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Democrats drop lawnmower ban, advance package of climate change regs in Colorado Senate

March 17, 2022, 10:42 am
Colorado has reduced emissions in the electricity sector largely by shifting away from coal-fired generation towards renewables like wind and solar (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline).

Democrats in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on Tuesday advanced a wide-ranging package aimed at boosting the state’s efforts to fight climate change — but not before dropping the provision that had attracted the fiercest opposition from Republicans.

As originally written, Senate Bill 22-138, sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, would have prohibited the sale of “small off-road engines” — typically used in lawn and garden equipment — in areas, like the Denver metro region, that fail to meet federal air-quality standards, beginning in 2030.

Chris Hansen

Hansen, however, introduced an amendment to remove the measure, which he told Colorado Public Radio had become a “distraction.” Lawmakers on the committee approved that amendment and two others, ultimately advancing the amended SB-138 on a 3-2 party-line vote.

The highly inefficient consumer-grade engines in mowers, leaf blowers and other equipment, have increasingly come under scrutiny from environmental groups and regulators in recent years. Using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour emits more air pollution than driving a car for 15 hours and over 1,000 miles, according to statistics from the California Air Resources Board.

Last year, California became the first state to phase out use of gas-powered lawn equipment — its ban will go into effect in 2024 — and lawmakers in New York and Illinois may soon follow suit. Despite SB-138’s much longer phaseout, conservative groups attacked Hansen’s proposal for wanting to “control how you decide to cut your lawn.”

The amended bill would still create tax credits covering up to 30% of the purchase price of battery-powered equipment.

“We believe that technology will advance at such a pace and the free market will accomplish the same effect in just a handful of years,” said Weld County Commissioner Scott James, representing a coalition of Colorado county governments that had objected to the measure.

While much of the state’s climate mitigation efforts since Democrats took full control of state government in 2018 have focused on large industries like electricity generation, transportation and upstream oil and gas production, SB-138 aims to make progress in other sectors, including agriculture and carbon sequestration. It would also require insurance companies and Colorado’s public pension fund to step up their efforts to assess climate-related risks.

“We need to continue to work hard on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado,” Hansen told his fellow lawmakers Tuesday. “This body has made great progress over the last few years, but to my mind there were several elements that had not received the attention that they deserved.”

Other provisions in the bill seek to expand opportunities for Colorado farmers and ranchers to pursue “agrivoltaics” — developments that combine solar energy generation and agricultural production — or participate in carbon-offset programs. It would also give the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission more authority to oversee “injection wells” for the purposes of sequestering climate-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide underground.

Conservative business groups urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, echoing their previous objections to climate legislation including House Bill 19-1261, the 2019 law that enshrined a series of greenhouse gas reduction targets into state law and charged the Air Quality Control Commission with implementing rules to achieve the goals.

“This bill continues the trend of enabling the AQCC to regulate all aspects of human activity,” said Anneliese Steel, corporate affairs director for Colorado Concern. “This regulatory trend is very concerning to our members. There will come a tipping point when the cost of doing business in Colorado is too much to bear, and we lose out to more business-friendly states.”

Pressure from Polis

SB-138 would update the greenhouse gas targets set by HB-1261; in addition to existing emissions goals for 2025, 2030 and 2050, the bill would set two other interim targets for 2028 and 2040.

While those targets enjoy broad support among Colorado Democrats and environmental groups, advocates have consistently clashed with Gov. Jared Polis over the bill’s implementation. Many groups have called for more aggressive timelines and stricter mandates on polluters, while the Polis administration has embraced a more “flexible” approach and has delayed or withdrawn several key rulemaking efforts.

“Our state passed these protective laws, but the responsible agencies need to stop delaying the rulemakings, create and properly enforce the needed regulations,” Micah Parkin of climate activist group 350 Colorado said in a statement Tuesday. “The world’s scientists have warned of a shrinking timeframe to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C to protect our communities from the worst impacts. Our state’s emission reduction goals are not even in line with that global goal, and still we are not on track to achieve them.”

In Tuesday’s committee hearing, Polis administration officials pressed unsuccessfully for an amendment to remove the 2028 reduction target from the bill. 

“We have a lot of concerns that introducing a target in between would really create challenges for the processes that are already in place,” Keith Hay, director of policy for the Colorado Energy Office, told lawmakers.

Though Hansen asked the committee to consider an amendment stripping the 2028 target, Democrats, led by committee chair Sen. Faith Winter of Thornton, declined to move it.

“I am worried about our state meeting both our 2025 and our 2030 goals,” Winter said. “Especially with the industrial rulemaking being delayed and the clean-trucks rulemaking being delayed, I’d be more comfortable if the goals stayed in.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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