2021 Legislative Wrap-up: How Coloradans made progress on Climate, Environmental Justice, Land, and Water

June 8th officially marked the end of Colorado’s 2021 legislative session – and Coloradans who are passionate about securing our climate future, promoting environmental justice, and conserving public lands and water have a lot to celebrate. 

For the first time ever, a coalition of over one hundred environmental, environmental justice, youth, outdoor, business, social justice, and other groups came together to push forward a climate bill that would put Governor Polis’ Climate Roadmap into action. That coalition was instrumental in ensuring that we were able to pass important parts of the bill so that we can make progress reaching science-based pollution reduction targets to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

We have some important wins to celebrate. From cutting pollution and advancing environmental justice to funding millions for public lands and water, here are the victories from this legislative session:

Climate and Environmental Justice Victories

  • Climate Progress. In its final hours, the legislature passed House Bill 1266, a bill that makes progress on and holds the state accountable to many of the carbon pollution reduction targets in the governor’s Climate Roadmap. The bill includes limits or “caps”  on pollution, timelines and provisions for accountability for the utility, oil and gas and industrial sectors. It also establishes a foundation for environmental justice in Colorado by creating staff positions within the administration to work on advancing environmental justice and defining «disproportionately impacted communities.»
  • Polluter accountability. Across Colorado, industrial facilities such as refineries, factories, and coal plants pollute toxic chemicals into the air – frequently in densely populated communities of color. These chemicals cause health impacts such as nosebleeds, migraines, or even cancer. The state legislature passed House Bill 1189, which allows for fenceline monitoring to hold polluters accountable and improve protections for Colorado communities exposed to these dangerous pollutants.
  • Clean energy. The third-largest source of carbon pollution comes from our very own homes and businesses, and state leaders took action to address this. Senate Bills 246 and 264 and House Bills 1286 and 1238 give homeowners and businesses a chance to take stock of their energy use, take advantage of incentives to upgrade to modern appliances, and trust that utilities are delivering ever-cleaner power. The four bills work together to put Colorado on a path towards a clean energy future while cutting utility costs and indoor pollution, creating family-sustaining jobs in the buildings sector and represent progress toward Colorado’s ambitious goals to reduce climate-warming emissions.
  • Less trash, more recycling. Plastic production contributes to climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions throughout every point in its life cycle and our continued use of plastic undermines our efforts to meet our state’s climate targets. Legislators passed House Bill 1162 to help us address the plastic pollution crisis that is overwhelming our state’s landfills and is a significant threat to our health and climate by phasing out single-use plastic bags and styrofoam.

Land and Water Victories

  • Money for state parks. Federal funding alone is not enough to conserve Colorado’s popular state parks and wildlife. An overwhelming number of Coloradans believe investing in parks and wildlife means future opportunities to expand and open new parks, while increasing wildlife conservation efforts, and providing greater opportunities for people to access nature. This year our state leaders followed the will of the majority of Coloradans and passed Senate Bill 112 and House Bill 1326 to provide a whopping $37.5 million in stimulus funding for existing state parks.
  • New Colorado state park pass. Legislators created the Keep Colorado Wild Pass through Senate Bill 249 which  will allow for a new state parks funding program and will generate significant and sustainable revenues for state parks, wildlife conservation, and outdoor recreation programs to keep up with the rising demand for the outdoors in Colorado.
  • Getting kids outside. Every Coloradan has the right to take advantage of what public lands have to offer, but the reality is not every person has the same access to public lands. For far too long, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and people of color, as well as people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community, have not had the same opportunities to access Colorado’s stunning landscapes. That’s why legislators passed House Bill 1318, the Colorado Outdoor Equity Fund, to change the course by funding programs that connect disadvantaged youth to the outdoors. This program will be funded at $3M per year with possibilities of going higher through private donations and contributions.
  • Colorado’s rivers and streams. Our state’s wildlife habitat, agriculture, and outdoor recreation are essential for our thriving economy and unique lifestyle, but the rivers, lakes, and streams that support our quality of life are under pressure like never before. The Colorado Water Plan outlines how to meet future water needs – and state legislators passed House Bill 1260 to fund it to protect our state’s water today and for future generations.

This year we needed all hands on deck in order to make these victories a reality, and next year will not be any different. But despite this progress we still have work to do. Colorado is not yet on track to meet our climate pollution reduction targets. The reality is, we live in a state that is at risk of being ravaged by climate change-driven wildfires and severe drought. There are communities across the state that are still being impacted by the dirty air produced by industrial polluters. We can’t let this great momentum fade away. Let’s build on this year’s victories and continue to push forward. We look forward to working with the unprecedented coalition of more than 100 groups who came together to support climate action to continue moving our state forward.