DENVER — After Gov. Jared Polis unveiled his finalized roadmap to reducing greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers are now debating a bill to set strict requirements on when and how those reductions would happen.
Senate Bill 21-200 does four main things: it directs the Air Quality Control Commission to come up with rules for greenhouse gas emission reductions; establishes a fee on emissions; requires electric companies to present a plan for how to achieve reductions; and it creates an environmental justice ombudsperson position to focus on disproportionately impacted communities.
“We want to make sure that we are meeting our production goals, we’re addressing climate change and we’re meeting our goals that are based on science and this bill merely puts in the guard rails,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.
The roadmap Polis laid out earlier this year relied heavily on voluntary compliance and offering incentives to industries to reduce emissions.
But it was quickly criticized for not establishing quantifiable, enforceable emissions reductions.
“I think the important piece is ensuring that Colorado has a plan for concrete policies and enforceable regulations that actually guarantee that the pollution will decline at the pace and scale required. Those policies are not included in that roadmap,” said Pam Kiely, the associate vice president for U.S. Climate for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Senate Bill 200 aims to add some teeth to the governor’s plan, albeit without the governor’s approval.
“All they were asking is that we make sure that we codify that, put the force of law behind that,” Winter said.
The bill calls for a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and a 50% reduction by 2030 based on the state’s emissions in 2005.
The bill also adds greenhouse gases to the list of regulated pollutants, which emitters would have to pay a fee for. The state has fees on other toxic emissions.
That fee would be capped at 4,000 tons per emitter. Winter estimates it would generate roughly $15 million a year to be given to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to work on the reduction goals and help disproportionately impacted communities.
The bill comes roughly two years after state lawmakers passed a pair of bills with a similar goal in mind. Senate Bill 19-062 and House Bill 1261 updated Colorado’s Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act.
The Senate bill directed the Air Quality Control Commission to develop regulations to achieve those targets and set a deadline of July 1, 2020, to come up with proposed regulations. During COVID, however, that deadline came and went.
“Senate Bill 200 comes back in and says, look, we really meant what we said. We need binding regulations that result in quantifiable and enforceable emission reductions,” Kiely said.
She believes the new bill would send an important message to the business community that now is the time to get serious about climate change.
Others believe the bill is unfair and could hurt the efforts that are currently being made to curb greenhouse gases.
Geofrey Hier is the director of government relations for the Colorado Rural Electric Association, which represents 22 distribution cooperatives across the state that serve roughly 1.2 million customers.
Hier says electric companies have already spend a lot of time, money and resources to come up with ways to meet the standards set by the 2019 laws and this bill would move the timeline up in a way that would be difficult for industries to meet.
“We are committed to meeting the goals that were established and we recognize that it’s going to be painful, but we’ve got a path where we can minimize that pain and still achieve the goals. Senate Bill 200 kind of shifts the goal post on us and creates some uncertainty,” he said. “It’s essentially setting us back to ground zero to start over.”
Part of the issue Hier has with the bill is that it lacks flexibility, he says.
In an effort to help industries out, bill co-sponsors offered a series of amendments to take away the standards set for 2035 and 2040. Instead, Sen. Winter says she wants companies to concentrate on the first two deadlines.
A second amendment also changed some of the language in the bill so that the goals don’t need to be met in a linear fashion. Sen. Winter insists these standards won’t hurt business and could actually lead to more jobs in the alternative energy sector. Discussions on the bill continue.
However, the bill has also pitted Democrats against one another. The governor is currently opposing the bill, saying he has taken serious steps to reduce emissions but this is not the right way forward.
“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,” a governor's office spokesperson said in a statement.
Winter sees things differently and says the bill’s language was specific enough to allow flexibility instead of hard caps.
Even if the state legislature passes the bill, though, if democrats can’t get the governor onboard, the bill won’t stand a chance in becoming law.