Our Four Priorities for the Colorado Legislature in 2017

Photo: http://capitalcitiesusa.org/?page_id=1979

This year holds a lot of promise, in spite of a disappointing start to 2017 for environmental issues on the federal level, with President-elect Trump’s nomination of several very concerning cabinet nominees.

But the election has not changed what we plan to do here in Colorado. We will still work to clean up our air, make our water use more efficient, protect our public lands, and ensure that every person in Colorado lives in a healthy environment. We are prepared to fight even harder to make change on the state level to protect Colorado’s air, land, water, and communities.

One of the most important places we can make change on the state level is in our legislature, which convenes on Wednesday, January 11th. Little changed in the balance of the state legislature this year except that the conservation majority in the state House grew and is now 37 Democrats and 28 Republicans (the state Senate is comprised of 18 Republicans and 17 Democrats).

Conservation Colorado has four main areas where we want to see change — and we have reason to be optimistic for each of these in the upcoming year. These priorities reflect the fact that Coloradans care deeply about our way of life. For example, the Conservation in the West poll found that 89 percent of Colorado voters cite a “healthy, outdoor lifestyle” as a key reason they live in the state, higher than quality of public schools or taxes.

Here are four important places where we could make major progress this year through the state legislature and other ongoing efforts:

  1. Making change the Colorado way — by leading the nation and creating clean energy jobs.

Colorado often charts its own path, especially when it comes to energy and the environment. For example, we were the first state to have a voter-approved renewable energy standard back in 2004. We passed groundbreaking rules to control methane pollution three years ago, and last year we were the first state to designate our own Public Lands Day. In the face of intransigence from Congress and President, it’s more important than ever that we continue this legacy of leading the nation.

This means we will fight to have the cleanest air in the nation and to make sure that our clean tech sector thrives. We plan to help ensure that communities in rural Colorado are economically diversified, especially those that have been historically dependent on resources like coal. We know the renewable energy sector can be a big source of jobs — 62,000 of them, in fact — and we want to see that job growth continue while keeping our air clean.

We must also fight against any attacks on Colorado’s right to decide what is best for our state. This also means we will defend against any attacks on Colorado’s right to choose our own path that come from the Trump administration, such as throwing our lands open to drilling or rolling back critical environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act.

2. Preparing for the future: transportation and growth

Colorado’s population is set to double from 2000 levels by 2050. We need to prepare now for the coming growth and influx of people to our state. We must make sure there is enough water to go around; that safety, traffic, and public transportation are vastly improved; and that there are plenty of protected open lands for future generations to enjoy.

Photo by RTD

In 2017, there’s huge potential for success. We’re currently working with a large coalition on a transportation package. In addition to the needed funding for repairing roads and bridges, we’re asking for major investments in improving transit, walking, and biking options. A strong commitment to improving this infrastructure now will pay off in making our cities more accessible and our air cleaner in the future.

We’re going to be working on transportation and growth in several other ways. In 2016, the state legislature helped make Colorado the best state in the nation to buy an electric vehicle with improved tax credits. Now we must make sure it is the best state to drive an electric vehicle by investing in charging stations and other infrastructure.

3. Protecting the health of our children

Our children are our future. They are also one of the most susceptible populations to environmental pollution, whether that is polluted air or tainted water.

Especially in low-income communities, which in Colorado are often dominated by a racial or ethnic minority group, children have much higher chances of suffering from asthma or other diseases related to pollution. Every child has a right to live in a healthy community, and we must take every action possible to protect our kids.

Specifically, this means we are going to work to ensure that oil and gas infrastructure does not encroach on our communities, which can damage air and water quality in our neighborhoods. We will also work to defend the gains we’ve made on clean air and clean energy.

4. Preventing waste and pollution: Using our resources sustainably

We can’t take our natural resources for granted, and we must use what we have carefully. That means ensuring that they are not wasted — whether that is energy lost on its way from the power plants to our homes and businesses or water that could have been used more efficiently. We must also ensure that the natural resources we have are clean and pristine, and not polluted by accidents or thoughtlessness.

We’ll do this by fighting to hold industry accountable, especially for activities like mining where the waste can affect the health of people nearby. We’ll work to cut down on waste in our energy infrastructure as well as water systems.

All in all, we’re feeling optimistic about this year’s legislative session. There’s a lot we can do on the state level to protect our environment, and Colorado is poised to lead the way for the nation. We are looking forward to making progress with champions on both sides of the aisle to protect what we love about Colorado: our way of life.

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