Colorado joins growing number of states tackling climate change
June 2, 2007
DENVER ” After successfully championing environmental bills in a legislative session dubbed one of the greenest ever, Gov. Bill Ritter is taking on climate change by hiring an adviser to come up with ways Coloradans can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for changes expected to sap the region’s water.
Heidi VanGenderen joined Ritter’s staff May 1 after serving as senior associate with the Wirth Chair in Environmental and Community Development Policy at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado-Denver and Health Sciences Center.
VanGenderen joked that her mother gasped at the length of that title and asked for a business card so she could remember it. Unwieldy title aside, the job’s focus was to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
A brown bag lunch organized by the policy center was the start of what became Amendment 37 in 2004, making Colorado voters the first in the nation to require utilities get more of their power from renewable energy sources. Other states have adopted renewable energy standards by law or regulations.
VanGenderen said she believes the 2004 vote will help her develop a climate change plan.
“The real indication of people’s concerns and willingness to act as citizens in this blessed democracy of ours is Amendment 37,” she said.
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Her new job shows that Colorado is serious about climate change, said Will Coyne, program director with Environment Colorado.
“I feel like global warming is a unique issue in that it is so all-encompassing, so big of a problem, that it will require all these different solutions,” Coyne said. “The state has to set pollution reduction goals.”
Colorado’s emissions grew at the fourth-fastest rate in the country from 1990 to 2003, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state ranks No. 25 in per capita emissions.
Ritter, a Democrat, campaigned on forging a “new energy economy” that boosts energy derived from wind, the sun and biodiesel as well as the efficient and environmentally sensitive development of gas, oil and coal. He teamed up with leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature on several bills this year, including one requiring that 20 percent of electricity provided by large utilities come from renewable energy sources by 2020.
Legislation approved by lawmakers aims to make it easier to build transmission lines to hook up wind farms. Ritter also issued an executive order directing state agencies to decrease energy use.
“There was a lot of good legislation passed. Where we take that is the next step,” VanGenderen said.
One step will be to study what others are doing.
Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and British Columbia, Canada, have formed the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and explore a cap-and-trade program, in which companies that can’t meet emissions targets buy credits from those that can.
Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are expected to start a cap-and-trade program in 2009.
Coyne of Environment Colorado said it’s important for states to move ahead to help drive changes at the federal level.
The United States refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol limiting emissions and the Bush administration has been accused of politicizing the science surrounding climate change. In a Thursday speech, Bush did urge 15 major nations to agree by the end of next year on a global target for reducing greenhouse gases.
VanGenderen said she and other staffers are talking to Ritter about Colorado participating at least as an observer the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative. She said she understands the push for bottom-up action on climate change, but believes federal involvement is essential.
“Time is of the essence in the work that we’re about. We’re hopeful that the states’ voices collectively will speak to action at the federal level,” VanGenderen said.