Democrats compromise with governor, passing major changes to greenhouse gas bill

Denver zip code named the most polluted in the country
Posted at 8:34 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 00:08:43-04

DENVER — A bill that promised to add regulatory teeth to Gov. Jared Polis’ greenhouse gas emissions reductions roadmap will be killed in the Senate this week.

Senate Bill 200 was supposed to add more enforceability measures onto high-emitting sectors across the state, charging a fee on those emissions and create an ombudsman position to focus on communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

However, Polis threatened to veto the bill, criticizing a portion of the bill to the Colorado Springs Gazette and saying it would give broad sweeping control to an unelected Air Quality Control Commission.

After a back and forth between Democrats and the governor’s office behind closed doors, the new plan is to kill SB 200 on the Senate floor and roll portions of it into House Bill 1266, which deals with environmental justice for disproportionately impacted communities. A 26-page amendment was made to HB 1266 Monday to do just that.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, a primary sponsor on both bills, says it makes sense to combine the bills because there cannot be environmental justice without pollution reductions.

HB 1266 will still define what environmental justice is and disproportionately impacted communities, as well as create an environmental justice ombudsman and advisory committee.

With the amendments, it will also add emissions measurement requirements to five sectors: the electric, transportation, built environment, industry and oil and gas sectors.

Three of those sectors will also face enforcement requirements, meaning they can be penalized for going above emissions standards: the electric, industry and oil and gas sectors.

After negotiations, enforcement of transportation and built environment sectors were removed from the bills.

It’s not everything the cosponsors wanted, but they insist it’s not everything the governor wanted either, saying concessions were made on both sides.

“These are significant steps forward,” Winter said. “Missing our climate goals is not acceptable. We have to do everything we can to make sure we meet these goals.”

Multiple reports have found that Colorado is in danger of missing its emissions reductions goals set out by a 2019 law of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2050.

Despite the concessions, Winter says there are elements in the transportation bill that will help reduce emissions in that sector and in a clean heat bill that will reduce emissions in the built environment sector.

“What I can confidently say is that every single sector, based on legislation this year, is going to take big steps forward to reduce carbon emissions and that’s what we need to do,” Winter said.

However, environmental groups are not happy with the bill, saying they wanted it to go even further.

Joe Salazar, a former state representative and current executive director of Colorado Rising, was disappointed the governor threatened to veto the bill and that concessions were made as a result.

“Isn’t that such a strange thing that we have a roadmap that doesn’t have any teeth to it, and that’s the whole purpose behind Senate Bill ill 200 was to put the teeth into meeting those greenhouse reductions emission goals,” Salazar said “I mean, we’re getting those molars, but we’re not getting all the teeth in this bill.”

To Salazar, something is better than no action being taken at all to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he is still planning to push for even more to be done next legislative session. He’s anticipating this will be yet another summer of wildfires and climate catastrophes and says that’s why groups are planning on doubling their efforts at the Capitol next year.

On the other end of the spectrum, business groups say the bill goes too far and unfairly targets some sectors instead of others.

“It focuses narrowly on specific industries, sets goals and targets. It doesn’t allow the flexibility in achieving those targets and then doesn’t address those overall emissions and challenges we face,” said Kelly Brough, the executive director of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “By focusing only on specific industry, is it basically picking winners and losers?”

Brough insists businesses are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions but says there was not enough of a stakeholder process in this bill and there’s not enough flexibility provided in it to allow for innovation.

“This bill doesn’t even recognize the type of technology advances required in order to achieve these goals, and it reduces flexibility in our fear is taking away the very innovation we need to incentivize to achieve real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

She is calling for lawmakers to go back to the drawing board to have a more robust stakeholder process, saying if this bill passes, it will shift emissions from one sector to another, not reduce them.

Republicans, meanwhile, have taken issue with the major changes to HB 1266 so late in the legislative session.

“We didn’t even get a chance to digest it, look at it, try to understand what’s in the amendment,” said Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “Democrats are passing bills because they can, not because they should. They’re not allowing us to have any info whatsoever on these bills, and, quite frankly, they really don’t care what we have to say, and these bills are going to pass.”

Despite the changes, Scott still believes this is a cap and trade bill disguised as an environmental justice bill.

“It’s crafty how this thing is developed. The governor said he’s against cap and trade. Well, what they’re doing is they’re not putting it in statute, they’re putting it in rule-making with the Air Quality Control Commission, so therefore he can always say he did not support cap and trade but his commission will,” Scott said.

The Air Quality Control Commission is appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature.

Scott worries the bill will hurt industries that are still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, saying everyone is committed to clean air but that this bill takes enforcement measures too quickly without giving industry a change to prepare, making change very expensive.

The governor has indicated his support for the amended bill, saying to Denver7 in a statement:

“We are appreciative that the sponsors of the legislation worked with us on a solution that is well-aligned with our strategies to combat climate change, and that creates a comprehensive, statewide environmental justice plan. We believe this sector-specific approach will help us meet the goals of the Governor’s roadmap on climate change, and help ensure Colorado has the tools necessary to combat pollution and create a clean energy future.”

House Bill 1266 passed out of the Senate Finance and the Appropriations committees Monday. Senate Bill 200 will likely be killed Monday.