Hickenlooper defends 35 percent carbon cut, navigates climate change minefield

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Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday downplayed the difficulty of achieving a 35 percent cut in greenhouse gas pollution from power plants by 2030 – telling oil and gas industry leaders Colorado already has a goal of a 32 percent cut.

Climate activists blasted Hickenlooper’s draft “Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change” order as “a green-washing sham.” While Conservation Colorado this week welcomed the order, a coalition of groups contends an international mandate hashed out at the United Nations climate summit in Paris requires far more aggressive cuts to contain global warming.

Hickenlooper’s been mulling this order for a while and told The Denver Post he’s convinced a 35 percent cut, or better, below 2012 carbon dioxide pollution levels can be made by working with utilities, listening to them, prodding a bit, yet without increasing energy costs.

“We’re not trying to box anyone in,” Hickenlooper said in an interview after a Colorado Oil and Gas Association luncheon.

The federal Clean Power Plan, stalled pending judicial review, commits Colorado to a roughly 32 cut below 2005 emissions levels, which state air officials have said can be achieved by an already-agreed shift off coal-fired power plants in progress.

“We think we can go beyond what that Clean Power Plan said. We think we can be more ambitious. But cost matters,” Hickenlooper said. “We want to keep any increase in cost to less than inflation, so essentially in terms of real dollars zero. And yet we want to see how much cleaner air we can get. Can we get to 35 percent? Can we get to 36 percent? To 37? That’s where we are now, working through that process. …

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“Once we get it all put together, we will be very aggressive in terms of what happens to those communities that lose mining jobs. That’s one thing we haven’t done sufficiently. If we close a prison in a community and lose jobs, we go out there and spend thousands of dollars a person to make sure they are retrained, make sure we have broadband in that community. Obviously, natural gas and oil have lost thousands of jobs over the last year. Nobody’s crying because it fluctuates. The mining jobs, it’s less likely that they’re going to come back. So we’re much more concerned about them.”

The climate groups regard Hickenlooper’s draft order as far too weak.

“Those goals represent roughly one-tenth the emissions reductions that Colorado would need to achieve over the next two decades in order for our state to be fully supportive of maintaining a livable global climate. They’re not even a good start,” said Kevin Cross, spokesman for the Colorado Coalition for a Liveable Climate, the Fort Collins Sustainability Group and the Fort Collins Community Action Network. “Colorado needs to do much better if we are to reclaim a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis.”

Political observers speculated that Hickenlooper’s climate change order, which says climate change is hurting Colorado’s economy and presents potential risks to all Coloradans, is tainted by legacy politics and possible White House opportunities. Hickenlooper rejected that.

“Once we do the Clean Power Plan, the logical next step is: How far can we go? If it was my legacy, I would have already made the statement and said: Here’s where we are going to go, you guys better follow me. But what we’re doing is we’re working with the utilities and the energy industry and saying: What is reasonable? …

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“Wouldn’t it be a dereliction of my responsibility, if I had an opportunity to have, at the same price, cleaner energy (and didn’t pursue it)? What kind of a person would I be?”

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