Gov. Polis signs climate bill, issues order affirming cap-and-trade opposition

New law ‘does not represent a change in philosophy,’ executive order states

By: - July 2, 2021 2:13 pm
Gov. Jared Polis

Gov. Jared Polis delivers his State of the State address in the House chambers at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Feb. 17, 2021.(Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Without fanfare on Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced that he had signed into law a major climate-change bill championed by top Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups — but also signaled, yet again, his disagreement with many of those groups on how best to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The governor’s office said in a press release on Friday that Polis had signed 19 bills into law, including House Bill 21-1266, a measure strengthening regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in several key sectors and requiring a variety of new environmental-justice efforts at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. HB-1266 was the last bill passed by lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly before it adjourned on June 12.


The bill represented a compromise between Polis and Democratic lawmakers, including bill sponsors Sen. Faith Winter and Rep. Dominique Jackson, after Polis had threatened to veto an earlier bill, Senate Bill 21-200. The battle was the latest in a long-running conflict over climate policy that has pitted Polis and many of the state’s largest business and industrial groups against environmentalists and progressives, who favor more aggressive regulations on polluters than the state has proposed to date.

With some reservations, environmental groups cheered the passage of HB-1266, which they say will bolster the state’s efforts to reduce emissions, particularly in the electricity, oil and gas and industrial sectors. The bill directs the state’s Air Quality Control Commission to adopt additional rules in relation to near-term emissions cuts and reducing pollution in “disproportionately impacted communities” that are home to higher percentages of low-income people and people of color.

“We’re thrilled that Gov. Polis signed another landmark climate and environmental justice bill into law, but our work isn’t done,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement Friday. “Alongside the unprecedented coalition of more than 100 groups who came together to support this legislation, we urge Gov. Polis and our state leaders to continue working to reduce pollution, advance environmental justice, and hit our pollution reduction targets — all of which are necessary if we’re going to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change.”

Lawmakers send climate bill to governor after GOP delay tactics, misinformation

But Polis also made clear on Friday that his past disagreements with environmental groups, some of which have lobbied for a comprehensive cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions, haven’t changed. In an executive order accompanying his signing of HB-1266, he once again affirmed his opposition to cap-and-trade, officially barring state employees from “work(ing) on” such a plan.

“State Agencies shall focus on executing existing policies laid out in the Roadmap and State law,” Polis’ order states. “State Agencies and employees shall not work on any State-based, economy-wide cap-and-trade programs as such programs have been neither developed nor authorized under Colorado law and are contrary to the position of my administration.”

The order’s prohibition on an economy-wide cap-and-trade program has little practical effect. HB-1266 does not call for such a program, and over the last two years, the AQCC — a state commission made up of part-time volunteers who are appointed by Polis — has already repeatedly rejected cap-and-trade proposals at the governor’s urging. The administration’s full-time staff at the Air Pollution Control Division has also consistently opposed such an approach.

In recent days, however, conservative groups had lobbied for Polis to veto the bill by falsely claiming that it would “establish a stand-alone emissions cap-and-trade system.”

In fact, HB-1266 authorizes only a narrow, voluntary emissions-trading program for a small subset of polluters in the industrial sector, such as cement and steel manufacturers, which account for less than 1% of the state’s overall annual emissions.

In his executive order, Polis championed HB-1266 as a bill that is fully aligned with the “roadmap” for greenhouse gas emissions reductions that his administration finalized earlier this year.

“HB 21-1266 supports the progress that my administration has made to memorialize the
Roadmap’s emissions targets for the industrial, oil and gas, and electricity sectors and is
consistent with our State’s policy and approach,” Polis wrote. “HB 21-1266 does not represent a change in philosophy nor does it allow for an economy-wide cap-and-trade or cap-and-invest program.”

The bill creates within CDPHE 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. Though the bill contains stricter limits on the electric, industrial, and oil and gas sectors, similar restrictions on pollution from the transportation and buildings sectors had been dropped amid opposition from Polis.


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.