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Falling short of state’s own goals, Gov. Polis updates Colorado climate roadmap

February 27, 2024, 7:25 am

An RTD train departs the Westminster light-rail station as Gov. Jared Polis and state energy and transportation officials give an update on the state’s climate-action “roadmap” on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline).

Colorado will continue to pursue a laundry list of new policies aimed at helping the state meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals, Gov. Jared Polis said Monday — but his administration shows little sign of fundamentally shifting course on an approach that appears likely to fall short of the first of those targets next year.

Flanked by the state’s top transportation and energy officials, Polis announced an updated “roadmap” for climate action at a light-rail station in Westminster on Monday, emphasizing the climate and air-quality benefits of his administration’s plans to encourage more abundant, higher-density housing during his second term.

“We know that with innovation and collaboration we can tackle the challenges we face, including climate change, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with the updated roadmap,” Polis said. “We can fight for clean air, save people money, create new jobs and ensure a healthy, vibrant future that’s more livable, sustainable and affordable.”

An updated version of a document first released in 2021, the 131-page “Roadmap 2.0” outlines more than 40 actions various state agencies will take to tackle climate change over the next three years, as part of what Polis has billed as a “whole-of-government approach” to reducing emissions. The policies under consideration stretch across a wide range of industries, from electric power generation and transportation to heavy industry and agriculture.

Some of the proposed actions, including an extension of existing rules to require electric utilities to cut emissions 95% by 2040, are specific, while others — like promises to maximize federal investments or “enable the clean hydrogen economy” — are broader statements of intent, or instructions to state agencies to develop plans, studies, “frameworks” and “strategies.” Though the roadmap itself isn’t a binding document, some of its action items are subject to statutory deadlines imposed by state lawmakers in the General Assembly.

Lukewarm reception

Climate scientists have warned that to avert the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, governments around the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by midcentury. A landmark climate bill passed by Colorado Democrats and signed into law by Polis in 2019 committed the state to a series of targets roughly in line with that scientific consensus.

But environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers have clashed with the Polis administration over the law’s implementation. Critics, many of whom favored sweeping carbon-pricing mechanisms or a series of strict mandates and “backstops” to enforce emissions limits on polluters, charged Polis with a lax approach to enforcing the targets. Some of the policies proposed in the state’s first climate-action roadmap, like a rule requiring large employers to make an effort to reduce car commutes, were dropped amid pushback from conservative business groups.

Polis, touting the state’s “enormous progress” in reducing emissions, stressed on Monday that 95% of the actions proposed in the first roadmap had been completed.

But a state analysis published in December acknowledged that Colorado is likely to fall well short of the first statutory target set by the 2019 climate law, a statewide reduction of 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Even when taking into account some proposed near-term state actions, current projections show Colorado achieving only a 21% reduction below 2005 levels next year.

“We’re always excited about setting goals that are ambitious, but that are reachable,” Polis said Monday. “And if a goal is too easy to reach, then it’s not worth setting.”

Colorado environmental groups gave the updated roadmap a lukewarm reception on Monday. In a joint statement, advocates from Conservation Colorado, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Colorado Sierra Club said the document contains “strong policy concepts” but “falls short of delivering on the state’s climate goals.”

“Now is not the time to be content with only making it most of the way to our climate targets,” the groups’ statement said. “Colorado urgently needs a policy agenda calibrated to achieve or beat our climate targets in order to bring more clean energy opportunities to Coloradans while also protecting them from climate harm.”

Auden Schendler, a former commissioner on the state’s air quality board, offered qualified praise for the roadmap in a statement released through the governor’s office Monday. Polis declined to reappoint Schendler, a self-described “climate hawk,” to the Air Quality Control Commission in 2020, as part of a shakeup of the panel widely criticized by environmental advocates.

“Of course, it’s not perfect: climate is a uniquely tricky and wicked problem. But it presents real, if difficult, solutions,” said Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. “We’re behind it, and we are going to help implement it, and build on it to do even more.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network 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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