Audubon Colorado State Legislature Report

South Platte in twilight
South Platte River. Kate Hogan/Denver Audubon

Audubon Colorado State Legislature Report
March 5, 2021

Did you know that Audubon chapters in Colorado support a lobbyist at the Colorado Legislature to support environmentally friendly legislation? This report contains legislation and the bills the Audubon chapter lobbyist, Jen Boulton, is following in 2021, along with her recommendations on whether we should support or oppose these bills or actions.

Jen provides updates on these bills at the Getting Green Laws legislative webinar on March 31 and April 1, 2021. Getting Green Laws is organized by Denver Audubon and Audubon Rockies and is co-sponsored by Audubon Colorado Council. Registration for this event is open and available on the Denver Audubon Events page.

Report from Audubon Colorado Lobbyist, Jen Boulton:

After the November Elections, the Colorado Legislature is very similar in composition to the last couple of years. The Democrats continue to hold a majority in both chambers. The Senate picked up one Democratic seat, and is now 20-15. The house is now 41-24. Both chambers, but especially the house, have a significant number of new members.

With all new leadership, it logically follows that committees look very different. While the House Republicans made no changes to the committees with which we work most closely, Democrats played a lot more musical chairs. The most notable change is in the House, where Rural Affairs has been renamed (and returned to) House Agriculture, livestock and water. Rep Jeni Arndt from Fort Collins will resume the chair for the committee. This change means water issues will move back to the Agriculture (Ag) committee. Energy and climate change bills will stay in the Energy and Environment committee, which was created last year. All but one of the members of House Ag are returning legislators. The only new face is Vice chair Karen McCormick from Longmont. Though not new to the legislature, there are two members who are new to agriculture and water issues. Rep Lisa Cutter from Jeffco is new to the Ag committee, and Rep Susan Lontine from Denver returns to Ag after a few years away.

The General Assembly convened for three days on January 13 – 15, 2021.  Legislators introduced nine bills to deal with the pandemic, passed them, and adjourned. They reconvened in February 2021.

As expected, the 2021 session is turning out to be highly unusual. With a one-month hiatus, and an intention to not extend the session past the scheduled adjournment in early May, bills are starting to move FAST!

For more information on these bills, and to follow their activity go to Colorado General Assembly Bills.

For useful reference click here for Common Acronyms used in the legislation descriptions or continue to the end of the article.

AUDUBON PRIORITY BILLS

SB21-028 ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES ACT STANDARDS FOR AGENCY RULES (Kirkmeyer)

Position:  Oppose

Status: Dead

This bill required agencies, specifically the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to comply with the provisions of the Administrative procedures act whenever they promulgate new rules. The intent is to prohibit new rules (especially on oil and gas and COVID) by making promulgation prohibitively expensive. It died on a party-line vote.


SB21-145 TAX CHECKOFFS (Simpson, D. Valdez)

Position: Support

Status: Sen -Finance

SB145 is “our” bill to extend the Healthy Rivers tax checkoff. It also includes the other tax checkoffs that are scheduled to expire this year, including Alzheimer’s Relief, Make A Wish, military family relief fund, and unwanted horse fund.  It should pass next week.


FORTHCOMING PRIORITY BILLS

South Platte River
South Platte River. Kate Hogan/Denver Audubon

PROTECTING WETLANDS, EPHEMERAL AND INTERMITTENT STREAMS

Coming the week of March 8, 2021: A bill to establish a state permitting system to protect wetlands, ephemeral and intermittent streams, which are not protected now due to 1) the Trump administration’s changes to the Clean Water Act regulations that define what is protected; and 2) the expiration of the temporary injunction which Colorado won in court to maintain the Obama-era regulations. About 68% of Colorado’s streams are intermittent or ephemeral; pollution there would put drinking water supplies, agriculture and wildlife at risk.

This will be a major Audubon priority.  No bill number has been assigned as of submittal of this article.



FOR DISCUSSION

SB21-105 WOLF FINANCING (Coram, Will)

Position: Observe/oppose if needed

Status: Senate – Ag & Natural Res.

SB105 lays out steps that CPW must take in implementing wolf reintroduction. First, the bill requires a public input process, somewhat similar to the creation of the State Water Plan. Second, the bill requires that the State move toward delisting of wolves as soon as litigation of the issue is resolved. Third, the bill requires the agency to create a plan for funding the costs of reintroduction, including livestock damage claims. Finally, the bill requires ongoing public meetings for three years after reintroduction begins, and requires annual reporting to the legislature.  We oppose de-listing; for the rest, the bill is unnecessary since Initiative 114 specified these things.


SB21-112 MONEY FOR PARKS (Garcia, McCluskie)

Position: Support

Status: H-Floor

SB112 allocates $20M from the general fund for infrastructure construction and maintenance at State Parks. It’s only a one-time transfer, but State Parks can use every penny!  Includes money for the new Fishers Peak State Park.


SB21-114 SCHOOL SETBACK – OIL/GAS (Kirkmeyer)

Position: Mild opposition

Status: Sen- Transportation & Energy

SB114 establishes minimum setbacks for schools as the distance required by local governments having land use jurisdiction. If the local government has not set a minimum setback, then the COGCC setbacks will apply.  This would let Weld County, for example, put oil & gas facilities next to a school yard.  Not an Audubon issue per se but we support the stronger COGCC regulations.


SB21-149 WIND ENERGY NEAR MILITARY BASES (Gardner)

Position: Oppose

Status: Sen – State, Vets & Military Affairs

SB149 prohibits wind facilities within two nautical miles of missile launch or command facilities. It also requires approval from the military for construction of facilities deemed to “impact” military installations.


SB21-161 VOLUNTARY REDUCTION TO GHG EMISSIONS (Hansen, Arndt)

Position: Support

Status: Sen –Transportation & Energy

SB161 requires the PUC to establish greenhouse gas emission reduction programs for large and small utilities to meet the targets of 15 percent reduction by 2035. Participation by municipally owned utilities is optional.  Not really voluntary for everyone else.


SB21-168 NO LICENSE FOR SWA ACCESS (Woodward)

Position: Oppose

Status: Sen – Ag & Nat. Res.

SB168 prohibits CPW from requiring a hunting or fishing license to access State Wildlife Areas.  CPW is requiring this because SWAs have recently been used by the public for purposes other than wildlife conservation;  the proposed SWA Pass will allow non-hunters to contribute directly to CPW’s budget, a necessity if our voices are to be heard.  Thus the opposition.


HB21-1138 OFF HIGHWAY VEHICLES (OHVs) (McLachlan, Hisey)

Position: Support/Neutral

Status: H-Local Govt.

HB1138 prohibits use of OHVs on public roads except where local jurisdictions have permitted them pursuant to existing Colorado Law. The bill clarifies that the location of OHV registration is irrelevant to the application of state law.


HB21-1162 MANAGEMENT OF PLASTICS (A. Valdez, Gonzales)

Position: Support

Status: H- Energy & Environment

HB1162 combines the plastics bills from last year. It eliminates the prohibition on local regulation of plastics. It also prohibits use of plastic bags for carryout from stores, and establishes a fee of 10 cents per bag for substitution of recycled paper bags.


HB21-1180 BIOMASS (D. Valdez, Coram)

Position: Oppose/Neutral

Status: H-Energy & Environment

HB1180 has good and bad parts. It requires the state forest service to study ways to increase utilization of biomass in an effort to reduce fuel loads, and therefore reduce the cost and scale of wildfires. On the positive side, it includes language about addition of biochar for carbon sequestration. On the negative side, the bill promotes increased logging by promoting the use of biomass for electric generation. Unfortunately, the potential consequences of increased timber activity, make the bill unsupportable.


HB21-1189 AIR QUALITY (Benevidez, Gonzales)

Position: Support

Status: H-Energy & Environment

HB1189 is a bill rooted in environmental justice. It requires the AQCC to consider adding new toxics to the current list of regulated compounds at least every five years. The bill also requires that outreach to residents in areas affected by pollution from covered facilities be conducted in the two most prevalent languages. The bill also requires that facilities conduct fence-line monitoring of pollution emissions, and report the results to the public, as well as requiring facilities to address air quality violations within 15 days.


SB21-79 DEREGULATE MEAT SALES TO PUBLIC (Sonnenberg, Pelton)

Position: FYI

Status: Sen – Ag. & Nat. Res.

SB79 allows individuals to sell shares in meat animals – specifically cattle, hogs, sheep, bison, and goats – without a license, if a notice that the animals have not been inspected is posted for consumers.


SB21-135 EXOTIC ANIMALS/TRAVELING SHOWS (Ginal, Duran)

Position: FYI

Status: Sen – Ag & Nat. Res.

SB135 is included solely for informational purposes, as it will likely generate a fair amount of media coverage. The bill prohibits use of exotic animals for entertainment, competition, or shows. There are numerous exemptions to ensure that animals common to competition and pets are not included, Specifically the bill does not apply to dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, hogs, elk, reindeer, horses, mules and donkeys.  NOR does it apply to accredited zoos and educational institutions/settings. The ultimate aim is to eliminate traveling circuses.

<hr/ > OTHER BILLS



SB21-004 PUEBLO CHEMICAL DEPOT JURISDICTION (Garcia, Esgar)

Position: Support

Status: Sen. – Local Govt.

This bill establishes concurrent jurisdiction for the State in decisions relating to management of the Pueblo chemical weapons depot.  This allows the State to have a say in cleanup and management decisions, while leaving all liability for the site with the Federal government.


SB21-020 ENERGY STORAGE VALUATION (Hansen, Valdez A)

Position: Support

Status: Sen – Finance

SB20 is a rerun from last year. It allows renewable energy storage facilities to be valued for tax purposes in the same manner as renewable generation facilities. This gives an incentive for energy storage, but without allowing such facilities to count toward meeting the renewable energy standard.


SB21-033 CONSERVATION EASEMENTS (Sonnenberg)

Position: Tepid Support

Status: Sen – Finance

SB33 is an implementation of one of the recommendations from the Conservation easement working group. It allows landowners to claim a “new” tax credit to replace credits which were denied by the State between 2001 and 2013. The new credits are only available if the Federal Government allowed a federal tax credit for the same donation. Valuation of the easement will be the value accepted by the federal government. The new credits are not refundable, but may be transferred or carried forward. The new credits WILL count against the annual cap on easements.

People who claimed highly inflated appraisals will be allowed to keep the appraisals, but there are few of these credits left in dispute. If this proposal ends the annual fight against conservation easements, it is worth the temporary loss of capacity to settle the remaining issues. Policy pros and cons aside, a $10M fiscal note will be a high obstacle for the proponents.


HB21-1052 PUMPED HYDRO (McKean)

Position: Recommend Support as amended

Status: H – Energy & Environ.

HB1052 allows pumped hydro to count under the renewable energy standard. Currently it is specifically precluded. First, there are serious environmental consequences to some hydro projects, including pumped hydro projects. In order to be acceptable as a green energy source there would need to be siting and impact standards included in the definition of pumped hydro. Of equal concern, pumped hydro isn’t a source of renewable energy generation. It is an energy storage device. Pumped hydro allows energy to be stored for release to meet demands during peak capacity times. However, the energy required to move water to the upper containment facility exceeds the energy generated at release; creating a net energy loss. After discussion with the sponsor, he agreed to all the sideboards we requested to protect rivers, and to prevent increasing use of fossil fuels in the name of renewable energy. With the changes, we no longer oppose the bill.


SB21-034 WATER ENTERPRISE (Coram)

Position: Support

Status: Sen – Ag & Nat. Res.

SB34 creates a new enterprise to fund water projects, including new construction, rehab, enlargement and conservation. Money will come from a new fee on all domestic water taps at a rate of $0.25 per 1000 gallons delivered per month over a 4000-gallon base.  This bill has a difficult road ahead.


SB21-054 WILDFIRE MITIGATION (Hansen, Rankin)

Position: Support

Status Sen – Appropriations

SB54 adds an additional $6M to the existing fund for wildfire response and mitigation.


HB21-1008 FOREST HEALTH FINANCING (Arndt, Cooke)

Position: Support

Status: H – Ag, Livestock & Water

HB1028 creates authority for new special districts funded by property tax assessments to pay for forest health projects. The bill is one that Abby has been involved in crafting with the river district in order to fund forest health to reduce the need for mitigation and recovery from wildfires.


HB21-1023 ENERGY FACILITY TAX CLASSIFICATION (Will, Coram)

Position: Monitor

Status: H-Finance

Under current law, construction of renewable energy facilities does not impact the tax classification of the property. HB1023 would allow reclassification if the underlying property has an ag classification. In some situations, particularly involving commercial scale solar, construction of the facility precludes continuing agricultural use. As a result, several counties feel that those property owners ought not reap the benefit of both the tax classification and the commercial venture.


HB21-1037 LIMIT WOLF INTRODUCTION (Soper, Scott)

Position: Oppose

Status: Dead

HB1037 prohibited introduction of wolves on any property located in a county that did not support the ballot issue; and on any property which supports prey species listed as threatened or endangered, or for which the State has spent resources on reintroduction.

Gray Wolf in Santuary
Gray Wolf. Dick Vogel/Denver Audubon Volunteer

HB21-1040 GENERAL FUND FOR WOLVES (Will)

Position: Amend/Support

Status:  H- Energy & Environ.

HB1040 requires that all costs associated with reintroduction of wolves, including livestock damage claims, are to be paid solely from the general fund. While we are sympathetic to the costs of wolf reintroduction, large allocations from the general fund for damage claims could threaten the enterprise status.  Discussions with the sponsor will center on limiting general funds to less than 10% of CPW’s budget so that their enterprise status can be maintained.

HB21-1043 UNDERGROUND STORAGE STUDY (Holtorf, Sonnenberg)

Position: Amend/Oppose

Status: H- Ag, Livestock& Water

HB1043 directs CWCB to conduct a feasibility study for aquifer storage in order to retain the maximum volume of water legally possible within the State. While underground storage is an attractive option for reducing evaporative loss, there are definitely water quality issues with injecting raw water into aquifers. Some side bars to protect existing water quality within those aquifers would be necessary.

HB21-1046 MUTUAL DITCH SHARES (Arndt, Fields)

Position: monitor/Oppose

Status: H-Ag, Livestock & Water

HB1046 allows significantly more flexibility between shareholders in mutual ditch companies. Specifically, it “clarifies” that shareholders have the right to divert and use water according to the ditch company’s decreed rights. The bill also allows shareholders to change their use of water acquired from the ditch company through water court. Finally, the bill clarifies that the rights to use water from a ditch company do not include the right to preclude or limit uses or changes of use by other shareholders in the ditch company.

The primary issue with the bill is that it could expand the consumptive use of water diverted by the ditch company. Expanded use could require additional diversion of water, further damaging rivers and streams. 

COMMON ACRONYMS

APA Administrative Procedures Act

AQCC Air Quality Control Commission

CDOT Colorado Department of Transportation

COGCC Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

CDPHE Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

CPW Colorado Parks and Wildlife

CWCB Colorado Water Conservation Board

DNR Department of Natural Resources

GHG Greenhouse Gas

OHV Off Highway Vehicle

PUC Public Utilities Commission

SWA State Wildlife Area