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Colorado senators express hope for action with climate bill

‘This is a negotiation to try and save our planet’ says Sen. Hickenlooper
Workers install solar panels at Southwest Horizon Ranch. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Wildfires. Drought. A decrease in the snowpack. Worsening heat waves. As Congress inches closer to passing its most significant piece of climate legislation yet, leaders across the state see potential for further action to protect Colorado from some of the most serious environmental issues facing the state.

The Inflation Reduction Act would provide $369 billion to tackle climate change by investing in clean energy and putting the U.S. on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. That includes investing in manufacturing solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles as well as other clean energy technologies, as well as funding for consumer home rebate programs that will reduce energy costs. Additionally, it will create a program to tackle methane emissions.

“We're at a point now where we need to make the transition as rapidly as possible,” said Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, a climate nonprofit. “It should have happened a couple of decades ago, three decades ago. ... Action now is absolutely needed if we’re to have any chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is what countries around the world agreed to as part of the Paris Climate Accord.”

While Parkin welcomes the federal government taking action to address climate change and is encouraged by the plan for emissions reductions, she said she’d like to see the bill amended to remove items that benefit the fossil fuel industry. The bill would require the Department of the Interior to offer at least 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a requirement to install new solar or wind energy, as well as tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration.

“We really don't need to be walking in additional fossil fuel development at this point in history. It's just, you know, the wrong direction entirely,” Parkin said.

According to the Colorado Health Institute, Colorado is the 20th fastest warming state since 1970. The effects of climate change have resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires and persistent drought. Polling from Colorado College in February showed that Coloradans are increasingly concerned about climate change.

Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper said the incentives included in the bill to adopt clean energies will hopefully lead to less drilling in the future.

“Some of our lands are going to be open for drilling and I do agree that that’s a concern, but if we accelerate this transition to a clean economy, people aren’t going to want to drill anymore,” he said. “That’s the goal, is to get out there and make wind and solar and whatever it is, new nuclear, everything we can do to make sure that the drilling leases are what they call an orphaned asset.”

Before the announcement of the Inflation Reduction Act, hopes for including climate provisions in the Senate’s budget reconciliation process were almost dashed, leaving climate activists wondering how and when Congress could address climate change, if at all.

In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Michael Bennet said the American people have “paid the price” for Congress not taking action on climate change, and pointed to recent climate events in Colorado such as record wildfires and extreme drought.

“When I hear politicians and others whip up Twitter with promises to reject every permit for new infrastructure, they ignore this reality, and I worry that we cede the scientific high ground to critics of climate action, presenting climate advocates as disconnected or deluded or even dangerous to the economy, the only thing that wins are fossil fuels, the only thing that wins is coal,” he said. “And I worry sometimes that these claims also repel the very Americans we need to support our energy choices. If our position in the short term is to oppose every new piece of infrastructure, we’re essentially forcing America to choose between scarcity and higher prices, to choose between either less energy or higher prices.”

Hickenlooper said negotiating a piece of legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act requires some compromise, but that ultimately the impact of the bill will be monumental.

“I am the strongest believer on public lands that you could possibly meet and have been a strident defender on public land from the beginning,” Hickenlooper told the Herald. “This is a negotiation to try and save our planet, and you had to have some give and take.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act as part of its budget reconciliation process in coming days, and the House will vote on it shortly after. For leaders in the climate and environment space like Parkin, passing the Inflation Reduction Act is long overdue. She’d like to see President Joe Biden and Colorado Gov. Jared Governor Polis use their powers to declare national and statewide climate emergencies.

“We’re at a point now where it’s the political will that’s needed,” she said. “We have the technology, we have the solutions, it’s more affordable. We just need the political will to make those sweeping changes happen.”

Nina Heller is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at nheller@durangoherald.com.

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