If you’ve followed Colorado politics at all over the last four years, you know controversial energy and environmental legislation has been a major priority for certain actors in the state since the “blue wave” of 2018.
The 2022 legislative session adjourned May 11, in somewhat dramatic fashion, with an avalanche of bills crammed through at the last minute. Though high-profile battles over fentanyl, crime, and craven TABOR-refund manipulation captured most of the media coverage, energy and environmental legislation once again featured heavily in this year’s legislative onslaught.
Here’s a look at some of the notable bills that made it through the statehouse this session, as well as some significant measures that didn’t make the cut this time but could wind up being back in play in the near future.
The bills that passed
House Bill 1351: This bill has already been signed into law by Governor Polis. The bill delays the implementation of the new gas fee, passed just last year by Democrats without the consent of voters, until April 2023. Apparently, affordability concerns cease to exist after election season. While the relief won’t do much to ease the cost burden Coloradans face at the pump, it does allow state Democrats to promote “fee relief” from the very fees they imposed just last session, over vocal opposition. See the bill’s fiscal note here.
House Bill 1362: This Democrat-backed bill is set to impose minimum energy code standards and solar-ready and electric-ready requirements on new buildings in cities and counties across the state. A report from the Home Innovation Research Laboratory found that these code changes could add up to $12,000 in building costs for new homes, and that it could take up to 79 years for homeowners to see that investment pay off from increased energy efficiency. For a more detailed breakdown of the bill’s specifics, see my analysis here.
House Bill 1013: This bipartisan bill would create a $3.5 million grant program to finance the development of microgrids in rural communities within the state in an effort to boost electric grid resiliency, primarily with respect to weather events or natural disasters. The fiscal note for HB 1013 can be found here.
House Bill 1151: This bipartisan bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a program to provide financial incentives for people to voluntarily replace their irrigated turf lawns with water-conserving landscaping. The bill seeks to accomplish this with an initial $2 million fund. For more detail on the fund, see the bill’s fiscal note.
House Bill 1218: This bill, spearheaded by Representative Alex Valdez (D.), would impose new requirements to include specified percentages of Electric Vehicle (EV) capable, EV ready, and EV installed parking spaces in certain new commercial and multifamily residential buildings.
House Bill 1244: This Democrat-backed bill appropriates $3.1 million to create a new program dedicated to air quality within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) immediately upon the Governor’s signature. It would be tasked with setting up new monitoring sites for toxic industrial emissions, imposing requirements on certain businesses to produce annual emissions reports, and commission its own report suggesting strict new emissions regulations.
The bill would also direct the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to pick “up to five priority toxic air contaminants” and set strict emissions regulations for them by April 2026, with updated regulations to be provided at least once every 5 years beyond that. According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would increase state spending and staffing on an ongoing annual basis.
House Bill 1394: This bill provides $15 million in additional funding toward the states so-called Just Transition Plan, which includes programs to assist communities and workers affected by the state-directed closure of coal power plants. The bill directs $10 million to be allocated to the coal transition workforce assistance program account, with the remaining $5 million slated to go toward the just transition cash fund. For more details on the funding, see the bill’s fiscal note here.
House Bill 1355: This is the so-called Producer Responsibility Bill, backed by Democrats and lone Republican Senator Kevin Priola. The bill would require certain companies to pay fees of an unspecified amount, to an undetermined non-profit, who would then administer statewide recycling programs in an effort to boost Colorado’s recycling rate. Companies who fail to comply with the fees would face fines of potentially tens of thousands of dollars.
Senate Bill 206: This Democrat-backed bill creates an entirely new executive agency, the Office of Climate Preparedness, tasked with developing and implementing a forthcoming “climate preparedness roadmap” for other state agencies to hew to as the state grows. Additionally, the bill creates a continuously appropriated $15 million “disaster resilience rebuilding program fund” under the Department of Local Affairs dedicated to providing loans and grants for home/business rebuilding following a natural disaster.
The bill also establishes a $20 million “sustainable rebuilding program” under the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to provide loans and grants encouraging disaster victims to rebuild to the latest green standards as determined by the CEO. The bill’s fiscal note can be found here.
Senate Bill 118: This bipartisan bill would direct the state to classify geothermal energy as a renewable energy source that can be used to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. It would also direct the Colorado Energy Office to provide consumer education and guidance on geothermal energy options. The state would also be required to include geothermal energy systems in programs, incentives, and subsidies that currently apply to solar energy systems. The fiscal note for Senate Bill 118 can be found here.
Senate Bill 193: This Democrat-backed measure would set aside $110 million to establish several grant programs, such as school bus electrification and electric bike incentives, aimed at reducing air pollution. The full list of considered grant programs and the money associated with each can be found here in the bill’s fiscal note.
Senate Bill 180: This Democrat-backed bill would dedicate $28 million to the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and other transit services to provide free bus and light-rail rides during the summer when ozone levels are higher. The bill also requires RTD to report to the state how the subsidized fares impacted ridership.
The aim of the legislation is to induce demand for public transit options in order to boost longer term transportation habits, although previous efforts have shown such a strategy to be a failure. The bill also dedicates an additional $30 million to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to help support additional public transit options. The fiscal note for Senate Bill 180 can be found here.
Senate Bill 198: This bipartisan bill creates a new “Orphaned Wells Mitigation Enterprise” in the Department of Natural Resources to fund “the plugging, reclaiming, and remediation of orphaned oil and gas wells.” Funding for the enterprise will be sourced from “mitigation fees” leveled against oil and gas operators at $125-$225 per well. See here for the bill’s fiscal note.
Measures that failed
Senate Bill 138: This far-reaching climate bill from Senator Chris Hansen (D.) would have done everything from banning gas-powered lawn equipment to forcing both insurance companies within the state to conduct annual climate risk assessments on policyholders.
It would have also added additional greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets and benchmark years to the state’s current GHG roadmap. Though the bill was ultimately killed, Senator Hansen vowed to reintroduce the legislation, telling CPR News “I am deeply disappointed, but I’ll bring it back next year and try to move it as quickly as possible so that it can’t be held hostage.”
Wildfire codes and new code board: Proposed as an amendment to Senate Bill 206, Colorado Democrats sought to create a new, powerful fire codes board that would adopt and enforce new statewide regulations on construction, development, and land use in wildfire-prone areas of the state. The measure ultimately failed due to concern over the costs, complexity, and usurpation of local authority associated with the new codes, though similar concerns are at issue with House Bill 1362, which ultimately passed.
House Bill 1140: This Republican-backed bill would have directed the state to recognize green hydrogen as a renewable energy source that electric utilities would be able to use to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standards, as established by the state GHG roadmap. Despite increasing interest in the fuel among Colorado’s energy utilities, the bill was killed by House Democrats in the energy and environment committee.
Senate Bill 073: This bill, introduced by Senator Bob Rankin and Representative Hugh McKean, both Republicans, would have directed the state to conduct a study investigating the feasibility of using small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) as a carbon-free energy source for Colorado. Despite strong interest in the technology in areas of the state, and despite a general consensus that nuclear energy will be an indispensable asset for a low-carbon future, Senate Democrats sent the bill to “kill committee” where it ultimately died.
Senate Joint Resolution 008: This Republican-sponsored resolution asked Governor Jared Polis and his fellow Democrats to slash regulations and reverse their antipathy to Colorado fossil fuels in order to boost domestic production and meet the fuel needs of both American consumers and our European allies. Senate Democrats ultimately killed the resolution in committee.
Jake Fogleman in an energy policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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