Written by Audrey Wheeler

We are living during a pivotal moment for the protection of Colorado’s environment. With the opening of Colorado’s legislature and Governor Jared Polis being sworn in, we will enter the legislative session following a new era of leaders who were elected on their promises to protect our air, land, water, and people.

According to a survey of Colorado voters taken just after November’s elections, the environment was a major factor for voters’ choices. When asked which policy issue was “most important” in their vote for governor, 42 percent of independents chose “energy and the environment” as one of their top two options – the most of any issue tested. In other words, it wasn’t the economy, healthcare, education, immigration, or taxes that rose to the top for Colorado voters — it was energy and environment.

Coloradans voted for pro-conservation champions to lead our state government, so now we have the opportunity to pass bold policies that will protect our future! This year holds a lot of promise for taking steps to protect our air, land, water, and people. With Governor Jared Polis at the helm — who won his race on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy — we are gearing up for strong leadership from Colorado.

In 2019, we aim to make Colorado a leader on climate action, prioritize the health and safety of communities over oil and gas, and protect our lands and waters.

Our biggest efforts for climate action will be:


  • Taking bold action to protect our climate. A recent report from the United Nations found we have 12 years to act to prevent disastrous climate change. Colorado can lead the nation toward a clean energy economy. Xcel Energy’s recent commitment to a carbon-free energy grid by 2050 is a great start, and we can do more for our climate. As our executive director, Kelly Nordini, said in a recent news story: “Carbon’s a pollutant. We need to set a limit on that pollution and say as a state how we’re going to limit that carbon pollution.”
  • Making sure health, safety, and the environment are put first when it comes to oil and gas development. The oil and gas industry has had far too much influence over political and regulatory processes in Colorado. We need to put the health and safety of our communities first and have the best safeguards in the West.
  • Protecting the public lands, rivers, and streams that make Colorado a great place to live. As our population grows, we need to make sure our public lands are preserved, our rivers keep flowing, and our wild places are accessible for everyone to enjoy.

Learn more about these goals and how we plan to reach them at Colorado Conservation Future.

With these policies, we can take our future into our own hands. We can move forward on Colorado climate action, making our state a leader for the nation on clean air and climate change, as well as with safeguards that put people ahead of oil and gas industry profits. Let’s work together to seize this opportunity to protect the state we all love.

The time to shape our future is now.

How Colorado is ready to lead on the Environment

Drove 1,800 megawatts of clean energy. Cut pollution from cars. Organized thousands of Coloradans to stand up to the Trump administration. Won 53 elections, electing more women and people of color than ever before in Colorado. When we pause and take a look back, it’s clear that our 2018 was pretty eventful.

Building a movement requires many small successes. And this year — with the support of our many dedicated volunteers, donors, and activists — we accomplished a lot to protect Colorado’s environment.

First, we put more time, money, and effort into electing pro-conservation leaders than ever before — and it paid off! We played a part in getting Jared Polis elected as governor and in electing pro-conservation majorities in the Colorado legislature!

But election victories aren’t the only thing we accomplished this year.

Energy and Climate


  • We helped bring more clean, renewable energy to Colorado through Xcel Energy’s Colorado Energy Plan. This will save an estimated $213 million for energy consumers, replacing two coal-fired power plants using renewable energy, existing (but no new) natural gas resources, and doubling the amount of battery storage that is currently under contract in the entire country. We sent nearly 10,000 public comments (a new record) to the Public Utilities Commission to make this plan a reality.
  • We worked to pass a bill that supports rural communities impacted by economic downturn, like a big industry leaving. The “REACT” bill provides much-needed coordination and resources for state agencies to assist rural communities. It does this by designating a specific state agency, the Department of Local Affairs, to coordinate economic assistance.

Transportation


  • We made big moves for cleaning up pollution from cars in Colorado. In November, Colorado became the first interior state to pass Low Emission Vehicle standards for cars and trucks, which will reduce pollution from tailpipes, help Coloradans breathe easier, and save money for families at the pump. We lauded Governor Hickenlooper when he kicked off the process with an executive order in June, and we brought input from more than 7,600 Coloradans to the agency in charge.
  • We played a part in passing a bill to increase funding for transportation, a need that has grown as Colorado’s population has boomed. A true compromise, this transportation funding bill includes flexible, statewide funding that invests in transit, bike, and pedestrian options as well as highways and roads. SB 001 provides funding for all parts of the state to decrease congestion, promote equity, and reduce air pollution.

Wilderness and Public Lands


  • We partnered with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis to introduce a bill in both chambers of Congress to permanently protect 96,000 acres in the White River National Forest, including Camp Hale as the first-ever National Historic Landscape. The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Act will protect the natural beauty, outdoor recreation, historic resources, and wildlife habitat in the nation’s busiest national forest.
  • We supported a bill to reauthorize Colorado’s lottery to continue funding outdoor recreation and land conservation. Through this program, Great Outdoors Colorado has returned more than $1.1 billion to the people of Colorado through projects like community parks and trails in all 64 of Colorado’s counties.
  • We mobilized thousands of Coloradans to speak up to the Trump administration, sending in comments on proposed changes to sage grouse plans, getting local elected officials on board to stop drilling near the Great Sand Dunes, and recruiting 103 businesses to send a letter to Congress to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Water


  • We worked with our legislative champions to pass three bills that allow reused water to be used for flushing toilets, growing hemp and marijuana, and cultivating edible crops. Reused water is recycled water that has been treated so it is clean enough to use again. These bills will save water for Colorado.
  • We won a lawsuit to keep the Dolores River flowing. There is now water that is legally allotted to restore stream flows for the fish and wildlife that depend on it.

 

Communities


  • Conservation Colorado Education Fund and Protégete registered 10,360 new voters in Denver and Pueblo counties—75 percent of whom identify as people of color—to help increase voter participation in Colorado.
  • We graduated 44 Promotores, or individuals from Latino communities who committed to learning how to organize and lead their community toward local and statewide solutions through civic engagement. This included our first-ever youth Promotores, who are local high school and college students going through our program.
  • We helped defeat Amendment 74, a ballot measure supported by out-of-state corporate interests who wanted to change the character of Colorado neighborhoods and our rural landscapes by giving developers loopholes to build anything they like, anywhere they like.

 

The Fight Continues


Our country is seeing a rare convergence of political climate, public concern, and capacity to make meaningful changes in the next few years — and those changes will be led by the states. We’re taking on some of our biggest campaigns ever to pass bold policies that will make Colorado a leader for the nation.

We’ve come up with a vision for the future that serves as a clear call for our leaders to make meaningful policies in 2019 and beyond to protect Colorado’s environment. It includes:

  • Putting a limit on carbon pollution and advancing clean energy innovation
  • Electrifying and cleaning up our transportation sector
  • Safeguarding communities from oil and gas development
  • Keeping water in our rivers and ensuring our drinking water healthy
  • Protecting public lands and wilderness for all Coloradans

With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and make Colorado’s future one that we’re proud to leave as our legacy. Donate before the end of the year to support our vision for the future and become a part of the fight!

 

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner has claimed many times that he values our outdoors and environment. Unfortunately, when it comes to conservation and environmental issues, Senator Gardner has little to brag about. In fact, Gardner has voted with President Trump 92.4 percent of the time since Trump took office, both on environmental issues and everything else that’s come up in the Senate.According to the League of Conservation Voters’ 2017 National Environmental ScorecardSen. Gardner received a zero percent score. According to the 19 Senate votes scored, Gardner could not have been a worse ally for the environment. Let’s take a look at some of his votes.

1. For Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Protesters outside of Gardner’s Denver office raise the cry against Scott Pruitt.

In spite of hundreds of calls to his office, protests outside of his office, and social media campaigns, Gardner supported Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has denied man-made climate change and is known for his many lawsuits against the EPA. Now he is the head of the agency.

2. For Rick Perry to be the Secretary of Energy.

Perry’s famous slip where he forgot the Department of Energy was one of the agencies he wanted to eliminate is not even his biggest disqualifier for being Secretary of Energy. He has ignored the consensus around climate science and has many financial ties to energy companies, yet Congress — and Sen. Gardner — approved him for the position.

3. For Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, to be Secretary of State.

Tillerson led Exxon during its long-term campaign to spread lies about climate science and deceive the public. He also has deep ties to Russia and Putin, which should have disqualified him from representing our country on the international stage. Instead, Congress voted to confirm him.

4. For Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior.

At first, Zinke seemed like the least extreme member of Trump’s cabinet. However, his financial backing from the oil and gas industry makes him less than suitable to manage our public lands. His record since becoming Secretary of the Interior has been peppered with misuse of funds and efforts to undermine public land protections, like shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

5. To undo a rule that would have made it easier for the public to influence decisions about our public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had recently made a rule to update land management processes. Both experts and the public agreed it was a much-needed step to improving management of our public lands. Senator Gardner’s vote overturned this rule and prevented the BLM from ever making a similar rule. This is an example of shutting out local voices while putting our public lands at risk.

6. His vote to repeal the stream protection rule allows coal companies to have a freer hand in dumping mining debris in streams.

This debris pollutes streams with toxic heavy metals, which can have dire health impacts on the communities nearby. It was yet another move to stand up for fossil fuel companies at the expense of our health and people.

7. To move forward with repealing a rule that protects our air from oil and gas emissions.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaks from oil and gas sites across the country, wasting taxpayer dollars and exacerbating climate change. The Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Rule established commonsense standards that require oil and gas companies to deploy readily available, cost-effective measures to reduce methane lost through venting, flaring, and leaks. While the rule itself is still in question, there’s no doubt that Sen. Gardner went against the wishes of most Coloradans and voted to repeal the rule.

9. To open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. 

This vote was snuck into the Tax Bill that Congress passed in December 2017. There was a proposed amendment to remove the piece of the Tax Bill that allowed for drilling in the Arctic Refuge — but Sen. Gardner voted against the amendment, and voted to pass the Tax Bill. Now the largest protected wilderness in the country, known to the indigenous Gwich’in people as “the sacred place where life begins,” is open to drilling.


In an increasingly blue state which Gardner won by a slim margin in 2014, he’s becoming one of the country’s least-liked politicians. Not only did Coloradans vote decisively for Hillary Clinton, but they care about the issues Gardner has attacked. The environment is a key example.

During his 2014 campaign, Gardner repeatedly claimed to be “Not That Kind Of Republican”. In order to win Colorado, he tried to separate himself from the extreme partisanship and positioning of his party. He advocated for clean energy and protecting future generations.

Cory Gardner’s 2014 campaign video was all about the environment.

“What can we do to make sure we are protecting this beautiful environment?” he asked on the campaign trail. However, Senator Gardner’s promises to be a “new kind of Republican” have proved to be empty.

On environmental issues, Gardner’s track record leaves much to be desired. Despite his efforts to portray himself as a Westerner who values public lands and protecting our future, his voting record tells the truth.

At the same time, Gardner still claims to love the environment. In February, he and Senator Bennet introduced a package of public lands bills designed to fix a couple of tiny issues with Colorado’s public lands. These bills would affect a grand total of less than 1,000 acres of public lands — out of 24 million acres in Colorado. Although Gardner says he’s “proud” to work on bills like this “that will ensure future generations of Coloradans are able to enjoy our state’s natural treasures,” these bills are a distraction from his anti-environmental onslaught.

We must continue to tell Senator Gardner that Coloradans don’t want to see him siding with Trump. Especially when it comes to our air, land, and water, which he campaigned for and claims to support, Gardner needs to vote with his constituents.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

A year ago, we reported on the West Elk Coal Mine, a highly contested mine in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest. At that time, we and many other Coloradans were concerned about Arch Coal’s proposal to expand its coal mine, which would destroy 1,720 acres of forest.

Now, those concerns have become reality. Just two weeks ago, the Trump administration’s Forest Service announced that it is forging ahead with a plan to allow the company to expand the mine. If approved, this decision will cause irreparable harm on the national forest in more ways than one.

To take a step back, the West Elk coal mine is located in western Colorado, north of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s an extremely controversial mine for a variety of reasons, including its location inside a roadless area of a national forest, its exemption from a new moratorium on coal leasing, and the fact that it is owned by formerly bankrupt company Arch Coal. But perhaps the most disturbing issue is the air pollution that it already causes, which would increase if the mine expands.

Mount Gunnison towering over the Sunset Roadless Area. The aspen forests on the right would be damaged by the mine expansion. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The West Elk mine has already been the single largest source of methane pollution in Colorado, spewing 58,000 tons of methane into the air every year. Methane — an immensely potent greenhouse gas — has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, and is a major contributor to climate pollution.

Although Colorado has some of the strongest rules in the nation for methane pollution from oil and gas activity, as the Colorado Independent reports, “Unlike methane from oil and gas drilling, coal mine methane remains unregulated at both state and federal levels.” The proposed expansion to the coal mine could mean emitting enough methane to negate half of the emissions prevented by Colorado’s methane rules for oil and gas.

Plus, under Arch Coal’s plan, more than six miles of forest will be bulldozed for roads and up to 48 drilling pads will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which connects to the West Elk Wilderness. The area is a rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests that provide habitat for native black bear, elk, lynx, and cutthroat trout.

The actions by the Trump administration to move forward with this mine expansion are even more disturbing because of how they deal with the impacts of government projects on climate change. Previously, government environmental reviews like this had to take into account the impact of the project on climate change. Now, the Forest Service claims that calculating climate impacts is not an “appropriate tool at the project level” and is “no longer representative of governmental policy.” This comes out of a Trump executive order that disbanded the agency working group associated with it.

Hikers in the Sunset Roadless area near the West Elk mine. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The Forest Service wants to give Arch Coal access to more than 17 million tons of coal — but at what cost? The West Elk Mine already has over a decade of coal in reserve, and this decision not only ignores the economic realities that face the coal industry, but it generates even more greenhouse gas emissions, further exacerbating climate change. Coal has been central to the local economy in this area for generation, but this coal mine expansion is a bad idea for the forest and for our climate.

The negative consequences of expanding the West Elk Coal Mine and the damage it would cause to our national forest are obvious. The U.S. Forest Service is asking the public to weigh in on this problematic West Elk Coal Mine expansion. Take action today to send a message to the administration that we value our public lands too much to watch them be destroyed. Follow this link to sign a petition to the Forest Service.

This one decision could destroy aspen groves, displace native wildlife, and vent methane pollution into our air. It’s a sign of what to expect under the Trump administration in terms of our public lands — and it’s up to us to stop it.

Cover image: The West Elk Mine. Image from WildEarth Guardians flickr.