Our Seven Wins for the Environment During the 2017 Colorado Legislative Session
Every year in Colorado, 100 legislators buckle down for five months of proposing, hearing, amending, discussing, killing, and passing bills. This year’s legislative session had several great, bipartisan wins for conservation issues. Conservation champions on both sides of the aisle stood up for our air, water, and public lands. We’re excited about the passage of seven meaningful and innovative bills that protect our environment.
But throughout the session, a group of radical right-wing Republican senators repeatedly blocked progress, putting themselves on the wrong side of history and supporting polluters and big industry over everyday Coloradans. In fact, we saw obstructionism and pushback on even the simplest of issues, like whether to ban the nuisance of “coal rolling.” These loud voices against conservation in the state Senate should serve as a reminder about why voting matters.
Here are our seven key wins this year:
Clean Energy and Air
We moved the needle on clean energy and saving money for consumers this session with two big wins. First, we played a key role in extending Colorado’s successful Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), which requires energy savings goals for utility companies and provides incentives for implementing energy efficiency programs. Since it started in 2008, this program has created over 40,000 jobs and avoided 1.85 million metric tons of carbon pollution while saving Coloradans over $1.3 billion in utility costs. This program was set to expire in 2018, but we helped extend it to 2028.
Second, we supported the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), which helps low-income families by providing energy bill assistance and energy efficiency programs. Since LEAP began in 2006, it has saved working Colorado families over $140 million in energy costs. This program was set to expire soon, but we helped extend it indefinitely to provide continued support to low-income families.
Another big win for our clean air was outlawing “coal rolling”. Coal rolling is when a person tampers with the exhaust system of a diesel-engine truck to blow black smoke from the tailpipes to annoy pedestrians and motorists. Belching smoke from a vehicle can be a safety hazard, and is harmful to the health of our communities and environment. Now, rolling coal is illegal in Colorado as a Class A traffic infraction, punishable by a $100 fine.
In addition, we fought to defend tax credits for electric vehicles in Colorado. Last year, we helped put this progressive tax credit in place; this year, we fought back when Republican lawmakers tried to undo it. Colorado remains the best state in which to buy an electric vehicle!
We made real progress for protecting clean drinking water and healthy rivers at the Capitol this year. One of our bills that had major bipartisan support was to provide funding for schools to test for lead in their water. Lead can leach into drinking water from old pipes and fixtures. A few Colorado school districts have already tested for lead, and found more than 100 schools had water sites with elevated levels of lead. There is no safe level of lead exposure, and it is especially damaging to young children. This new program to provide funding for schools to test for lead in their water will pay off in a big way when it comes to safeguarding our children’s health and drinking water.
Another success this year was in the form of securing funding for our rivers and streams. Every year, the Colorado legislature votes to approve a bill that determines how we invest in our state’s water resources. This year that bill includes a real commitment to funding conservation and healthy rivers.
In the past few years, we have seen a resurgence from extremists to seize public lands for state or private control. This idea rose all the way up to the national Republican Party platform in 2016. However, Colorado lawmakers have continued to stand up against this idea. Over the past five years, eight bills were proposed that would have promoted public land seizure in some way — and they were all rejected. This year, we didn’t see any bills involving seizing or selling off public lands, which goes to show how politically toxic the issue has become.
We don’t always get to continue celebrating our victories year after year, but last year we helped pass a bill that establishes an annual holiday! Now, the first-ever Colorado Public Lands Day is coming up on May 20th, 2017. There are more than 100 events planned across the state, from trail restoration to mountain biking to happy hours. Find an event near you >>
Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry continues to fight every measure proposed at the state Capitol that relates to their industry. We’ve seen this fight play out time and time again, and it’s shocking what they are willing to urge legislators to vote against.
This conversation was amplified by an explosion in Firestone, Colorado in April that killed two people in their home due to gas from a cut supply line running from a nearby well. This tragedy is a grim reminder that oil and gas drilling is a dangerous industrial activity.
This year, we saw three simple, common sense bills go down that would have kept our communities safe from oil and gas drilling.
- Protecting children from oil and gas wells located near schools (HB 1256)
- Providing notice and transparency to property and mineral rights owners in the gas patch (HB 1372)
- Securing mapping of and information about oil and gas lines, a critical necessity in the wake of the Firestone tragedy (HB 1336)
Bills stalled or killed
Several other environmental priorities were left on the cutting room floor this year, thanks to opposition from the right-wing of the Republican party. These bills included funding to improve transportation infrastructure and options; funding for our state parks; opening up new opportunities for investment in electric vehicles; and defending the Colorado Energy Office, which will now be largely pared down from lack of funds.
With the end of the legislative session, another chapter is ending. But the work continues. We’ll keep fighting on these issues — especially the ones that didn’t move forward this year — to keep making progress to protect Colorado’s future.