The Case for a Just Transition

The Current State of Colorado’s Energy Economy

Hi! My name is Jane Allen and I am the Assistant Director of Climate and Energy Resilience for The Coalition, a program of The Alliance for Collective Action.

In 2021, The Coalition’s Climate and Energy group researched gaps in the state’s climate agenda to determine where our group could provide the most value. It quickly became clear that although the state has set ambitious climate targets, the outsized impact of the oil and gas sector on climate and public health has not been fully acknowledged or addressed by the state. Additionally, jobs in oil and gas have decreased due to the overall viability of the oil and gas sector, which will be increasingly challenged in the coming years as energy markets continue to shift to renewables. This has serious consequences for workers and communities who have historically relied on oil and gas as a main source of income.

We know that the urgency of the climate crisis requires us to rapidly shift from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. Despite this, Colorado remains the 5th largest oil producer and 7th largest gas producer in the country. In addition to the climate, the health and wellbeing of communities are also impacted. A 2022 report found that a quarter million Coloradans, including 74,000 children, are at risk due to their proximity to oil and gas production.

While these harms cannot be ignored, it is important to recognize that this sector plays an important role in Colorado’s economy and that funding from oil and gas taxes support local communities and public goods. This is why a thoughtful, managed transition is essential to repair the harms of the fossil fuel industry and ensure that Colorado workers and communities are not left behind in the process. Colorado has made incredible progress transitioning communities away from coal. The state now has a moral responsibility to look after the oil and gas workers who have powered Colorado, as well as the communities disproportionately impacted by pollutants, poor air quality and climate change.

In an effort to better understand the oil and gas industry and its true impact to Colorado, we commissioned a study to examine the labor, revenue, environmental and health implications of the sector, as well as potential pathways for a transition. This was an important first step to determining the best course of action given the state’s unique opportunities and challenges in this arena.

Read on to hear our summer intern from the University of Chicago, Kinar, share more about his research on this topic, key findings and recommendations for future action.

A Just Transition is Both Necessary and Viable

Hi! My name is Kinar and I’m a junior at the University of Chicago studying Economics and Philosophy. I was born and raised in Chicago and have spent my past few summers conducting research into economic and legal policy and refugee asylum reform, Most recently, I have worked in investment banking. Outside of class, work and research, I play for my university’s hockey team and help lead a student organization that provides mentorship and career workshops to undergraduates interested in economics.

While I’ve spent my life in the Midwest, I’ve long held a deep respect and appreciation for the Rocky Mountains. Protecting our climate and natural resources has always been important to me, and this summer, thanks to Jane and the RRC, I was able to combine my interests in environmental reform with economic development.

The project’s mandate was to truth-test many of the oil and gas industry’s claims in order to conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis of the environmental, economic and social consequences at stake. To this end, Jane and I decided to narrow the scope even further to look at the tax impact of the oil and gas industry for the state and local economies, labor implications for workers, funding for schools and damage to local ecosystems. We then researched and analyzed the viability of clean, renewable energy to fully replace fossil fuels in a long-term, controlled transition for the State of Colorado.

Instead of conducting a traditional research report, I decided to use geographic information system mapping (GIS) through ARCGIS to create an interactive and engaging experience that leverages data to tell a story. This technology is being used by many policy and academic institutions to try to better understand and communicate the hidden messages in massive datasets.

Combined with traditional research methods, we found that a full, just transition for Colorado is not only needed immediately, but is fully economically viable. Investment in renewable energy is vast, and combined with community and government support is on track to outpace the positive economic impact of the oil and gas industry within the next 20 years. As such, we recommend that the State of Colorado, the public and private sector and individuals come together to advocate for a just transition to renewable energy.

The report can be accessed here. I recommend that you explore and interact with the maps and hope that you will advocate for a clean energy transition for Colorado!