Climate bills make it across finish line as Colorado’s legislative session ends

Sen. Kerry Donovan says package of bills are a step toward 'protecting what makes Colorado great'

David O. Williams
Special to the Daily
State Sen. Kerry Donovan says finally having a Democratic majority in the Senate finally pushed health care reform bills she has worked on for years over the finish line.
AP file photo

In a frenetic final week of the Colorado legislature, which just wrapped up on Friday, lawmakers managed to move three seemingly stalled climate bills forward, pleasing both conservation groups and representatives of the state’s booming outdoor recreation industry.

The Colorado House reconciled a Senate version of the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, or House Bill 1261, and it now heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis for his anticipated signature. Sponsored by Speaker of the House KC Becker, D-Boulder, the bill was co-sponsored by Vail Valley lawmakers Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

The bill codifies into law a 2017 executive order by former Gov. John Hickenlooper seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and then builds on those targets. According to its summary, “Colorado shall have statewide goals to reduce 2025 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26%, 2030 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50%, and 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% of the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that existed in 2005.”

In a separate but related bill, Senate Bill 236 directs the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which oversees investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy, to consider the cost of carbon pollution when considering future power projects.

It also requires the PUC to start evaluating and approving the energy plans of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which supplies most of the state’s rural electric co-ops (although not Holy Cross Energy, which mostly gets its power from Xcel). That utility is on track to deliver 100-percent carbon-free power by 2050.

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Getting serious about climate change

Taken together, the two bills will mandate the state achieves its ambitious new carbon emissions goals — a top priority for Polis, who ran on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

HB 1261 narrowly passed the Senate Wednesday on an 18-16 party-line vote (with one senator excused). Donovan, whose sprawling Senate District 5 includes both ski areas and coal mines on the state’s Western Slope, provided a key vote in favor of the bill.

“Climate change is not an abstract global concept in my district. Hunters know animal patterns are adjusting. Skiers know the snowpack is shrinking. Ranchers know weather is shifting. River rats know rivers are changing,” Donovan told the Vail Daily.

“My district asked the state to lead on climate change and this is an important step in that direction. Paired with my bill on collecting data, we’ll be able to intelligently move towards protecting what makes Colorado great and make informed decisions to address the impacts of climate change.”

Donovan’s climate change data collection bill, Senate Bill 96, was sponsored in the House by Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.

“Colorado’s way of life is being threatened by climate change and carbon pollution emissions, and we need a data-driven approach to protect it,” Hansen said. “But we are falling short on reducing carbon emissions because we are not collecting adequate information. This bill will lay a strong foundation of data that we can build upon to evaluate emissions,” Hansen said.

Avon Democratic state Rep. Roberts also backed the legislature’s climate agenda this session.

“I am excited that HB 1261 is finally on its way to the governor’s desk. I was proud to co-sponsor this bill because it sets in place a science-based climate action plan to reduce carbon pollution and it will make Colorado a leader in preventing the furtherance of climate change,” Roberts said.

“Climate change is the world’s most urgent crisis,” Roberts added. “HB 1261 will ensure that Colorado is doing its part to combat this threat. Combined with other bills we have passed to help with the just transition of energy workers, water resource protection, wildfire mitigation, and other efforts, our state is making huge strides towards protecting this beautiful state we called home.”

‘A real mandate for action’

Environmental groups praised the package of bills, although they won’t be in total celebration mode until Polis signs everything. Conservation Colorado Executive Director Kelly Nordini said she’s confident the governor will finalize the work of the legislature.

“Our confidence comes from the voters, honestly,” Nordini said. “When we saw that the No. 1 issue in peoples’ vote for governor last year was energy and environment [according to polling], and when we see that Colorado says that climate change is a more serious issue than any other intermountain western state, that’s a real mandate for action.”

The Sierra Club lauded the PUC modernization bill for setting a price on each short ton of carbon emitted starting at $46 in 2020 — thereby mitigating against the so-called “social costs” of carbon pollution.

“Coloradans already pay the cost of carbon when wildfires devastate our communities, rising temperatures hurt our winter sports and recreation industry, and hail storms damage our property,” said Anna McDevitt, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative.

HB 1261 had the backing of the ski industry and numerous outdoor gear manufacturing companies in Colorado and nationwide. Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and more than a dozen gear companies, including industry giants like Head and local shops like Minturn’s Weston Backcountry, sent a letter to the Senate urging passage of the bill as the session waned.

Protect Our Winters, an advocacy group made up of snow sports athletes, lobbied for the bill. But with a backlog of legislation and Republicans mandating the painstaking reading on the floor of every word of every bill, it appeared as if the climate bills might be stalled.

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