Colorado acting where U.S. won’t on climate change

An executive order issued by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper serves as a reminder that it’s not just the United States against the world these days when it comes to the issue of climate change.

It’s also the United States against a growing number of its own states and cities.

Hickenlooper set goals within the state for carbon-emission reductions that are consistent with goals almost every country in the world has agreed to pursue — America being a glaring exception. President Trump has decided that the United States should withdraw from the Paris climate accord. But Trump’s action has prompted the emergence of some states who say the U.S. government doesn’t speak for them.

Hickenlooper this week announced that Colorado will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, which now consists of 13 states, along with Puerto Rico, that have agreed to pursue the carbon-reduction goals of the Paris agreement.

This is no small development, with states such as California and New York, and their economies larger than those of many nations, taking positions counter to Trump’s. Hundreds of U.S. mayors, not to mention businesses such as Google and Target, have done the same.

Hickenlooper’s action isn’t a knee-jerk response. A draft executive order was in the works last year, but he told reporters ahead of the start of the legislative session in January that he was dropping the idea due to the amount of pushback.

His eventual decision to go forward with it has met more pushback, including from Republican state Senate leaders such as Senate President Kevin Grantham and Assistant Majority Leader Ray Scott. They say he failed to act in an open, bipartisan way, and lacks the authority to unilaterally change the state’s renewable energy mandates.

Hickenlooper says that what he has set out are voluntary, aspirational goals. His order talks about working with utilities interested in maximizing their renewable energy use.

Even voluntary initiatives by states can help reassure the rest of the world that no matter what Trump says, efforts will continue within America to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these efforts are driven not by policies but by markets, as wind and solar costs fall and use rises, and natural gas continues to offer a cheap and clean alternative to coal.

Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, maybe he doesn’t want the country tied to restrictions that many nations just won’t follow or attempt to meet. Perhaps there’s also a benefit to this happening at the state levels, with less federal over-reach, but to a fair extent the same end result.

Voluntary or not, measures such as Hickenlooper’s do pose yet one more threat to coal mines and coal-fired power plants. We look forward to hearing more details about the part of his order promising to further address the need for assistance for communities impacted by reduced coal use.

Meanwhile, it’s important that research continues into approaches such as carbon sequestration in power plants, and capture of methane from coal mines. Such measures could help coal continue to play an integral part in the nation’s energy future with a much-reduced greenhouse gas footprint.


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