Conservationists give legislature, Governor green stamp of approval

Environment Colorado

DENVER—Today leaders of Colorado’s conservation community met at the state capitol to outline the numerous 2007 legislative victories for Colorado’s environment.

“This year, Colorado lawmakers ran the most pro-conservation legislature in our state’s history,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “We have seen the passage of new laws that bolster Colorado’s new energy economy, balance oil and gas development with protection of wildlife habitat and local communities, and ensure our state’s water resources are clean.”

Over a dozen bills promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency were approved this year – including the cornerstone of Gov. Ritter’s renewable energy platform – HB 1281, which increases the Colorado Renewable Energy Standard to 20% by 2020. According to a report by Environment Colorado, the increased Renewable Energy Standard will add over $1.9 billion to the state’s economy by 2020.

“Governor Ritter and the 65th General Assembly made ColoradoColorado will look back on the 2007 session as the tipping point for our new energy economy.” a true national leader in renewable energy,” said Will Coyne, Program Director with Environment Colorado.

In addition to HB 1281 which increased the Renewable Energy Standard, the legislature passed bills to encourage the construction of transmission lines for wind energy, provide incentives for renewable energy and efficiency projects, increase energy efficiency standards in building codes, and expand energy efficiency programs for natural gas and electric utilities.

“Governor Ritter and state lawmakers kept their campaign promises to put Colorado on a path to a new energy future,” added Coyne.

The legislature also passed several bills that will increase environmental and public health protections in the face of unprecedented oil and gas development. The Department of Natural Resources led an effort to reform the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by running HB07-1341. This measure reforms the commission so that the oil and gas industry is no longer guaranteed a majority of seats on the committee while also requiring commissioners to avoid and minimize damage to the environment, wildlife resources and public health.

“As oil and gas development expands, these new protections will help balance economic growth with protections for health and the environment from Weld County

out to the west slope,” said Suzanne Oneil, Director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “The 2007 legislature provided much needed protection for the people and the environment of impacted communities.”

In addition to reforming the oil and gas commission, the legislature also passed HB07-1298 to increase protection for wildlife in oil and gas development areas. HB07-1298 makes protecting wildlife resources part of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission and ensures that the Division of Wildlife plays a more prominent role in protecting wildlife in the face of oil and gas development.

Efforts to protect water quality also met with great success. This year sportsmen and conservationists teamed up to protect Colorado’s water resources by supporting HB07-1132, a measure allowing state water courts to protect water quality – a similar bill to one that suffered defeat in the Senate during the 2006 session. This year, the bill achieved strong bipartisan support in the legislature and backing from water providers and conservationists.

“Keeping the water in our rivers and streams clean is an issue near and dear to anglers,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We are very pleased to see the legislature provide this new tool to protect water quality when large amounts of water change hands.”

The conservation community also partnered with local governments and agricultural groups to pass HB07-1329 which adds 12 employees to monitor and enforce water quality. In 2004 a report was issued by the Water Quality Control Division Director stating water quality programs were “at risk of failure” due to “virtually no enforcement” of water and wastewater treatment violations discovered during inspections. The legislature also passed HB07-1012 which ensures that people are not penalized when they loan water rights to maintain instream flows, and SB 8, which increases assistance to local communities to create and implement water efficiency plans.

“This session was a banner year for passing strong environmental policy, and we certainly applaud the work of the legislature,” said Doyle.

2007 Pro-Environment Bills
Passed by Colorado General Assembly

Doubled Renewable Energy Standard, House Bill 1281
Sponsors: Representative Pommer, Senator Schwartz
This bill doubled the renewable energy standard set forth in the voter approved Amendment 37 requiring that all utility companies are required to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This is the primary vehicle to jump start Colorado’s new energy economy and will ensure that all utilities participate in renewable energy development.

Energy Resource Zones Transmission Development Senate Bill 100
Sponsors: Senator Fitz-Gerald, Representative McFadyen
This law allows utility companies to build transmission lines to encourage renewable energy development. Requires electric utilities to do biannual reviews to identify areas where transmission capacity lags behindgenerating capacity. The law also requires utilities to submit plans for development of capacity and allows utilities to do cost recovery during construction of new or expanded lines.

Natural Gas Utility Energy Efficiency House Bill 1037
Sponsors: Representative Levy, Senator Fitz-Gerald
This bill, twice vetoed by former Gov. Bill Owens, will facilitate and expand natural gas and electricity energy efficiency programs for Colorado utilities. The bill requires the Public  Utilities Commission to establish energy savings goals for the utilities. Experts estimate that this bill will save 8% of natural gas use by all residences and commercial buildings in the state and could potentially cut in half the future growth in demand for electricity in Colorado. Net economic benefits for households and businesses between 2008-2020 is estimated to be $1.2 billion.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Reform House Bill 1341
Sponsors: Representative Curry, Senator Isgar
Reformed the composition of the oil and gas commission so that the oil and gas industry is no longer guaranteed a majority of seats on the committee and also requires the commission to avoid and minimize damage to the environment, wildlife resources and public health.

Protects Wildlife During Oil and Gas Development House Bill 1298
Sponsors: Representative Gibbs, Senator Tochtrop
Colorado is in an oil and gas development boom with the number of wells expected to double in the next four years. As development increases it is taking a toll on the state’s wildlife resources. HB 1298 makes protecting wildlife resources part of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission and ensures that the Division of Wildlife plays a more prominent role in protecting wildlife in the face of oil and gas development.

Water Quality Funding Increased House Bill 1329
Sponsors: Representative Curry, Senator Boyd
A recent federal audit showed that Colorado is unable to adequately protect water quality because the Water Quality Control Division is under funded and understaffed. HB 1329 will add 12 employees to the WQCD to address water quality issues. This legislation helps to put the State on a path of restoring the
integrity of the Division in meeting its mission to protect water quality state-wide. This legislation is a practical and logical step towards ensuring clean, safe drinking water for all of Colorado.

Expanding Water Judges’ Jurisdiction to Address Water Right Effects on Water Quality House Bill 1132
Sponsors: Representative McFadyen, Senator Schwartz
Water quality is of vital importance to all of Colorado. The laws that govern its use are very complicated. When large quantities of water that have been used for a long time for one thing are suddenly going to be used for something different, this can cause huge changes in a water rights system that is intricately arranged. The change may cause water to be taken out at a different time of year or at a different place in the river. These changes can cause a negative impact on water quality in that river. HB 1132, sponsored by Representative McFadyen and Senator Schwartz, allows water court judges for the first time to consider these potential negative impacts on water quality.

Expanding the Water Efficiency Grant Program Senate Bill 008
Sponsors: Senator Taylor, Representative Curry
This bill allows any state or local governmental entity that provides water to retail customers to participate in the Water Efficiency Grant Program administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The bill extends the length of the program and expands its funding. The bill broadens the eligible uses for water efficiency grant monies to include water conservation planning activities.