Colorado releases climate action ‘roadmap’ for meeting emissions targets

Projections show statewide greenhouse-gas emissions only halfway towards 2025 goal

Cars head south on Interstate 25 in Denver during rush hour traffic on on July 23, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

It will be “no small task” to meet the greenhouse-gas emissions targets enacted by Colorado lawmakers in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis’ administration said in a new planning document, but additional legislative and regulatory actions can help put the state on the right path.

The draft version of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, released Wednesday by the Colorado Energy Office, proposes a wide variety of “near term actions” that could be taken within the next two years to put the state on track to meet its new statutory emissions goals. Those targets, set by last year’s House Bill 19-1261, include a 26% overall cut by 2025 and a 50% cut by 2030.

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“Colorado is experiencing two of the three largest wildfires in the history of our state, and that’s just one of countless indicators that climate change presents an increasing threat to our economy and our way of life,” Polis said in a statement. “From day one, my administration has prioritized a swift transition to renewable energy and bold climate action, and this Roadmap is a significant step forward to continue to reduce pollution for the benefit of the health and well-being of our communities and our economy.”

Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined slightly since peaking around 2010, according to regulators, but will need to fall much more sharply in the coming years to meet the state’s new goals. The Energy Office’s roadmap analysis, led by consulting firm Energy + Environmental Economics, shows that under the state’s current policies, it’s on track to reduce emissions 13% below benchmark levels by 2025 — only halfway to the target set by HB-1261.

Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined slightly from their estimated 2010 peak, but remain far off track from the state’s new targets. (Colorado Energy Office)

State officials say they plan to close that gap in large part through emissions reductions in the electricity sector, along with stronger regulations aimed at minimizing leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, in oil and gas drilling operations. But nearly every sector of Colorado’s economy will need to contribute to emissions-cutting efforts — including the transportation sector, which has overtaken electricity generation to become the state’s largest single source of emissions.

“Making progress towards the 2025 and 2030 goals,” the report reads, “primarily will rely on continuing the transition to renewable electricity generation, reducing methane emissions from oil and gas development and operations, accelerating the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses, making changes to transportation planning and infrastructure to reduce the growth in driving, accelerating improvements to building efficiency and electrification of buildings, and reducing methane emissions from landfills, sewage plants and agriculture.”

Renewed calls for ‘concrete’ action

The draft roadmap’s release comes nearly 18 months after the passage of HB-1261 by Democrats in the state legislature — a period that has been marked by a growing sense of frustration from climate action advocates over the pace and scope of the bill’s implementation.

Colorado’s greenhouse gas rules are still a year or more away

The Polis administration is facing two lawsuits from environmental groups over a lack of action by the Air Quality Control Commission, the state rulemaking panel tasked with enacting regulations to meet HB-1261’s targets.

Advocates who have pressed the AQCC for more than a year to enact strong, enforceable regulations on greenhouse-gas pollution found little to cheer in the report’s tentative list of proposals, many of which could be years away from becoming reality.

“After a year of work, the Roadmap is missing the most essential element for progress: concrete regulatory policies, to be proposed swiftly, that taken together are fully capable of guaranteeing climate pollution goes down the requisite amounts,” said Pam Kiely, senior director of regulatory strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that has sued the AQCC over regulatory delays.

“Maps mean nothing without a willingness to drive,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, which has filed a lawsuit of its own. “Without a true commitment to action and a legitimate gameplan for achieving the emissions reductions needed to confront the climate crisis, the draft ‘roadmap’ is just more talk with no walk.”

State officials are accepting public comment on the draft roadmap until Nov. 1, with a final version expected to be released later this year. The AQCC is scheduled to consider additional greenhouse-gas rules in mid- to late-2021.

In a statement, Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, urged the Polis administration to quickly follow through on the roadmap’s proposals.

“There are some good ideas here with real opportunities,” Nordini said. “And for Governor Polis’ climate roadmap to have his ‘boldly forward’ stamp, verifiable pollution cuts need to come together with specific and equitable policies and deadlines — as we’ve seen from other governors. The science and the urgency are clear on what it will take to leave a legacy for our children.”