Climate change has led to “massive improvements” and “the planet is a thing that heals itself,” state Sen. Ray Scott argued Thursday morning.
Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction, was speaking against Senate Bill 96, which would require the state to collect greenhouse gas emissions data from oil and gas wells, coal mines and other sources of planet-warming gases. Reports on emissions would be released annually, which supporters hope would help guide climate change policy.
“I will argue that climate change is occurring, but in the reverse order,” Scott told his colleagues on the Senate floor. “Anybody in this room and I can have a discussion about what was our climate like 100 years ago or 80 years ago or 50 years ago or 20 years ago. We have made massive improvements in our climate. Massive improvements.”
Scott, who worked as a manager for Conoco and Williams Energy and also founded a company called Gas Products Corporation, said he’d seen conflicting research regarding climate change. In an interview with The Colorado Independent following his speech on the Senate floor, he denied the role of climate change in exacerbating wildfires and prolonged drought across the Western Slope.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global temperature rise must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid irreversible and long-term impacts of climate change. The world is currently on track to exceed that temperature threshold.
“For as many people who say it’s bad, there are as many people who say it is not a problem,” Scott said. “Has there been climate change? You can argue both directions.”
No formal action was taken Thursday on SB-96, which is sponsored in the Senate by Kerry Donovan of Vail. Other senators spoke on the issue, though none responded to Scott’s comments on the benefits of climate change.
First-year House Democrat Emily Sirota of Denver reacted later in the day to Scott’s speech.
“I do not believe the jury is out on (climate change). The jury is in. The IPCC report should be chilling to anyone who has read it,” Sirota said.
“It is just so deeply disturbing and upsetting. We’re talking about the ability of my kids and of my grandkids to have a planet they are able to live and breathe in. The future of our existence is at stake. There is no time to spare.”
Scott said the problem he sees is not climate change, but rather that “we continue to have more bills that are flowing to discuss this over and over and over again.”
The House this week passed a bill along party lines that would set the state on a course to cut carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, both compared to 2005 levels. The near-term emissions targets proposed in the bill effectively mean cutting all emissions from oil and gas drilling and relying on renewables such as wind and solar to power the state’s entire electric grid.
Another bill would require legislative staff to analyze the net impact on greenhouse gas pollution in the fiscal notes for proposed laws.
And the governor also signed into law a bill that will overhaul oil and gas regulations, ensuring the regulators prioritize public health, safety and the environment when issuing drilling permits.
The momentum behind this legislation reflects the fact that Democrats are now in control of the General Assembly and the governorship, and — unlike in times of split legislature — can actually pursue and then pass climate-action bills, many of which have been killed in Republican-controlled committees in prior years.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies conclude at least 97% of scientists agree the climate is warming due to human consumption of fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal.
“Everybody has an opinion,” Scott told The Independent. “I look at lots of data, believe it or not, coming from the oil and gas industry. The planet is a thing that heals itself. Between a volcano and an oil and gas rig — what’s worse? You can’t run a law against a volcano.”
During the floor debate Thursday, Scott reflected on how he used to drive into Denver and feel grateful he didn’t live there because of the city’s “brown cloud” of smog. These days, he said, Denver’s sky is looking pretty blue. The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that parts of Colorado’s most populous region have gone from “marginal” to “serious” non-attainment of federal air quality standards.
“Absolutely something has changed” on the climate front, Scott said, “and I would argue that a lot of it has been for the better. Not the worse. The better.”
Other GOP senators question whether the pricetag of the studies proposed by SB-96, which would cost about $1.6 million this year — mostly for new staff — are worth it when Colorado cannot alone limit global emissions.
“How is it that we in Colorado can control these massive international, global forces of physics and laws of nature? I don’t get it,” said Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument. “Why would we burden the people of Colorado with excessive costs?”