How Colorado’s Budget Supports Clean Air and Conservation

Each legislative session, members of the Colorado House and Senate are required to pass a budget that funds the state for the coming year. In addition to being constitutionally required, the budget is also an opportunity to fund Colorado values and priorities like clean air, public lands, and water.

This year — thanks to President Biden and pro-conservation majorities in the U.S. Congress — Colorado has extra funds to spend fighting dirty air and helping our state toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re encouraging our leaders to invest this one-time money in transformational programs that will benefit our state for years to come. These priorities include:

  • Transit funding during ozone season: Affordable, high-quality public transit that gives Colordans real choices is our best chance to reduce pollution from driving cars. And if more people took public transit, we could clean up our air quality fast. But for many, it’s not easy to make the switch: transit passes are expensive and service is often unreliable. A new six-month pilot program will explore the benefits and impacts of free and reduced fares. 
  • Electric School Buses: Some of the highest-polluting vehicles on the road are school buses, with the oldest and dirtiest often found in low-income communities. This budget item provides $150 million with the goal of electrifying 2,000 school buses across Colorado. Electric school buses are better for the climate and cheaper to operate than diesel, but most important of all, they are key in fighting climate change and protecting the air quality for some of the most vulnerable members of our community, our children.
  • Low Emission Trucks: Older diesel trucks are a major source of both particulate pollution and of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ozone formation. Pollution from trucks is a significant health hazard, particularly in disproportionately impacted communities adjacent to major highway corridors. This funding will be used for incentives to retire and replace over 500 of the dirtiest trucks on the road.
  • Electric Bike Rebates and Ride Share: Electric bikes provide a cleaner and healthier alternative to commuting by car, and the market for eBikes has grown rapidly over the last few years. This funding will provide rebates for purchase of eBikes and for programs that provide eBikes and safety equipment to approximately 12,000 low and moderate income Coloradans.
  • Multimodal Main Streets: This funding would jump-start a comprehensive focus on establishing better multimodal access along state highways in urban areas. It will specifically, but not exclusively, focus on nonattainment areas, utilizing the results of a Denver urban arterial area study as well as the highest priorities from the northern area mobility study to guide initial priorities. 
  • Investments in Strong Communities: Over 80% of zoned land in Colorado is single-family. These infrastructure grants for local infill infrastructure needs will incentivize communities to support higher density infill development, and provide further incentives for local governments to utilize inclusionary zoning that can reduce the need to drive, increase development compactness, and incentivize walkable, livable communities.
  • Clean Air Equity Building Investment: Buildings are one of the five largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution, largely through the combustion of fuel for space and water heating. And, indoor air pollution levels can be significant, particularly in lower income communities. This investment will help individuals, small businesses and communities with improvements that will reduce energy use and pollution and improve indoor air quality by supporting adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements and high efficiency electric heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. 
  • CDPHE/APCD Air Quality Transformation: The proposal represents significant new investment in the Air Pollution Control Division to achieve immediate emission reductions in the lawn and garden equipment sector, increase permitting capacity under the expected downgrade of the Denver Metro/North Front Range area to severe ozone nonattainment status, improve monitoring of pollutants across Colorado, and more thoroughly engage with our communities.
  • Oil & Gas Aerial and Localized Monitoring: These funds will be directed to CDPHE to increase the number of aerial surveys and ground-based monitoring conducted primarily around oil and gas facilities. Aerial surveys paired with more localized ground-based monitoring have the potential to identify leaks from pipelines and flowlines, production pads, tanks, central gathering facilities, compressor stations, and many other sources not limited to oil and gas.
  • Clean Air Grants: These grants will focus on spurring near-term investment by industrial sources of pollution to make improvements that will reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, including air toxics, particulates, ozone precursors and greenhouse gasses. 

When it comes to land and water in Colorado, state investments make a big difference and will Keep Colorado Wild for future generations. We need:

  • Support for our state parks: Our state parks, run by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, are critical to land and wildlife conservation and expanding outdoor recreation. Increased funding will help Colorado open its newest state park, Sweetwater Lake, as well as make much-needed repairs to other parks. 
  • Investments to increase Tribal engagement: Colorado is the unceded ancestral homeland of many Native American people, yet they have been historically excluded from participation in land conservation. We support increasing staffing at the Department of Natural Resources to more meaningfully and intentionally engage with Colorado’s Tribal Nations on conservation and natural resources.
  • Energy innovation: These funds will support expanded staff capacity for the Department of Natural Resources to properly plan for and address growing energy development issues affecting Colorado’s State Land Board, to transition away from its heavy dependence on oil and gas and holistically expand renewable energy while balancing the need to protect sensitive wildlife habitat and cultural resources.
  • Planning for Big Game habitat and outdoor recreation: Hunting, fishing, wildlife observing, and recreation are major contributors to Colorado’s economy. To protect Big Game species and Colorado’s economy, we need to expand staff capacity to implement recommendations to improve sensitive habitat and migration corridor connectivity, as well as plan for upcoming challenges in outdoor recreation and develop a more inclusive vision for outdoor recreation.
  • Continued funding for the Keep Colorado Wild Pass: The new Keep Colorado Wild Pass reshapes the way our state parks are funded and makes them accessible and affordable to more Coloradans. We should extend funding for the pass, as well as expand staffing to improve wildlife populations in these areas.
  • Expanded safe wildlife crossings: Safe highway crossings for wildlife are incredibly effective at preventing collisions and saving the lives of both wildlife and people. We support creating a state fund to match incoming federal dollars and accelerate the implementation of wildlife crossings across Colorado. 

Together, these policies will improve air quality in Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities — as well as other communities of color — and all Coloradans’ quality of life. Our leaders should support a budget that includes these and other wise investments in Colorado’s environment and people.