Court Slaps Down Right Wing Attack On Colorado Clean Energy Standard

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Colorado’s renewable energy standard, one of the most ambitious in the U.S., has the distinction of being approved not just by the state legislature but also by voters in a statewide referendum.

Now it’s been approved in the courts.

In a decision that could have implications for other renewable energy requirements under attack by the fossil fueled right wing, a U.S. District Court judge has upheld Colorado’s RES. Judge William J. Martinez flatly rejected arguments by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute that Colorado’s RES violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Martinez granted summary judgment to the three defendants in the case, all commissioners of the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

In a news release responding to the decision, EarthJustice — which represented environmental groups which intervened in the case — said the decision will have implications beyond Colorado because renewable standards in some of the 30 other states that have them are “under legal attack by the fossil fuel industry and its supporters.”

Michael Hiatt, an EarthJustice attorney, said in an interview there have been a number of cases attacking clean energy and climate change efforts that have been rooted in Commerce Clause arguments and that the Colorado decision is important in beating back that line of legal attack. “It confirms that states do have the authority to mandate the use of renewables,” he said.

The Colorado case dates to 2011 when plaintiff Energy and Environment Legal Institute was known as the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a longtime opponent of mainstream climate science and clean energy. ATI had a partner organization called the American Tradition Partnership. According to the Institute for Southern Studies the groups have ties to fossil fuel interests including the Koch brothers.

According to SourceWatch, ATI or its employees have been involved in campaign finance violations in Montana, in suing the University of Virginia to obtain access to the emails of climatologist Michael Mann, and in an effort to build a nationwide movement against wind power.

Colorado voters approved the state’s first RES in 2004, which required large investor-owned utilities to get 10 percent of their power from renewable sources. The state legislature has twice improved upon that first requirement, and those large utilities must now get 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by the year 2020. Municipal utilities and large rural electric co-ops must meet less stringent standards.