Published: Aug. 1, 2019 By

By 9 a.m. Thursday, a long line of attendees coursed through the lobby of Wolf Law and out onto the building’s terrace. More than 250 people packed the Wittemyer Courtroom at the University of Colorado Law School for the first field hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Others watched the hearing from an overflow room.

In opening statements, Rep. Kathy Castor, the committee’s chair, set up the tone of the hearing by focusing on research.

“One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is make sure clean energy technology can move from the lab to the market,” Castor said.

Committee member Rep. Joe Neguse, of Boulder, echoed her sentiments in a written statement, noting Boulder was a perfect place for the hearing.

“The state of Colorado–and the 2nd Congressional District in particular–is an epicenter for climate change research, home to both renowned research facilities at the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University and the federally funded labs and facilities at the forefront of climate and environmental research,” he said.

After opening statements, Gov. Jared Polis kicked off witness testimony, talking about the ways Colorado is leading in green technology.

CU Boulder Chief Sustainability Officer Heidi VanGenderen also testified, and sat on a panel of officials and energy experts from Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins during a discussion that took up the bulk of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing.

VanGenderen urged the federal government to take leadership on energy policy.

“The economic, health and community development benefits derived from a willing diversification of our energy fuel portfolio are eminently evident in Colorado and elsewhere around the world,” VanGenderen said.

She recommended Congress take a closer look at supporting new energy economy strategies.

VanGenderen also pointed to several pieces of leading-edge research, including CU Boulder’s development of a game-changing long-range methane leak detection system, nanohybrid organisms that use pollutants to produce biodegradable plastics and fuels, and an electric vehicle charging infrastructure that allows vehicles to charge as they drive, much of it funded by federal dollars.

“Research for all aspects of climate change and the energy transition is an extraordinarily important investment as researchers and scientists seek to provide you, the lawmakers, accurate, science-based evidence on which to base policies, programs and investments that can make a difference at sufficient speed and scale,” she said.

A Congressional Field Trip

Committee members, including Rep. Neguse, got a first-hand look at some of that research, by touring several Colorado-based scientific research facilities, including the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) ahead of their hearing.

On Tuesday, CU Boulder Provost Russell Moore and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Terri Fiez welcomed the dignitaries to CIRES.

The committee heard presentations from experts like Waleed Abdalati, the director of CIRES and a CU Boulder geography professor.

Abdalati and Caroline Alden, a research scientist at CIRES, briefed the committee on new ways of detecting greenhouse gases.

Jennifer Balch, a CIRES fellow and geography professor, talked about ways of preventing large wildfires, and focused on California’s Paradise fire.

A History of Informing Policy

VanGenderen is the latest among a number of CU Boulder experts to speak before congressional committees, but not the first this year:

Experts and researchers have also worked with state and federal legislators to help inform and shape policy decisions.

In 2018, Beverly Kingston and Bill Woodward of CU Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV) worked with the Colorado Attorney General’s office to co-author the Colorado School Safety Guide, a 145-page resource spelling out research-based recommendations on how to prevent school violence.