Q&A with Joshua Epel, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission

What is your reaction to how the EPA’s carbon emissions rule might affect your state? What are some ways your state is already prepared and what might be more challenging? 

I think EPA did a spectacular job trying to deal with something more complicated than anything they have ever dealt with. I mean nothing – every rule…pales in comparison to this rule. So I’m incredibly impressed with how they approached it, but my biggest concern is I don’t think Colorado gets sufficient credit for all the investments we made. We’ve spent literally billions of dollars to decarbonize our economy…That’s probably going to be one of the areas that we’re going to comment constructively about and say lets make sure that you did it appropriately.

I will tell you my experience with Administrator McCarthy is when you put a convincing argument in front of her she listens. And that’s my expectation. My experience with her has been nothing but positive, and so I am assuming that if Colorado and other states and regions say this is the correct way and she finds it convincing she’s going to accept that.

(On whether counting earlier action for some states might require raising reduction requirements for others): I don’t think this has to be a zero sum game. That’s not how I’m approaching it. What I am approaching is here is what Colorado has invested in and this is what’s fair for Colorado. I don’t expect EPA to say well we’re going have to give Colorado X percent more and therefore we have to (raise requirements for) somebody else. I don’t think that’s the appropriate approach.

(On whether the timeline is tight, considering that state plans might require legislative action):  For our state, (for Gov. Hickenlooper) it’s more a matter of he has to attend to a lot of other things and this is not gong to be his primary focus…People will just work extraordinary hours to do it.

Do you foresee your state having a formal or informal stakeholder process?

The really fun thing about being in Colorado is we’re geographically large, but we’re a very small state. There’s tremendous relationships. (For the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act) there was a consultation process between the Air Division giving guidance on what’s approvable and then ultimately the Public Utilities Commission made the decisions. I don’t see this as similar, but I think that model of we all talk and we have communications between not just the investor-owned utilities regulate, but we’re going to invite in all the units to give us feedback and that will shape the comments. I think it’s going to be an iterative, cooperative process.

(On working with other states): I don’t see a need for it at this point. Colorado’s so far ahead of almost every state with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, in California. You’ve got the (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) states, you’ve got Iowa, but other than that we are so far ahead that at this point I think we’ve got enough to do. We’re just going to be Colorado-centric.  But if other states approach us we will be receptive. We’ll never foreclose that.

Do you feel your role and responsibilities as a state regulator are evolving? Why or why not?

(Laughs) Absolutely, but it’s not just dealing with the electric industry. There are so many changes taking place, whether it’s telecommunications, whether its transportation, the technologies are changing – the way people communicate with companies is completely different, and we have to very flexible and adaptive while never taking our eyes off of our fundamental task–which is looking out for the public interest. We are constantly thinking: do we understand these different dynamics and are we factoring them in?

Statutorily, and ultimately, my responsibility is to look out for the public interest to make sure the grid is and the system is, safe, reliable and affordable. There are different factors that we have to accommodate, including the technological leaps, and I think cybersecurity shows that.

We are absolutely the expert agency and we have a responsibility that nobody else has and that’s one of the things we have been communicating with the EPA and they’ve shown an understanding of it, but they also have to live within the constraints of their statutes. That is our exclusive domain. But again- I’m talking from a vertically integrated state. Other states–their universe is different and that’s the challenge. How does the EPA factor in 50 different states, different regions, different politics. I think they’ve done a tremendous job…but now we are in the refining stage.

What are some of the biggest energy issues facing your state?

(Laughs) We have so much. That’s a real tough one. But our job as economic regulators is to remain focused and not get distracted. Because there is so much that one can get distracted. It’s the greatest job in the world, but sometimes it’s pretty tough.

This interview was conducted at the NARUC summer meetings in July 2014. To see Q&As with commissioners from other states, visit our interactive map. For a broader story about how state regulators from around the country are reacting to the EPA’s carbon emissions proposal, click here.

If you’re a commissioner and didn’t get to talk to Morning Consult at the conference, feel free to contact Emily Holden. We’d love to hear from other state officials and stakeholders too.

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