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This is from the April 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.

by Allen Best

With some moments of strangeness, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on April 16 continued the work of creating a roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

HB-1261, called the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, was adopted by Colorado last year, setting ambitious statewide and economy-wide targets of at least 26% reductions in emissions by 2025 and then 50% by 2030.

All of this is compared to 2005 levels.

That 2025 goal is actually within striking distance. Given all the coal plant retirements in the next several years and the uptick in electric vehicles and further energy-efficiency belt tightening, the state expects to be at 18% reduction.

But with a tip of the shoe leather to R. Crumb, it will still be a keep-on-truckin’ big step to hit 26%—and even more to hit 50% just a few years later. It’s not just replacing coal-burning power plants with renewable energy. It also involves the transportation and building sectors, oil and gas operations, plus agriculture along with waste and refrigerants. It involves population dynamics and a host of other factors—including the impact of covid-19. Although devastating in many ways, it has been a blessing in improving air quality.

Another law, SB 19-096, also adopted in 2019,  requires inventories of greenhouse gas emissions every two years and requires forecasts, creating a stronger data base than the inventories conducted previously by the Colroado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Also of relevance is SB 19-181, which directed the Air Quality Control Comission to “review its rules to consider whether to adopt more stringent rules and to adopt rules to minimize emissions of methane and other hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and oxides of nitrogen.”

All participants participated remotely through the Zoom program: Chuck Grobe, the chairman, from Craig; Elise Jones from Boulder County, Auden Schendler from Basalt, and so on.

Those testifying, too: WildEarth Guardians’ Jeremy Nichols in a colorful buffalo shirt, Jane Bauder, a Logan County commissioner, presumably testifying from Sterling; and then Christy Douglas from Commerce City. “It’s really strange and it’s nice to be in my pajamas,” she said, a photo of an empty street behind her.

The board took testimony. A handful of county commissioners from rural areas with oil and gas economies spoke—Tom Jankovsky from Garfield County, Ray Beck from Moffat County, Jon Becker from Morgan County, among others, sounding very much like one. “One size does not fit all,” all of them said. They said air quality in rural areas is better than in urban areas and discussed how important tax revenues from oil and gas drilling are to their governments and economies.

Too, they argued for slowing the process. “Give our communities a pause,” said a representative from Rangely, referring to the impact of covid-19. The thrust of their comments was that oil and gas operators are regulated enough already.

The commenters did not identify what they were specifically objecting, but they echo the lawsuit filed by several of the communities in March that seeks to overturn regulations 7 and 9  that were adopted by the commission in December. Courthouse News reported in March that the regulations were designed to give individual  counties authority to tailor regulations to fit their needs but also mandates to cut down air pollution from oil and gas regulation. The lawsuit objected to a one-size-fits-all approach.

In their talking points, environmental advocates were less consistent , but they also tended not to reference specific regulations.

Several mentioned a Harvard University study released earlier in the week that linked higher levels of air pollution to higher rates of covid-19 deaths. But from Battlement Mesa, Betsy Leonard testified that even rural areas can have problems with air quality. “This is my home, and air quality here affects me just as it would someone living on the Front Range,” she said.

Several environmental advocates spoke more directly to the roadmap to greenhouse gas reductions.

“Let’s be incredibly aggressive,” said Jan Rose. “We need to move into negative emissions.” Marie Venner urged sharp focus on the 2025 reductions. Ean Tafoya called the covid-19 crisis a “dress rehearsal for climate change.”

What the state staff must do by late September, according to the current timeline, is assemble a roadmap for how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a state.

The Air Quality Control Commission will consider adoption of Regulation No. 22. The provisions detail the mandatory greenhouse gas monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements. It also seeks ot pick off the low-hanging fruit by phasing out hydrofluorocarbons.

This applies to many sectors: landfills, refrigeration, industrial wastewater treatment, and agriculture operations. Also, emissions of imported electricity. This would apply to Tri-State Generation & Transmission, for example, with its imported power from Wyoming.  It also applies to oil and gas operations. The formal testimony on this will be in May.

Farms, forests, and other natural and working landscapes pose both challenges and opportunities. Measuring emissions in these areas is more difficult than emissions from smokestacks, tailpipes, and concentrated activities. The baseline is     less clear. But these landscapes also present an opportunity for sequestering 5% to 20% of the CO2 emissions from Colorado.

Zach Pierce, the climate aide to Gov. Jared Polis, told the air quality commissioners that working landscapes represent one of the “really big tools.” To that end, a task force of representatives of state agencies concerned with agriculture and natural resources will be convened along with others from the public and private sectors to examine strategies and possibilities.

Commission members had questions about the carbon market levers: cap and trade or carbon pricing of some sort.

Jones, a Boulder County commissioner, wondered whether the state is looking at how to avoid digging the climate crisis deeper as Colorado emerges from the covid-crisis. Most certainly, responded Will Toor, the director of the Colorado Energy Office.

And then a question friendly to the oil and gas sector. If Colorado shut down those operations, won’t operations just be conducted somewhere else?

Toor said that Colorado itself is a very small part of global emissions, but it can have an outsized impact on creating solutions. “Climate change requires multiple actors across the globe to move forward, and to the extent that we are able to enact policies and approaches that can become examples for other areas, I think it is certainly possible we can have a larger impact.” Other jurisdictions, he added “have the potential to learn from the example of Colorado.”

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