Why We Need to Mobilize to Close Martin Drake

For civically engaged Colorado College students who want to see a change in the world but often feel powerless to make anything happen, the next few weeks are a golden opportunity.  On Dec. 18, the Colorado Springs Utility Board will hold a hearing about whether or not to move up the closure date of the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant downtown. 

In 2015, the board drew up a plan to close the power plant by 2035. But City Council President Richard Skorman is introducing a proposal to move that date up to as early as 2025.  Of the nine member on the board, who are also the nine city council members, four are likely to vote for the proposal, three are likely to vote against it, and two could go either way. A strong show of support for the proposal from CC students and other activists in Colorado Springs could be crucial to convincing the board to close the plant by 2025. 

This is a hugely important decision for a number of reasons. The power plant releases more than 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  This means the power plant accounts for about 0.03 percent of total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide annually. Though if you look at national politics, it seems like the fight to mitigate climate change is losing ground; however through local efforts like these we can continue to make huge progress. If you care about climate change, this issue is of utmost importance. 

The power plant is holding Colorado Springs back. It is less than a mile south of downtown and has prevented the development of the neighborhoods around it. A new Olympic museum is slated to be built in a few years just a few blocks from Drake—the plant will almost certainly discourage visitors. Skorman has mentioned that if they are able to close the plant, he hopes to see the area turned into an arts district. 

There is also reason to believe that Drake is having significant negative effects on our air quality. The EPA has not tested the emissions of the plant because they have neglected to install a system to measure them. But in 2013, the Sierra Club sponsored its own study, which found that levels of sulfur dioxide in Colorado Springs are more than eight times the national legal limit, as specified by the Clean Air Act. The Utility Board hired consultants to commission their own air quality report, but they have refused to release the results. 

The only real argument against closing Drake earlier is that it will cause a slight increase in utility rates across the city for about a decade. In a city as tax averse as Colorado Springs, this could be a compelling argument against closing the plant for some city councilmembers, particularly when it is made by businesses who claim that they would have to lay off workers or move their offices if the proposal is approved. But in reality, even with a slight increase in utility rates, Colorado Springs would still be one of the cheapest major cities for business owners. And there is a compelling economic argument for closing the plant—it would allow development in the area, it would help draw young professionals to the city, and long-term utility rates would actually decrease. This is the argument that needs to be made in order to win over the swing votes on the board.

As CC students, we can have particular influence in swaying the council by emphasizing the “help draw young professionals” part of the economic argument. While cities across the region have been flooded with young, educated people, Colorado Springs has not. If we can make the argument that a more bustling downtown without a disgusting coal plant in the middle of it would help convince us to stay after college, we could be instrumental in closing the plant. 

The most crucial thing that we can do as CC students, though, is to show up on Dec. 18 (Monday of fourth week—I know that is hard, but plan ahead, this is important) and be vocal in support of anyone who gets up to speak in favor of closing the plant. It’s one meeting with the potential to make a lasting positive impact on the future of our climate and our city—we should be able to carve out the time. 

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