Colorado Emissions Rulemaking May Be Delayed, Officials Discuss Phasing Out Natural Gas Appliances

Colorado Emissions Rulemaking
New rules to curb oil and gas emissions across Colorado.

Colorado’s regulators are struggling to meet the rulemaking timeline mandated by the legislature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, suggesting that achieving targeted cuts may be more difficult than initially anticipated.

During a subcommittee meeting of Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission Thursday, officials discussed options for proposed rulemakings but have not settled on a pathway forward, a delay that has already spurred one lawsuit by a regional environmental group.

But while emissions reduction plans are yet to crystallize, discussions about phasing out natural gas hook-ups in buildings and new construction are still underway.

Colorado’s 2019 legislative term was a busy one, with a flurry of late-session activity culminating in the passage of several bills relating to climate change and reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

But with multiple pieces of legislation mandating complex rulemaking processes spanning several state agencies, it seems that the originally anticipated timelines have stretched.

In fact, the environmental group WildEarth Guardians filed suit against Governor Jared Polis’  administration earlier this month after the Air Quality Control Commission did not issue draft rules by the July 1 deadline set by Senate Bill 96–passed during the 2019 legislative session.

A complementary bill passed during the same year, House Bill 1261, set ambitious goals to cut emissions from 2005 levels by 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

But a year later, and the AQCC has not met its first timeline for agreeing upon which rulemakings should proceed.

The subcommittee meeting Thursday was primarily focused on emissions related to the transportation sector as well as efficiencies in buildings.

Regarding the later, the AQCC heard a brief presentation by a representative from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) outlining how other cities have issued bans on natural gas hook ups, and how electrification will be key in reducing city emissions.

“A couple things to know about electrification, one, beyond that it’s needed, a lot of it is needed and these new technologies like heat pumps to keep us warm without fossil fuels do need to ramp up quite substantially,” Mike Henchen of RMI told the subcommittee. “Metro gas is the dominant heating source in homes and commercial buildings in Colorado today so we would envision a pretty dramatic shift from one fuel source to another.”

As Western Wire previously reported, RMI is the primary group behind local pushes to phase out natural gas in buildings and dwellings.

RMI put out a report in May that showed negative impacts of using gas appliances shortly after a closed-door strategy session with state officials which centered around how to avoid further ‘lock-in’ investments in natural gas infrastructure.

Henchen highlighted local bans that have emerged in California, where cities like Berkeley have changed building codes that largely disallow natural gas.

“More recently we’ve seen a trend, I would say it’s most prominently in California starting with city governments but being considered in the state level as well of standards and restrictions on the use of gas as a fuel in buildings,” Henchen said. “And so, there’s sort of a spectrum of what these policies look like, often through the building codes, that limit or disincentivize gas connections at all in new construction.”

During the meeting, it was largely agreed that the rulemakings would need to advance in conjunction or coordination with the state legislature.

Will Toor, Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office, said that the Polis Administration would likely support legislation related to electrification during next session.

“There are no decisions that have been made yet out of the administration about our 2021 legislative agenda. But I think we’re certainly very interested in a constellation of potential bills on the buildings front,” Toor said. “And the three that I described, a bill targeting building electrification… potentially a bill looking at marking and building performance standards, that I think would likely have a strong role for the Air Commission, and a bill looking at RNG or carbon intensity requirements for the natural gas distribution utilities, are all things that I think we’re very interested in.”

Toor added that there is “significant potential” for the AQCC to have a prominent role in arenas like building performance standards.

During an AQCC meeting last November, Toor announced that his office had hired San Francisco-based Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) and the Center for the New Energy Economy, run by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) at Colorado State University, to help the state develop its emissions reduction roadmap with electrification being a major tenant of that work.

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