Back in the fall of 2016, when it looked like Hillary Clinton would win the White House and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper might join her cabinet, I wrote a story for the Colorado Statesman pointing out the interesting timing of Hickenlooper’s proposed executive order on climate change.
True, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan was held up in the courts with Colorado already on track to meet its demands, but a Clinton presidency (and Supreme Court pick) would have cemented the CPP and made the United States the runaway global clean-energy leader under the Paris Accord.
So some political experts speculated Hickenlooper was merely grandstanding to raise his national profile and improve his standing with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — perhaps making him more palatable as Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior.
Remember, environmentalists are not the biggest fans of the former oil and gas geologist turned brewer turned mayor turned governor. They say he too often backs the state’s oil and gas industry over renewables, and they derisively have dubbed him Gov. “Frackenlooper” for filling his mouth with fracking fluids to demonstrate the safety of the controversial process.
Some observers speculated Hickenlooper just floated the draft of an executive order on climate change without ever really intending to sign it.
Fast forward to July of 2017. Donald Trump is president, the CPP is dead, the EPA is on its way to being gutted, Trump is pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord, and Hickenlooper on Tuesday announced an executive order (pdf) reducing Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025, exceeding the targets of the Paris Accord.
Democrats clearly are hoping to cash in on an anti-Trump, pro-environment wave among Millennials and progressives sickened by the last six months of regulation slashing and fossil-fuel boosting.
Hickenlooper did battle with his own attorney general, Republican Cynthia Coffman, over the Clean Power Plan, challenging her decision to join other states suing to block the EPA proposal. Now Coffman is reportedly weighing a run for governor in 2018 as Hickenlooper leaves office due to term limits.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, is running for governor on a 100-percent renewable energy by 2040 platform. His campaign got a boost Monday when Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter decided not to run for governor and not to defend his seat in Congress.
Hickenlooper’s executive order focuses on the state’s utility sector and energy efficiency in Colorado buildings, and it accelerates the state’s move toward electric cars. Now Hickenlooper is receiving some praise from the conservation community.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement:
“Gov. Hickenlooper’s action today on climate continues to show the West and the world that Colorado can reduce our carbon pollution while keeping our electricity rates low, growing our economy and building new clean energy sectors that have already created tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. Colorado has led in addressing climate change before with the state’s Renewable Energy Standard, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act and state methane rules — and now we will continue to show that the Colorado way protects our health, our environment and our economy. The governor’s leadership in reducing emissions in our state, joining with other states across the country through the Climate Alliance, demonstrates that we take climate impacts very seriously. Longer and hotter droughts, severe storms, flooding and increased wildfires are too harmful to stand by and do nothing.
“We praise Gov. Hickenlooper for his leadership in setting strong and measurable actions addressing climate change and ensuring Colorado acts to achieve needed greenhouse gas reductions. This shows that our state joins with other countries and states heeding the advice of the world’s scientists on what is necessary to avoid 2 degrees Celsius in warming. We know from the Western States Survey conducted by Colorado College and released in 2017 that two-thirds of Colorado voters believe dependence on fossil fuels is a problem and a majority want to see more solar and wind power. The governor is representing our citizens well in taking clear action to clean our air. We urge President Trump and other governors, mayors and elected leaders to take heed and follow suit in immediately taking effective action.”
The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 13 states and Puerto Rico committed to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement. Conservation Colorado issued this statement:
“Times like these demand decisive action, and we are pleased to see Governor Hickenlooper join the burgeoning movement among states, cities, and businesses to tackle climate change,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “The actions that the governor has announced will not only help us fight climate change, but will bring clean energy jobs and business innovation to the Centennial State. With today’s announcement, President Trump has become even more isolated from the world, whose leaders are taking aggressive action to fight climate change. We are excited to work with Governor Hickenlooper to meet or exceed all of these important targets.”
And here’s the full press release from Hickenlooper’s office:
DENVER — Tuesday, July 11, 2017 — Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed an executive order committing the state to climate action. He also announced that Colorado will join the U.S. Climate Alliance.
“Coloradans value clean air and clean water. Our strong economy is a reflection of how our exhilarating outdoors attracts young entrepreneurs and the talent they need for their businesses,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The vast majority of our residents, and indeed the country, expect us to help lead the way toward a clean and affordable energy future. In this process, we no doubt can address climate change while keeping a priority on household budgets.”
The executive order declares it to be the goal of the State of Colorado to achieve the following:
Reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by more than 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025;
Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 25 percent by 2025 and 35 percent by 2030 from 2012 levels; and
Achieve electricity savings of two percent of total electricity sales per year by 2020.
Colorado also is committing to:
Work strategically with any interested utility or electric cooperative on a voluntary basis to maximize use of renewable energy without increasing costs to taxpayers;
Create a statewide electric vehicle plan by January 1, 2018;
Develop a greenhouse gas emissions tracking rule through the Department of Public Health and Environment;
Identify opportunities to partner with local governments on locally-led climate resilience actions;
Institutionalize the state’s greening government initiative;
Formalize and expand upon cross-agency actions to provide economic development strategies and other supportive services to communities impacted by the changing energy landscape, and submit a written annual report detailing those efforts and accomplishments;
Incorporate the emissions reductions goals into the Colorado Climate Plan and solicit stakeholder input regarding additional measures or strategies to advance these goals.
To view the complete executive order, click here.
However, some environmentalists are critical of the order, saying it actually falls short of what Hickenlooper’s predecessor, Bill Ritter — who launched the state’s New Energy Economy — put in place years ago.
“[Hickenlooper’s executive order] actually, now officially and legally, undercuts Ritter’s EO,” green activist Gary Wockner emailed, linking to an opinion piece on the topic. “Ritter was at 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
“EO’s are official and legally binding unless they are changed by a future EO, which Hick just did.” Wockner added. “At best, Hick’s EO — of 26 percent by 2025 and 35 percent by 2035 — is a wash, but may be a step backward. And in either case, emissions are going up, not down, and so it’s quite a stretch for Hick to think he’s going to make emissions go down.”
Colorado Senate Republicans also blasted Hickenlooper’s order, but for entirely different reasons. Here’s a press release from the Colorado Senate Republicans:
Denver—Today, Colorado Senate Republicans expressed disappointment with the governor’s surprise decision to circumvent state law by issuing a unilateral executive order significantly increasing the state’s existing emissions reduction goals.
“This is not Washington, D.C,” said Senate President Kevin J. Grantham (R-Cañon City), “and here in Colorado we do not govern by executive order.”
Colorado already has ambitious carbon reduction benchmarks in place, with the statutory goal of 30% renewable energy by the year 2030. That goal can only be changed lawfully by new legislation, after a through debate and consideration by the people’s elected representatives in the General Assembly.
“The governor’s failure to proceed in an open, collaborative, bipartisan way means this policy never will have the stamp of public legitimacy it needs, and that it most likely will be challenged in court,” added Grantham. “This unilateral action seems out of character for a governor whose overall successes stem from his willingness to take centrist positions, follow common sense, and work collaboratively with all parties.”
The governor’s announcement, made before a hand-picked group of environmental activists, is seen by some as a response to weeks of political pressure from California billionaire and Democrat kingmaker Tom Steyer. Steyer wants Colorado to join the so-called US Climate Alliance, made up of states that want to comply with a never-ratified, recently-nullified Paris Climate accord.
Others in Senate leadership also voiced concerns about the Governor’s actions.
“The governor, today, implicitly admitted that the state’s renewal energy goals cannot be accelerated without closing additional power plants ahead of schedule and creating substantial unemployment is rural communities,” said Majority Whip John Cooke (R-Greeley) “It’s hypocrisy for one arm of state government to consciously destroy jobs in rural communities, while another arm of government promises assistance to mitigate the horrible impact of that policy.”
Assistant Majority Leader Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Energy and the Environment, said he didn’t believe Hickenlooper had the authority to change the state’s renewable energy goals through an executive order. And he warned against other efforts by the governor to shortcut the public process.
“The governor would be ill-advised to attempt to ram that change through the Public Utilities Commission without General Assembly approval. Any rubber-stamp action by the governor’s appointees on PUC will be met by strong opposition – in court and most likely at the ballot box,” said Scott. “The governor’s failure to proceed in an open, collaborative, bipartisan way means this policy never will have the stamp of public legitimacy it needs — and that it most likely will be challenged in court.”