Progress for a green economy in 2008 Leg. Session

Environment Colorado

DENVER, CO: Solar energy, healthy rivers, and smart growth were identified as the major environmental accomplishments during this year’s 2008 legislative session.  Members of the environmental community were joined by business leaders today at the state capitol to declare the session a win-win for the environment and economy.  

“This year we set strong goals to protect the health of Colorado rivers, make solar energy more affordable and accessible, and use our transportation dollars to encourage smart development that reduces drive time and cuts global warming pollution,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.  “We met many of our goals, passing measures to make home solar more affordable, increasing opportunities to keep our rivers healthy, and ensure homeowners aren’t gambling when they turn on their taps.

“We also lost some important proposals this year,” continued Jones.  “Incentives for increased flows in state rivers and streams, using transportation dollars for smart growth planning, and energy efficiency opportunities for rural and municipal utilities failed to make headway this year. These issues will be a be high priority in 2009.”

“Last year we worked with state legislators and the Governor’s office to achieve remarkable reforms capable of protecting our quality of life,” said Elise Jones.  “This year, despite several setbacks, we have continued to build a strong bridge between the health of our environment and the health of our state’s economy.  This year is best described as a win-win for all of Colorado.”

Healthy Rivers

As water demands in Colorado increase, state rivers and streams are dwindling.  This year, conservationists succeeded in passing measures capable of improving the health of state waterways and also creating a boon for the state’s economy.  According the Environmental Defense Fund, a national conservation organization, there is a direct relationship between healthy rivers and recreational spending, experts believe slight increases in water flows would generate $4.4 million in income and an additional 340 jobs statewide related to increases in rafting and fishing industries.  
“By passing measures to give ranchers and farmers the freedom to leave their water in their local stream or river, we have an opportunity for a win-win in Colorado,” said Drew Peternell, with Trout Unlimited.  “This not only keeps Colorado rivers vibrant and healthy, it also gives water right owners the freedom they deserve.”   

Winning measures: 

– HB 1280, sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz and Representative Randy Fischer, the measure protects water right holders when they choose to lease or donate water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

– HB 1346, sponsored by Representative Kathleen Curry and Senator Jim Isgar, the measure includes an appropriation of one million dollars for the Colorado Water Congress Board to purchase in-stream flows for water conservation purposes.  

“No one wants our state’s future to dry up today – and it doesn’t have to,” said John Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks.  “Today’s demands on our rivers will require new and flexible solutions capable of supporting our environment and a vibrant statewide recreation economy.”  

A third measure, HB 1369, failed to pass through the state Senate after passing the state House of Representatives.  Sponsored by Representative Jack Pommer and Senator Dan Gibbs, this measure would have created a tax incentive for water right holders to donate their allotment to an ISF program.  
Clean, Renewable Energy / Global Warming Solutions

As the clean energy economy continues to expand in Colorado and nationally, meeting public demands for renewable energy development and increased energy independence, the legislature passed several measures capable of making solar energy more accessible for homeowners and increasing the ability of the Public Utilities Commission to look at large scale solar power and the negative impacts of carbon emissions.  

“This year we made great progress in bringing the new energy economy home,” said Pam Kiely, legislative program director of Environment Colorado. “We increased the accessibility and affordability of clean energy by increasing finance options and reducing the payback for new systems. Putting clean energy options in the hands of Coloradans helps everyone to be part of the solution in fighting global warming. Finally, we can make smarter choices about our future energy supply by ensuring that we consider the benefits of solar power plants and the costs of global warming.”
Winning Measures: 

– HB 1350, sponsored by Representative Alice Madden, Senator Chris Romer, this measure enables local governments to provide lower interest loans to Coloradans for clean energy and efficiency improvements, putting the power of clean energy into the hands of more homeowners.

– HB 1164, sponsored by Representative Judy Solano and Senator Gail Schwartz, authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to consider the environmental and economic benefits of large-scale solar projects as a way to meet the state’s energy needs and the cost of carbon pollution from new power sources.  

– HB 1160, the Homegrown Renewable Energy Act, sponsored by Senator Brandon Schaffer and Representative Judy Solano, allows Colorado homeowners and businesses to be paid a fair rate for excess electricity produced by their own solar, wind, or geothermal energy systems, as well as other renewable forms of energy.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Ritter.  

A third measure, HB 1107, failed to pass this year after the Colorado Rural Electric Association successfully blocked its passage.  The measure, sponsored by Representative Claire Levy and Senator Jennifer Veiga, would have created strong energy savings and big money benefits for Colorado homeowners and businesses.  

Smart Growth

With more than a million people expected to move to Colorado in the next decade, conservationists proposed two measures that will ensure the state is able to effectively manage increased growth and demand for water in new homes.   Both measures are cited as strong improvements capable of benefiting home values and transportation costs while easing the burden on Colorado’s natural environment.  

“Everyone agrees that we have no business building new subdivisions where there is no water to supply them,” said Stephanie Thomas of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “HB 1141 will ensure that the folks giving the thumbs up or the thumbs down on those subdivisions have all the facts they need to identify adequate water supplies before new growth is approved.”

Winning Measure: 

– HB 1141, sponsored by Representative Kathleen Curry and Senator Bob Bacon, is a measure to couple decisions on land use and water supply planning in Colorado.  

The second measure, HB 1312, sponsored by Representative Claire Levy, would have linked state transportation dollars with cities and towns that implement smart growth plans capable of reducing drive time and sprawling development. This measure failed in the state House of Representatives.  

Uranium mining

As a national debate is underway on reform of outdated mining laws, Colorado made ground-breaking headway by addressing the threat of increased radioactive pollution from uranium mining mining. The need to balance mining with our important parts of our economy such as agriculture and outdoor recreation is becoming more and more important as uranium claims on public lands alone soared from 120 in 2003 to more than 11,000 in 2008. 

“Do we really want to put Colorado’s water, wildlife, and lands up for collateral as we roll the dice on the new uranium boom?” said Kiely of Environment Colorado. “Uranium is a big gamble for Colorado, but we can make it a safer bet by passing strong protections for our environment.” 

Winning measure:

– HB 1161 the Land & Water Stewardship Bill, sponsored by Representatives John Kefalas and Randy Fischer and Senator Steve Johnson, is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The measure addressed uranium pollution in two ways. First, it protects groundwater used in agriculture by requiring mining companies conducting in-situ leach uranium mining to clean-up after themselves and restore groundwater quality to its pre-mining condition (or to state standards). Second, it protects Colorado’s public health and environment by requiring all uranium companies to have environmental protection plans as a “designated mining operation.”