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Colorado Fails to Meet Legal Deadline for Climate Action and Justice
“Governor Jared Polis is talking the talk on climate, but he’s not walking the walk,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “The failure of the Polis administration to both meet its legally required deadlines and ensure the state is on pace to curtail climate pollution only endangers people and communities.”
In 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed and Governor Polis signed into law two landmark bills to protect the climate. House Bill 1261 committed the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050. Senate Bill 96 set a deadline of July 1, 2020 for the Polis administration to propose regulations that put the state on track to meet these targets.
Despite positive rhetoric and some steps taken to reduce greenhouse gases, the Polis administration remains off track to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals of House Bill 1261. With the July 1, 2020 deadline now passed with no regulations proposed to meet the climate targets, there is growing concern that Governor Jared Polis is not rising to the challenge of delivering real climate action.
A lack of climate action has major implications for Black and Latino communities, low income neighborhoods, and Indigenous peoples in Colorado disproportionately impacted by air pollution from sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Critically, House Bill 1261 called for regulators to prioritize achieving the state’s greenhouse reductions in communities experiencing disproportionate environmental harms and risks from sources of climate pollution. The failure to meet the July 1, 2020 deadline means that Colorado is not only off track to meet its climate goals, but to protect disproportionately impacted people and communities.
“When Governor Polis signed House Bill 1261 into law, he didn’t just commit the state to curtailing pollution, but to do so where the pollution disproportionately threatens the health and welfare of people of color, low income neighborhoods, and Tribal communities.” said Nichols. “In other words, House Bill 1261 was about achieving environmental justice in Colorado. The failure of the Polis administration to live up to legally binding climate obligations means the state is not achieving environmental justice.”
Since House Bill 1261 was signed into law, Colorado regulators have adopted some rules to reduce greenhouse gases that are fueling the climate crisis. Most recently, the state adopted regulations to limit emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which have hundreds of times more heat-trapping capability than carbon dioxide, the most widely emitted greenhouse gas.
Still, the progress has not been enough to assure the state meets its 2025 and 2030 emission reduction targets. A recent report by consultants for Colorado regulators indicates that achieving the 2030 emission reduction goals of House Bill 1261 would require a 70% reduction in electricity generating climate emissions, nearly 50% reduction in emissions from oil and gas extraction, and a 40% reduction in emissions from cars and trucks.
Colorado regulators have not yet proposed any rules that would put the state on track to meet these levels of emission reductions.
Even with recent news of additional coal-fired power plant retirements in Colorado, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, is set to continue burning coal at three power plants beyond 2030.
Polling shows Coloradans overwhelmingly supporting aggressive climate action. And communities and groups are increasingly calling on the Governor to support bold climate action to address underlying systematic environmental racism.
Members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission have even chastised the Polis administration for failing to provide proposed regulations for them to adopt in order to meet the state’s climate targets.
In light of the Polis administration’s lack of progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, WildEarth Guardians intends to file suit in Colorado District Court to enforce the July 1, 2020 deadline.
“When it comes to confronting the climate crisis, time is of the essence,” said Nichols. “We can’t afford any missed deadlines or footdragging. It’s time for Governor Polis to step up, be a leader, and put the state on course for urgent action that sets a model for other states and nations and puts Colorado at the forefront of advancing solutions that truly confront the climate crisis.”
To meet the state’s climate goals, WildEarth Guardians has called on the Polis administration to immediately suspend approving air pollution permits for new sources of greenhouse gas emissions, retire the state’s largest industrial sources of climate pollution, commit Colorado to generating 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and to wind down and ultimately phase out fracking by 2025.