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Colorado governor, Democrats reach deal to move forward with most of greenhouse gas emissions proposal

House Bill 1266 was amended to include much of what was in Senate Bill 200, which will be killed. Environmental groups cheered the changes, while business, electric-utility and oil and gas groups cried foul.

Supporters of Senate Bill 200 are seen at the Colorado Capitol on Monday, June 7, 2021. “We’re out of time to take action on the climate crisis. … We need enforceability and accountability,” said demonstrator Razz Gormley. The proposal was tacked onto another bill, which passed out of committee Monday. It aims to enforce an 80% reduction in emissions from electric utility companies by 2030. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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A deal reached between Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic state lawmakers on an effort to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions was finalized on Monday, with much of the proposal staying intact despite weeks of protracted negotiations and a veto threat. 

House Bill 1266, a measure to create an environmental-justice task force, was amended in the Senate Finance Committee to include much of what was in Senate Bill 200, which was the focus of the intraparty debate among Democrats and will be killed. 

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Polis threatened to veto Senate Bill 200, which would have placed the state’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Roadmap into law and given the Air Quality Control Commission oversight to enforce the mandates. The governor took issue with giving so much power to an unelected board, even though the panel’s members are appointed by him. 

“I wanted 16 things,” said Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who is a prime sponsor of both measures. “I got 13.”

She called the 25-page amendment the “baby of Senate Bill 200.” (Senate Bill 200 was formally killed on Monday night.)

The Polis administration said it’s pleased with the amendment, too. 

“We see this as an implementation bill that aligns with the strategies in the roadmap,” said Will Toor, who leads the governor’s Colorado Energy Office.

The three major elements left out of House Bill 1266 were provisions giving the Air Quality Control Commission enforcement power across all polluting sectors, and, more specifically, the ability to enforce reductions in the transportation and construction sectors. 

The transportation sector drives the most greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado

The amendment to House Bill 1266 would still allow the commission to track and enforce emissions reductions in the oil and gas, electric-utility, and industrial and manufacturing sectors. It would also create an environmental justice ombudsman position to field complaints related to pollution impacts on vulnerable communities. 

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Specifically, the legislation would allow the commission to enforce the following greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals by 2030:

  • An 80% reduction by every electric utility that is not already required to file a plan to reduce emissions. Only Xcel Energy is currently required to file an emissions-reduction plan. 
  • A 60% reduction by the oil and gas industry 
  • A 20% reduction by the industrial and manufacturing sectors

Toor said the Polis administration was uncomfortable with applying the traditional air-regulatory approach to transportation and construction, “which are sectors where there’s not an industry to regulate.”

“You want to reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry, it’s relatively straightforward,” he said.

While the Air Quality Control Commission won’t have the power to enforce emissions reductions in the transportation sector, lawmakers changed Senate Bill 260, a sweeping transportation fee and spending bill awaiting Polis’ signature, to require the Colorado Department of Transportation to consider emissions reductions in its long-term project planning.

Colorado conservation groups, which were pushing hard for Senate Bill 200 to be passed as is,  were part of intensive negotiations around the policy over the weekend. The groups believe the House Bill 1266 will have meaningful enforcement provisions on timetables for setting emissions limits.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 at the Boettcher Mansion in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“Of course we didn’t get everything we wanted,” said Joe Salazar, executive director of the liberal environmental group Colorado Rising and a former legislator. “Those two other sectors are work for next year.”

Salazar said the environmental justice ombudsman position is crucial for the communities he represents, and that the enforcement sectors left out of this year’s bill can be addressed. 

“It was a lot of the environmental justice movement that forced Polis to come back to the table to negotiate, to the point that we are at today,” he said. “I don’t think he understood how strongly we were going to challenge him.” 

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce said it opposes House Bill 1266, complaining that it wasn’t given much time to digest the 25-page amendment incorporating Senate Bill 200. The Colorado Rural Electric Association echoed those concerns. 

“Now we’re moving the goalposts,” said Geoff Hier, director of government relations for CREA. “This is not fair. We will request proper time and review on this.”

House Bill 1266 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee on a 4-3 vote. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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