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Force of law needed to meet state’s climate change goals

 

By Ian Silverii

Columnist for The Denver Post

Colorado is a national leader in renewable energy and fighting human-caused climate change.

In 2004, clean energy advocates and environmentalists took Amendment 37 to the ballot, establishing a 10% renewable energy standard, and won.

The amendment mandated that by 2015, 10% of Colorado’s energy needed to come from renewable sources. Former Gov.

Bill Ritter heralded its passage as the beginning of the “New Energy Economy,” and made it a centerpiece of his successful campaign for governor in 2006.

Since that landmark ballot initiative passed, giving Colorado the first voter-approved renewable energy standard in the country, we’ve increased it to 30%. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, was also the largest funder opposing Amendment 37 in 2004. Xcel changed their tune and has now set its own goal to be 100% carbon free by 2050.

But energy isn’t the whole story when it comes to climate change. Ensuring that we quickly and aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors is critical as well. Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled his Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, and now the Colorado Legislature is pushing legislation to support his plans with the force of law.

Much of this is happening in this year’s Senate Bill 200, which strengthens current law and matches the state’s goals of “Building Back Better” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other things, SB 200 would empower the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules that are equitable, strong, enforceable, and meet the goals laid out in the governor’s roadmap, setting clear emissions targets that the governor can adjust to ensure those sectors that emit the most greenhouse gases have real plans to achieve those goals. The bill also ensures people who have been ignored have a strong voice in the regulatory process.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dominique Jackson, DAurora, told me, “We need to make sure that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change have a real voice, real power, and the ability to make decisions about the future of their own communities health and quality of life.”

To that end, SB 200 creates both an environmental justice ombudsperson and a complementary advisory board in the Department of Public Health and Environment to ensure these communities truly have a seat at the table.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, another sponsor of the legislation told me, “SB 200 puts guideposts along the governor’s bold roadmap. Colorado has been a leader in renewable energy and fighting climate change for decades, and we’re just continuing our tradition of leadership, showing other states that you can improve air quality and public health while creating jobs and doing so in an equitable fashion.”

In the wake of reports earlier this week that whistleblowers say managers in the Air Pollution Control Division have been pressuring staff to ignore or falsify data to speed up permits for polluters, stronger rules are needed now more than ever.

According to the Intergov- ernmental Panel on Climate Change we only have about 9 years to enact “rapid, farreaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to stave off permanent, irreversible, and catastrophic effects of humancaused climate change.

We’re talking about the frequency, severity, intensity and deadliness of wildfires, unpredictability around the amount of snowfall and snowpack that directly affects our tourism and agriculture industries, and the availability of water for farming, ranching and drinking. We’re talking about a global climaterefugee crisis that will make today’s situation at the border look mild by comparison.

This is pretty bad news, and I know how tempting it is to ignore it.

Last year, Colorado experienced our worst wildfire on record when the Pine Gulch Fire burned 139,007 acres, breaking the record set by the Hayman Fire in 2002. Then, 13 days later, the Cameron Peak fire started, scorching 208,913 acres, taking over 450 structures with it, and knocking the Pine Gulch Fire into second place. Later that fall, the East Troublesome Fire gave us all a new word to throw around at our Zoom happy hours — pyrocumulonimbus — and knocked the Pine Gulch Fire down another peg. In other words, the time to take bold action is right now, and it starts with the passage of SB 200. Let’s give Gov.

Polis the tools he needs to implement his roadmap.

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