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Drafting rules to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions may prove even harder because of missing data

The state's Air Quality Control Commission doesn’t expect new rules to be in place for another year

Haze behind Denver's City and County Building on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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A plan to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions will be a device of many moving parts and after a review by an Air Quality Control Commission subcommittee Thursday it looks like those parts are moving slowly, with rules in key areas not in place for another year.

The timetables rolled out during the session, carried on Zoom, had rulemakings in transportation, the fastest growing source of emissions, slated for next summer and in building efficiency later in 2021.

On July 9, Wild Earth Guardians, an environmental group, sued the Air Quality Control Commission and Gov. Jared Polis, for failing to meet a July 1 deadline to start a rulemaking to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet targets set in 2019 legislation.

The subcommittee was created to help focus the rulemaking exercise, but the complexity of each sector’s potential emissions regulations presented challenges to the working group.

Transportation accounts for about 20% of the state’s emissions and is the fastest growing source. The subcommittee members, Jana Milford and Elise Jones, focused on three potential rules: setting carbon budgets for transportation planning, a low-carbon fuel standard, and adoption of California’s zero-emission truck rule.

MORE: A first look at how Colorado will become a ZEV state: the rule, the cost, the debate

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Setting carbon budgets for new transportation projects could lead to changes in land use planning and potential vehicle miles traveled. The low-carbon fuel standard would put emission limits on the fuel supply system and the California rule would make zero-emissions light trucks and vans required by 2045.

Will Toor, the executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said these initiatives could be affected by state legislative action and a change of administration in Washington, D.C.

“We want to wait for the legislature,” said John Putnam, the director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We could have a transportation rulemaking next year, probably in the summer.”

The carbon budget rule will need coordination with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the state Transportation Commission.  “There is a lot of overlap with the items you are looking at,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said. “Our commission is just getting started.”

The other area on which the subcommittee focused was building energy efficiency, where it looked at setting building performance standards and promoting energy efficiency code upgrades by local governments.

“I think this is going to be a serious area of activity in the legislature,” Toor said.

Putnam said that rulemaking in this area could come toward the end of next year. “We need some further strategies in this area.”

The AQCC and the state have already taken a number of actions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The commission has passed rules on zero-emission vehicles, greenhouse gas emissions reporting, reducing hydrofluorocarbon gases, and methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

It has a rulemaking schedule this year to reduce regional haze, which will enable the commission to lock in some coal-fired power plant closures. Coal plants are the single largest source of carbon emissions.

MORE: Only three coal-fired power plants in Colorado are set to operate past 2030 after Craig Station shutdown date is unveiled

The AQCC will also take another look at oil and gas emissions focusing on pre-production and maintenance activities, according to Gary Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division.

Polis also issued an executive order on zero-emission vehicles in 2018 and on July 14, Colorado joined 14 other states and the District of Columbia in signing an agreement to promote medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks with the aim of boosting sales to 30% of the market by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

The legislation mandating the greenhouse gas rulemaking, House Bill 1261, set the goal of reducing emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

“If we want to get things going quickly in the next couple of years we are going to have to mix and match,” Kaufman said.

But Jones said it is difficult to set policy until it is clear how much of a reduction in emissions is needed and how much each policy will yield. “I am a little bit stymied because we don’t have the numbers,” she said.

Putnam said that the commission would get some broad ranges of numbers at its August meeting.


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