By Chris Romer
The states hardest hit by climate change are the ones that are leading the charge on progressive climate policy and innovative industry solutions. Rather than lose heart after reading alarming U.N. reports, or be paralyzed by the natural disasters hitting their communities, these states are looking these challenges square in the eye and demanding climate action.
Nowhere is this more true than in my home state of Colorado.
Ask any Colorado native (or one of our many transplants) what they love about the state, and they’ll say something about the outdoors. We’re all here to ski, hike and enjoy some of the most pristine nature in the country. But Colorado is facing the impact and effects of climate change more dramatically than other states, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the Colorado way of life is under threat.
This summer, the temperature in Denver and Colorado Springs has increased by 2.6 degrees since 1970, higher than the national average. Earlier this year, Colorado experienced the three biggest wildfires in state history. At the same time, the state is facing disastrous flooding, worsening summer smog and a prolonged drought that threatens the economic livelihood of farmers and the drinking water of over 1.5 million people. Just last month, we posted the second-worst air quality reading in the world.
This isn’t political; it’s science. The time for platitudes is passed. It’s time to act.
Colorado has used each environmental setback as an opportunity to do just that. New legislation, ambitious environmental organizations and a genuine will by state industry to do right by the environment has led to the state developing a framework that emphasizes accurate measurement, transparency and accountability for making real progress against climate change.
Colorado has been busy making hard choices that are leading to positive change and real results. It’s time for the rest of the country to take notice.
Public Meets Private
Colorado made waves in contemporary climate conversations during its 2019 legislative session when Governor Jared Polis signed into law the Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution.
The plan lays out the state’s goals of reducing “2025 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26%, 2030 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50%, and 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% of the levels of statewide greenhouse gas emissions that existed in 2005.”
The key to hitting these goals? Methane mitigation.
With most of the media attention on carbon emissions, very little attention has been paid to methane. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report and concluded that methane emissions were now at their highest levels in 800,000 years, due in large part to industrial-scale farms.
Human activity, such as leakage from oil and gas drilling, accounts for approximately 30% of the rise in temperature since pre-industrial times.
In 2014, Colorado approved the first methane regulations in the country, making it the first state in the U.S. to pass written laws and put political weight behind reducing methane emissions from the energy sector. As President Biden looks for ways to rein in methane emissions nationally, federal regulators are looking at regulations developed by Colorado.
With goals set for reducing GHG and emissions, businesses are responding.
Oil companies in Colorado are already operating at emissions levels that beat regulatory requirements. Now they’re looking for ways to improve beyond what regulations require, and they have made climate innovation a cornerstone of their businesses.
Earlier this year, Xcel Energy announced that it would provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. They launched a pilot project to purchase a portion of its gas to be used in Colorado from Denver-based Crestone Peak Resources in order to deliver a “cleaner energy product.”
This was the first utility in the country to announce a goal of delivering carbon-free electricity. Better still, Excel’s plan will save their energy customers $213 million — all while taking two coal-fired power plants offline and delivering cleaner energy.
Xcel Energy may be one example of private industry saving the planet while also growing their business, but it’s far from the only company that has been able to marry environmental and economic excellence.
In Colorado, oil and gas producers like Civitas Resources need to thrive while simultaneously working toward net zero. Meanwhile, ski resorts in Colorado are leading the industry in being vocal about seeking climate solutions and lobbying for change.
Vail Resorts set the following 2030 goals: “zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero operating impact on forests and habitat.” With sustainability and eliminating their carbon footprint at the forefront of their business operations, they’ve also banded together with the largest ski industry leaders to form a unified front in combating climate change.
The Centennial State shows us what we can accomplish when we make policies that are both practical and economical.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
Colorado’s climate policies are a work in progress, but we are beginning to move the needle. The state’s approach to climate change is a practical framework that we can scale nationally.
Here’s what Colorado has accomplished in the last few years that we can replicate in other states: push for climate action simultaneously across private and public sectors, tackle issues sector-by-sector and continue to look at the impacts on average citizen’s lives to determine what changes need to be made.
Colorado is helping to chart a path that the United States can adopt in order to lead a global effort to not simply curb, but to overcome climate change.
In a polemic era of deep divisiveness, Colorado has found a way to establish middle ground across business verticals based on one common interest: a deep respect for our state’s natural beauty and the industries that support it. The state has left denial behind and is firmly in the solution phase. We would all do well to pay attention and learn.