KC Becker has to be feeling good about the Colorado she’s helped create these days. You might or might not feel the same way.
Nobody, though, can say the former House speaker from Boulder hasn’t delivered on what she went to Denver to do, when she was elected to the legislature in 2012.
Colorado is harvesting the fruit of her political labor on climate change at the moment, and it merits recognition. Politics has a short memory.
How we got here also might give us a sense of where we’re going.
I’ll start at the beginning. The real beginning. When she was a teenager, Becker came west to Wyoming for a summer. She hiked the trails, and she climbed the mountains, where the sky unfolded like a blanket of blue with the evergreens spread out below her.
Becker is the mother of Colorado’s first climate action plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2050. When the rate-setting Public Utilities Commission was up for reauthorization, Becker built in a requirement for power companies to squeeze more juice from renewable sources.
I talked to her on the phone the day after Xcel Energy announced it would double its use of renewable energy to reduce its emissions 85% by 2030 and phase out coal by 2040. Per Becker, Xcel previously had pledged to go carbon-free by 2050.
To ease the fossil fuel pain, Becker sponsored a bill to help coal workers with extra unemployment benefits and job training, as well as grants to help communities land new employers. The thing is, coal has been in decline for a decade, before the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and a new president with green power in mind. Those folks were going to need help, regardless. Not a single Republican voted for the jobs bill. Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail who’s running for Congress next year, was Becker’s co-pilot.
“I think we made a lot of important changes,” she told me, deflecting credit, as she does. “But the statute only puts out the broad direction. The rule-making has to happen, and there’s a lot of pressure to move fast right now. There’s so much to do on climate, but there’s a process that has to happen.”
Gov. Jared Polis is trying to steer Colorado toward becoming 100% reliant on green energy by 2040, as well.
Without Becker, he’s lost a capable engineer.
As green as she is, she agrees with my friend Dan Haley, who leads the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Both say it won’t happen overnight.
“We should all be working to reduce emissions, but an all-renewable future is unrealistic, and Xcel’s plan points to that fact,” Dan told me in an email. He pivoted to power grid stability, a nagging question until the renewable market matures and storage batteries are a whole lot better than they are now.
“People’s lives and livelihoods depend on it,” Haley said of a balanced portfolio, “and cleaner-burning natural gas will continue to play a role in that for years to come.”
That means Coloradans still depend on oilfield workers, and Colorado still depends on the taxes and paychecks they pump into the economy.
“Activists may hate this fact, but when the rubber meets the road, we are a critical partner in efforts to combat global climate change,” Dan said, accurately.
Another friend in oil and gas, Laurie Cipriano, the spokeswoman for industry-friendly Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, keeps sending me a tweet the Sierra Club put out in December.
“CO is now a national leader in protecting health, safety, and wildlife from oil & gas drilling,” the venerable environmental group said on Twitter, vouching for Colorado’s regulatory environment. “This is great progress, and we look forward to seeing more improvements to oil & gas regulations.”
Cipriano told me, “Oil and natural gas companies are not barriers to a clean-energy future. They are an indispensable link to get there without sacrificing the energy reliability our world needs to thrive and survive.”
She called natural gas a “driving force” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the invisible great white shark of climate change.
Term-limited out of the House this year, Becker won’t have to do the heavy legislative lifting anymore. She doesn’t have to manage a caucus with ideas that range from fringe to damn-near conservative.
Becker, though, was built for that place.
When she was 13, her job was to ride on the hood of dad’s car to scout for alligators lurking in the family’s Florida orange grove. I know a little about gators and a little more about politics. They both are opportunistic feeders, and a keen eye for predators would serve you well in the swamp.
Green beings like her control Colorado’s levers of power for now. They will move fast on that agenda, just as Republicans will when given their chance at legislative majorities and a GOP governor.
Voters decide what kind of state this is and what kind of regulations they’re willing to pay for. That’s political math and science.
I couldn’t tell you what Becker’s political future holds, even knowing what I know. She won’t be on the sideline long. I know that.