Environmental activists and Democratic lawmakers are cranking up the heat on Gov. Jared Polis two weeks after he threatened to veto this session’s landmark climate action bill.
And they’re bringing the fight to his front doorstep.
In a Wednesday rally on the steps of the state Capitol, backers of Senate Bill 200 called on the governor to reverse course on the bill.
The legislation from Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, is wide-ranging and designed primarily to make the Air Quality Control Commission what Winter described as “the program manager of meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
Those goals were put in place by legislation passed in 2019 seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% by 2025, at least 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, based on 2005 levels. But some Democratic lawmakers and climate activists worry that a “road map” to meeting the 2050 goal released by Polis earlier this year could fall short without clear, enforceable standards.
“We cannot afford to miss those goals because if we miss those goals, our communities hurt. People die. Our forests burn. We can't grow the food that nourishes us. It impacts our economy,” Winter said at the rally. “That's the track we're on right now because there's no accountability.”
The bill from Winter, Moreno and Jackson tries to meet those goals by, among other things, setting caps on emissions by industry. Winter said those aren’t “hard caps,” adding the AQCC “has the flexibility to adjust goals as necessary to make sure we're meeting our statewide goal.”
But Polis sees the bill in a different light.
In an April 27 meeting with The Gazette’s editorial board, the governor described the legislation as “a top-down requirement and hard-cap bill that would essentially give this unelected board, the Air Quality Control Commission, near-dictatorial control of our entire economy.”
Asked if he would veto the bill if it cleared the legislature and landed on his desk, Polis said, “Yeah, I mean, we're not willing to give dictatorial authority over our economy to one unelected board that lacks the broader mandate and expertise.”
That drew scathing criticism at the rally from Joe Salazar, a former Democratic state lawmaker and the current executive director of Colorado Rising, one of the state’s foremost climate advocacy groups.
“We’ve seen white politicians make promises to us and then jettison those promises a little bit later, right? But never to the extent Jared Polis has done it; that guy sets a record,” Salazar said, referencing campaign pledges on greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy. “I’ve never seen someone tuck tail and run quite like Gov. Polis.”
In the interview with The Gazette’s editorial board, Polis defended his stance by arguing his administration feels “that if Colorado is going to meet these carbon goals and air quality goals, it should be in the light of day, with legislative debate ... and not through a top-down mandate through an unelected board.”
Polis told the editorial board he felt the state was already on its way to meeting carbon goals.
“The thing is many of them also rely on future technology, require a flexible approach, require expertise that doesn't just reside in a back-door committee, and should be debated by future legislatures,” he said.
Salazar tore into those comments as well.
“Imagine saying the AQCC is ... a tyrannical commission,” he said. “That’s his damn commission. He’s the one who picked those people that sit on the commission, and now he’s saying they’re not responsible enough to meet what Senate Bill 200 asks them to do.”
He closed by calling on Polis to withdraw his veto threat.
“Start working with legislators to get Senate Bill 200 through the process and to his desk and signed into law,” Salazar said.
One day after Polis’ meeting with The Gazette’s editorial board, the legislation cleared the Senate’s Finance Committee on the strength of the panel’s four Democrats. It won approval from the chamber’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday and is scheduled to be considered by the full Senate on Friday.