Comparing Climate Action Plans

Colorado used to be counted among national leaders on climate change and renewable energy, with citizens voting in favor of a 2004 initiative to establish a renewable energy standard for qualifying utilities. These standards were then increased multiple times by the Colorado Legislature to their current level, 30% renewable generation for investor-owned utilities by 2030 and 20% for large electric co-operatives.

Now, as governors from three states – California, New York and Colorado – release plans or sign legislation related to climate change and renewable energy, it is clear that Colorado no longer leads on these issues.

Jerry Brown, California

Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 350, landmark legislation to reduce air pollution and increase renewable energy. This legislation requires his state to:

  • Generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030
  • Double energy efficiency of homes, offices and factories
  • Incentivize utilities to install electric charging stations
  • Authorize the California grid operator, CAISO, to transform itself into a regional energy market, potentially spurring renewable energy development across the West

Andrew Cuomo, New York 

Today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new climate change commitments for his state. Here are his four major actions:

  • Signed the Under 2 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), a compact between states, provinces and cities around the world committing them to limit emissions in line with a 2 degrees Celsius increase in global average temperature, vowing to reduce emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050
  • Declared his intention to link the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap and trade market reducing emissions in nine Northeastern states, with other markets in California, Quebec and Ontario
  • Committed to putting solar on 150,000 homes and businesses by 2020
  • Install renewable energy systems at all 64 State University of New York campuses

John Hickenlooper, Colorado

While California and New York make new commitments and take pioneering steps to bring energy storage online and reimagine the electric grid, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper presented his 2015 Climate Action Plan in mid-September. It’s fair to say his plan is a step backward for Colorado as the plan:

  • Lacks specific emissions reductions goals. While previously Governor Ritter had set a goal of 80% emissions reductions by 2050, Hickenlooper’s plan skirts even referencing these goals specifically
  • Proposes no new initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Celebrates mining, oil and gas as pillars of Colorado’s economy
  • Projects that by 2030 Colorado’s emissions will increase 77% from 1990 levels
Governor Hickenlooper's Climate Plan predicts Colorado's emissions will rise 77% by 2030.
Governor Hickenlooper’s Climate Plan predicts Colorado’s emissions will rise 77% by 2030.


Where to from here for Colorado?

Despite its deficiencies, Hickenlooper’s plan proudly states that “Colorado is on the right track.” So where will the Governor’s business-as-usual approach take Colorado?

Interestingly, buried in the Plan itself is the answer. Colorado, famous for its beauty in all seasons, is on track for an average temperature rise of more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, making seasonal temperatures in Denver most “closely resemble… Albuquerque.”

Colorado has already seen the devastating effects of climate change on our state: the ravages of pine beetle infestations, more intense floods and more destructive fires. If the Governor wishes to preserve the Colorado that Coloradans know and love, he ought to listen to what leaders on climate and renewable energy in New York and California are saying.

Since Governor Hickenlooper’s Energy Office has stressed that this plan is work in progress one can only hope that future versions of the plan include goals based in science and concrete actions to achieve those goals. States that are “on the right track” – New York and California – have these goals and initiatives. Colorado ought to as well.

Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate Reaction to the 2015 Colorado Climate Action Plan

Fort Collins, CO – Member organizations of the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate (CCLC) were disappointed to learn that the 2015 Colorado Climate Plan, which was released today by the Hickenlooper Administration, makes only cursory reference to the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals established by the Ritter Administration.  The Plan does not acknowledge that the State is currently falling far short of achieving those goals.

The CCLC is also concerned that the goals adopted by the Ritter Administration – which have seemingly been abandoned by the Hickenlooper Administration – are inadequate to meet the responsibility of our State to help avert catastrophic global climate change.  Given the widespread agreement among climate scientists that a global temperature rise of more than 1.5° to 2.0° C (2.7° to 3.6° F) over the mid-19th Century average would lead to a climate catastrophe, the CCLC proposes that the State of Colorado adopt the following new climate goal statement:

“To help secure a future in which the environment, culture, and economy of Colorado are not further irrevocably damaged by climate change, the State shall develop and adopt annual greenhouse gas emissions goals that are supportive of limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5° C (2.7° F) or less by the end of this century, and which shall include achievement of carbon neutrality by 2030.  These goals shall be informed by the best available science, as well as by the need for an equitable allocation of our remaining carbon budget among all the people of the planet.  Building on past efforts, the State shall also develop and adopt a comprehensive, multi-sector plan to achieve the new goals, in addition to accounting measures to validate annual progress toward them.”

Due to the urgency of addressing global climate change, we must do far more than is contemplated by the recently released 2015 Colorado Climate Plan. Adoption of the above goal statement, followed by the creation of a plan for developing, achieving, and monitoring progress toward reaching the annual goals called for, is essential if Colorado is to assume a leadership role in responding to the climate crisis.

Member organizations of the CCLC include:

1.       350 Colorado

2.       Clean Energy Action

3.       Colorado Chapter, Global Catholic Climate Movement

4.       Colorado Interfaith Power and Light

5.       Colorado Renewable Energy Society

6.       Community for Sustainable Energy

7.       Denver Catholic Network

8.       Eco-Justice Ministries

9.       Empower Our Future

10.   EnergyShouldBe.Org

11.   Fort Collins Sustainability Group

12.   Fossil Fuel Free Denver

13.   Our Children’s Trust Colorado

14.   Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

15.   San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council

16.   Sustainable Revolution Longmont

17.   Transition Fort Collins

For further information, please contact Kevin Cross of the Fort Collins Sustainability Group at or 970-419-8944.

A Massive Open (Money) Pit

As the nation’s 4th largest coal producer, Alpha Natural Resources, muddles through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, it has struck a deal with the state of Wyoming regarding land reclamation obligations left unpaid due to the inadequacy of relying on “self bonding” for reclamation of its massive open pit mines. Facing the prospect of losing its mining permits, the deal would allow Alpha to continue mining coal. While Alpha Natural’s reclamation obligations total $411 million to, the proposed agreement would put Wyoming first in line among creditors for $61 million, or less than 15% of its reclamation obligation. The deal raises many questions–chief among them: Who will pay for the remaining $350 million of reclamation costs beyond this $61 million?

It was supposed to be this way

In the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, strip mining had already devastated many Appalachian landscapes. Increasing demand for coal pushed devastating surface mining practices westward and, in the words of one Congressional report, threatened to turn huge tracts land into “.” Surface mining legislation to remedy these and other issues was repeatedly vetoed during the Ford Administration, but in 1977 President Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, with the intent to “reclaim surface areas as contemporaneously as possible with” the cessation of surface mining operations

Mining might cease when a mine plays out or when a mining company goes out of business. In the latter case, the Act required coal companies to put aside funds for reclamation to ensure that mines are cleaned up even if a company might go out of business. Critically, the Act left much of the details of implementation and enforcement with the states.

When a coal company begins surface mining, the company is required to provide financial assurance upfront – typically a type of insurance called a surety bond – that it will return the area to a usable condition. But in some states, like Wyoming, regulators allow coal companies to “self-bond.” If a company passes financial stress tests, it is allowed to simply promise to complete reclamation without requiring assurance upfront.

As the US reaches the end of coal that can be mined profitably, rising costs and competition from renewables and natural gas have pushed coal companies like Alpha Natural to file for bankruptcy. While others face potential bankruptcy, these self-bonding regulations have become seriously problematic. Who will cover the costs when coal companies, who have only promised to complete reclamation work, find themselves in bankruptcy? If asking coal companies to come up with reclamation funds only further degrades their financial situations, will the public be forced to choose between spending hundreds of millions to clean up mines or to simply leave the sites unreclaimed and hope for the best?

Too Late, Too Little

After years of warnings from environmental groups, in May, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality reviewed its self-bonding program and found that coal producer Alpha Natural Resources no longer met its financial stress . The financial outlook was so grim that Wyoming, one of the most fossil-fuel-friendly states, denied Alpha Natural, its self-bonding status. Wyoming demanded that Alpha Natural post a surety bond or collateral of $411 million for its outstanding reclamation work or cease mining in the state. These hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to reclaim refuse and slurry ponds, restore acres of pits from surface mines, and treat water contaminated from years of mining.

Alpha Natural failed the state’s financial stress tests for good reason. On August 3rd, Alpha Natural filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, as Alpha Natural negotiates with its creditors, it has struck a potential deal with Wyoming to continue mining in the state. If the bankruptcy court approves, Alpha Natural will put aside $61 million for Wyoming, less than 15% of what the state is owed, toward its reclamation obligations. Wyoming would get a “superpriority” claim on its $61 million: it would be first in line among creditors if Alpha Natural goes completely out of business.

While state regulators may be pleased to know that a small portion of reclamation work will now be completed, the outcome is a far cry from what is required by the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) , which states that funds “shall be sufficient to assure the completion of the reclamation plan if the work had to be performed by the regulatory authority in the event of forfeiture” or bankruptcy. If Alpha Natural does go out of business, Wyoming will be first in line, but will only receive a small portion of what is needed to clean up Alpha Natural’s scars on Wyoming’s landscapes.

Enormous Risks

In the absence of a deal, it’s unclear how the courts would discharge of Alpha Natural’s reclamation obligations. As the Vermont Environmental Law Journal notes, the bankruptcy code gives no clear guidance here. Companies in Chapter 11 bankruptcy attempt to regain solvency by restructuring their debts. In some cases, this restructuring can mean reducing environmental obligations to just another debt that could receive “mere pennies on the dollar.”

Presumably, Wyoming’s Governor Mead would like to keep Alpha Natural in business and is seeking to lessen the company’s obligations until it might emerge from bankruptcy. If the company can emerge from bankruptcy, the company will be forced to comply with bonding requirements by purchasing costly insurance or by paying the full amount – if it can afford it. For now, it appears that Wyoming is willing to put its taxpayers and its ecosystems at enormous risk.

Ride for the Climate!

Join fellow Clean Energy Action volunteers on the Upshift Bike Tour, a state-wide bicycle tour benefiting climate, food justice, and bicycle advocacy!

Whether you participate by riding an independent ride, the Short Loop, or the Long Loop, you’ll be able to support any or all of three great organizations, Boulder Food Rescue, Community Cycles, and Clean Energy Action, by setting up a brief fundraising page.

Check out the Upshift Bike Tour page for more information and read about options for participating below. Email if you’re thinking about participating.

Independent Ride

Riders doing an independent ride can ride solo or with friends as far as you like any time in August or September.

Short Loop

Riders joining the Short Loop will ride through Rocky Mountain National Park on Labor Day Weekend (September 4th – 7th), averaging 45 miles a day for a total of 175 miles.

Long Loop

Ride for the climate hardcore: riders joining the Long Loop will ride roughly 1,000 miles from September 4th through September 27th!

A portion of the proceeds goes to Climate Ride, an awesome nonprofit that sets up cycling events to raise funds and awareness for climate-related groups and causes.


Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy