‘Environmental justice’ bill is a ‘hot mess’ | Columns

There is no “environmental justice” in Senate Bill 200. Crafted by state Sens. Faith Winter and Dominick Moreno and state Rep. Dominique Jackson in a back room with only the environmental community, SB 200 is bad climate policy, bad public policy and no friend of energy justice. Gov. Jared Polis is correct to promise a veto of this hot mess.

Reducing emissions and getting to a carbon-free world is hard and expensive. Keeping the lights and heat on while at the same time keeping rates reasonable is even harder. Most people cannot afford to replace their gas heat, stoves, or water heaters with electric appliances.

Reducing the emissions from the transportation sector is even harder because most people cannot afford an electric vehicle. Cost-effective electric trucks that can haul those goods over the mountains and across the plains are not available.

SB 200 recognizes this “slow turnover” but ignores the reasons. There is slow turnover because the technology does not exist to make reasonably priced replacements. The sponsors simply ignore these facts and instead prefer rigid rules and fines, issued by the Air Quality Control Commission, an unpaid part-time commission. SB 200 does not even specify who the fines will be against — owners of vehicles, sellers of vehicles, sellers of appliances? They are all air pollution sources under the statute, subject to rule making and fines of the AQCC.

The sponsors ignore the important cost benefit feasibility and reliability analysis that the Public Utilities Commission does in the electric and gas sector. As a former commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission, I can attest to the detailed modeling and projections, as well as the vetting and cross-examination and analysis that is done at the PUC when they review clean-energy plans. There is no provision in SB 200 for the development of decarbonizing plans that would analyze costs, benefits and reliability. Instead, SB 200 requires the AQCC to adopt rigid rules by March 2022 and issue hefty fines for non-compliance. The AQCC will not be a mere “project manager.” The AQCC will become the economic czar of the state, deciding which business will survive and which will die.

The environmental groups that drafted SB 200 seem not to care one whit what costs this rigid rule making and fining approach will impose on ordinary citizens and businesses in Colorado. Instead, they propose a feel- good Environmental Justice Advisory Board to advise on the rule making of AQCC and conduct outreach. How does that help low-income households who will not be able to afford heat?

SB 200 will create another long-term debacle for communities with high poverty rates, just like Clean Air Clean Jobs did in 2008. Black Hills charges its residential customers 42% more than Xcel’s charges, because the Ritter Energy Office and the environmental groups required the closure of Black Hills coal plants and replacement with gas plants, even though Black Hills served only 90,000 customers. SB 200 would now mandate closure and replacement of those gas plants, even though they are less than 11 years old.

Without working with the affected business, the ones that actually provide jobs to our citizens, the sponsors have decided to chase headlines and probably fundraising this summer with the 100% endorsements they will get from the environmental groups.

If the sponsors were interested in understanding the challenges and how to solve the problems, they would have included industry and the Governor’s Energy Office in the drafting. Instead, SB 200 just dictates that the emission goals must be met, sector by sector, and if one sector, such as the electric utilities, exceed their goals, that credit cannot benefit any other sector.

Senate Bill 200 blows up the historic climate package that was enacted in 2019 through Senate Bill 236 and House Bill 1261, which put the state on one of the most aggressive emission-reduction trajectories in the country — 25% reduction by 2025, 50% in 2030 and 90% by 2050, while at the same time prioritizing reliability and affordability and protecting workforce and local communities. That legislation included all the stakeholders and came up with a historic plan.

The sponsors pay lip service to “energy justice” with a committee that will use the funds generated from a carbon penalty to do something that sounds good.

SB 200, however, will undercut good-paying jobs, reasonable electric and gas rates, reliable and affordable transportation, and a robust economy in Colorado. But costs, benefits and reliability are hard to understand and to achieve. It is much easier to chase headlines.

The governor is correct in opposing SB 200 and promising a veto. We should all be appreciative that he has his eye on long-term benefits for all Coloradans.

This opinion first appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Frances Koncilja, an attorney, is a former commissioner on the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and now practices at Koncilja Energy Law and Policy LLC. She is representing Pueblo County in Public Service Company of Colorado’s pending Clean Energy Plan.

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