Colorado Legislature considers measures to ramp up reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to address state’s climate crisis


Boram Kim


The Colorado Legislature is considering SB 16, a series of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction measures that include an authorization of projects to improve existing utility transmission lines. The bill would require local governments to expedite reviews of land use applications for such projects. 


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In 2019, Colorado enacted two laws (House Bill 1261 and Senate Bill 96) that established statewide reduction targets (90% by the year 2050) and monitoring of GHG emissions. 

SB 16 would update the GHG reduction targets outlined in HB 1261 by adding a 65% reduction goal for 2035, 80% for 2040, 90% for 2045, and increasing the current goal for 2050 from 90% to 100%. 

“This is a bill that is trying to address several different areas in a package,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Chris Hansen (D- Denver). “It’s really designed to help create a lot of forward movement on Colorado meeting its goals when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, folks in Colorado know how vital it is we address this issue. Certainly, the drought in the Colorado basin is yet another example, along with the wildfires that we’ve experienced over the last few years, of how important it is for us to make progress on improving our emissions and meeting our emission goals.”

Colorado is the 20th fastest-warming state since 1970 with an average temperature increase of two degrees Fahrenheit in the last 30 years. This has led to drier conditions across the state, a loss in the Colorado River’s water volume, and a higher frequency of wildfires.

A recent study from researchers at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory projected the state could see a 50-60% reduction in snowpack within 60 years, threatening the Colorado River’s health and water supply to more than 40 million people. 

The Marshall Fire in late 2021 was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history in terms of homes lost, destroying more than 1,000 homes and covering over 6,000 acres. The state’s 20 largest wildfires have all occurred within the past 20 years. Wildfires have contributed to Metro Denver’s deteriorating air quality, which ranked 7th on the list of most polluted American cities last year. 

In an interview with State of Reform, director of the Colorado Health Institute (CHI) Karam Ahmad said without statewide coordination, the impact on Coloradans’ health will continue to worsen. 

“When we’re talking about health, I think it’s important to first share that climate change is what we call a threat multiplier,” Ahmad said. “[Climate change] accelerates instability and it can exacerbate other drivers of instability. So when we’re talking about the housing crisis in Colorado, when we’re talking about people being economically insecure or having food insecurity, mental health problems or illness that they’re facing, climate change is a threat multiplier that can really drive those sources of instability in people’s lives.” 

Ahmad anticipates the state could soon update its habitability laws at either the state or municipal level to require developers and landlords to install cooling systems in housing and rental units.

CHI recently issued a policy call to action to protect Coloradans from climate change. Ahmad leads the work of Acclimate Colorado, a CHI initiative launched last year to address the health impacts of climate change, which developed the policy agenda.

CHI identifies several key policy areas for climate adaptation: infrastructure to support health, planning and response capacity, workforce, data and research, and community outreach.

The agenda calls for better state coordination in preparing for and responding to ongoing and projected impacts, including community wildfire protection, agricultural sustainability, and mental health in rural communities. This includes investments in infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat, poor air quality, wildfires, and other climate exposures on health.