Here are Ten Environmental Wins for Colorado in 2016

The year 2016 will go down in history for the results of the presidential election — which, as we noted, are “challenging” for those of us who care about climate change, public lands, and water. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have major progress towards conservation this year. In Colorado, we saw truly exciting steps toward standing up for our public lands, protecting our rivers and streams, and cleaning up our air.

Here are ten wins we achieved this year in Colorado:

1. The biggest-ever wind project in Colorado got a green light to begin construction.

In September, Colorado took a huge step towards a renewable energy future with the approval of the Rush Creek wind project. This wind farm, which will be located on Colorado’s eastern plains, will have the capacity to generate 600 megawatts of clean energy for the state. This project will reduce carbon pollution, employ Coloradans, and save money for energy consumers — it’s estimated to save up to $443 million over 25 years for Xcel customers. It will increase Xcel’s wind capacity by 20 percent, and continue Colorado’s strong legacy of leading in renewable energy.

2. The Roan Plateau and its valuable wildlife habitat were permanently protected from fracking and drilling.

After a decade of hard work and legal battles, November saw a conclusion and final decision that will protect the Roan Plateau from oil and gas drilling. It’s worth remembering that this outcome marks the culmination of a long fight that started when the Bush Administration decided to allow thousands of wells on top of the extraordinary and wild plateau. Industry, conservation groups, and the government finally reached an historic settlement after years of litigation and controversy.

3. We legalized rain barrels.

After a two-year legislative fight, we helped legalize rain barrels in Colorado! Now Colorado residents can catch rainwater and reuse it to water their gardens. Rain barrels are a simple and effective way to conserve water, and they connect people to our water supply.

Governor Hickenlooper signs a rain barrel just after signing them into law.

4. We’re going to get more solar energy.

In November, a major agreement was approved by the Colorado Public Utility Commission between Xcel Energy, consumer advocates, conservation groups, and other stakeholders. As one news outlet put it, it was a “landmark” decision that “could be a model for the nation.” This decision will provide consumers more choice in their electricity sources, enable more renewables like solar and wind energy to be built, advance fair rates for rooftop solar, and allow industries to recycle wasted heat into energy. This marks a big turning point for Colorado’s energy mix!

5. We established the first-ever state Public Lands Day.

This year, following the armed seizure of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, Coloradans responded with a message of our own: public lands deserve to be celebrated, not seized. This newly-established holiday, which will occur the third Saturday of every May, will be a day to enjoy and give back to our public lands. We hope to see you out there on May 20th!

6. The beautiful Thompson Divide will be protected for future generations.

In the heart of the Thompson Divide, twenty-five illegal oil and gas leases were canceled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this fall. After getting tremendous pressure from concerned Coloradans, including sportsmen, ranchers, and other residents of the area, the BLM canceled those 25 oil and gas leases that were improperly issued over 15 years ago, all in violation of environmental laws. These leases were spread across spectacular, mostly roadless backcountry both in and around the Thompson Divide.

7. National methane standards were finalized.

This year we were pleased to see a new rule enacted to reduce methane pollution for all new oil and gas wells. These promising rules were modeled after Colorado’s, which we helped set up in 2014 and have been effective for cutting pollution while still allowing the industry to grow.

8. We helped a Colorado agency open their doors to listen to disenfranchised communities.

A group of students attending the CDPHE’s hearing on the Clean Power Plan.

Early this year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) held a series of public hearings on how we should implement the Clean Power Plan in Colorado. The first hearing was a hassle for anyone trying to attend who wasn’t getting paid to do so. It was held during the day, the online sign-up form was difficult to navigate, and there were no translation services provided for those who do not speak English as a first language. Our staff raised these concerns, and the CDPHE was very receptive to all the suggestions. The next hearing was held in the evening and translation was provided, which was enormously helpful for the 10 people who testified in Spanish that day out of the 20 slots available.

9. Colorado is now the best state in the nation to buy an electric vehicle.

We worked to get a bill passed in the state Legislature that updated and streamlined a tax credit which benefits buyers of alternative fuel vehicles, like electric vehicles (EVs). Previously, taxpayers had to navigate a complicated formula and long process with the Colorado Department of Revenue. This bill clarifies tax credit amounts, extends the life of the program, and makes it easier for buyers to get the benefit of the credits up front, making Colorado the best state in the country to buy an EV.

10. Helped increase the pro-conservation majority in the state House.

This year’s election had sweeping impacts on the local as well as national levels. Conservation Colorado endorsed 60 candidates running for office here in our state, and 54 of these candidates won their races. Our efforts knocking doors, making calls, sending letters, and bringing attention to these races helped pick up three additional pro-conservation seats in the House. This means Representative Crisanta Duran — who has a 100 percent lifetime score on our annual conservation scorecard — will serve as Speaker of the House, becoming the first Latina to hold that position in any state.

Conservation Colorado staff and volunteers helping local candidates on the campaign trail.

We can’t deny that it’ll be a different political climate next year. But we’ve got a long history of success that proves we know how to get things done. There was some great progress made in 2016, and we’ll keep fighting to ensure the same for next year.

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