Local environmental regulations become more important with Supreme Court’s Environmental Protection Agency decision

Solar panels are part of a broad initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Summit School District buildings. The district is part of the Summit Climate Action Collaborative seeking to bring down greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 80% by 2050, and with the recent EPA vs. Virginia decision from the Supreme Court, local initiatives will have more impact.
Joe Moylan/Summit Daily News archive

A June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change is bringing renewed focus to local and state regulations. 

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA broad authority to regulate power plant emissions that contribute to climate change. Specifically, it sided with state attorneys and mining companies that said the Clean Power Plan, proposed by President Barack Obama, improperly gave the EPA the ability to regulate electric utility emissions. Congress will now be required to give much more explicit direction to the agency when it comes to what it may regulate.

“It says that the EPA needs clear authorization from Congress in order to establish a cap-and-trade program or to accommodate generation shifting,” University of Colorado Boulder law professor Jonathan Skinner-Thompson said. “I think it is a rather narrow decision. It only addresses the EPA as authority under one provision of the Clean Air Act and only with respect to one industry, and that industry is moving in the right direction, for the most part anyway.

“We’re seeing significant emission reduction goals and targets put out by companies. It doesn’t preclude either federal government or state or local government action on climate change.”

State regulations in Colorado aim to manage nonrenewable energy and emissions. In 2019, state leaders approved Just Transition, a “moral commitment” to transition the state away from coal. In 2020, it then created the Office of Just Transition and has since approved additional funding for the office to help coal-reliant communities. By no later than 2031, Colorado’s coal-fired plants will close, and the state has since made major investments in solar and wind.

In June, the state public utilities commission hosted its first public comment session on Xcel Energy’s Renewable Energy Plan, and another one is scheduled for Sept. 6. The plan addresses solar programs for residents and businesses for over the next three years, including rooftop solar, community solar gardens, utility-scale solar and solar paired with battery storage.

The plan includes proposals for program design, incentives, outreach and cost recovery, and portions of renewable energy programs are funded by a charge of no more than 2% on customers’ electric bills. The state’s renewable energy standard requires at least 30% of retail electricity sales to be generated by renewable energy for certain utilities.

Gov. Jared Polis said the federal setback this year does not affect any state-sanctioned plans. 

Polis signed SB22-193 during the most recent legislative session, which establishes a clean air grant program for industrial and manufacturing operations, expands access to electric bicycles, and supports Colorado’s school bus fleet transition to electric vehicles. 

“(The) Supreme Court decision does narrow the ability of the federal government to take commonsense steps to protect the air we breathe, so state leadership is now more important than ever,” Polis said in a news release. “Colorado utilities are already on a path to meet or exceed 80% renewable energy by 2030. We are fighting for a cleaner, healthier community, doubling down on climate and clean energy strategies to save people money on everything from energy bills to health care and bring good-paying, green jobs to Colorado.”

Locally in Summit County, environmental efforts are also looking to mitigate climate change. Summit County communities adopted the Summit Community Climate Action Plan in 2019, which sets goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, relative to a 2005 baseline. 

In Breckenridge, town leaders are working on an update to the SustainableBreck Plan, which outlines goals for the next several years and advises the current and future councils about ways to mitigate environmental impacts. Later this month, on July 25, consultants and town leaders will host a second and final public meeting to gather community input on the plan’s 2022 update. Community members can go to the meeting from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College’s Breckenridge campus, 107 Denison Placer Road.

Online registration is required ahead of time. Visit for details.

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