It was one of the last nights of this year’s busted-up, oddball legislative session, when Sen. Chris Holbert of the greater Parker area laid down some stone-cold truth inside the marble walls of the state Capitol.
“Members,” the Republican leader began, looking down and left, as if resigned to a Democratic majority, “we’ve got to stop pretending we’re saving the planet with state legislation, because we’re not. We’re making things more expensive and less available here in our state, when the country of China ignores that completely.”
He offered an amendment to a bill to curb greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado. With GOP origins, it never had a chance.
Holbert proposed Colorado’s rules kick on Jan. 1 the year after China shows any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the first year it has ever done so.
He was informed by a May 6 CNBC report that China pumps out more greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the industrialized nations — combined. Holbert lingered on the D in combined, then read from the article that China’s emissions had tripled in the last three decades and alone accounts for 27% of global emissions. The U.S. is the second-highest at 11%.
The report was part of the coverage of President Joe Biden’s climate summit, where Chinese President Xi Jinping said its emissions would peak in 2030, before the start to come down on the way to reaching net-zero emissions by 2060, and urged other countries to join his.
“How nice of him to say that,” Holbert mused on the Colorado Senate floor.
A difference of opinion, especially these days, happens more honestly among friends, who would normally agree if not for their deeply held principles.
Maybe that's why Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, a moderate Republican, was quick to follow his friend at the mic.
He offered more context on the changing planet and China’s role.
China has 18.5% of the world’s population, five times the population of the U.S., and its economy has gone from agrarian to industrialized over the last three decades. The Chinese lead the world in wind and solar, but in coal-fired energy, as well.
The U.S. is disappearing in China's rearview mirror on electric-vehicle technology.
“They’re doing their part, and I submit we need to do our part,” Priola said.
And that’s just it. How much is Colorado’s part? Is it fair to ask Coloradans to sacrifice so much while redder states and poorer countries sacrifice less, if at all?
When President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement in 2017, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper said Colorado would keep on keeping on for emissions reductions.
Colorado is one of 22 states that has released a well-defined plan to curb greenhouse gases. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis came into office promising to move the state toward renewable energy by 2040, and he hasn't disappointed, if you approved. He's to blame, if you didn't.
Federal regulations to curb methane emissions are based on those adopted in Colorado in 2014, which the industry supported. In Colorado, producers moved to electric-powered drilling rigs instead of diesel, adopted airtight, closed-loop systems that reduce emissions and stepped up their game on leak detection and repair.
Colorado did that.
Methane is rocket fuel for climate change, up to 82 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which isn't good for the planet, either.
We've got a lot on the line here. Economically, the ski season is the lifeblood of tourism, and climate change is poised to eat its lunch — wildfires, drought and erratic weather notwithstanding.
Moreover, green advocates see state and local policies as building blocks for mainstreaming global change. They just creep imperceptibly at a glacial pace.
“We are transitioning from a fossil-fuel based economy to a cleaner one, but without policy, we won’t get there fast enough,” Suzanne Tegen, assistant director of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, told Audubon magazine in 2019 on the topic of local control of a global problem.
Yale Climate Connections, a newsletter, said there’s a lot the government can do, starting with setting a good example.
The federal government is the biggest consumer of energy for 360,000 buildings, 650,000 vehicles with about $445 billion in purchases each year.
“Taxpayers, of course, will have to be supportive when government leaders want to retrofit old government buildings to make them more energy efficient or upgrade vehicle fleets to more fuel-efficient, but initially more costly models,” the Yale article provided.
The bill Holbert and Priola differed on that night in Denver was part of a walked-back legislative attempt to bestow more power in an appointed regulatory board instead of the voters, legislature or the courts. The governor said it was too much and that industry was responding without it. He iced it with the threat of a veto, though much of that bill matriculated into another, House Bill 1266. (Smoke, meet mirror.)
Never again, however, will there be a Colorado governor who is as progressively green with one hand but a spontaneous libertarian with the other.
Two things at conflict can be true at once: The fate of our globe is in the hands of our mortal economic enemy, China, maker of our Dust Devil vacuum cleaners and not-quite-All-American Converse sneakers.
It’s doubtful they’ll have any pull in China, either, only more rules for Colorado.