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Colorado lawmakers introduce bill to spell out pathway to statewide greenhouse-gas emission targets

Supporters of new legislation that details how the state can meet its goals of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions see the proposal as providing signposts for a roadmap released by Gov. Jared Polis in January.

But a spokeswoman for Polis said Tuesday that the governor doesn’t support putting specific emissions caps for transportation and other sectors in the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 21-200, sets timelines and volumes of emissions to help reach the target of reducing overall emissions by 26% by 2025; 50% by 2030; and 90% by 2050.

The reductions would be from emission levels in 2005.

“This bill builds on the climate action plan that the state first passed in 2019 and it builds on Gov. Polis’ roadmap and the policies and incentives that they’re working on there as part of that roadmap,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “We see it as very in line with that previous work and continuing on that path, taking the next step on that.”

The state has made important progress on working to reduce the emissions that cause climate change, said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Western Resource Advocates’ senior climate policy analyst.

“But it’s really clear that we have to do more, especially if we’re going to hit the 2025 target,” Tellinghuisen said.

The bill codifies the goals laid out in the governor’s greenhouse pollution reduction plan, Tellinghuisen added.

The roadmap plots how to cut pollution by 90% — more than 100 million tons a year — before 2050. The plan proposes specific reductions in four major sectors: electricity generation; oil and gas; transportation; and residential and commercial energy use.

“This bill takes that roadmap and those sector targets and puts them in statute,” Nordini said. “The science is clear. This is how much we have to reduce pollution in order to avoid the worst climate scenarios. Coloradans are living with those right now, from wildfires to droughts to air pollution.”

The bill gives the state Air Quality Control Commission flexibility if some targets need to be adjusted. What matters is hitting the overall mark, Nordini said.

Another major part of the legislation would establish an environmental justice ombudsperson position and an environmental justice advisory board in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The person would work with the advisory board and be an advocate for communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution.

“While we are open to provisions in the bill, like the expanded focus on environmental justice and additional resources for the Air Quality Control Commission, we cannot support hard sector-specific emissions caps as the bill outlines,” Shelby Wieman, Polis’ spokeswoman, said in an email.

The statement added that Polis ran for office on making Colorado’s electric grid fossil-fuel-free by 2040. The governor is proud that after 18 months in office, “We have commitments from utilities supplying 99% of the electricity in the state to achieve carbon reduction of at least 80%.”

But the Polis administration has been criticized for not taking more aggressive steps to ensure that the goals are met. Wildearth Guardians, an environmental group, sued in 2020, saying the administration wasn’t acting quickly enough.

Nordini said while several electric cooperatives and municipal utilities have announced carbon-reduction goals, SB 200 will require them to let the Air Quality Control Commission know if they intend to file plans detailing their goals.

The bill also closes what Tellinghuisen called a loophole by making greenhouse gas emissions “regulated” pollutants. That means businesses would have to pay fees for emitting carbon dioxide as they do for other pollutants, like nitrogen oxide. Tellinghuisen said the revenue will provide additional money for the air-quality and environmental justice programs.

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