Commentary

As Biden administration acts boldly on climate, Colorado should follow

The state is far from being on track to meet its climate goals

February 5, 2021 12:09 pm

Evacuees leave the town of Granby as the East Troublesome Fire burns in the distance, Oct. 22, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Late last month, the Biden-Harris administration made it clear that addressing climate change will be a priority. After rejoining the Paris Agreement and revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit, President Biden then signed a package of climate-related executive orders aimed at creating an equitable clean energy future that can support good-paying jobs. The administration committed to executive action to conserve at least 30% of federal land and oceans by 2030, pausing the sale of new federal oil and gas leases, and prioritizing environmental justice.

Action at the federal level is sorely needed. The Earth’s average surface temperature is rising and 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, according to a recent NASA analysis. The science is clear: This long-term trend of warming is expected to continue, and the consequences for humanity are dire.

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Here in Colorado, we’ve all seen the terrifying ways the climate is changing in our own backyards. Coloradans watched in horror last year as the three largest wildfires in state history burned more than 540,000 acres. Those fires darkened our skies, ruined our air quality, and created post-apocalyptic scenes in mountain communities on both sides of the continental divide.

Among the causes? Drought. The entire state has experienced moderate or worse drought conditions since September, and things haven’t gotten better this winter. Precipitation is below normal for much Colorado and 74% of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought. As of Jan. 26, snowpack was only 73% of normal, the fourth-lowest levels on record for that date in the past 36 years.

Declining snowpack can result in lower streamflow in the spring and summer months, which can reduce water supply and be a harbinger for an earlier (and potentially longer) fire season.

But while the White House has signaled a desire to act boldly on climate, we haven’t seen that same boldness in our state-level efforts.

While the White House has signaled a desire to act boldly on climate, we haven’t seen that same boldness in our state-level efforts.

Yes, the state has taken some positive steps in the right direction by setting benchmarks for reducing pollution and investing in renewable energy — including establishing mandatory requirements for meeting those benchmarks — and Gov. Jared Polis recently released a plan to get us there. But a study by the Environmental Defense Fund showed Colorado is far from being on track to meet our goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions (below 2005 levels) by 2030.

While the challenges we face are daunting, a large majority of Coloradans think the government should be doing more to address climate, according to at least one public opinion poll conducted last year. As the effects of climate change worsen, it’s easy to see how even more people will want bold action to address it.

Just like the rest of the country and the world, Colorado needs actionable, enforceable policies and regulations to guarantee we’re hitting our goals of cutting the air pollution that contributes to climate change. That includes transitioning to renewable energy, retiring coal mines and coal-fueled power plants, shielding front-line communities and communities of color who will be hardest hit by climate change, and putting the health and wellbeing of our communities front and center.

It’s great to see the Biden-Harris administration hitting the ground running with climate policies that value people over polluters and take the threat of the climate emergency seriously. We now look to the governor and state lawmakers to do the same.

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Pegah Jalali
Pegah Jalali

Pegah Jalali is the environmental policy analyst for the Colorado Fiscal Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advances fiscal and economic policies that promote equity and widespread prosperity.

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