In the tense final hours of Colorado’s 2021 legislative session, the state House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed a major greenhouse-gas emissions bill after a series of delay tactics from Republicans, who cried foul over its fast-tracked process while repeatedly making false claims about climate change.
House Bill 21-1266 won approval from the House on a 37-27 vote, sending the measure to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk to be signed into law. The bill was heavily amended earlier this week as part of a compromise between Polis and top Democratic lawmakers, and contains large sections salvaged from Senate Bill 21-200, which Polis had threatened to veto.
Democrats in the House had previously passed HB-1266, a separate environmental-justice bill, last month. Democratic sponsors moved to repass the bill and concur with Senate amendments, prompting strong objections from Republicans, who argued that the process short-circuited normal legislative procedure. SB-200, which officially died in the Senate when the Legislature adjourned on Tuesday, was never formally taken up by the House.
“Twenty-five pages on an amendment that brought language that was never considered by this body — think about that,” said House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Republican from Loveland. “We just got a brand-new bill. A brand-new bill that has not had a hearing in committee.”
House Republicans moved for the bill to be read on the floor in its entirety, potentially delaying a final vote, but the motion was denied by House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Democrat from Denver.
Instead, GOP lawmakers made a series of failed procedural motions and spoke at length in opposition to HB-1266, reading long sections of the bill out loud, belittling its focus on “disproportionately impacted communities” and making a series of false or misleading claims about climate change and clean energy.
“I don’t know of anyone who disagrees that climate change has happened, is happening, will happen in the future,” said state Rep. Andres Pico, a Republican from Colorado Springs. “What we disagree with is why, what’s driving it, and to what — pardon the expression — degree.”
Pico’s comments echoed those of GOP Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Douglas County, who said of “so-called climate change” during debate on HB-1266 in the Senate on Monday: “I do not believe that it is man-made.”
The scientific consensus on man-made climate change, however, has been settled for decades. In a 2018 U.N. report aggregating the work of thousands of scientists from around the world, authors concluded with “high confidence” that the world has experienced between 0.8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius of “human-induced warming” above pre-industrial levels. That closely matches the 1 degree Celsius of “observed warming” in temperature records since 1900.
“The estimated level of human-induced warming has been equal to the level of observed warming with a likely range of ±20% accounting for uncertainty due to contributions from solar and volcanic activity over the historical period,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote.
‘An ugly, ugly meeting’
Pico also downplayed the role of climate change in increased drought and wildfire risk in the West, another position contradicted by an overwhelming body of scientific evidence.
“The droughts come and go,” Pico said. “You look back on the records, the 1930s were worse than today.”
That, too, is false. In western Colorado, the five-year period ending in May 2021 was the driest on record since 1904, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. Across the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, tree-ring data shows that the 20-year “megadrought” that began in 2000 is the worst extended dry spell the region has experienced since the 16th century.
Hydrological research in the Colorado River Basin has concluded that this dry spell is a “hot drought” caused in large part by higher temperatures, which can increase the region’s vapor-pressure deficit and evaporative demand, rather than any natural variability. For decades, scientists have said that a “broad consensus of climate models” projects that these drying trends will continue as temperatures rise throughout the 21st century.
GOP stall tactics delayed passage of HB-1266 for just over three hours. Nearly every representative in the 24-member House Republican caucus spoke in opposition to the bill.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like in rural Colorado,” said Rep. Rod Pelton said of the bill’s environmental-justice provisions. “Someone goes out to my district, goes to the local coffee shop or something, and starts talking about some of this, it is going to be an ugly, ugly meeting. So I hope people come prepared for just what they’ll be faced with in that situation.”
Pelton represents the 65th House District which covers Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties.
“I don’t even know what environmental justice means,” said Rep. Perry Will of Garfield County.
If signed into law by Polis, HB-1266 would create within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment a 27-member task force to “recommend and promote strategies for incorporating environmental justice and equity” into the department’s climate and air-quality efforts. The bill also directs the CDPHE’s Air Quality Control Commission to enact stricter limits on greenhouse-gas pollution from the electric, industrial, and oil and gas sectors — elements that were added to the bill following the demise of SB-200. Similar limits on pollution from the transportation and buildings sectors were dropped amid opposition from Polis.
As Democratic lawmakers scrambled to pass HB-1266 in the final days of the session, scientists at NOAA again sounded the alarm over global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, which have reached a monthly average of 419 parts per million. That’s estimated to be the highest level in more than 4 million years.
“If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory.
Such warnings, say the environmental groups who clashed with Polis over the strict mandates on polluters contained in SB-200, are why it’s urgently necessary for Colorado to do its part to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“HB-1266 makes progress on Colorado’s mandate to address air pollution in disproportionately-impacted communities,” said Pam Kiely, associate vice president of U.S. climate efforts at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Yet even with the passage of this bill, Colorado remains far off track from achieving its science-based climate goals. As intensifying climate impacts threaten Colorado’s communities and economy, the Air Quality Control Commission has a responsibility to implement existing law and adopt a comprehensive set of regulations that meets the urgency of the climate crisis.”