Colorado is lagging behind its greenhouse gas air pollution targets

Colorado has lagged alarmingly behind legal targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 2025 and 2030, state officials show in a new progress assessment, prompting clean air advocates to renew demands for more aggressive action on the driving habits of consumers and businesses and a shift to transit spending.

The projected gap is wider in transportation, where state estimates put 2025 carbon dioxide emissions broadly unchanged from current levels unless new stronger policies are added. State air pollution control officials have estimated that Colorado must cut 10 million tons of annual carbon emissions from transportation to meet legislative targets of 26 percent cuts from 2005 levels by 2025.

“We have a pretty big gap,” said Elise Jones, a member of the Air Quality Control Commission, in response to the commission’s progress report. “It seems we have to double the transport”.

“Everything has to be on the table,” said Clay Clarke, director of the climate change program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, who presented the progress report to the committee.

While Colorado is nationally lauded for scheduling aggressive shutdowns of coal-fired plants in the largest emissions sector, power generation, such closures may need to be accelerated further for the state to meet greenhouse gas targets, critics noted. . An analysis of Western Resource Advocates’ new progress report shows a 1.3 million tonnes per year carbon emissions gap in projections for 2025.

“Basically the rules that have already come into effect are not doing what they said they would do,” said Heidi Leathwood, climate policy analyst for the nonprofit advocacy group 350 Colorado. “This shows the importance of making all rules strict enough to allow for a generous margin of error. The world cannot afford not to reach the reduction targets ”.

Given its poor record so far, Leathwood said, Colorado shouldn’t support power companies building new natural gas power plants to fill gaps while shutting down coal plants. Nor should they allow for more oil and gas drilling, or rely solely on the slow process of switching to electric vehicles to clean up the transportation sector.

“The state should put everything it has behind getting people off the streets and make sure everyone has safe and affordable transportation, bicycle and pedestrian options,” Leathwood said.

The evident results in the transport sector, which is now almost equal to energy production in its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, highlight the frustrations of environmental advocates who say the state has canceled or delayed the adoption of regulations that would have had an impact.

State officials in 2021 withdrew a proposal to limit commuting and business travel with large employers, after stiff opposition from business groups, even though initial plans did not include enforcement mechanisms. State air pollution control officials have also postponed the adoption of so-called California-like Advanced Clean Truck rules until 2023, which will guide owners of large fleets towards replacing diesel vehicles and other fossil fuels with fuel sources. electricity or other cleaner energy.

The progress report showed that a key measure of transport’s contribution to greenhouse gases for global warming, vehicle miles or VMT, is climbing again after seeing a significant drop at the start of the pandemic. Many commuters are now working from home, but back to school, personal errands, or other travel are pushing VMT again in a way that negates many of the benefits of adopting cleaner electric vehicles early.

Environmental groups and some AQCC commissioners have urged state staff to push for the early adoption of another set of clean vehicle rules, Advanced Clean Cars II, which is not currently scheduled for consideration by the commission in 2022 or 2023.

Colorado currently operates under a first phase of California’s clean car rules, which require automakers to sell an increasing percentage of electric vehicles in their fleets or buy credits from manufacturers like Tesla who produce more. The second phase of the clean-car rules, already evolving in California, would ban the sale of fossil-fueled cars altogether by 2035 and accelerate the percentages of electric vehicles sold before then.

All the additional moves, the environmental groups point out, would also help Colorado more quickly meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on ozone, which is produced by a combination of emissions from vehicles, power plants and industrial chimneys, smoke from fires and sun. Colorado’s Northern Front Range was officially placed on Friday in the “severe” category of ozone failure, triggering new clearance requirements for a wider range of air pollutants and ordering Front Range stations to sell cleaner reformulated gas by 2024.

Despite acknowledging continued ozone violations, Governor Jared Polis last week fired a letter to the EPA opposing the mandatory switch to reformulated gas and threatening to sue, saying Colorado consumers shouldn’t pay the extra pennies. per gallon for cleaner gas.

Jones reminded the air quality committee that in 2020 he had promised that if it became clear that Colorado was lagging behind its greenhouse gas targets, the commission would take stronger action to limit emissions.

“We passed a resolution to say that we would fill in the gaps when we found them. We just found them, ”Jones said.

Commissioner Patrick Cummins noted the state’s long-standing goal of registering nearly 1 million electric vehicles by 2030, while the progress report shows 47,000 on the road by the end of 2021.

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“This is a clock thing, it keeps ticking,” Cummins said. “It doesn’t seem so ‘on the right track’.”

WildEarth Guardians is among the groups pushing the commission and other regulators to approve additional regulations in transportation and other sectors, for both ozone and greenhouse gas control.

“Something has to close the emissions gap – it can’t be based on hopes and aspirations alone, which is essentially what the division is currently primarily based on,” said Jeremy Nichols, director of the group’s climate and energy program. . “In the end, the commission is the one in charge of doing what is necessary.”

There was good news for Colorado last week in the “versus what” category. The nonprofit clean energy analysis group RMI said that further climate-oriented legislation passed in the 2022 session puts Colorado on the path to achieving 80% progress on its climate goals. An agreement to close Xcel’s Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo by the end of 2030 has prompted the electricity sector to hit 105% of the necessary cuts, RMI said. Colorado also tops the list of states that adopt electric vehicles fastest.

“Colorado’s leadership not only provides a model for other states striving to set and meet ambitious climate goals, but also serves as a model for federal policy and an indicator of how far states can go further in showing climate leadership,” RMI analysts said.

However, RMI noted the gap in transport emissions cuts and agreed with those calling for new policies and regulations to accelerate progress in this area.

“We need to focus not only on switching to clean fuels, switching to electric vehicles, but also on reducing how much we drive,” said Wendy Jaglom-Kurtz, RMI’s US program manager. “There are investments to be made in transit, providing more options for Coloradans to move around the state.”

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