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Oil and gas development equipment is pictured near Crestone Peak Resources' Cosslett site near Erie Parkway and Interstate 25 in Weld County on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

One of the boldest climate change and air pollution bills set for debate in the legislature this year would attempt to eliminate all of Colorado’s carbon emissions by 2050, set tough interim goals for greenhouse gas reduction, and try again for a 30% tax credit for clean electric lawn and garden equipment. 

Denver Democratic Sen. Chris Hansen is sponsoring Senate Bill 16, which would also direct the state pension fund to use its shareholder rights to push climate change measures, officially classify sewage-to-heat exchanges as clean energy sources and speed up improvement of transmission lines to boost renewable energy production. 

It’s unclear how much support Hansen’s bill will receive from the Polis administration, which at times has been reluctant to add new air pollution provisions affecting private business beyond those under consideration by the Air Quality Control Commission. “The governor will review bills as they move through the process,” Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said. 

The governor has veto power over bills his administration does not like, but the veto is rarely used. Power dynamics at the Capitol will be tested, with relatively liberal Democrats holding even larger majorities to pass legislation than they did in the 2022 session.

Environmental groups frustrated by the Polis administration’s lack of progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dangerous ozone hailed parts of the bill as doubling down on climate goals they say most Coloradans already support. 

“It’s a really important bill,” said Heidi Leathwood, climate policy analyst for 350 Colorado. 

Directives to the Public Employees Retirement Association “start the conversation on the state not sinking more of people’s retirement money into fossil fuel projects — investments that don’t fit with our climate goals and are already losing money for investors,” Leathwood said. 350 Colorado also supports bumping the 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goal to 100% from the current 90%, in line with international climate science recommendations. 

With state officials acknowledging in late 2022 they were not on schedule to meet 2025 greenhouse gas reductions of 26%, delineating new intermediate targets before 2050 is “the best way to ensure we get there,” she said. 

“We’re falling behind when it comes to meeting our current goals. We need more investment,” Hansen said. The federal Inflation Reduction Act puts real money behind changes needed to make climate goals, he added. 

“That has drastically lowered the price of climate tech across the spectrum,” he said. “So I think we really need state policy that’s going to accelerate and take advantage of that federal action.”

Hansen is one of dozens of candidates who have declared themselves for Denver’s spring mayoral race.

Lynn Granger, Midwest and Mountain West region director for the American Petroleum Institute, said the trade group is “generally supportive” of many elements of the bill, including a provision giving the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission authority to regulate injection wells for carbon sequestration. API said it is concerned, however, about one measure “which appears to compel PERA to divest from its energy investments.”

“Colorado remains an irreplaceable foundation of American energy security, and we are confident that the final iteration of this effort can coexist with that reality,” Granger said.

Hansen’s Senate Bill 16 is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Karen McCormick, Longmont, and Emily Sirota, Denver. 

Some key measures of the multifaceted bill: 

  • Sets new greenhouse gas reduction goals of 65% from 2005 benchmark levels by 2035, 80% by 2040, 90% by 2045 and 100% in 2050. The state’s current greenhouse gas reduction targets from a 2019 law are set at 26% in 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050.
  • Requires the PERA board by June 1, 2024, to adopt proxy voting procedures that “ensure that the board’s voting decisions align with, and are supportive of, the statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.”
  • Adds wastewater thermal energy to the definition of “clean heat resource.” Wastewater pipes can transfer their heat to clean water pipes that circulate to heat or cool ambient air in nearby buildings. A utility could include wastewater energy in its clean heat plan filed with the Public Utilities Commission.
  • Gives the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission authority over injection wells used for sequestration of greenhouse gasses, in part to give state authorities “primacy” over federal rules for the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Requires local governments to expedite review of land use applications involving the renovation, rebuilding or reconditioning transmission lines.
  • Beginning in 2024, insurance companies doing business in Colorado with more than $100 million of activity must participate in and complete a national “Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey.” 
  • Creates a 30% tax credit for qualifying clean electric lawn and garden equipment like mowers, trimmers, and leaf or snow blowers. The retailer would be able to claim the credit and take the amount off the price at the point of sale. 

With Colorado “off the track” of its greenhouse gas reduction goals, the bill could help in “clarifying the scope and pace the state must achieve,” said Michael Hiatt, deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office. 

“But to actually achieve these goals, Colorado must accelerate its actions on climate and fully utilize the new federal funding that will make it even more affordable for Coloradans to drive electric vehicles, install rooftop solar and energy efficiency measures, and stop burning fossil gas in their homes,” he said. 

Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program for WildEarth Guardians, said “It’s encouraging to see legislative interest in reinforcing the need for major greenhouse gas reductions over the coming decades.”

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....