For more than thirty years, even as scientists issued increasingly dire warnings about the urgent need to tackle climate change, Colorado, like many states, has not only failed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but those emissions continued to rise to ever more dangerous levels. A slate of climate and energy legislation just signed into law by Governor Jared Polis aims to finally change that.
“This is about the health of our planet,” said Polis at a bill-signing ceremony today, May 30, at the JeffCo Community Solar Garden in Arvada. “Particularly in a state with climate-dependent industries like agriculture and the skiing industry, it’s important that we show leadership.”
The bills signed into law included House Bill 1261, the centerpiece of Democrats’ efforts to strengthen Colorado climate policy at the legislature this year. Dubbed the Climate Action Plan, the bill commits the state to a series of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, including a 50 percent cut by 2030 and a 90 percent cut by 2050.
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That’s an ambitious goal, but some activists are worried it doesn’t go far enough. While U.N. scientists said last year that the world must cut carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030 to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change, most realistic models for achieving such a cut require rich, developed countries like the U.S. to decarbonize much faster. Activists with the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, among others, have called for a more aggressive timeline.
For the most part, this new Climate Action Plan simply sets emissions goals rather than creating a robust framework for enforcing them. Polis reportedly clashed with House Speaker KC Becker over the bill prior to its introduction, blocking the inclusion of strict mandates, fines or other regulatory mechanisms to ensure carbon polluters are helping to meet the targets.
Polis campaigned on a promise to put Colorado on a path to a 100 percent renewable electric grid by 2040, but electricity generation accounts for only about a third of the state's overall carbon emissions. Making deep cuts will require overhauling not just the electric sector, but also transportation, heating, agriculture and more.
“We have to have a holistic approach,” said Polis today. “Because really everything we do has an impact, and we want to make sure Colorado is on the cutting edge of the future of clean tech, in all areas.”
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Some of the other bills Polis signed today are designed to kick-start progress on other fronts. House Bill 1231 will implement new efficiency standards for many household appliances, while House Bill 1250 requires local governments to adopt efficient building codes.
Senate Bill 236, a reauthorization of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, includes a wide variety of measures aimed at transitioning to clean energy. It creates a financial tool for electric utilities to defray the costs associated with retiring coal plants, and for the first time instructs state regulators to consider the “social cost of carbon” in their decisions.
“We were able to get so many things done in one package,” said Representative Chris Hansen, who works as an energy consultant and led the push for many of the bill’s key provisions. “The PUC has a long to-do list now.”
In addition to setting new emissions goals, Colorado will also now have a better idea of the progress it’s making in achieving them. Senate Bill 96, also signed by Polis on Thursday, directs regulators to issue reports on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions every two years instead of the current five. A previously scheduled five-year inventory is expected to be released by state officials later this year.