State’s excuses parallel arguments by climate deniers: 1) there is no problem, 2) if there was a problem, we can’t be sure it is our responsibility, 3) if it is, we really can’t do anything about it.
“The state has fully complied with the requirement in SB19-096 to propose rulemakings that would be necessary to meet the HB 19-1261,” Conor Cahill, a Polis spokesman, said in an email.
“We don’t have the institutional capacity to deal with all the issues of coal closures,” Putnam told the commissioners. It was better left to the PUC, he said.
While there is not yet an overarching plan, progress is being made on a number of fronts, according to John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Putnam said the effort has been limited by resources (and he always says “bandwidth”! Limited bandwidth! We can’t do anything about it!)
We’re waiting for the Roadmap!
Some critics say what is lacking is a lead from Gov. Jared Polis.
The clock is ticking. Each day climate-altering, man-made gases are building up in the atmosphere and Colorado’s effort to help stem the tide is running late.
The Air Quality Control Commission missed a July 1 deadline to issue draft rules to meet Colorado’s greenhouse gas reduction targets – or perhaps it didn’t. It all depends upon whom you ask.
What many – commissioners, officials, environmentalists – agree upon is that the efforts to establish a plan to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases are moving at a molasses pace.
“There is this awesome slowness of public policy,” said Auden Schendler, an AQCC commissioner and Aspen Ski Co.’s vice president of sustainability. “The challenge is: How do you make the bureaucratic machinery work as quickly as possible and get things done?”
Some critics say what is lacking is a lead from Gov. Jared Polis, who issued an executive order on zero-emission vehicles in 2018, a roadmap to 100% renewable energy in 2019 and signed the climate legislation, but hasn’t been visible on the issue since.
“The unwillingness of the governor to throw his full weight to meet these targets, a lack of full-throated support on the policies he has signed off on, is concerning,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for Wild Earth Guardians. The environmental group plans to sue the AQCC for its failure to meet the July 1 deadline.
Some political guidance is needed on whether to make specific rules for different types of polluters, or enact statewide, economy-wide initiatives such as congestion pricing to discourage people from driving or a carbon tax, Schendler said. “Where does the governor stand on these issues?” he asked.
Two bills with many demands
In 2019, two bills were signed by Polis, a Democrat, to address climate change. One, House Bill 1261, set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% over 2005 levels by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. It gave the AQCC the task of issuing rules to meet the targets.
A second bill, Senate Bill 96, largely dealt with filling reporting gaps on emissions sources, but one paragraph directed the AQCC to propose a rulemaking by July 1 containing measures to “cost-effectively allow the state to meet its greenhouse emission reduction goals.”
The Polis administration points to the rules that have been implemented, the executive orders that have been issued and the announced closures of coal-fired units by utilities as steps along the way to meeting the goals.
“The state has fully complied with the requirement in SB19-096 to propose rulemakings that would be necessary to meet the HB 19-1261,” Conor Cahill, a Polis spokesman, said in an email. “No other state government has found a single silver bullet to address climate change and none exist. Instead, it requires many coordinated and careful steps to do it right.”
In an effort to get things going, the commission has formed a subcommittee, which will meet July 16 to evaluate potential emission-reduction rules. “There are some obvious things to be done and we are eager to start,” said Elise Jones, a commission member and a Boulder County commissioner.
It is a start. Still, stakeholders are anxious. “There are some legitimate concerns about the pace,” said Jacob Smith, executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 34 local governments around the state promoting climate policies. “They have passed some rules that will help us meet those goals but when you measure how much we need to reduce there is a huge gap. There is a long way to go and the current pace is not adequate,” Smith said.
While there is not yet an overarching plan, progress is being made on a number of fronts, according to John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Putnam said the effort has been limited by resources. The bills setting the targets appropriated about $550,000 for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Colorado has four full-time staff working on the issue (but not implementing regulations for HB1261 and SB096 as the law requires), Putnam said, while California has 212 (for the world’s fifth largest economy).
The AQCC, Putnam pointed out, is a volunteer commission that meets once or twice a month and is also dealing with Colorado’s ozone pollution problem and a requirement to issue rules for cutting methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
Nevertheless, better data on emission sources has been developed and three rules that will help meet the goals – on zero-emission vehicles, emissions reporting and reducing hydrofluorocarbon gases, and oil and gas methane reductions – have been passed, Putnam said. “It did not say we need to have one rule to rule them all, to address all questions by July 1,” he said.
House Speaker KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat and co-sponsor of House Bill 1261, does not see it that way. “The law is the law,” she said. “This calls for a specific rule on how the state is going to meet the greenhouse gas emissions goals,” by July 1, 2020.
“They are taking action on a few fronts and that is good, but it is clear what this law requires,” Becker said. The state was given the equivalent of 6.5 full time employees and over a year to get it done.
State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, who sponsored Senate Bill 96, said he never envisioned a definitive rule being adopted by July 1. Developing a climate plan, he said, will be “an iterative and cooperative process between the legislature and executive branch.”
Baseline science is (mostly) missing
To develop a comprehensive rule or greenhouse reduction plan requires a few key elements: the 2005 baseline emissions, today’s emissions, a forecast of which emissions are on a natural decline or increase and how much various rules will cut emissions.
At best, the AQCC has two, maybe three, out of four. Emission reporting in 2005 was sketchier and work has been done to improve the baseline, said Keith Hay, director of policy for the Colorado Energy Office.
In 2005, Colorado emitted about 140 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases. And this was before the fracking boom and all the emissions and more powerful methane leakage that comes with that. Carbon dioxide is the prime greenhouse gas and other greenhouse gases, such as methane or HFCs, are translated into carbon equivalents to give a total emissions number.
The electric power sector accounted for 29% of emissions, transportation for 21%; oil and gas for 14.5%; industrial energy 13%; agriculture 10%; and coal mining 7.6%.
By 2019, emissions, based on modeling, were already down almost 9% and there had been big changes in where the emissions were coming from. Electric power was 22.8% of emissions and transportation was 21.2%. Oil and gas emissions had risen to 17% (and likely much more, but it is not reported) and coal emissions dropped to 1.6%.
“We are reaching a crossover point in the state where transportation is the largest source of emissions,” Hay said. “So, it becomes more important to address the sector.”
In February, the state hired a consultant, Energy+Environmental Economics, or E3, to develop a “Greenhouse Gas Roadmap” for the state. The road map, due at the end of September, will include detailed modeling to understand the trends in emissions and the effects of policy.
E3 modeling added some recent initiatives – such as the closing of two coal-fired units in Craig, new appliance efficiency standards, zero-emission vehicles and carbon emission reduction plans by the state’s two largest electricity providers, Xcel Energy and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
Under this scenario, by 2025 emissions will be 22% below 2005 levels, just 4% off the target reduction, but without additional action by 2030 emissions will be 28% below 2005 levels and far from the 50% reduction goal.
Since the modeling was done, the Platte River Power Authority and Colorado Springs Utilities have announced they will shut coal-fired power plants by 2030. Hay said the modeling would be updated with these closures.
These are the gaps that the AQCC must close in order to meet the goals of House Bill 1261. The questions bedeviling the commission are how to close them and whether they even have the power to do what needs to be done.
The electric power sector and transportation account for the largest share of emissions.
“What power does the AQCC have to accelerate plant closures?” Jones asked at the last commission meeting in June.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission, under legislation passed at the same time as the climate bills, also has a mandate to require the utilities it regulates to submit clean energy plans and to consider the social cost of carbon in evaluating plants and projects, all in the name of cutting power plant emissions.
“We don’t have the institutional capacity to deal with all the issues of coal closures,” Putnam told the commissioners. It was better left to the PUC, he said.
As for transportation, much of the planning and oversight rests with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Schendler asked at the commission meeting whether they had the power to set greenhouse gas budgets for transportation emissions. “Yes, you have the power in conjunction with CDOT and DRCOG [the Denver Council of Region Governments],” Putnam said.
Part of the problem is that the commission doesn’t have a good handle on what emission reductions will come from various policies – such as a low-carbon fuel standard or a building energy efficiency standard, Jones said. And state staff have not provided this information.
Without that, she said, “We are flying a little bit, actually a lot, blind.”
Different analysis depending on the agency
Hay said that the state energy office is doing analyses on low-carbon fuels emission reductions and for replacing carbon fuels with clean electricity. CDOT is doing an analysis on emission reductions from transportation management.
At its July 16 subcommittee meeting, the commission will examine mitigation strategies in several areas including electricity, oil and gas, transportation and buildings.
Yet even as they begin this exercise, some commissioners voice concerns over whether a rule-by-rule approach of incremental emission cuts will work.
“We’ve passed all these things that are out of the park,” such as methane reductions, hydrofluorocarbon cuts and zero-emission vehicles, Schindler said. “Each time it advances the ball up the field and then we get sued.” The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association filed a lawsuit against the ZEV rules, which requires a portion of the cars offered for sale in the state to be EVs. Colorado adopted the ZEV rule developed by California. MORE: A first look at how Colorado will become a ZEV state: the rule, the cost, the debate
Nine rural Colorado counties have sued the commission over the oil and gas methane rules.
There are questions of whether the state can succeed with such litigious, piecemeal regulations.
At the last AQCC meeting Dr. Tony Gerber, an associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health and a commissioner, said “we don’t hit the numbers without bold action.”
Those steps could be a statewide carbon tax, congestion pricing or a cap-and-trade system, under which emission credits are bought and sold by emitters. (Putnam said the state does not want to do that). And he said that some of these initiatives run headlong into tax policy and limitations such at the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and need legislative action.
“If we really care about these problems it is going to require that level of big-scale thinking,” Schendler said. “At some point there is a need for huge directive leadership from the legislature or the governor that puts a stake in the ground and sends a signal of where we are headed.”
|October 23, 2020|
Governor Jared Polis
136 State Capitol Bldg.
Denver, CO 80203
Dear Governor Polis,
E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) is a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders who advocate for policy that is good for the economy and good for the environment. E2 members have founded or funded more than 2,500 companies, created more than 600,000 jobs, and manage more than $100 billion in venture and private equity capital.
Good Business Colorado (GBC) is a statewide grassroots organization of over 300 values-driven business owners rejecting partisanship and advocating for a prosperous economy, equitable communities, and a sustainable environment. Good Business Colorado members believe that business success cannot be measured by profit alone and that true success means that our planet, communities, and bottom lines are all thriving.
Thank you for your work to date on establishing policies to reduce Colorado greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and for providing a space for public comment. Landmark bills from 2019 – SB 96 and HB 1261 – have given the Colorado government and its state agencies expansive authority and legally binding targets to make the critical decisions to tackle the reduction of GHG emissions. Unfortunately, the efforts that have thus far been taken are only a small step in the right direction and if continues at this pace, will fail to reach targets identified by Colorado law.
Our state’s drought and massive wildfire season are just two of many indicators demonstrating that we are already experiencing severe effects of climate disruption. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), summer 2020 was the hottest on record for the Northern Hemisphere, consistently 2 degrees Fahrenheit above average temperatures. Alongside extreme heat, Colorado experienced an intensive freeze between April 11-13, followed by drought-like conditions throughout the summer. Almost 95% of Colorado’s peach crop was lost during this freeze, resulting in about $35 million dollars in lost revenue. Climate disruption also severely affects Colorado’s $2 billion outdoor recreation industry, impacting the 229,000 workers.
At the beginning of 2020, Colorado had almost 12,000 eating and drinking establishments with restaurant sales exceeding $13 billion in 2019. Employing approximately 285,000 workers, over 75% of these businesses are independently owned. These numbers have dropped due to COVID and are also threatened by the lack of stability in our agricultural systems.
The recently released Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction roadmap and the related report, Committing to Climate Action: Equitable Pathways for Meeting Colorado’s Climate Goals together give guidance on how to achieve an equitable, sustainable future. We’d like to highlight the following policy recommendations:
1. Faster reductions in the electric sector is the most affordable and cost effective way to meet our state goals, therefore, it is critical that we decarbonize the electricity sector by at least 90 percent by 2030, retire coal plants by 2025 or soon thereafter, minimize gas use, increase renewable energy, and make CO2 emission requirements for the utilities legally enforceable.
2. Decrease transportation emissions by at least 35 percent by 2030 by continuing along the path to aggressively decarbonize the transportation sector through electrification and low-carbon fuels, ramping up LEV and ZEV standards after 2025, adopting the California Advanced Clean Truck regulation, robust and reliable access to electrified public transit, as well as incentivizing programs to reduce passenger vehicle miles traveled.
3. Decrease emissions from the buildings sector by 10 to 13 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 by electrifying both residential and commercial buildings in a cost effective and equitable manner, accelerate adoption of energy efficient appliances, and increase adoption of more efficient building shells.
4. Ensure policies that reduce consumer energy costs such as energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and other clean distributed energy resources can benefit low-income households who have not been able to afford or access these improvements.
5. Curb emissions from oil and gas production by at least 54% below 2005 levels by 2030, including industrial point sources – oil and gas wells and other infrastructure – that are more highly concentrated in areas of the state with more people of color.
6. Develop partnerships with NREL, universities, industry and other leading institutions to pilot and implement emerging clean hydrogen technologies. Develop a comprehensive renewable energy and efficiency strategic plan to ensure that each energy use is aligned with the best long-term solution, i.e distributed solar generation, where is hydrogen best suited, least cost efficiency technologies, etc..
7. Incentivize a regional and resilient food production system that includes soil health/carbon sequestration benefits.
8. Adopt a contingency proposal that is enforceable and has financial penalties for violations set at levels to induce emission reductions rather than so insignificant that violators choose to pay the penalty.
As business leaders who are creating jobs and driving economic growth in Colorado, we strongly believe the only path forward to a thriving economy is to mitigate climate change. Failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will only lead to a future of bankruptcy.
E2’s 2020 Clean Jobs report shows at the end of 2019, the clean economy employed 62,400 full time workers in the state and was projected to grow 5.4 percent in 2020. E2’s most recent job loss report shows since March, Colorado has lost 5,224 or 7.8 percent of the jobs in the clean economy. There is ample historical evidence that implementing policies to drive down our GHG emissions and co-pollutants will also build back jobs in the clean economy.
We have an opportunity to support Colorado businesses across the supply chain in a transition to a clean energy economy and the creation of a resilient state in which communities are able to thrive through responsible management of resources and innovation.
We ask you to take bold and swift action to put in place policies with adequate funding to reach the targets set forth in our state’s climate action plan. The recently published GHG reduction roadmap for Colorado does not outline a clear plan to achieve these reductions, while also failing to capitalize on the ingenuity, strength and dedication of Coloradans to confront the causes of climate change.
Thank you for your service in support of Colorado, and we look forward to seeing a renewed emphasis within our government to secure our planet for future generations.
Members of E2 & GBC
Contract and Fractional Marketing and Sales Executive, Self-Employed
Sustainable & Impact Investing, Aspen Leaf Wealth Management
Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC)
Will Toor, Executive Director, Colorado Energy Office
Shoshana Lew, Executive Director, ColoradoDepartment of Transportation
John Putnam, Director of Environmental Program, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment