Colorado signs on to U.S. Climate Alliance, joining states committed to exceeding Trump’s rejected Paris climate targets

Source: By Bruce Finley, Denver Post • Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017

Colorado on Tuesday joined the growing number of states and cities committed to meeting or exceeding greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the international Paris climate treaty that President Donald Trump rejects.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order compelling a greenhouse gas emissions cut before 2025 by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels. Hickenlooper also declared Colorado will sign on to the U.S. Climate Alliance of states and companies countering the Trump administration by shifting more quickly to wind and solar energy. This move added Western heft to widening efforts to try to ease the impacts of rising temperatures.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signs an ...
Andy Cross, The Denver PostColorado Governor John Hickenlooper signs an executive order at Red Rocks Park, July 11, 2017, committing the state to climate action to reduce greenhouse gases by more than 26 percent by 2025, reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 25 percent by 2025, and 35 percent by 2035.

Colorado will accelerate work toward climate goals “regardless of what the federal government decides to do,” Hickenlooper said before signing the order at Red Rocks Park, overlooking metro Denver.

“We will tap into this market force that is already moving,” Hickenlooper said, emphasizing robust economic activity around wind and solar energy as an alternative to burning more fossil fuels that increase carbon and other heat-trapping pollution.

“This is a grassroots-based movement,” he said. A dozen or so other states and hundreds of cities already had declared they’ll meet or exceed Paris treaty targets. “That groundswell will build into a national movement.”

Trump is trying to back the United States out of its treaty commitments to help nations of the world combat potentially ruinous climate change. White House officials in June initiated a process to withdraw from the Paris treaty, which isn’t expected to happen before November 2020, near when Trump could be re-elected. Trump has said he’s open to renegotiating U.S. carbon cut commitments but that the treaty imposes intolerable financial burdens on Americans.

The landmark 2015 Paris treaty obligates the United States by 2025 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

Governors of New York, California and Washington launched the Climate Alliance last month, after Trump announced his intention to end U.S. participation in global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide is a main greenhouse gas that traps heat, changing the climate. Other states joining the movement include Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Climate Alliance members are promoting pollution control, sharing best practices and implementing new programs to cut emissions from all sectors. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and municipal leaders nationwide have joined the effort.

Hickenlooper’s order set the overall greenhouse gas reduction goal of 26 percent by 2025 and also a target of cutting carbon pollution at electricity power plants by 25 percent before 2025 and 35 percent by 2030, measured against 2012 levels. In Colorado, 55 percent to 60 percent of electricity currently comes from burning coal.

The order directs state agencies to work with utilities to maximize use of renewable energy voluntarily without increasing costs to taxpayers. It calls for a state plan by 2018 to increase use of electric vehicles.

Colorado will create “charging corridors” along highways “to reduce range anxiety” — the fear among electric vehicle drivers that batteries will die, Hickenlooper said. “You’ll be able to drive an electric car from Colorado to the Pacific, and from Denver to Moffat County, without fear.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment now must develop a system for tracking greenhouse gas emissions, Hickenlooper said. And mining towns hurt by a shift away from coal can receive more training for displaced workers and help improving broadband communications connections.

This order “is not a mandate” for utilities, Hickenlooper said. “We’re really trying to build a collaborative framework. … These are market forces. This is not government imposing a regime. … This is the future of jobs for our kids and for our grandkids.”

Colorado already has cut greenhouse gas emissions by thousands of tons a year, and Hickenlooper called greater cuts essential for clean air and an economy increasingly dependent on a healthy natural environment. “This is our foundation. We want to keep building on it and create jobs that can’t be exported overseas.”

Environment groups and Democrat lawmakers applauded the action.

“A real leadership move,” Western Resource Advocates president Jon Goldin-Dubois said, pointing to climate-driven impacts of droughts and intensifying wildfires that are “daily occurrences here in the West.”

Republican senators chafed.

“It takes us backwards” by trying to increase reliance on renewable energy without working with lawmakers, said Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, the assistant majority leader who chairs the Committee on Energy and the Environment.

Colorado lawmakers have required investor-owned utilities to generate 30 percent of their energy using renewable sources by 2020.

Colorado Mining Association president Stan Dempsey questioned Hickenlooper’s assertion that shifting off coal — in favor of wind, natural gas and solar energy — is a matter of rolling with “market forces.” The booming wind and solar industries benefit from federal government subsidies, he said.

“The only way this will be done,” he said of the emissions reduction goals, “is pure muscle — forcing things at the Public Utilities Commission. What coal-fired power plants and electricity generating stations are going to be affected?”

Yet fossil fuels industries also benefit from government support, Conservation Colorado director Pete Maysmith countered.

Trump administration rejection of international efforts to slow climate change clashes with what people want and economic momentum in Western states, Maysmith said.

“The nation actually is moving the other direction,” he said. “You now have governors and mayors saying it is wrong to walk away from the Paris agreement.”