Across Colorado, the New Year is being rung-in with the sound of filibusters and repeals. The Colorado legislative session is off and running like my mom’s miniature goat with my hand knitted wool hat — no stopping it and no chance of putting it back in the pen until the hat is eaten and the dust clears, or rather session ends in early May.
The Colorado conservation community has developed a commonsense agenda for the legislative session to protect our environment and quality of life. These legislative priorities for 2014 will include efforts to keep Colorado at the forefront of creating clean renewable energy jobs and using our current energy more efficiently. We will work to provide safeguards for communities from uranium mining and hold drilling and fracking operations accountable. Other measures will include implementing innovative recycling and sustainable transportation efforts to help create jobs and literally drive Colorado’s economy.
The first bill in 2014 to gain widespread support is House Bill 29; an effort to streamline paint recycling. Toxic chemicals from unused paint often end up in our landfills and waterways because we’ve not had options to recycle or properly dispose of them. With the support of the paint industry, we’ll be working to set up an infrastructure for Coloradans to recycle paint, keeping it out of our basements, landfills, and waterways. Modeled after legislation implemented in seven states, improved paint recycling infrastructure offers economic development opportunities for rural communities.
For ten years now, commonsense public policy has expanded our investment in clean energy and helped to create thousands of jobs across Colorado. This investment not only occurs in urban centers, but also in rural communities like ours as a result of rural focused legislation such as last year’s Senate Bill 252, the rural renewable energy standard. Despite the extreme rhetoric from opponents of SB 252, this standard hasn’t closed our mines or power plants. Few people in the Northwest realize that we actually get our energy from the Yampa Valley Electric Association’s wholesale purchase agreement with Xcel, a utility that is on track to generated 30 percent of it’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.
When the governor signed SB 252 in 2013, he invited Tri-State and other stakeholders to form an advisory committee to review the law and suggest any potential changes. The committee determined by consensus that the 20 percent by 2020 rural renewable energy standard is not only achievable, but that consumers in rural Colorado are protected from price increases. New legislation to roll back or appeal SB 252 is just plain politics and Coloradans deserve better.
Hundreds of bills are introduced each legislative session but very few are ready or have the support to be adopted into law. Northwest Colorado’s Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Gilpin, has introduced House Bill 1150, mandating the State Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to review federal lands management plans. However, socio-economic analyses are already required by the National Environmental Protection Act. Furthermore, local and state governments already have special cooperating status in shaping decisions for public lands. Public lands benefit our community and this bill would add unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. I hope Rankin will instead work with the conservation community to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Action and the important contribution public lands make to our communities, economy and quality of life.
I have sympathy for all our political representatives. Creating legislation is messy and rarely results in perfection. Bringing a diverse group of politicians together in an election year reminds me of trying to corral a wily mini-goat; it’s really hard to accomplish without help. If state politics are getting your goat, I recommend that you get involved. Start by visiting our website — conservationco.org to learn what the conservation community is working on — you might be surprised at how pro-jobs, pro-economic development and pro-Colorado conservation is in Colorado.
Sasha Nelson is a field organizer with Conservation Colorado in Craig.