During a debate hosted by Colorado Politics and the Colorado Springs Gazette on Saturday, four Colorado Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the June 26 primary refrained from endorsing the climate lawsuit filed against Exxon and Suncor by three Colorado communities.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, and former state senator Mike Johnston—all candidates in the Colorado Democratic primary—did not offer support for the lawsuit initiated in April by the City of Boulder, Boulder County, and San Miguel County. The lawsuit aims to hold companies accountable for their role in climate change impacts and demands that they contribute fairly to associated costs.
The lawsuit was jointly announced and filed on April 17 at the Boulder County Courthouse.
When questioned by the moderators whether the lawsuit was a prudent use of taxpayer funds or not, Polis shifted the focus to his endorsement of local initiatives aimed at achieving 100 percent renewable energy goals.
Polis, stating he is not a legal expert, highlighted the lack of leadership from Washington, particularly with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and backtrack on environmental efforts. He emphasized the necessity for action at the local level, including cities, counties, and the state, to implement initiatives like the statewide plan for achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
“Lawsuits may occur, lawyers will debate them, they’ll get paid. Judges will decide. But at the end of the day I’m so excited by the groundswell of support at the local level,” Polis continued.
When directly questioned about his stance on supporting or opposing the lawsuit, Polis avoided giving a clear answer.
“Lawsuits aren’t a political matter. There have been lawsuits I’ve filed amicus briefs in the past, and I’m happy to talk about those, but I have not intervened in this lawsuit,” Polis responded.
Lynne, who currently serves alongside Gov. John Hickenlooper, responded by emphasizing the importance of strong leadership from a governor who will engage in collaborative efforts to address various issues.
“I think why Colorado needs a strong and experienced governor is because while I respect local control these are the issues that a governor can bring people together, can tackle, and can tackle collaboratively,” Lynne said. “So whether it’s difference in minimum wage, difference in where we put our oil and gas drilling, these are things that quite frankly there’s a cost to the business community, there’s a cost to taxpayers, if we continue to behave like there isn’t a central figure in the state, and there is. That’s the governor. That’s a governor who has the credibility to bring people together and work on these issues.”
Hickenlooper, Lynne’s superior, permitted Martha Rudolph from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to represent the current administration’s stance in early March. Rudolph advocated for incremental progress and emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts, mirroring Lynne’s approach.
“So what you’re trying to do is get people to see why they want to do something because it’s good for them, it’s good for something they care about. So I think that’s more valuable,” Rudolph told Western Wire.
Kennedy provided the most straightforward answer, ultimately opposing the lawsuit because of concerns regarding its cost and time implications.
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Kennedy expressed uncertainty about the effectiveness of litigation as a strategy, but acknowledged that these communities are seeking leadership. Additionally, she emphasized her dedication to renewable energy by advocating for an immediate doubling of the current renewable energy mandate.
“We need to take action now to move our state off of fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. We need to get to 100 percent clean, renewable energy in as fast a period of time as possible. It is why I’m calling for Colorado to double the renewable energy standard. We’re the first state in the country where the voters adopted a renewable energy standard. We’ve met it ahead of schedule, we raised it, and we’re going to meet it ahead of schedule again. But we need to continue to accelerate the development of our wind and our solar resources.”
Kennedy ended by recognizing that pursuing litigation, given its expenses and lengthy process, may not be the most effective approach to accomplish climate objectives.
“As I said, I don’t think litigation is the best strategy. It’s costly, it’s going to take a long time. I want to see our state take steps now,” Kennedy said.
Unlike Kennedy, Johnston chose not to take a firm position, instead, he redirected the focus to the legitimate concerns of Colorado communities, indicating that their perspective provides a reasonable basis for pursuing litigation.
“I have not read the lawsuit. What I think is real is the issue they’re raising is that there are massive costs to climate change that local communities are paying. And you only have to look out the window here to see that,” Johnston said.
Johnston highlighted the beetle kill in Colorado’s forests as a significant factor influencing the political and legal considerations of many communities. However, he did not explicitly state whether the state’s “reckoning” should involve litigation or not.
“There is no doubt their frustration is communities across the state are paying the outsized costs of climate change, and I think we’re going to have a reckoning to realize what that means. I do think that is why it does require an aggressive plan on renewable energy,” Johnston said.
The Fort Collins Coloradoan’s house editorial on Friday criticized arbitrary objectives that seem more focused on driving discussions on renewables rather than setting realistic targets.
“However, before our community dives head-first into the rush to renewables as the primary source of power generation, we want to know that the reliability of the electrical service we currently enjoy will continue — and at a reasonable cost,” the editorial board wrote.
“We don’t see the need to rush things for the sake of appearances,” they concluded.
The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, along with the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, will co-host a panel discussion on Thursday. The event will be led by Gale Norton, former Interior Secretary and Colorado Attorney General, and will address the Boulder climate lawsuit and other legal actions against manufacturers.
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