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A coalition of 60 national, state, and local environmental groups gathered on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol Thursday during Jared Polis’ State of the State address to protest the governor’s record on climate change. “He has his own moral compass that we have to appeal to right now,” Harmony Cummings, founder of the Green House Connection Center in Elyria-Swansea, said.
Officially called the Climate Rally at the Capitol, the event was organized by the United for Colorado’s Climate (UCC) alliance and was largely a reaction to the Marshall Fire, which burned through more than 1,000 homes in Louisville, Superior, and Boulder County in late December. “Polis didn’t once mention climate change when he was surveying the Louisville and Superior fires,” said Kate Christensen, the oil and gas campaign director for 350 Colorado. “He’s loath to make that connection.”
The governor’s remarks Thursday drew similar criticism from activists, as Polis discussed plans to reduce cost of living in Colorado and combat rising crime, while making vague mentions of energy and climate initiatives.
“We will stop at nothing to keep Coloradans safe. Public safety is a critical component of a strong and healthy community. But it doesn’t end there,” Polis said during his speech Thursday. “Building safer, healthier communities also means improving our air quality and meeting the climate crisis head-on.”
Meanwhile, outside on the west steps of the Capitol, the rally’s speaker list featured political notables RTD director Shontel Lewis and Elisabeth Epps, who is running to represent District 6 in the Colorado House. Coloradans impacted by climate change also took the podium, like Andre Houssney, who owns the 450-acre Jacob Springs Farm in Boulder County. “[The Marshall Fire] burned my hay fields,” Houssney said. “Fortunately for me, I didn’t lose a structure.… But I had neighbors that lost homes. I personally was fighting fires. It was overwhelming to look around and see hundreds of homes on fire in every direction.
“We’re skating by right now,” Houssney continued. “But these kinds of things are inevitable, and they’re going to happen more frequently. What is it going to take? Ten-thousand burned homes instead of 950 before we start listening?”
A year ago, Polis unveiled a Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap billed as “the most action-oriented, ambitious and substantive planning process Colorado has ever undertaken on climate leadership, pollution reduction and clean energy transition.” It purports to identify a reasonable route to the emissions reduction mandates—26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050—outlined by the 2019 Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution Bill.
But Christensen claims the roadmap is flawed. For example, one of the keys to hitting the 2030 mark is “deep reductions in methane pollution from oil and gas development.” However, the state has permitted 4,548 oil and gas wells during Polis’ administration, according to Christensen, and zero applications have been denied.
The UCC has a list of demands it would like Polis to meet. They include issuing an executive order declaring a climate state of emergency in Colorado, working with state executive branch agencies to phase out fossil fuel production in Colorado by 2030, and decarbonizing Colorado’s electricity grid.
When asked if it was fair to make such demands of Polis, Christensen said, “He appoints all the regulators and they serve at his pleasure and his direction. So if he wanted to say, ‘Deny some permits.’ They could deny some permits. They did it in California. They haven’t approved a fracking permit since February at the governor’s direction, because of climate change.”
5280 emailed the governor’s office for comment, but had not received a reply as of press time.