Commentary

Why Coloradans should care about Senate Bill 200

Gov. Polis is threatening to veto a climate change bill that voters want

May 12, 2021 4:50 am

Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant in northwest Colorado, is scheduled to be retired by 2030. (Jimmy Thomas/flickr.com/CC BY 2.0)

In January, Gov. Jared Polis set forth a climate roadmap for Colorado. Now, he is threatening to veto the very legislation required to meet his goals.

This should raise the eyebrows of every Coloradan — particularly those who voted for him.

The backstory:

In 2019, fresh off a wave of new elections, Democrats introduced House Bill 19-1261. This sweeping bill on climate change targeted “a 26% cut in statewide emissions by 2024, a 50% cut by 2030 and a 90% cut by 2050.” Polis signed the bill into law.

Concerns about reaching the goals quickly mounted. In the bill, there were few measures to hold polluters responsible. As interim targets began to slip by, frustrations dominated environmental circles. At least two lawsuits were filed against the Polis administration.

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In January 2021, the Polis administration introduced the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. This roadmap clearly outlined a rapid need to address most sectors of Colorado’s economy in curbing pollution. State modeling had confirmed we are set to miss the targets, bringing Polis to say, “In order to reach our goals, we need to build on the progress already achieved, with new laws, policies, standards …”

The statement was apt. While the governor’s roadmap outlined the goals, it still didn’t provide strong measures of accountability. Heeding Polis’ call for new laws and standards, legislators set to work this session to ensure the state remains on track. In partnership with local stakeholders, they built a less flashy — but equally necessary — accountability bill, Senate Bill 21-200, to uphold the goals of the 2019 bill and the governor’s GHG roadmap.

The new bill would set hard emission caps and provide the Air Quality Control Commission — a board appointed by the governor — the ability to enforce them. The bill also seeks to enhance equitable community engagement and closes a loophole that previously let polluters “get out of jail free.”

Gov. Jared Polis delivers his state of the state address in front of the House of Representatives at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, pool)

Groups supporting the bill include the Colorado Sierra Club, SEIU Local Union 105, 350 Colorado, Colorado’s The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Colorado and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

Opponents of the accountability bill include the oil and gas sectors, utility companies and — oddly enough — the governor, who enacted the climate roadmap and called for the new laws to begin with.

The veto threat is striking as not only does it place Polis directly at odds with his own party — putting pressure on Democratic legislators — but in all of Polis’s objections to SB-200, he has refused to offer a viable alternative solution. The lingering message appears to be that he prefers voluntary efforts over enforcement, seemingly making his well-known libertarian streak a full-blown base coat.

Unfortunately, the data are clear that by and large Coloradans left to their own devices will not always meet the goal. Our state modeling clearly demonstrates we are not on target to reach our climate goals, despite Polis politely asking — and even legislating — entities to do their part. If voluntary measures had worked, we wouldn’t need to enforce emission caps in the first place. The same miss happened when Polis lifted statewide COVID-19 mandates too early, stating Coloradans would do the right thing. Instead, it led our state straight to one of the highest case rates per capita in the U.S. — even as overall cases in the nation were on decline.

Still, due to the governor’s threats to veto, SB-200 is on track for a bumpy ride moving forward. This is where you, dear reader, come in.

If you agree that accountability of climate goals matters as much as setting the climate goals themselves, then you need to contact your state representatives and the Polis administration immediately to express your support for SB-200. Without your help, this critical bill may be lost — despite full Democratic control of the House, Senate and governorship — and Colorado will fall even further behind in addressing climate change.

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Trish Zornio
Trish Zornio

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation's top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

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