Colorado lawmakers reject bill to protect natural gas use

February 3, 2022 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers rejected state Republican attempts to protect the use of natural gas as cities across the U.S. move toward decarbonization and renewable energy requirements in new buildings.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dan Woog, would have protected private and public use of natural gas, propane, solar panels, micro wind turbines or small hydroelectric power for cooking, hot water, heating or electricity.

The measure was rejected Thursday by the House Energy and Environment committee.

Just a week ago, California researchers published a study that found that even when they’re not running, U.S. gas stoves are putting 2.6 million tons (2.4 million metric tons) of methane — in carbon dioxide equivalent units — into the air each year. That’s equivalent to the annual amount of greenhouse gases from half a million cars or what the United States puts into the air every three-and-a-half hours.

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Opposition to the bill said its inclusion of renewable energy options is purposefully deceptive and part of a larger scale attempt to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

“This legislative concept fits really well into a nationwide campaign launched by fossil industry interests to buck up their profits, their bottom lines, at expense of American consumers,” said Alejandra Mejia Cunningham who testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Woog said the goal of his bill was to address affordability and preserve Colorado residents’ ability to “heat their home and still put food on the table” — citing increased energy costs as adding to the state’s unaffordability.

Proponents of the bill testifying for the fossil fuel industry said the bill is important for consumer choice.

“Bans on natural gas would prevent American families from using a domestically-produced, cleaner-burning, affordable and reliable fuel source and jeopardize the very things they’ve come to depend on,” said Justin Prendergast, spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute.

In the Democrat-controlled Legislature, the measure had little hope of passing out of committee but the bill’s message is similar to other Republican attempts to push back against fossil fuel emission-reduction policies aimed at combatting climate change.

At the end of December, Colorado saw the most destructive fire in state history with more than 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed and half a billion dollars in damage. The inferno erupted after months of drought and spread rapidly due to dry grasslands surrounding urban developments in an area near the Rocky Mountain foothills.

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Experts say similar events will become more common as climate change warms the planet and suburbs grow in fire-prone areas. Sever or extreme drought has hit 90% of Boulder County, where there hasn’t been substantial rainfall since mid-summer. In 2020, Colorado had its three largest wildfires on record.

Several California cities have already banned natural gas use in newly constructed buildings. Similarly, a budget proposal by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee looks to phase out natural gas, starting with new construction in 2034.

But in Kansas where Republicans control the Legislature, last year they approved the Kansas Energy Choice Act — similar to the Colorado bill — which prohibits cities, counties or other local governments from taking any action to prohibit natural gas or propane service for consumers or to limit such service. It came after the liberal city of Lawrence in northeast Kansas, home to the main University of Kansas campus, adopted a plan to move toward all renewable energy in the future.

While most Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure, Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, and a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly likely would have been overridden. She let it become law without her signature.

Scientists say a reduction in carbon emissions is necessary to keep average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the year 2100.

President Joe Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030 along with $550 billion in spending and tax credits promoting clean energy in his Build Back Better plan, which has been sidelined due to a lack of support from moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin.

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Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.