Written by Marie Venner
It’s 2021 and we’ve yet to see the big decarbonization turnarounds we need to enable system-wide change and to put us on the path to climate safety for our state. Our ambient atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) was up to 418 ppm (parts per million) this year, even at the remote Mauna Loa observatory. And in Colorado, leaders in the Polis Administration have declined to have the state draft 97% of the implementing regulations required under Colorado’s “Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution” (/SB19-096), which set out a 26% reduction in carbon dioxide and methane by 2025 over 2005 levels. SB-096 provides the required action and deadlines.
Meanwhile, the Polis administration has issued over 3,400 new oil and gas drilling permits and took around 18 months to accept and make official even the new mission change to prioritize public health and safety, passed under SB19-181. Meanwhile, administration staff met with the Public Utilities Commission for an informational session around natural gas on November 5th and said they did not forecast much reduction in this area until the 2030s, even though methane is polluting much more over a 20 year period – by a factor of 80x CO2. Clay Clarke of the state’s new climate section and CO Energy Office staff directed PUC attention away from what they had calculated as a possible (and needed) greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction path for methane to a flat line that is more preferable to industry and thus “achievable”.
Amidst this disappointing news and a state GHG Roadmap that calls for a 30% increase in methane/natural gas production this next decade (while a United Nations Production Report says 6% year on year average reductions are critical and Fair Shares analyses suggest we should be doing twice that here), citizens were glad that Governor Polis did agree to meet with some of them briefly via zoom on December 3 (watch). Gov. Polis declined to give a positive answer when asked if he would have staff draft the missing implementing regulations for Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, get coal closed by 2025, or back other ways and more distributed ownership to get to the most cost-effective GHG reductions possible as utilities have continually sought to postpone closing coal. We still retain hope he could step up and be the climate leader he promised to be when Coloradans elected him.
When existing laws aren’t being implemented, the Administration would like to pass it back to the legislature to go through all that work again. Certainly, legislative action in some areas would help – for example, in transitioning away from gas. 40 cities in California have banned gas in new construction as it is unnecessary, polluting, causes health risks, and imposes long term costs to climate and in terms of future retrofits. Sue McFaddin reported that in Colorado, the Governor has made it difficult to take statewide action in this area for the next 3 years.
Clearly, it is time for big steps and big, overdue action. This past year, more and more communities began stepping forward and working together. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change, and almost as many say the problem is already affecting their community in some way, according to a survey this year by the Pew Research Center. Over 60% of Coloradans came out in favor of strong action. Other studies show these numbers have grown post wildfires and that clean water connections (fossil fuel production and thermal plants take and pollute vast amounts of water in our arid climate). New coalitions and partnerships of those speaking out in more forceful ways are assembling and stepping forward. It is time to make those expectations clear in areas that have fallen so far short of the action needed.
As the new year starts, how do we communicate our dismay at the Democratic administration’s failure to act, which is persistent, rather than merely lackadaisical or inattentive. What actions would gain attention?
We hear that the existing law is strong, not weak or unspecific. Only four states have such requirements for GHG reductions by deadlines, in law, plus requirements for implementing regulations. There are complaints against the governor and his staff by Wild Earth Guardians and EDF. Xcel has tried to join that to defend the Governor and Administration from a potential order for them to obey the law and issue the missing implementing regulations. How can we spread the word about these lawsuits and raise up democracy, rule of law, and public health and safety expectations, as well as the Governor’s move to dismiss himself from climate accountability?
The Administration’s action has caught the attention of legislators who are seeking some fixes, namely, legislative action to close coal by 2025. This is in line with what the Virginia legislature has already done, and it addresses an exemption built into the law by Xcel, the state’s largest GHG producer, lobbyist, and electricity provider and its supporters. That exemption or “safe harbor” prevents utilities from being asked to do more to help the state meet its 2025 GHG reduction targets, or to have to do much of anything until close to the end of the decade. 350 and Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate unanimously supported this bill effort at the November meeting of the latter. 350CO and the Colorado Public Banking Coalition are leading the charge for that bill too, which enables public investment in renewables at very low rates and great returns for the public sector, even an income stream for struggling communities. All banks can borrow at 0.25% from the Federal Reserve lending window. Public banks, rather than returning a large spread to investors, can then lend more cheaply at 1-3% and enable public ownership of, investment in, and faster action around renewables.
Bills that will be up for deliberation in 2021 make smaller steps but are still important. In the 2020 legislative session, Sen. Mike Foote introduced a bill to open up the market for more clean heating technologies by putting more accurate values on the benefits of energy efficiency measures (Demand Side Management) for gas. Currently, few of the benefits are accurately captured in cost-benefit tests that must be passed. The bill would: 1) Include the cost of carbon emissions in calculating gas DSM benefits, as was done in 2018 for the electric sector. 2) Include methane leaks in the gas DSM cost-benefit calculations. These would be based on 2016 methane-to-carbon equivalence set by the federal government and calculations of the Air Quality Control Division. 3) Require the Public Utilities Commission to discount the future benefits of gas DSM at a rate relevant to the parties that will pay for them; i.e., closer to the discount rate for cash-flows using the long-term inflation rate of the US economy (around 3%), loosening the current statutory requirement to use the utility’s Weighed Average Cost of Capital rate (about 7%), benefiting Wall Street traded utilities such as Xcel and the high rates of return/extraction of Colorado dollars out of state. The bill is anticipated to grow gas DSM programs, from traditional energy efficiency measures to behind-the-meter renewable solutions – simply by better accounting for their value.
The Study bill for Community Choice Energy will be up again. 350 members favor more community control and faster transition to renewables as CCAs/CCE can allow, but Xcel continues to oppose and in the best scenario, further rules and legislation wouldn’t enable localities to start going to bid until 2025 or later. A study is good and helpful in any case and we continue to support it, while seeking a more rapid shift.
Last but not least: Rep. Sirota will lead a bill for the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) divestment from fossil fuels. 350 members are hoping for a microgrid bill as well.
Though new members of the state General Assembly will be sworn in on January 13th, the session won’t really get underway until February 16th. This also gives more time for submission of bills for the 2021 session. Please stay/get in touch if you are interested in getting involved! On a national level support climatepresident.org and #BuildBackFossilFree. Let’s make 2021 the year we get the turnarounds we need!
The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published on Monday, shows CO2 in the atmosphere is now 50% higher than in 1750, before the Industrial Revolution. CO2 traps two-thirds of the heat retained on the Earth’s surface by greenhouse gases, and this warming effect has increased by 45% since 1990.