On climate change, is Gov. John Hickenlooper ripping a page directly from President Obama’s authoritarian playbook?
Obama dodged global warming during his reelection campaign, only to make it his “legacy” issue after he won a second term — and no longer faced voter scrutiny.
But he had a big problem: Bipartisan majorities in Congress refused to go along with the president’s climate policies.
Under American constitutional government, congressional rejection of a major policy should limit the president’s authority to implement that policy. Yet Obama unilaterally turned the Constitution on its head.
In early 2013, the president announced he would “act” on climate because Congress had failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill. And in 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a controversial climate policy with the innocuously named Clean Power Plan, which is backstopped by a cap-and-trade scheme. Thus, the president used congressional inaction as a justification to impose his climate policy through executive means. Obama’s attempt to legislate from the White House makes a mockery of the separation of powers established by the Constitution.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court took the highly unusual step of halting implementation of Obama’s climate plan until its legality is judged by federal courts. In the meantime, Hickenlooper is imitating the president’s embrace of regal prerogatives.
In late August, the governor’s office leaked a discussion draft of an executive order that would require Colorado state agencies to work with area utilities to achieve a 35 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power generation by 2030. As with Obama’s climate regulations, Hickenlooper is seeking to impose his preferred policy by executive fiat.
To be sure, the Colorado legislature never authorized the governor to independently impose cuts in greenhouse gases. Instead, by bipartisan majorities, the Colorado House and Senate passed a budget last April that strips the Air Pollution Control Division at the Department of Public Health and Environment of $100,000, which was an “estimate of what they might be spending” on the federal Clean Power Plan, according to Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee.
So the Colorado legislature expressed its intention to tap the brakes on the EPA’s climate plan, and now Hickenlooper wants to put the pedal to the metal in order to accelerate past federal targets. In effect, the governor is acting in contravention to the stated intent of the people of Colorado’s elected representatives, just like Obama is doing to Congress.
The governor deflects accusations of an executive grab by claiming the executive order is nonbinding, but that defense doesn’t square with the plain wording of the order, which stipulates that “Colorado state agencies shall implement strategies to achieve” greenhouse gas reductions.
At a minimum, the order sends a clear message to Colorado’s largest investor owned utility, Xcel Energy, that the state’s executive urges its compliance with the EPA’s climate regulations — and strongly encourages the governor-appointed Public Utilities Commission to approve Xcel’s plans. At worst, it’s a power grab.
In sum, Hickenlooper, like Obama, is intent on imposing climate policies over the will of the people. When it next convenes, the legislature should call out the governor over this heavy-handed power grab.
Amy Oliver Cooke is executive vice president and director of the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute. William Yeatman is a senior fellow specializing in energy markets and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.