Fracking Reforms Are Coming to the Capitol — and So Is a Climate Bill

Anticipation is mounting at the State Capitol as Democrats prepare to unveil a major package of reforms to Colorado oil and gas law — but as contentious as that fight will undoubtedly be, it might not be the most ambitious energy legislation that lawmakers take up this year.

Alongside the long-awaited fracking bill, Democratic leadership is crafting what will likely be Colorado’s most significant piece of climate-change legislation to date: a proposal that would, among other things, dramatically increase the state’s goals for reducing carbon emissions. Details of both efforts are still being kept under wraps, but oil and gas legislation could be introduced as early as next week, with a climate bill following soon afterward.

“We hope to introduce legislation in the next few weeks because the time for climate action is now,” House Speaker KC Becker, a Democrat from Boulder, said in a statement on Thursday, February 21. “The administration in Washington is failing to address this challenge, and the broader contours of legislation are still being worked out.”

Activists from 350 Colorado and other climate advocacy groups visited the Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers to support a wide range of aggressive climate actions, including a halt to new oil and gas drilling, divesting the state’s pension funds, and rapid decarbonization of transportation and agriculture.

“We’re really pushing hard for what we believe is in line with climate science,” says Micah Parkin, 350 Colorado’s executive director. “Future generations are dependent on what we do right now, so we’re calling for really bold, science-based action.”

The state’s current emissions target — a 26 percent cut by 2025 — was set by former governor John Hickenlooper in a 2017 executive order. If Colorado is to do its part to avoid global catastrophe, that won’t be nearly enough; in a major report released last year, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned policymakers that global emissions must fall 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit warming to an average of 1.5°C worldwide. Exceeding that threshold would put hundreds of millions of people around the world at risk of drought, famine, forced migration and extreme poverty, the report found.

It remains to be seen how closely the Colorado Democrats’ proposal will align with the IPCC’s recommendation. New York, California, New Mexico and North Carolina have all set emissions targets that are roughly in line with the IPCC’s 2030 goals, but no state has yet committed to achieving full carbon neutrality, by 2050 or any other date.

Governor Jared Polis ran on a platform of 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2040, but Colorado’s electric grid accounts for just 31 percent of its overall carbon emissions, according to state data. Fully decarbonizing Colorado’s economy will require scrutiny and regulation of often-overlooked sectors like heating, industry and agriculture — and while Polis issued an executive order last month aimed at accelerating the state's transition to electric vehicles, he has yet to endorse any broader emissions-reduction goals. Activists are hoping that will change with the introduction of the climate bill.

“It’s concerning that we’re not seeing stronger leadership from him, someone who we truly believed understood the seriousness of the crisis,” says Parkin. “He ran on a platform of bold leadership, so that’s what we expect. But we have yet to see it.”