Colorado lawmakers can now request reports on their bill’s contribution to climate change

Legislative Council could determine whether certain proposed laws lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Colorado's Capitol, where Democrats currently control both chambers. (Photo by John Herrick)

Lawmakers will soon have a better sense as to whether laws they write contribute to climate change. 

The Democratic-controlled statehouse passed a bill in the 2019 session requiring certain bills that may affect the climate to include an assessment of net greenhouse gas emissions. The Legislative Council Tuesday released its plan for what that assessment would look like.  

That assessment will not quantify the amount of greenhouse gases emitted or reduced, but rather is a general indication of whether a proposed law will increase or decrease emissions, or will have “indeterminate” or minimal impact. The change takes effect for the 2020 session.  

According to a draft assessment provided by Legislative Council as an example, a new law that encourages the purchase of electric vehicles by giving owners free access to express lanes would result in a net of decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The caveat is that it may also encourage less car-pooling and more consumption of electricity.

Lawmakers already receive reports on how much their proposed legislation will cost the state, known as fiscal notes. These reports play an important role in the debate over new laws. Colorado lawmakers cannot raise taxes without voter approval. 

Knowing a bill’s climate change impacts will be important as the state seeks to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. House Bill 1261 sets the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050. 

In addition to helping the state meet climate targets, the reports will help bring climate change into the conversation at the state Capitol, said Rep. Emily Sirota, a Democrat from Denver who sponsored the bill that requires Legislative Council to prepare greenhouse gas emissions reports. 

All but one Republican voted against the bill. Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, was among those who voted no. 

His chief concern, he said, was that it would cost the state about $100,000 per year to hire someone to perform an analysis. This analysis, he said, could be achieved by just inviting experts to testify in committee. 

“That $100,000 for one state employee equals two teachers that won’t get funded in the school district,” he told The Colorado Independent, referencing the fiscal note for the bill.  

Some Republican lawmakers, however, simply oppose climate-related goals and regulations; The major climate-action legislation in the 2019 legislative session passed without a single GOP vote. Others reject the notion that climate change is a problem. Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, argued that the climate is changing, but for the better, telling his colleagues on the Senate floor in April, “I will argue that climate change is occurring, but in the reverse order.” 

Scott, who has worked in the oil and gas industry, is scheduled to speak at a forum on Wednesday at CU Boulder about climate change. A CU researcher told The Denver Post that such an appearance perpetuates the myth that the climate change debate is two-sided. But the organizer said he was unable to reach anyone else to provide a conservative perspective. 

Another law will require some bills to be assessed on whether they have a disparate impact on certain demographic subgroups of the population, including certain races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and geographies.

The reports have to be requested by majority and minority party leadership in the House and Senate in order to be drafted. 

The Legislative Council is accepting comments on its proposed method for drafting greenhouse gas reports until Oct. 18.