Celebrating our 2022 legislative wins

From the beginning of this year’s legislative session, we knew we had an urgent need for bold action on our priorities. Colorado had just seen its most devastating wildfire ever. The previous summer, we’d experienced air pollution levels so unsafe that the state urged people to stay indoors much of the time during summer months. And we got the news that the West was undergoing its worst drought in over 1200 years. Climate change is hitting home, and its impacts are inequitable. 

In a legislative session that went down to the wire, we’re proud to say that the legislature passed all of our top-priority bills and additional legislation that will make progress towards protecting our climate, land, air, water and communities. This includes bold policies to cut toxics from our air and water, historic investments in clean air, action that will help us hit our climate targets, innovative ways to conserve water, and important advancements toward racial, social and environmental justice. 

Along the way, we brought together long-time partners and first-time activists to build our movement and advance our priorities. We helped bring an impressive statewide turnout to Latino/a Advocacy Day and held our first-ever Conservation Colorado member lobby day, where members had the chance to speak to legislators and urge them to move our bills forward. 1500 Conservation Colorado members sent 7,597 emails to legislators, demonstrating how important climate and conservation are to Coloradans. Many members testified on our bills and dozens more shared their stories on our blog and social media. We couldn’t have achieved these victories without our community.

Here are some of the most important environmental bills Conservation Colorado helped pass this session: 

Victories for our climate and clean air

Comprehensive air toxics program: Our top priority bill this session addressed air toxics, a class of deadly air pollutants like ethylene oxide, benzene, and chromium that Colorado previously had no comprehensive program to monitor or regulate. These pollutants have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health impacts. The harm is most acute for Coloradans in proximity to industry, disproportionately people living on lower incomes, people of color, and the workers at these facilities themselves. HB22-1244 requires that the state monitor toxic air pollution, develop health-based standards for how much of certain pollutants should be in our air, and require companies to use technology to cut pollution and protect peoples’ health.

Transformational investments to improve air quality: Colorado is seeing more days with dangerous air quality that threaten our health and quality of life. We need to take as many steps as we can to reduce harmful pollutants in communities across the state. SB22-193 creates a grant program for investing in projects to improve air quality, including rebates for low-and-moderate-income Coloradans to purchase e-Bikes and funds to transition to electric school buses to protect our climate and our childrens’ health.

Fare-free transit pilot program: Emissions from vehicles are a major contributor to harmful ozone pollution. After a record 65 days last summer with dangerous levels of ozone, it’s clear that we need more people taking public transit—but to make that transition, it has to be reliable and affordable. SB22-180 creates a grant program to provide free transit in the Denver metro area and other eligible transit agencies for at least 30 days during the summer ozone season, as well as expand statewide transit options.

Updated building codes for a climate-friendly future: Buildings emit a significant amount of climate-causing pollution from appliances as common as furnaces and water heaters. HB22-1362 reduces building greenhouse gas emissions by modernizing building codes, creating grant programs for building electrification and high-efficiency electric heating and appliances, and establishing a clean air building investments fund.

Funds for a just transition away from fossil fuels: Places such as Pueblo and Craig have economies that are heavily dependent on coal or other fossil fuels. We must urgently transition away from burning coal in order to stop the worst impacts of climate change, but we can’t leave these communities behind in the process. HB22-1394 directs $15 million towards the Office of Just Transition to assist coal-based economies to support job training and other opportunities for former coal industry workers, as well as investment in economic development for communities.

Victories for our lands and water

Nation-leading ban on forever chemicals: PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic toxic chemicals, known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down. PFAS are toxic even at extremely low concentrations, accumulate in our bodies, and are highly mobile, leading them to spread quickly throughout the environment and pollute our dwindling water supplies. Yet PFAS remain present in hundreds of everyday consumer products. HB22-1345 positions Colorado as a national leader in addressing PFAS contamination. This is the most comprehensive bill to date restricting the sale of eight consumer product categories containing intentionally added PFAS, including carpets, furniture, cosmetics, juvenile products, some types of food packaging, and the fluids used including oil and gas production. The bill also requires labeling of cookware containing PFAS.

Water-wise landscapes turf replacement program: Water is scarce in the arid West, and becoming scarcer as climate change intensifies. To help protect healthy rivers and all those dependent upon them, we must use our water more wisely. Nearly fifty percent of water in our cities and towns is used to irrigate outdoor spaces, such as strips of grass in medians and welcome spaces at business parks, as well as residential lawns.  HB22-1151 creates a voluntary statewide program that pays Coloradans to replace “ornamental” turf with drought-resistant plants that have lower water needs.This new program builds on the success of many existing turf replacement programs at the local level, extending this opportunity to residents statewide.

Testing to keep children safe from lead: Too many Colorado schools have dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. Lead can cause irreversible brain damage, especially in children, so reducing exposure from school drinking water is crucial. HB22-1358 requires and funds early childhood centers, as well as elementary and middle schools, to test drinking water supplies. If test results are above safe levels, these facilities are required to install filters or replace the fixtures. The legislature also set aside $24 million to help with replacement, maintenance, and testing requirements.

Unprecedented investments in wildlife crossings: Each year, wildlife collisions in Colorado cause an estimated $75 million annually in property damage. A conservative estimate is that 14,100 animals are struck on Colorado’s roads yearly. SB22-151 secures state-level funding to unlock one-time federal dollars to develop wildlife highway and road crossings. This funding will reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions and improve wildlife routes and habitat connectivity.

Important steps to improve water quality and engage communities: Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) is supposed to protect everyone’s right to clean water. But all too often, the communities most impacted by industrial pollution have been underrepresented in decision-making spaces that impact the quality of their water. HB22-1322 requires the WQCCto formally engage with disproportionately impacted communities and follow its established rules when making decisions. The bill also increases the amount of time communities have to raise concerns around violations of the Clean Water Act, helping to hold polluters accountable.

Thank you to our Conservation Colorado members and supporters who made these victories possible!