DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper says withholding funds for state air quality regulators could prompt the federal government to step in with a heavier hand.

The Democratic governor spoke Thursday amid a dispute with Republican lawmakers over whether Colorado should develop rules to comply with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan while it’s tied up in court.

Hickenlooper wants the Legislature to approve about $200,000 for the state Air Quality Control Commission to work on the Clean Power Plan. GOP lawmakers want to prohibit the work until the courts decide if the plan is legal.

At a forum with oil and gas industry officials Thursday, Hickenlooper said keeping the air clean is in the state’s best interest.

He says reducing state regulation might bring tougher rules from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.