Colorado closer to creating position of ‘climate change czar’

Greg Campbell Contributor
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On a day when Colorado was hit with an unexpected late-season blizzard that dumped nearly a foot of snow on northern parts of the state, a Democratic bill creating the position of a state climate-change czar passed out of committee on a 7-6 party line vote.

If the bill becomes law, the new czar — whose official title has yet to be decided — would develop a climate change action plan and report annually to the state legislature about how climate change is impacting the state.

Sponsor Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D., 9th Dist.) said issues like cataclysmic wildfires, reduced snowpack and bark beetle infestation are the results of a decade-long drought that demand action.

The climate-change director would propose policies for green energy initiatives and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rosenthal also said climate change is an economic issue because less snow impacts winter tourism at ski resorts and results in less water in Colorado’s rivers and streams.

Colorado relies virtually entirely on snowfall for its water supply.

“Climate change is underway,” Rosenthal said. “The United States is getting warmer and it’s primarily due to greenhouse gases caused by manmade engines.”

The new role wouldn’t require any state funds, he said, because the duties could be added to an existing position within the governor’s office.

Republican committee members — some of whom squabbled with Rosenthal’s witnesses about scientific details and causes of global warming — saw the bill as a waste of time. Leaders in both parties have already called for late nights and a possible weekend workday to deal with a backlog of bills still to be heard before the session ends on May 8.

Some committee members argued that debating a time-consuming issue like climate change takes away from more pressing issues.

“I think there are bigger fish to fry and this is just another one of those things that I think we’re wasting time on,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican. “We have so much work to do. I think this will do nothing but (cause) us to waste our time and not get to things that are more important like creating jobs and improving the economy.”

Others took issue with how the bill sought to address climate change.

“If this problem is anywhere near as large and important as you describe it, I just cannot see how a part-time position could do much about it,” said Republican Rep. Bob Rankin. “If it’s really the problem you describe, it’s probably intractable. I think this position is unnecessary and I don’t believe (it can) possibly have a zero fiscal impact to prepare for global warning.”

But the Democrats who supported the bill called it reasonable to create a position in the government to measure how climate change was affecting everything from tourism to agriculture.

“Obviously, climate change is real,” said Rep. Steve Lebsock, whose comment was met with audible laughter from one of the committee members. “The policy that this state makes is critical to our future.”

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