Tensions Between Gov. Polis And Environmentalists Grow After Legal Move In Colorado Climate Lawsuit

<p>Grace Hood/CPR News</p>
<p>Gov. Jared Polis signs his first environmental executive order on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, to put more electric cars and buses on the road. He’s flanked by state representatives and leaders of environmental groups.</p>

Earlier this summer, two environmental groups sued the state and Gov. Jared Polis, alleging they missed a July 1 deadline to propose rules to meet Colorado’s climate action plan. Now Attorney General Phil Weiser has asked a court to remove Polis’ name from the suit, which the environmental groups filed in an attempt to force faster government action on climate change.

The motion was filed on Thursday in Denver District Court in the lawsuit from WildEarth Guardians and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Under the law, it’s up to Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to enact rules to meet the state’s climate goals. The panel is appointed by the governor, who has not been afraid to use his power. Last month, Polis removed two members who had supported particularly aggressive moves to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Nevertheless, the attorney general argued the law compels the AQCC to act, not the governor himself. Therefore, he shouldn’t be listed as a defendant, Weiser claimed in the motion.

Neither the governor’s office nor the attorney general’s office provided any comment when asked about the motion, but the plaintiffs were quick to criticize it.

“It’s unfortunate the governor is pulling this legal maneuver to avoid responsibility,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.

The motion is the latest turn in a quiet but growing battle between Gov. Polis and environmental groups over two laws Polis signed in 2019. They were meant to transition the state’s economy away from fossil fuels and lower overall greenhouse gas emissions, but how the laws have been carried out has left some environmentalists unsatisfied.

The main law demands steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions: 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050. All of those goals are set against a 2005 baseline.

A second law contains the deadline in question. It requires the state propose rules by July 1, 2020, that “cost-effectively allow the state to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.”

Gov. Polis signed the legislation but issued a statement taking issue with the timeline. It asserted any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would take years, not months, and couldn’t be covered in one plan from one state agency.

Since then, the air quality commission has approved rules to promote electric cars and limit specific climate-warming gases, but it hasn’t laid out a comprehensive plan to meet the goals. Regulators plan to present a “roadmap” to meet the targets next month. It’s expected to broadly outline policies rather than propose rules for specific industries.

WildEarth Guardians filed the lawsuit after the administration failed to propose a comprehensive plan by the deadline. The Environmental Defense Fund signed on afterward. It also filed a separate lawsuit also attempting to enforce the July 1 deadline, which does not list Polis as a defendant.