Rep. Tracey Bernett
What is the social costs of carbon? To many in our community, this remains an abstract concept, one comprised of complex economics and a sea of variables. However, to me, the social costs of carbon are more than numbers and variables, they are lived experiences which affect the most important aspects of my daily life.
For almost my entire life I have been an avid runner. Over the years I have trained to become a world class competitor. In addition to being a veteran of 36 marathons and having represented Team USA at the 2018 World Masters Athletics outdoor competition in Malaga Spain, I also suffer from asthma. I am particularly sensitive to ozone, and Colorado’s front range is one of the worst places in the United States for ozone pollution. While other runners check the weather before they run, I have to check the ozone levels before I leave my home. Like me, my son also has asthma. At the age of 2, he had a life-threatening asthma attack. I saw my precious little boy hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment, his little belly blown up like a balloon because he couldn’t get air, and convulsing so violently I had to hold him down in his crib, for fear that he would convulse right over the sides of the crib. As the doctors huddled around trying to save his life, all I could do was pray. Since that terrible day, I have had to take him to the ER multiple times because of air pollution caused by massive wildfires. As climate change continues to increase severe weather patterns, natural disasters, and air pollution, I worry about his safety and health in the decades to come. When I think about taking action against climate change, I think about him, and that day, and I am reminded why we must do everything in our power to fight the terrible effects of climate change.
This is not just about me and my family. From wildfires that tear through our mountains at speeds and sizes never seen before, to floods like the one that devastated Boulder County in 2013, families across our community struggle with the effects of climate change. Even more pressing than the headline disasters is the slow and gradual changes that are taking place. Drought, volatile weather, decreased crop yields, erosion, reduced water quality, expansion of disease vectors, and air pollution are also some of the many devastating effects felt across our state. Our climate is becoming increasingly unstable, caused in large part by carbon dioxide and methane, a form of carbon, being released into the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels. These subtle changes to our climate are just as devastating as the major disasters. Associated with all of this is a huge economic burden borne by each and every citizen of our great state. Climate change isn’t just about our health and safety, it’s about our homes, jobs, communities, economy, national security, and yes, our very existence. This is the social cost of carbon: the devastating impact, every day, to people caused by an increasingly warmer climate.
Even before being elected to represent Colorado’s 12th State House district, I was a strong community advocate for the need to take action to stop climate change. Now, as a policymaker, I have the opportunity to take bold action to address the social costs of carbon on our communities. Often times, the most effective solutions are pragmatic and simple solutions which utilize existing systems to make effective change. I am working with my colleague Senator Chris Hansen to pass legislation which will reduce the amount of methane used to heat homes and businesses by encouraging Coloradans to replace their gas furnaces and water heaters with more efficient gas appliances as well as transitioning to clean heat technologies. This legislation, HB21-1238, does this by using a mechanism called Demand Side Management (DSM), a tool that has been used by utility companies for decades to encourage both gas and electric energy efficiency for their customers. By making the switch, not only will our emissions decrease, but consumers in Colorado will also see hundreds of millions of dollars in savings over the next decade.
HB21-1238 takes an unprecedented step forward in modernizing gas DSM programs by requiring the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, to include the social costs of carbon dioxide and methane in a cost-benefit analysis of gas DSM programs and takes into account the impact of these two potent greenhouse gases over the generations to come. This is one of the many practical approaches we can take to stopping climate change. Because the social costs of carbon are felt across our state, it is important that we take a unified stand to fight climate change to preserve and protect a future for our children and the Colorado we all know and love.