The Colorado State Capitol at dusk.
The Colorado State Capitol in Denver. Credit: L. Chang / Creative Commons

The following commentary was written by Alli Gold Roberts, senior director for state policy at Ceres. See our commentary guidelines for more information.

As the harmful economic and financial effects of climate change become increasingly clear, investors and companies around the world are rapidly adjusting their business models — not just to reduce the risk and their exposure to climate catastrophes, but to capitalize on the industries of the future. 

That’s why, across the U.S. and in Colorado, businesses and investors are doubling down to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in innovative and sustainable clean technologies. And as that technology has advanced to make it easier and more advantageous for companies to cut their pollution, policymakers at both the state and federal level have worked to incentivize exactly these kinds of investments — to ensure their economies benefit from this windfall as they build for the future. 

In Colorado, we have seen officials take bold policy action to accelerate the adoption of clean electricity, clean transportation, clean buildings, clean appliances, and even clean lawn tools — an impressive suite of policies that have helped the state keep pace with other national climate leaders. Now the state has an opportunity to trailblaze in another sector of the economy, one that has so far lagged in pollution reduction: heavy industry and manufacturing. 

Under Colorado’s ambitious climate and environmental justice laws, the state is required to slash climate pollution from industrial sources — like factories and plants — by 2030. To achieve that goal, policymakers are in the process of crafting what will be a first-in-the-nation regulatory program: Phase II of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Management for Manufacturers, otherwise known as GEMM II, will be adopted later this year and go into effect as soon as next year. 

At a time when cleaner products are growing their competitive advantage in the global marketplace, GEMM II gives the state a real chance to be at the vanguard of clean manufacturing. But to reap the economic benefits promised by this transition, Colorado must get the policy right. 

The sustainability nonprofit I work with, Ceres, partners with companies and investors to capture the economic benefits of clean energy and reduce the financial risks of climate change. Having done this work for more than 30 years, Ceres has developed a robust understanding of how public policy can best help the private sector achieve these goals so that they can benefit entire state economies. Even companies that are not part of the manufacturing sector have a strong interest in reducing emissions from within it, because they often rely on its products — from microchips to glass bottles — within their supply chains and know they cannot fully clean up their own operations without policy support. 

That is why Ceres recently submitted a letter to state officials outlining what we believe are the best ways to successfully achieve the goals of GEMM II. Chief among them is simplicity. Colorado is on the clock to meet its climate goals, and 2030 is coming up fast. Policy clarity is essential to helping manufacturers prepare.  

This is not the time to introduce complex programs that essentially allow manufacturers to keep polluting at the same rate. Instead, GEMM II should prioritize rules that directly reduce climate pollution from manufacturing sites, encouraging them to adopt innovative yet proven technologies that will achieve the program’s goals while better positioning industry to thrive into the future. 

The GEMM II program must also strongly favor solutions that reduce not only pollution that harms the climate, but also air pollution that harms people and often comes from the same sources. Air pollution is a serious issue in its own right, causing increased rates of heart disease, lung disease, and other serious health problems in nearby communities. Almost all of the facilities that would fall under the GEMM 2 policy are located in communities that currently suffer from disproportionately high levels of pollution. Beyond its health effects, the threat of air pollution to their health and livelihood is also a drag on local economies. In addition, Colorado law requires that these communities must benefit from GEMM II — and reducing their exposure to toxic pollution is a clear benefit.  

While GEMM II may sound like a challenge to some manufacturers, it should be better understood as an opportunity. New incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act and other recent federal climate investments, as well as state tax credits and grant programs for the industrial sector, have made it more feasible for manufacturers to clean up their operations. What’s more, they have also sparked a rush of investor and corporate interest in clean manufacturing, and a number of success stories as industry leaders move to embrace clean solutions. 

We urge Colorado policymakers to seize this momentum and help manufacturers capture the swelling interest by adopting the most ambitious version of GEMM II possible. This is a chance to set a gold-standard policy that will make the state’s industrial sector more competitive, its climate goals more achievable, its air cleaner, its communities healthier, and its economy better positioned for the decades ahead.