Apr 16, 2021 | NEWS | By Brigitte Arcoite | Illustration by Xixi Qin

“I really believe in activism,” said Colorado College student Filip Čarnogurský ’23, regarding his work on the new bill SB21-200, Reduce Greenhouse Gases Increase Environmental Justice.

Čarnogurský expresses this passion through his Bonner Fellowship, where he works as a student campaign organizer with the Sierra Club. In past months, he has worked to shift the proposed shutdown date for the local coal-burning Drake Power Plant from 2030 to 2023, and shutdown date for the similarly-powered Ray Nixon Plant from 2050 to 2030.

This is where the importance of the bill comes in. As Čarnogurský stated, these commitments made by Colorado Springs officials “are still a promise, so they can very easily change this.” Although HB19-1261, Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, otherwise known as Roadmap, seeks to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, without the hard law offered by SB21-200, the state of Colorado will likely not be on track to meet these climate goals.

Not only does this bill seek to actively “lock in these promises” by setting clear and legally-enforceable deadlines, it also focuses on centering climate justice in the conversation by hiring environmental justice staff and requiring processes to better engage disproportionately affected communities.

Specifically in Colorado, these injustices are felt strongly because of global temperature rise that increases the severity and length of wildfire seasons, and the risk of heat stroke, most severely in low-income neighborhoods and within communities of color.

While participating actively in Colorado politics may not have direct legal implications on the federal policy that can fight these global issues, Colorado can and has acted as a role model in climate action for other states.

The passing of this bill would not only set a precedent for legally-enforced climate policy in the U.S., it would also be the first of its kind in Colorad to address environmental justice.

Though the environmental justice clause of the bill is revolutionary in its appearance, Čarnogurský questioned the enforceability of engagement with marginalized communities.

Of further concern regarding this bill is potential pushback from the governor’s office. As Čarnogurský noted, “If [Polis] doesn’t sign this bill it will be hard to explain why,” especially considering his progressive nature and pro-climate plans.

Despite these critiques, SB21-200, sponsored by Democratic state senators Faith Winter and Dominick Moreno, as well as Democratic Rep. Dominique Jackson, will enter the state Senate on April 19.

The Colorado Springs Sunrise Movement co-leader, Brita Mackey ’22 said, “Getting loud and being there and forcing politicians to confront these issues is the best way to create change with climate policy.”

The Colorado Springs Sunrise Hub endorses SB21-200 and is actively working to promote it for as long as it is on the table.

The Sunrise Hub is just one way that students can stay actively engaged in direct action toward deterring climate change. Mackey described the organization as “a movement of young people dedicated to fighting climate change and creating good jobs in the process.” Founded in 2017, its main push is to promote the Green New Deal through various activist and awareness events.

When asked about the role CC students play in promoting SB21-200, Čarnogurský noted that it could make a difference “if we could show that CC really cares about it and has [Senator Pete Lee’s] back … there are a few people in the Senate that would love to hear from our voices.”

As one example, Čarnogurský described his experience meeting with City Council members of Colorado Springs in pushing for the shutdown of the two coal-fueled power plants.

When discussing unusually high ozone levels in Colorado Springs, Čarnogurský brought in a doctor from Denver to talk about data and the members sat there looking extremely bored.

When the City Council asked for more personal connections linked to the high levels of pollution prevalent in Colorado Springs, a family struggling with asthma spoke up about their experience. Due to their proximity to the power plant, the father could not make it to the grocery store because he could not breathe properly.

From engagement on social media to posting an original song on promoting climate-based policies, Čarnogurský displayed examples of how “activism can be so much fun.” Other key actions that could make a big impact can be found on the Climate Action Bill Toolkit form facilitated by Čarnogurský and fellow Bonner student Julieta Lechini ’22.

Čarnogurský emphasized that “our personal reasons for why we care about climate change really matter.” He is hoping that his and other students’ faith in activism will help to get SB21-200 through the senate.

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