Colorado far from meeting emissions-reduction goals, report says
Report recommends more enforceable targets; Governor opposes bill setting specific limits on emissions
By JUDITH KOHLER | email@example.com | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: May 14, 2021
A new report says Colorado will fall drastically short of its goals for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions without more ambitious targets and enforceable limits on pollution, a feature of a bill in the legislature that has Gov. Jared Polis threatening a veto.
The analysis released Friday by Energy Innovation and RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute, says their modeling projects Colorado’s overall emissions will drop from 2005 levels by just 3.4% by 2030 and only 18% by 2050. That’s a long way from the goals of at least 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 set by a 2019 law and in the “Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap” issued by Polis in January.
The state law includes the near-term goal of a 26% decline in emissions by 2025. Supporters of Senate Bill 21-200 say the specific limits on emissions in the new bill are intended to build upon the objectives set by previous legislation and the governor’s road map.
“Our climate goals are only as strong as our plans to execute them. This bill takes Gov. Polis’ climate goals and works to ensure that his plan happens,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “If the governor’s team has another way of building more certainty into their road map, we’d love to hear that.”
As a candidate and after taking office in 2019, Polis has focused on addressing climate change, strengthening oil and gas regulations and increasing the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. He campaigned on making Colorado’s electric grid free of fossil fuels by 2040.
But Polis has threatened to veto SB200. He said he supports parts of it, such as establishing an environmental justice ombudsperson position and advisory board in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to work with communities that have been affected by pollution disproportionately.
However, Polis opposes putting specific emissions caps in law. In an April 27 call with The Denver Post editorial board, he said he sees the bill as an impediment to emissions-reduction goals. He stressed the commitments made by nearly all the state’s electric utilities to shift to renewable energy.
The governor is working with legislators on climate bills, including one that would make historic investments in electrifying transportation, Shelby Wieman, Polis’ spokeswoman, said in an email.
However, “The governor has demonstrated that SB200 is a fatally flawed bill that would set back our state’s climate leadership and slow our efforts to combat climate change,” Wieman said.
Rep. Dominique Jackson, a Democrat from Aurora and one of the bill’s main sponsors, said Friday that she believes there is still a path forward on the legislation and that lawmakers stand “with open arms and a willingness to talk” with the governor.
Asked if there are talks of a compromise, Jackson said: “We’re clear on our goals. The administration is well aware that we want measurable, actionable, equitable action on climate change.”
Referring to Colorado’s policies, a lot of promising action has occurred, but more is needed, said Kyle Clark-Sutton with RMI and one of the authors of the new report on Colorado.
“There’s a lot of value we’ve seen in other states, and history tells us that enforceable targets are useful in ensuring that states hit their goals when it comes to reducing emissions,” Clark-Sutton said.
The two research and policy organizations used national data and analysis by the state to project Colorado’s progress.
“The big takeaway is that Colorado is off track in terms of hitting its goals,” Clark-Sutton said. “More modeling is needed to better understand which policies can have the highest impact.”
This isn’t the first analysis to warn that Colorado is on a trajectory to missing its objectives. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund said the state is expected to cut emissions by just 7% to 16% by 2025 and 19% to 26% in 2030.
The governor’s own road map shows gaps between the goals and projections, said Stacy Tellinghuisen, senior climate policy analyst at the Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. For example, the road map shows the state falling short of its 2025 goal of 26% reductions by 15 million metric tons of emissions to 34 million metric tons.
Tellinghuisen said one of the conservation community’s frustrations is that there are no mechanisms for achieving many of the goals. She said SB200 would give state agencies the authority to adopt ambitious policies.
One of Polis’ critiques of the legislation is that it would give the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission “dictatorial control” over the economy. The bill directs the commission to develop rules by March 1, 2022, to implement the law.
Tellinghuisen said the bill’s supporters see the commission as “an overarching project manager” that would take into account actions by other agencies and the legislature. The bill provides flexibility to adjust targets among economic sectors as long as the overall mark is met, she added.
Alex Burness contributed to this report.