Hick­en­looper’s goal a good one

The Denver Post - - OPINION -

Gov. John Hick­en­looper set a good goal for Colorado Tues­day: re­duce over­all green­house gas emis­sions by 26 per­cent by 2025, com­pared to 2005 lev­els, and also cut power plant car­bon emis­sions by 35 per­cent by 2030, com­pared to emis­sions lev­els in 2012.

Hick­en­looper’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der sends a strong mes­sage that Colorado be­lieves in the science that tells us the in­crease in green­house gases trapped in our at­mos­phere is con­tribut­ing to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Such a mes­sage didn’t seem as cru­cial in Au­gust, when we were crit­i­cal of a leaked draft of a very sim­i­lar ex­ec­u­tive or­der. Back then, we urged Hick­en­looper to post­pone his or­der and work with law­mak­ers to set the same goals leg­isla­tively.

Much has changed since then. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sent the op­po­site mes­sage to the world in June when he with­drew from very sim­i­lar goals set by world lead­ers in the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. Trump’s mes­sage that Amer­ica isn’t con­cerned about the buildup of heat-trap­ping gases in our at­mos­phere is harm­ful to ef­forts to pre­serve our en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Hick­en­looper is send­ing the bet­ter mes­sage: We will work hand in hand with Coloradans as we con­tinue this tough tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fu­els and to­ward more sus­tain­able — al­beit still less reli­able and more ex­pen­sive — en­ergy sources. “Now is the time to ac­cel­er­ate the tran­si­tion to a clean en­ergy econ­omy while main­tain­ing Colorado’s po­si­tion as one of the low­est en­ergy cost states in the na­tion,” Hick­en­looper said in his ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

That’s a bold ex­pec­ta­tion. We’d be shocked if Colorado were able to shut­ter a mean­ing­ful num­ber of the coal plants that The Denver Post’s Bruce Fin­ley re­ported pro­vide more than 55 per­cent of the state’s en­ergy with­out caus­ing en­ergy costs to in­crease. But there’s al­ways a cost to do­ing the right thing and the chal­lenge will be keep­ing those in­creases man­age­able for Coloradans and the in­dus­try.

Hick­en­looper’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der is just a sug­ges­tion as op­posed to the law put in place in 2004 man­dat­ing elec­tric­ity providers move a por­tion of their port­fo­lio to re­new­able en­ergy. In 2010 law­mak­ers in­creased the man­date for in­vestor-owned util­i­ties to 30 per­cent by 2020, and in 2013 co-op­er­a­tive util­i­ties were re­quired to hit 20 per­cent.

Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junc­tion, crit­i­cized the gover­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der say­ing it takes the state “back­wards” be­cause it cir­cum­vents law­mak­ers. We can only as­sume Scott was re­fer­ring to Repub­li­cans in power in the state Se­nate who would likely block any­thing that tried to in­crease the speed at which the state moves away from fos­sil fu­els. Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate claimed the sky would fall in 2013 when Democrats pushed through the new stan­dards for co-op util­i­ties.

But if we are wrong and Scott is gen­uinely in­ter­ested in be­ing part of the so­lu­tion, then Hick­en­looper’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der sets a good blue­print for leg­is­la­tors to con­sider next ses­sion.

This sum­mer Scott, and other en­ergy-minded state law­mak­ers should ask Colorado’s util­i­ties what it would take to com­ply with the gover­nor’s goals.

Xcel En­ergy says it’s on pace to hit the 30 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy stan­dard by 2020 and is at about 20 per­cent right now. In 2016 Ex­cel re­ported it had re­duced emis­sions by 34 per­cent since 2005, and pro­jected hit­ting a 45 per­cent re­duc­tion by 2021 — but even as it hits that goal it will rely on 41 per­cent coal-fired power plants.

There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween Xcel’s pro­jec­tion and Hick­en­looper’s ask how­ever, as Hick­en­looper sets the be­gin­ning point in 2012 — a date where Xcel and other com­pa­nies had al­ready be­gun sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions.

While Trump is in of­fice the onus of re­duc­ing emis­sions in a mean­ing­ful way has fallen on states, and we’re glad Hick­en­looper and other cities and states are pick­ing up the man­tle so that the na­tion might not slide too far dur­ing the next four years dom­i­nated by cli­mate-change de­niers in Washington.

We hope Repub­li­cans in Colorado fol­low his lead and not the pres­i­dent’s harm­ful re­pu­di­a­tion of science, fact and in­ter­na­tional agree­ment.

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