Guest commentary: Gov. Polis threatens to veto bill giving teeth to his climate goals
What is going on?
There is a viable, meaningful climate bill going through the Colorado legislature but few Coloradans know. A year after the worst wildfire season on record, heading into what could be another, one would think addressing the climate crisis would be on our minds and lips.
Senate Bill 200 would put some teeth to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap that the Gov. Jared Polis signed two years ago. The road map aims to cut our emissions by a quarter in five years and by half in 10. Legislators frustrated with the lack of progress introduced SB21-200, which would require regulators to implement the road map by next year. Guess what? Gov. Polis says he’ll veto it.
Gov. Polis, are you really in favor of doing something on climate? Are you concerned about the unceasing gassing of our skies from our power plants, oil and gas operations, refineries and cars (and, increasingly, forests, which we need to take up CO2)? Are you not registering the alarm bells? Don’t you have children?
Colorado has warmed 2.8°F degrees since 1900, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The past five years were the warmest on record. In February, the snowpack in the upper Colorado Basin was 67% of normal.
Currently, half the state is in severe drought, 30% is rated “exceptional.”
Last summer, 665,454 acres of Colorado burned. More acreage burned in one year than in any previous five-year period. What stood out about last year’s fires was not simply their size but their ferocity and timing. The East Troublesome Fire exploded from 18,000 to 180,000 acres in one day. In October.
Maybe Gov. Polis is moved more by dollars and cents. The NCEI also estimates our three largest fires in 2020 cost roughly $1.7 billion. Not counting health costs.
Gov. Polis told the Colorado Springs Gazette he opposes “one unelected body” having “dictatorial authority” over the economy.
This is criminal. We are at tipping points. The Arctic is on fire and the Amazon is beginning to release more carbon than it absorbs. Governor, do you want us to believe we don’t need enforceable measures to transition our economy? Does anyone still buy the false dichotomy pitting the economy against protecting the environment? What does Gov. Polis believe spiraling fires and heat waves will mean for our economy?
Governor, climate disasters are going to have dictatorial authority over our lives soon unless you act.
Gov. Polis is pretending the legislature didn’t give his Air Quality Control Commission exactly such authority under the road map. The AQCC fleshed out its road map plan in January. It is long on assumptions and short on enforceable measures.
Given the enormous challenge of decarbonizing the economy, given the lag time of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, given the uncertainties of how social and natural systems will respond, we need significant cuts in the near term. Given the challenge of replacing all our cars, trucks and appliances, the place to start is our power supply — by replacing coal and gas-powered electricity with renewables. That means retiring coal plants earlier and phasing out fracking.
The AQCC proposes cutting emissions from the oil and gas sector by 50% by 2030. But it vastly underestimates the methane leakage from fracking. The state accepts the industry’s 2.9% leak rate estimate on its face. Robert Howarth at Cornell measured methane emissions over shale basins at an average of 4.1% of production.
A 1.2% difference might not sound like much, until one considers methane is 86 times better at trapping heat than CO2 over 20 years. The state uses the outdated 100-year time horizon.
Scientists attribute a spike in atmospheric methane to America’s 20-year fracking boom, undermining claims that “natural” gas is cleaner than coal.
My organization found that when factoring leakage and potency, the oil and gas sector accounts for 47% of Colorado’s emissions, not 18%, as the state estimates. If we counted the pollution from our exported gas (as New York does, since this is a global problem) the share would rise to 70%.
SB21-200 could hit the Senate floor by next week. It has good odds in both Democratic-controlled chambers. If it passes the legislature, Gov. Polis would face whether to veto a bill with strong support from his own party, and a mandate from the voters.
Call Gov. Polis and tell him to lead at 303-866-2471 (office) or 303-866-2885 (comment line).
Will Hodges is the local chapter coordinator for 350 Colorado, the state’s largest grassroots group working to end fossil fuels and transition to a just and sustainable future.