Jared Polis

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. 

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday indicated he would veto a bill backed by Democrats in the General Assembly seeking to beef up Colorado’s greenhouse gas reduction plan with enforceable regulations, the latest in a series of terse encounters between Polis’ administration and lawmakers on climate action.

The state’s landmark climate action plan, put in place by legislation passed in 2019, seeks 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.

Enter Senate Bill 21-200 from Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora.

Winter said during a Senate hearing last week the wide-ranging bill was designed primarily to make the Air Quality Control Commission the “the program manager of meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

“We have a sector-by-sector, specific way that we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the electric sector, the built environment, oil and gas, emissions, smaller sources and also the transportation sector,” Winter said in testimony to the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, a panel she chairs. “What we are doing within this bill is making sure that the AQCC is tracking all the effort everyone is taking and also making sure that we can meet our goals.”

The legislation – backed by testimony from the Colorado Sierra Club, Western Resource Advocates, Earthjustice among a number of others during a hearing that lasted more than six hours – 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.”

Polis disagrees. In a meeting with The Gazette’s editorial board, he 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 with a legal mandate to meet certain hard carbon reduction goals, many of which we're already much of the way to.

“But 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.”

Polis added: “We feel 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.”

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.”

“We have a plan to be able to continue to clean our air, reduce carbon emissions, and part of that plan is additional legislative action like the infrastructure bill, like a building electrification bill, but requiring one particular state committee to have dictatorial authority across every sector of the economy is not a constructive way to achieve Colorado's climate goals,” he said.

It’s not the first time Polis or a member of his administration has come out against the bill.

Along with groups representing the mining, oil and gas industries, electric utilities and counties and municipalities governments in Northwest Colorado, Colorado Energy Office Director Will Toor last week testified in opposition to the legislation.

“We believe that the approach required in this bill will actually disrupt the implementation of the GHG road map,” Toor told the panel. “The administration has consistently expressed opposition to the air commission establishing economy-wide or a series of sector-wide emissions caps that cover the economy.”

Toor said the requirements laid out in SB 200 would “upend” ongoing work on five AQCC rulemakings laid out in the road map.

“Achieving our climate goals requires not just regulation but market transformation,” Toor said in arguing for a “whole-of-government" approach that “can't feasibly be accomplished through a singular rulemaking process at the air commission.”

Toor’s testimony drew stinging criticism from Sen. Kerry Donovan. The Vail Democrat argued many of the points Toor raised had been used by the administration to avoid taking meaningful action in the past and added Polis’ road map was at best “aspirational.”

“Let's say that we're going to do it and figure out how to do it or stop saying that somehow letters to Santa Claus are going to continue to meet climate change,” she said.

SB 200 is up for a hearing on Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee after clearing Winter’s panel on a 4-3 party-line vote.

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