that have built the communities and landscapes we all enjoy today, while embracing an economic future that supports our core services and offers new opportunities into the future. We believe the endowment concept has the opportunity to do just that. We continue to advocate for legislative proposals that benefit our region. As impacted local governments, we appreciate Senator Bennet modifying draft legislation after considering local government input,” said Commissioner Melody Villard, Moffat County.
“Senator Bennet’s efforts to work hand-in-hand with local leaders—on both sides of the aisle—to create a new permanent endowment fund will help northwest Colorado through the transition away from coal plant-based economies. We believe his proposal is grounded in rural Colorado and would provide the necessary and sustained support to refocus, retool, and revitalize Craig and our region. I can’t thank the Senator enough for his efforts to help keep Colorado’s great northwest thriving,” said Mayor Ryan Hess, City of Craig.
“Senator Bennet’s National Energy Community Transition Act puts a focus on communities like those in NW Colorado and is a clear indication he is thinking broadly about our region and is showing particular attention to our challenges. I believe we must think regionally about sustainable and long-term community development and the endowment concept will allow for long term planning and success. Thank you, Senator Bennet, for your leadership and support,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond, Routt County.
“Thanks to Senator Bennet for his leadership in our region and across Colorado. In Hayden, we have been leading along with our partners in this transition as we tackle the issues of climate change, coal transition, and moving forward in an equitable way to ensure everyone benefits. Hayden is on the move, we have a beautiful new school, community center and a growing community; our future is starting to look bright. However, our challenges remain the same – we need an equitable transition. Our new school was built leveraging both state grant funding along with a voter-approved $22.3 million bond that is 55% dependent on the Hayden Station, a coal-fired power plant. Our fire district, library district, hospital district, and cemetery district rely on this asset for property taxes that range anywhere from 55-65% of their total budget. We are deeply concerned about this transition, but we recognize this is a unique opportunity to move forward for our community and lead by example in Northwest Colorado. This bill provides that unique opportunity to secure sustainable funding and transition our hard working community into the future,” said Mayor Zach Wuestewald, Town of Hayden.
“This bill addresses one of many critical needs that energy communities are facing today—how they will continue to provide essential services during a time of transition. We applaud Senator Bennet’s work to listen to coal communities’ members and leaders, and advance solutions that are truly needed. The BlueGreen Alliance supports this legislation as part of a multi-faceted effort to support communities, workers, and families as they weather the impacts of a rapidly changing energy economy," said Jason Walsh, BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director.
In the Senate, Bennet continues working to prioritize the needs of rural and transitioning communities in Colorado. In October 2021, Bennet and his colleagues introduced the American Energy Worker Opportunity Act to provide critical resources and training opportunities to assist and empower workers whose jobs are affected by the energy industry’s move toward cleaner sources. In January 2021, Bennet sent a letter to the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Susan Rice and the Director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, outlining ways the federal government can better partner with rural communities and in particular, those transitioning away from fossil fuel-based economies. In 2020, Bennet introduced the RESILIENT Act to empower rural communities to upgrade their infrastructure by expanding technical assistance, strengthening local capacity, and simplifying access to various federal funding streams. In 2017, Bennet introduced the Coal Community Empowerment Act to spur investment, workforce training, economic growth, and job creation in rural communities in Colorado and across the United States.