U.S. Climate Crisis Committee Comes To Colorado For Answers

Aug 2, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 4:38 pm

For the first time ever, a congressional committee held a field hearing on the climate crisis. And it happened this week right here in the Mountain West — in Boulder, Colorado. 

Members of the public and the media packed a courtroom at CU Boulder’s law school. Congresswoman Kathy Castor is the chair of this new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and started things off.

“Landing a man on the moon and returning home safely to Earth was a grand challenge,” Castor said. “Making Earth's atmosphere safe for everyone is now a grander one for all of us.”

She urged committee members saying that we don’t have time to waste. She said “we need to act as swiftly as possible. Our next moonshot is solving the climate crisis.” 

She emphasized, though, that there is very little political will at the federal level, and that the states need to lead the way.  

“When we say the states are the laboratories of democracy,” Castor continued, “we mean that literally.”

She pointed out that Colorado is home to some of the leading research in climate change and clean energy. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis agreed and pointed to his state’s commitment to solving the problem.

“I ran on a platform of achieving 100% renewable energy across our great state by 2040,” Polis said. 

He said he was inspired by cities across his state who are transitioning to renewables. Boulder’s mayor, Suzanne Jones, touted her city as having one of the highest per capita rates of solar energy in the country. And she said they haven’t stopped there.

“Using compost and other regenerative agriculture techniques, we are implementing state-of-the-art carbon sequestration efforts designed to pull back carbon out of the atmosphere,” Jones said, “while also improving soil health and agricultural productivity. And we reduced greenhouse gas emissions 16% even as our population and economy grew.”

Both Jones and the Mayor of Fort Collins, Wade Troxell, made points to emphasize that an important component of a green transition is inclusion. They both expressed that the people most affected by climate change’s impacts as well as those losing traditional energy sector jobs, must be at the table when talking about a new direction forward. “Racial and economic equity must be at the center of all climate work,” Jones said.

Jones also mentioned Boulder’s decision to put a moratorium on fracking. The one Republican committee member present at the hearing, questioned that decision. Congressman Garret Graves from Louisiana said yes, climate change is a very real threat but he didn’t think natural gas was the right culprit, or at least not the only culprit.

“I get it,” Graves said. “Everyone's saying we've got to migrate to 100% renewable. And folks are saying that we need to stop producing fossil fuels.” But he said he read a recent report “that talked about how for battery storage technology, it takes 50 to 100 pounds of mining rare and critical materials — oftentimes from China — to produce one pound of battery.” Then he emphasized, “50 to 100 pounds of mining for one pound of battery!”

Graves wasn’t the only person at the hearing who said the issue isn’t black and white. Chris Wright is the CEO of a Denver-based fracking company. He testified that natural gas is not only a cleaner alternative to coal, it’s also a cheaper alternative for clean energy worldwide.

“The U.S. shale revolution is aiding the poor abroad and at home,” said Wright, “via the much cheaper energy with annual consumer savings over $1 trillion. It has also driven natural gas to become the number one source of electricity in the U.S. which helps clean our air and drive CO2 emissions per person down to a 50 year low.”

U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette from Colorado pushed back. Specifically about the impacts of methane leaking from oil and gas wells.

DeGette asked Wright, “Colorado has one of the strictest methane rules of any place in the country is that right?” “That's right,” he replied. 

“And the industry in Colorado, to your knowledge tries to comply with that methane rule, is that right?” DeGette asked. “That's correct,” Wright said. 

“And so wouldn't it seem to you that probably if we want to stop methane contamination all around the country we should reinstate the federal methane rule?” she continued. 

He started to give an answer but DeGette said “Yes or no will work.” 

“Not as currently…,” Wright began.  But DeGette interrupted “You don't think so, even though methane emissions from other states may come into Colorado’s local governments?” 

“There’s right ways and wrong ways to do things,” Wright replied. “But yes, reducing methane emissions is a positive thing to do.”  

DeGette persisted, asking “but you don't think we should renew the federal methane statute, is that right?” “In its current form, no,” said Wright. “OK. Thank you,” DeGette replied and she moved on to another line of questioning.  

Final remarks from Committee Chair, Kathy Castor, emphasized Colorado as a leader in dealing with the existential threat of climate change but she said state leadership alone is not going to be enough. 

“We can have all that terrific climate action here on the local and state level,” she said, “but unless we have a bold federal climate action plan we're not going to be able to reduce carbon pollution. We're all in this together.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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