Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper today announced an executive order directing Colorado air quality officials to begin a process to adopt state advanced clean car standards in response to the Trump administration’s expected rollback of federal rules. The governor’s executive order will make Colorado the first state in the interior of the country to chart the path of enacting these standards, and it will give Coloradans strong safeguards from air pollution caused by gasoline and diesel vehicles.

By initiating this public rulemaking process, Colorado could join 13 other states and the District of Columbia as leaders in clean car technology and clean air. Ultimately, the implementation of the standards will save Coloradans money at the gas pump, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce pollutants from millions of vehicles.

 

Advocates for the environment and public health have released the following statements:

“Motor vehicles are a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change. As the federal government continues to roll back environmental protections to appease industry interests, it’s up to the states to take action. Colorado can’t — and won’t — be left behind. Governor Hickenlooper’s executive order ensures that Colorado is a leader in the nation and shows that Coloradans are committed to cutting air pollution for the sake of our health, economy, and environment.”  – Maria Handley, acting executive director, Conservation Colorado.

“Transportation is the number two source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado — and number one source of emissions in the nation. Adopting clean car standards means fewer bad air days and a better quality of life for citizens across our state.”  – Garrett Garner-Wells, director of Environment Colorado.

“Inefficient cars are just wasteful – they cost consumers every time we go to the pump and they hurt our health when they produce unnecessary pollution. Clean car standards result in more fuel efficient and cleaner vehicles, which benefit our wallets and our personal health. As technology advances, we need to take advantage of even cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. That’s why we applaud Governor Hickenlooper’s action to make Colorado a leader around fuel efficient, cleaner cars.”  – Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group).

“With the Trump administration abdicating leadership on cleaning up tailpipe pollution and saving consumers money on gas, states need advanced vehicle standards to ensure their citizens get to drive the cleanest, most affordable cars on the market. This action will help ensure Coloradans still get clean air and cleaner cars.”  – Noah Long, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Governor Hickenlooper deserves credit for taking bold action to make Colorado the first state in the Mountain West to adopt the Clean Car Standards. As the federal government continues to favor corporate interests over the public good, Governor Hickenlooper’s action will help save families from paying extra at the gas pump and help keep pollution out of our Rocky Mountain air.”  – Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado.

 

Background:

Thirteen states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have adopted a set of state clean car standards designed to reduce the emission of smog-forming pollutants, particulate matter, and carbon pollution and to support the development of zero-emission vehicle technology. These states represent nearly 40 percent of the new vehicle sales market. Governor Hickenlooper’s executive order puts Colorado on the path to join these states by initiating a public process with the Air Quality Control Commission.

recently released report details some of the health and economic benefits of adopting the Advanced Clean Car Standards. Denver was ranked the 11th most polluted city in the nation for ozone levels, and vehicle emissions are one of the largest contributors. Adopting the advanced standards will not only protect Coloradans from illness, but it will save money. According to the report, with the clean car standards in place, by 2040 Colorado would save roughly $16 to $37 million in health care costs; reduce the number of work days lost due to illness from air pollutant emissions; and save $260 million per year in social costs from long-term damage caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The governor’s executive order comes in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing efforts to roll back 2012 federal clean car standards designed to improve air quality and protect public health. The federal emissions standards have been good for Colorado, both in terms of cost savings and better air quality:

  • According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, no other federal policy is delivering as much oil savings, consumer benefits, and carbon emission reductions as the 2012 Federal Vehicle Emissions Standards.
  • According to AAA, the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in 2017 is $8,649. Because of the federal clean cars standards, the average Colorado household was expecting to see $2,700 in savings by 2030 from lower gas bills.
  • Transportation is the #2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, and the highest in the nation. The federal standards were set to reduce carbon emissions in Colorado by 4.5 million tons per year.
  • In the Denver area, emissions of smog-causing air pollutants from vehicles is set to increase by about 15 percent if the federal standards are rolled back. For Coloradans, especially the 343,000 people who are living with asthma, more air pollution means more coughing and wheezing, increased risk of infection, and permanent damage to lung tissue.

 

CONTACTS:

Jace Woodrum, Conservation Colorado, 720-412-3772

Danny Katz, Colorado Public Interest Research Group, 608-215-0929

Garrett Garner-Wells, Environment Colorado, 321-536-6019

Noah Long, Natural Resources Defense Council, 860-515-6885

Thomas Young, Sierra Club, 719-393-2354

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Colorado oil and gas lobbyists and money keep Senate Republicans in their pocket.

In 2017, during Colorado’s legislative session, a deadly explosion killed two people in Firestone, CO. The explosion was due to an uncapped flow line from an oil well.

After such a tragedy, most Coloradans believed the oil and gas industry would work harder to keep people safe. But recently, several former Anadarko employees came forward during an investor lawsuit against the company, saying Anadarko can’t be trusted to maintain their equipment to protect health and safety, calling their operations in Colorado “a ticking time bomb.”

In 2018, on the one-year anniversary of the Firestone tragedy, state legislators had repeated opportunities to enact safeguards for people’s health and safety as the Colorado oil and gas industry moves closer and closer to our neighborhoods and schools. They didn’t take that opportunity. Instead, we saw one commonsense measure after another get shut down by the strength of the oil and gas industry’s lobbying.

Here are some of the stories that unfolded at the state Capitol:

Killed: a bill to keep oil and gas drilling away from kids


Currently, Colorado’s laws require oil and gas activity to be 1,000 feet away from school buildings. But there is no legal limit to how far this industrial activity should be from school playgrounds, outdoor lunch areas, modular classrooms, or athletic fields. HB 1352 would have required oil and gas activity to be 1,000 feet away from school property boundaries. This is in line with what all other industries have to do near schools, like liquor stores.

In support of this bill, dozens of students and parents came to the state Capitol and testified in committee, asking lawmakers to protect them and future students from the impacts of oil and gas, ranging from air pollution to dangerous explosions. In addition, 55 students, teachers, and parents signed on to an open letter to lawmakers to make their voices heard on this issue.

In an emotional moment, a young activist spoke out of turn when a legislator asked if an oil and gas explosion has ever happened near a school. “Why does it need to happen first?” she flatly responded.

Those powerful voices speaking up for this bill didn’t stop a Senate committee from killing it and continuing to put our kids at risk.

Killed: three oil and gas bills with small changes that would have made a big impact


One bill — HB 1071 — was an attempt to clarify the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). It currently states that the COGCC is in charge of fostering and regulating oil and gas in Colorado. This bill would have changed this contradictory mission to prioritize health, safety, and the environment over industry profits.

Another, HB 1157, would have ensured the industry is tracking and reporting all spills, fires, explosions, injuries, and deaths due to oil and gas well operations and production facilities. This bill would have made incident reports mandatory and required more detail for major and minor accidents, improving transparency to the public.

Third, HB 1419 was a bill to require pipeline mapping and transparency so we all know where oil and gas operations are taking place — exactly the kind of information that would have prevented the Firestone tragedy. It would have also prevented leaks, groundwater contamination, and explosions by ensuring wells are strong and up to industry standard.

All three of these bills were killed by Senate Republicans who continue to pander to oil and gas companies.

Killed: a bill to expand local government authority


While local governments (like cities, counties, or towns) cannot permanently ban oil and gas development in Colorado, they can put in place temporary halts on the industry. SB 048 would have protected the authority of local governments to regulate oil and gas facilities, allowing governments to determine oil and gas regulations according to the needs of residents. As is the story with most of these bills, this bill was killed in a Senate committee.

But there’s good news, too. We managed to block the passage of SB 192, a bill that would have forced local governments to pay oil and gas companies for any loss in profits due to a temporary moratorium or ban. This would have added a financial penalty to any local government trying to do the right thing by their residents. We helped keep this bill from going anywhere!

Protecting homeowners from forced pooling


Forced pooling is when an oil and gas operator wants to acquire rights to extract oil and gas, but a mineral rights owner — like a homeowner — does not want drilling in their backyard. In Colorado, if there are 100 homes in a development and one of them agrees to lease the mineral rights for oil and gas development, all 99 of the other homes are “force pooled,” and the operator can develop there.

Currently, forced pooling laws and practices are unfair to the mineral rights owners and are advantageous to oil and gas operators. Highly technical notices are sent to property owners who are given only 30 days to respond. People with little or no experience with the oil and gas industry are forced to make a tough decision without enough time or clear information.

One bill (HB 1289) would have prevented local government and school district minerals from being force pooled. This bill was blocked.

Finally, one bill that provided some improvements for mineral owners’ property rights passed this year. This bill (SB 230) was a compromise that will provide some immediate relief to homeowners by extending the amount of time homeowners have between getting notified about forced pooling and their hearing, and providing more easily understandable information about the process of being force pooled. Even with the passage of this bill, property owners still face an uphill battle when it comes to negotiating with industry. Compared to the many other commonsense bills that were killed this year, this one is a small step.

While it can be easy to feel disappointed that these bills we all fought so hard for did not pass, even bringing up these issues at the Capitol is a step in the right direction. Thank you for standing with us to fight for these bills, especially if you sent a message, called your legislator, came to testify, or took action in another way to protect our communities.

The best way to change this story next year and into the future is to elect more pro-conservation champions into office. This November, many of our state senators and all of our state representatives will be up for re-election. Help us build the majority we need to pass more life-saving bills that put our communities over the industry!

Written by Audrey Wheeler

120 days. 100 legislators. Among a storm of #MeToo scandals, teacher protests, civil rights debates, and more, we made progress and fought some important fights for our environment.

In case you haven’t been keeping up, here are the biggest wins, bad things blocked, and losses for our air, land, water, and communities coming out of this year’s legislative session.

VICTORIES:

Bicyclist riding through city: increased sustainable transitInvesting in transportation for all Coloradans. After two years of fighting, we notched a huge victory in passing SB 001, a bipartisan bill that includes major investments in transportation options like senior and disability buses, sidewalks for pedestrians, highway shoulders for tractors, and resources to keep everyone safe. It is a step towards funding our state’s massive transportation needs in a fiscally responsible manner, and it supports a system that will benefit all Coloradans. With 2.5 million more people expected to live in Colorado in the next 25 years, these options are more important than ever to combat congestion and improve air quality. While we believe additional revenues are needed to address all our transportation needs, this bill provides critical initial investments to move us forward.

Two kids point across a streamRenewing funding to protect our public lands. A massive funding stream for Colorado’s outdoors was reauthorized through Colorado’s lottery! This dedicates funding for parks, open spaces, and outdoor recreation in all 64 counties of Colorado. This bill (SB 066) will help boost local projects to protect our outdoors.


Solar panels: Increased Solar StorageAdvancing renewable energy through storage. Energy storage is an essential companion to renewables that will enable a clean energy future. Two bills tackled this need (SB 009 and HB 1270). SB 009 declares that power customers have a right to install, interconnect, and use energy storage systems, making sure that homeowners can store their renewable energy, while HB 1270 directed the Public Utilities Commission to consider storage in as utilities make plans for future energy sources.


Commercial irrigation at sunset: Conserved WaterConserving Colorado’s water. We helped pass three bills to allow reused water for flushing toilets (HB 1069), growing hemp (SB 038), and farming edible crops (HB 1093)! “Reuse” water is when water is used for one purpose, say to wash dishes, and then treated to a safe standard to be used again, like to water a garden. When a water provider is able to use the same water multiple times, it means more demands can be met without increasing their overall water consumption. Reusing water helps conserve our limited water resources, and these bills will save thousands of gallons a year.


A single deer in an aspen grove: protected our wildlifeProtecting state parks and wildlife. Coloradans depend on Colorado Parks and Wildlife to deliver on its mission and ensure future generations have access to the recreational opportunities available today. SB 143 allows CPW to prevent budget shortfalls and meet its goals by increasing user fees and adjusting them to keep pace with inflation.


Rural landscape with one home: Supported rural communitiesSupporting rural communities. Two bills were passed this year: first, the Rural Economic Advancement of Colorado Towns (REACT) Act aims to provide assistance to rural towns that have experienced significant economic shifts such as industry closure. This bill (SB 005) will help make sure our rural communities have support from the state of Colorado as they face transitions, often related to the shift to clean energy. Second, SB 002 adds funding for increasing broadband to rural areas across Colorado. Currently, many rural communities do not have access to broadband internet, or if they do, its poor and unreliable quality. Rural communities deserve high-speed, functional infrastructure so their opportunities to earn a good life are not limited.

These are just some of the 27 bills we helped pass this year with the support of our 36,000 members!

But not everyone was in line with conservation interests. We also worked to kill 11 bills this legislative session that would have been bad for our air, land, water, or people.

BLOCKED:

  • Stopping Colorado from fighting climate change. SB 226 sought to prohibit Colorado from being involved in the U.S. Climate Alliance, which Governor Hickenlooper signed onto last summer. This bill was a thinly veiled attempt to stall Colorado in its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This bill passed the Senate but was soundly killed in the House, thanks in part to our members’ advocacy.
  • Repealing electric vehicle tax credits. Colorado’s innovative tax credits make our state the best in the country for buying electric vehicles. The credits have helped spur consumers to switch to EVs, giving us the 6th highest market share in the country for EVs. At the same time, EVs benefit our air quality and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. SB 047 would have ended these tax credits early, cutting off the benefits of EVs to our air and our economy, but we ensured the death of this shortsighted legislation.

And of course, we weren’t able to win in every fight this year. Some of the bills we worked hard to pass this legislative session met their ends in the state Senate, which is under anti-conservation leadership.

LOSSES:

  • Protecting Colorado’s water and rivers. A bill (HB 1301) to hold mining companies responsible for water cleanup would have updated our state’s hard rock mining laws to protect the rushing rivers and drinking water we rely on. Unfortunately, this bill was killed in the Senate by pro-industry voices.
  • Fighting climate change. One bill (HB 1297) would have allocated funds to prepare Colorado for climate change. Another (HB 1274) would have set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. Despite passing the House, both bills were sent to kill committees in the Senate.
  • Expanding electric vehicle infrastructure. Our transportation sector is changing, and we need the infrastructure to keep up the pace. SB 216 would have done so by lifting a restriction on utility companies’ ability to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure to meet the growing need and demand across Colorado. Despite electric cars like the Nissan Leaf gaining in popularity around the state, Senators voted to let Colorado fall behind.

You may notice one big issue is missing from this list: oil and gas! In fact, oil and gas was such an important and divisive issue in this year’s legislative session that we’re writing about it separately just to relay what went down. Read it here!

In all, it was a successful legislative session, despite the anti-conservation leadership we’ve seen in the state Senate. We are proud to have worked to pass bills that will be good for the future of all Coloradans, and we’re ready to keep fighting for the big issues that didn’t get addressed in this year’s legislature.

We couldn’t do this work without the support of members like you. But there is more to be done as we gear up for the next election. Sign up now to volunteer to help elect a pro-conservation legislature!That way we’ll be able to see even more victories next year.

Written by Emelie Frojen

In Colorado, our stunning mountains, open vistas, and rushing rivers inspire us and connect us to nature. Unfortunately, our public lands face countless attacks from powerful interests, like corporate polluters and the Trump administration, who are out of line with the values Coloradans hold dear.

As Coloradans, it’s our responsibility to show decision makers that we value and cherish our parks, wild places, and public lands. That’s why this month is Conservation Colorado’s Month of Action. Between now and May 31, we have a goal of generating 10,000 actions in support of Colorado’s outdoor spaces.

Here are 31 actions you can take this May to protect where you play!

1.Celebrate Colorado Public Lands DayDid you know May 19th is Colorado Public Lands Day? In May 2016, Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a state holiday for our public lands. The third Saturday in May is now recognized as Colorado Public Lands Day, a day to celebrate how our public lands are central to our economy and our quality of life. So, make sure to mark your calendar and take a chance to get outside, enjoy our unparalleled wild places, and give back to the public lands that provide us with so much. Find an event or volunteer opportunity near you at http://copubliclandsday.com .

2. Support more diversity in the outdoors. For far too long, public lands have been inaccessible for many communities due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and other reasons. Our public lands are for everyone, and it is our job to make sure they are accessible for marginalized groups. Take time this month to learn about the history of diversity on our public lands by watching this video and supporting groups that are working to make the outdoors the inclusive place it should be.

3. Take a friend or family member out on public lands. One of the best ways to spread the public lands love is to share it! Take a friend, or five, and go for a hike, sit by a river, or take a picnic to your local park. There are many ways we can enjoy public outdoor spaces so make sure to share it.

4. Attend or host an event for Colorado Public Lands Day. There are numerous events to celebrate Colorado Public Lands Day happening across Colorado. Find the one closest to you or host an event.

5. Share your story and listen to others. You don’t have to wait until May 19th to celebrate Colorado Public Lands Day! There are several early events going on that you can attend for free, including a storytelling event in Denver, an event at New Belgium Brewery, and another one in Steamboat Springs.

6. Spread the word about Colorado Public Lands Day on social media. By doing so, you are showing your support of our public lands and encouraging others to act too!

7. Protect Colorado’s Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National ForestsThe Forest Service announced that it’s updating its plan to protect Colorado’s Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests. The land under review is a 3-million-acre forest that includes 10 Wilderness areas and five fourteeners. The Grand Mesa, just east of Grand Junction, is a large, flat-topped mountain with over 300 lakes. Lend your voice to help protect this beautiful place.

8–9. Support and Celebrate the Passing of Great Outdoors Colorado. This past legislative session, we worked hard to help pass a bill that reauthorizes the Colorado Lottery Division, which supports outdoor recreation and land conservation in all 64 counties in the state. Join us in celebrating the passing of the GOCO bill. Learn more about GOCO and the outdoor places it supports.

10–14. Support the Continental Divide Bill For nearly a decade, conservationists, local leaders, mountain bikers, sportsmen, veterans, and others have come together to forge a proposal that balances protecting wilderness-quality lands with sustaining the recreation economy on which local communities depend. Learn more about the bill on our websiteTell Cory Gardner to support Continental Divide Bill. Thank Senator Bennet and Representative Polis for their hard work on the bill. Spread the word: Explore the area, share a photo, and tag it #COContinentalDivide.

Photo: Devon Balet

15. Visit the closest public lands to you! You don’t have to get into a car and drive for hours to get outside! Visiting local parks and open spaces is a great way to appreciate public land that is free and easy. Many Coloradans can reach these places by walking, biking, or taking public transportation. Challenge yourself to get to a local park without taking a car, and share your adventure with us on social media by tagging us @conservationcolorado and using the hashtag #protectwhereyouplay

16–17. Support our national monumentsOur national monuments contain cultural or historic significance and must remain untouched by destructive development, energy exploration, or construction. That’s why it’s so important that we all take action to prevent the Trump administration from carrying out their attempts to diminish the size and protections for all of these monuments. Our national monuments should remain protected for future generations to enjoy; they are a gift that belongs to all. Take action or donate to protect them.

Photo: Marc Toso

18. Attend our Rebel with a Cause GalaNow in its 17th year, Rebel with a Cause is the largest environmental event in the state. The gala brings together over 750 people for a night of celebration and fun. Join Colorado’s most prominent decision-makers, philanthropists, businesses, and environmentalists for a night you don’t want to miss. Our 2018 Rebels are the native-led organizations who are fighting to protect Bears Ears National Monument, Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and Utah Diné Bikéyah. Buy a ticket, become a sponsor, or donate to the silent auction.

19–20. Stand up against lease sales. One of the greatest threats to our public lands are oil and gas lease sales. Rather than large sell offs, the Bureau of Land Management has the power to lease land to oil and gas companies for 10 years. Flying under the radar, this process subjects the land to construction and drilling without much public action or opinion! Read up on Colorado lease sales and stay up to date. Our efforts to protect Colorado lands from oil and gas lease sales will continue for years to come. That’s why we need ongoing support to fund this important work. Donate today to protect where you play.

21. Pick up trash on a local trail. Help out public land managers by bringing an extra trash bag on your next hike and picking up trash along the way.

22. Share a photo of your favorite public lands spot on social mediaTell us why and be sure to tag us @conservationcolorado and use the hashtag #protectwhereyouplay

23. Volunteer to do trail work! Donate your time to the places you love.

24. Register to voteThe best way you can stand up for our public lands is with your vote. We have an important election this fall and need your help making sure the environment is a priority. Make sure you are registered or that your registration is up-to-date.

25–26. Get engaged locally. Do you know who your local representative is or how they stand on environmental issues? Visit our website to find out who they are and where they stand. Now, take a moment to tell your local representative how much public lands mean to you.

27. Leave no traceWhen you’re outside, make sure you’re following “leave no trace” guidelines and are making an active effort to keep our lands pristine.

28. Stay up-to-date on Colorado public lands issues by signing up for our email listThis will help you stay in the know on all of the issues affecting Colorado’s land, air, water, and communities.

29. Watch and share our video! This episode of Conservation Chats focuses on how you can take action in support of public lands.

30. Work at a business that cares about the environment? Encourage your employer to take action! The Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance (COBA) is a coalition of Colorado’s leading outdoor recreation businesses and businesses who love the outdoors that recognize the fundamental role public lands play in sustaining Colorado’s emerging economy. Join our COBA program and ask your employer about a donation match program.

31. Donate to the places you loveWe are working hard to protect the places that make Colorado special! By donating to us, you are helping us fight for our land, air, water, and communities. The best thing could do this May is protect where you play.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Colorado’s population is growing. How can we support our increasing population with transportation systems that work?

As anyone who’s been stuck in traffic recently can tell you, Colorado has a transportation problem. Our roads are deteriorating, our highways are overcrowded, and our public transit options have frustrating limitations.

The big reason why we have these problems is that our population has been growing, increasing the demand on our transportation systems while funding for roads and public transit has remained stagnant.

The gas tax, which pays for our roads, has not been increased since 1991 and doesn’t rise with inflation. Colorado is ranked 29th among states in per capita funding for public transit. On average, states cover 24 percent of the costs of operating public transit; Colorado provides only 1 percent. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) estimates that we need $9 billion just to boost our transportation network to a level adequate to meet the needs of our state right now.

It’s no wonder our leaders — like Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, Senate President Kevin Grantham, and Governor John Hickenlooper — agree that transportation funding is a top priority. Coloradans should have the freedom to get to where they need to go, and our state government has a responsibility to address these problems.

So why haven’t we agreed on a solution? Last year, a few decided the fate of many. In 2017, a bipartisan state bill (House Bill 1242) would have proposed a tax increase to voters to fund highways, local infrastructure projects, and bike, pedestrian, and transit options. Even this thoughtful, bipartisan effort that would have needed voter approval on the ballot did not make it out of the legislature. It was killed by a select group of Senate Republicans (read: The New “Kill” Committee).

This legislative session, we’ve seen ill-fated efforts at bonding measures to fix our transportation problems, but none have been the solution we need.

For a transportation solution to truly solve our problems, it must:

  • Be statewide and flexible. We want a system that provides funding to the whole state, addressing a full array of needs and creating flexible local funds.
  • Have a new, sustainable funding source. The general fund in Colorado alone cannot meet this need. While there may be some patches or band-aid solutions from the legislature, we will ultimately need an updated funding source. It’s worth repeating: CDOT estimates we need $9 billion just meet the transportation needs of our state right now.
  • Dedicate significant dollars to multi-modal (non-car) options. We need a system that works for all people, and that means all modes of getting around. This might mean funding for transit districts, sidewalks, shuttles for people who are disabled or elderly, rapid bus transit on highway corridors, and more. The system needs to move people, not just cars.

Time and again, the debate comes down to these problems. This year’s funding proposal is an irresponsible attempt to address this serious problem. It fails to meet criteria #2 and #3 above, prompting us to ask two questions:

Where’s the money coming from?

Some people seem to think the funding solution is easy and straightforward, that using existing resources to bond for transportation. But taking a bond (or loan) against our already narrow budget is not free money. Locking hundreds of millions of dollars into bonding without creating a new revenue source merely shifts the problem down the road to future generations. If Colorado is stuck making bond payments during another recession, we would need to cut other critical areas from the budget, which could mean less money for things like schools or health care. The general fund cannot be the only source of funding. Solutions for transportation can include bonding, but it should be done responsibly, with a new source of revenue to pay for it and in a way that does not mortgage our future.

How is it addressing our long-term needs?

We can’t have a transportation solution that doesn’t include funding for transit, bikes, and pedestrians. There are three reasons why:

First of all, transportation is a climate issue. The transportation sector is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions nationally, surpassing the energy sector. In order to fight climate change, we must change the way we move.

Second, we need to boost transportation options if we want to get serious about reducing traffic. Widening highways doesn’t reduce congestion. When we add lanes to a highway, there is a short time during which congestion does drop – but studies show that within a few years, traffic is as bad as it was before the road was widened. Instead of focusing on highways alone, we need to focus on mobility, and providing different options for moving people — not just cars — is the best way to do that.

Third, we need transportation options because they are good for our economy, public health, and safety. Increasing walkability and bike-ability of neighborhoods boosts property values and increases revenues for local businesses. People who use public transit take 30 percent more steps per day than people who drive, meaning that more transportation options can improve public health in more ways than one. Transportation is one of the largest sources of air pollution, which is especially important in places like Colorado’s Front Range that suffer from ozone pollution and smog. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.

We can’t keep arguing in circles about how to fund transportation. We need to agree on a new funding source that will prioritize flexible, statewide funding and invest in transit, bike, and pedestrian options as well as highways and roads.

Only then will we be sure that the Colorado of the future is a great place to live.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Across the U.S., our national parks and monuments are widely revered. In a 2017 poll of seven Western states, 80% of voters supported keeping protections for existing national monuments.

Since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have had the authority to designate special places as national monuments. Between 1906 and today, sixteen presidents — Democrats and Republicans — have used this power to create new national monuments.

These monuments have protected some of our country’s most beloved places, from the Grand Canyon, which saw 6 million visitors last year and is now a national park, to the Statue of Liberty, which had 4.5 million visitorsin 2016.

However, this April President Trump issued an executive order to review 27 national monuments that were protected in the last two decades. The idea was that by conducting a “review” of these monuments, his administration could attempt to shrink or eliminate them. This could upend protections for millions of acres of public lands across the county.

In response, hundreds of thousands of people have submitted comments to the Department of the Interior, laden with examples of the economic, spiritual, psychological, and historical reasons for preserving our national monuments.

Here in Colorado, one of our national monuments is being scrutinized. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and has the highest density of archeological sites in the U.S. While it too has seen controversy, this area is now a well-loved and established destination in southwest Colorado. Since it became a national monument, the county has grown in population by 10 percent, alongside a boost in jobs, per-capita income, and personal income.

Archeological site in Canyons of the Ancients. Photo courtesy of BLM flickr.

From four people who value our public lands, here’s why you should care about Canyons of the Ancients (and should consider visiting it, too!):

MB McAfee, Lewis, CO

“I was born and raised in Cortez,” MB told me. “The area that is now Canyons of the Ancients was an area where we went hiking. McElmo Canyon that forms the southern boundary of the monument is called the ‘Banana Belt of Montezuma County’ because it has a warmer climate than the plateaus around it and it’s a place we picked apples and roamed in the canyons and found streams to fish in.”

She explained that, back in the 1940s and 1950s when she grew up in the area, the ancient archeology of the area wasn’t yet recognized. “As the years went by, it was discovered that there was indeed a treasure trove of archeological sites there.”

MB and her husband Chuck spent 32 years living in Loveland, Colorado, before returning to Cortez. Canyons of the Ancients, she says, “has been one part of the physical landscape and tapestry of my life…It’s a place where I went as a kid, and where I took my kids when they were little. Now that it’s revered as a monument, it’s kind of a blessing that the land I like down there — the sage, juniper, pinyon, canyon county — is now actually protected.”

She explained that when Canyons of the Ancients became a national monument in 2000, there were some locals who were opposed to it. People felt as though land that belonged to them was taken away. But not much changed in the ways people were able to use the land. MB said, “If people want to ride their ATVs there are trails they can ride, people can still graze their cattle…none of that changed when the monument was made.”

In fact, her husband was on the planning commission that made the first management plan for the national monument. “It was a large citizens group that included ranchers and farmers and water people too. It had to be a broad cross section of people who might use or be affected by the creation of the monument.”

Tom McNamara, Fruita, CO

Tom had just returned from a trip down the Grand Canyon when we spoke. He said his love for public lands goes back to when he was a kid growing up in Wisconsin. “My dad took me hunting a lot as a kid,” he explained, “So I would go out and sit in the woods and enjoy that of and by itself, without any frills or bells or anything.”

Tom, with wife Carrie, exploring public lands. Image courtesy of Tom McNamara.

“We moved out here almost 20 years ago,” he told me. From visiting the Canyons of the Ancients area, he remembers “absolutely extraordinary views, nothing like it.”

More recently, he visited Bears Ears National Monument, the newly designated area in Utah that is facing the most scrutiny of all the national monuments. As the crow flies, Bears Ears is only 30 miles from Canyons of the Ancients, and the two areas share a similar ancient history.

“We go [to the Bears Ears area] at least once a year, just because it is so unique, so different. You have a…spiritual experience, because you know people lived there so long ago. If it were trampled, or overused, the experience would be far different. It’s a prime area for anyone who wants to get away, to be among historic places, and to enjoy the quietude.”

“Does it need protection? Absolutely, we need to protect as much area as we possibly can. To go back to the Boundary Waters [of Minnesota, an area remembered from his childhood], it’s better today than it was fifty years ago. The fishing is still absolutely fabulous, and the experience overall is far better than it was because there are so many people who fought hard to preserve it. All of that is now sacrosanct because of a few people who were intelligent enough to protect that area.”

Annelise Loevlie, Golden, CO

Annelise is the CEO of Icelantic Skis. The following is adapted from her written comment to Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

Annelise, in a photo from The Denver Post, 2013.

“Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, like these canyons I was formed and revealed by the wild, subtle and unrelenting forces of nature. My language and knowledge of the world comes in large part from early conversations with rocks, trees, clouds and deer. And it is through these interactions that I, like countless others, found myself. This, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable things a person can find, and a nation can ask for.”

“Why do these places exist? These Monuments exist because at some point, people were touched so deeply by them that they were declared sacred and voices called that they be forever protected by our national government.

“Numbers often speak louder than words, so I’ll explore what these places are worth. $887 billion is the number of dollars directly contributed to our national economy each year from the outdoor recreation industry. Here in Colorado, which is quickly becoming an industry leader, we are experiencing one of the more intense migrations I’ve ever seen. Droves of people are flocking to this state in search of those experiences and lessons I was lucky enough to grow up with.

“The value of a lunchtime bike ride is outweighing a venture-backed Silicon Valley salary. My peers are paying far more for new bikes than for cars and are craving time in wild places that provide freedom and inspiration. Subtle shifts such as these are all contributing to this striking number, an economy as large as the auto and pharmaceutical industries combined, employing more than computer technology, construction, or finance.

“I’m no expert on public policy, land management, or assessing economic value. However, I know that the more people come alive, the more prosperous we will be, and these places inspire life. These are not just plots of land. They are treasure troves of wisdom, freedom, inspiration and solace — and they must be protected.”

Gordon Bosworth, Boulder, UT

Gordon is a ranger who spent time working in Canyons of the Ancients. His home is on the border of Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah. The following is adapted from his written comment to the Department of Interior on protecting these national monuments.

“My ‘on the ground’ knowledge of both monuments is extensive. I have been a ranger for the BLM for five years and USFS for 24 seasons.

Visitors at the Escalante Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

“[For] Canyons of the Ancients, [we should] keep the current protection and administration of the monument — leave as is! It is a very big financial asset to the surrounding towns of Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, and Monticello, and the [Southern] Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Navajo nations. It is a very important protected piece of America.

“If the monument is minimized the damage to archeology and the understanding of our paleo past will be impossible to recreate. Tourism is a long-term plan for this area and it is what’s sustainable, not resource extraction.

“This monument is a museum, with new discoveries all the time. The uniqueness of this monument cannot be rebuilt if damaged by non-compatible resource-intensive industries.”

As these four people, and thousands more, can attest, protecting Canyons of the Ancients — and all of our national monuments — is the right thing to do. We must join together to stand up for our public lands, to keep them for future generations.

Cover photo: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

The first-ever Colorado Public Lands Day was celebrated this weekend with 137 events across the state. This new holiday is the first of its kind for any state in the nation, and was created by our Colorado legislature in 2016 to occur on the third Saturday of May each year.

This year, events ranged from volunteering to bicycling to hiking to drinking beer. Volunteers came together to restore trails, plant native species, and clean up our wild places. Ten breweries jumped on board with limited-edition craft brews to honor public lands.

Some big names were involved in the festivities. Colorado-based band Elephant Revival hosted a trail cleanup event, played an acoustic set at a Colorado Public Lands Day event, and gave a shoutout to our public lands from the stage at the Red Rocks music venue on Sunday.

The band, which has made a bold commitment to protecting public lands, was the “official sound” of the holiday this year. U.S.  and Conservation Colorado Executive Director  got onstage at their Red Rocks show to urge the audience to protect public lands. Senator Bennet urged the audience to celebrate and protect our public lands because “our work is not done.” Hundreds of people took action with Conservation Colorado to support our national monuments.

In addition, many other Colorado politicians came out to celebrate the holiday. Governor Hickenlooper spoke about public lands protection to a packed street at the Grand Junction Epic Rides Fest. U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents the Golden area, commented that “In Colorado, public lands are part of our DNA,” when he spoke on stage at one of our marquee events the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.

The holiday was established in large part due to the efforts of state Senator . Donovan said of the holiday, “Since we passed it, there have been some very real challenges and political discussion around the threat against public lands staying public. I think it has a new significance, showing how important it is that our public lands stay public and accessible to all.”

It’s true that this holiday could not have come at a better time. Right now, the attacks on our public lands are all too real, from a “review” of 27 treasured National Monuments to halting the work of over 200 advisory boards for the Department of the Interior. Fortunately, the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day proved that Coloradans are ready to stand up for their public lands.

In all, the holiday was an enormous success for celebrating and honoring our public lands. The widespread participation in Colorado Public Lands Day is proof of Coloradans’ affinity for protecting our public lands. We can’t wait to celebrate next year!

Cover image: Celebration for Colorado Public Lands Day at a brewery. Anna Peterson.

Contacts:

Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235

Mike Freeman, Earthjustice, 720-989-6896

Two of the state’s leading environmental advocacy groups today called upon Governor Hickenlooper to accept the court’s decision in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and not appeal the case. Governor Hickenlooper has until this Thursday, May 18 to decide whether to appeal the decision.

“Several bills that would have done a better job of protecting Colorado communities from oil and gas failed in the state Senate during this past legislative session,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado. “Now, it’s up to the governor to take this opportunity to protect public health and the environment and do all that he can to prevent tragedies like Firestone. A critical way to achieve this is to ensure that the oil and gas commission fully utilizes all of the tools that it has been given to protect public health, safety, and welfare. One of these tools is a recent court decision that makes it clear that the agency does in fact have the ability and authority to protect Colorado communities from oil and gas drilling. In order to preserve this important tool, we urge Governor Hickenlooper to not appeal the Martinez decision.”

“All the Martinez decision says is that Colorado must protect public health, safety, and the environment when approving oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, Staff Attorney at the public interest law firm Earthjustice. “But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been telling Coloradans for years that it already does that. If the COGCC has been meeting its obligations to protect Coloradans the State should have no objection to the court’s ruling. By appealing the court ruling, the government and the COGCC would be making the case that public health and safety are not the commission’s top priority in managing oil and gas development.”

Background on the case:

In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and several other Colorado young people asked the COGCC to adopt a regulation stating that no drilling permits will be issued without a finding that drilling can occur without impairing Colorado’s air, water, and wildlife and that it does not adversely affect public health. The COGCC denied the request, holding that it lacked legal authority to issue such a rule. In March 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals set aside the COGCC’s decision. The Court held that state law makes “protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources” a prerequisite for approving oil and gas development. While rejecting the COGCC’s legal interpretation, the Court did not address whether the agency should adopt the specific rule language requested by the Martinez plaintiffs.

The American Petroleum Institute, which has opposed the Martinez plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is expected to ask the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals decision. On May 1, the COGCC voted to join the American Petroleum Institute in challenging the court decision.

Contacts:

– Elizabeth Whitehead, Children’s Hospital Colorado, 720-777-6388
– Mike Wetzel, Colorado Education Association, MWetzel@coloradoea.org
– Brian Turner, Colorado Public Health Association, 303-257-7142
– Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235

The Colorado state legislature today passed HB 1306, a bill that would provide funds for Colorado schools to voluntarily test for lead in their drinking water. The vote count was 29-6, and the bill is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk.

“Clean water in our schools is an expectation everyone in Colorado can get behind,” said Brian Turner, MPH, President of the Colorado Public Health Association. “As a public health professional, but more importantly as a parent, I’m happy to see our state moving in the right direction for our kids’ safety.”  

The bipartisan bill would provide funding for schools to voluntarily test their water for lead, and it prioritizes testing for older schools and schools with younger children. Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing more funding to mitigate the issue. Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in these districts, 100 schools were found to have lead in their water.

“There are no safe levels of lead,” said Dan Nicklas, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, brought the nation’s attention to this environmental hazard, though lead toxicity has always been a public health challenge. We fully support our state proactively addressing this risk to keep Colorado kids safe.”

“We recognize our school districts are badly underfunded and cannot perform this important work for student safety without assistance,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “We appreciate our legislators for stepping forward with funding to help older schools meet the challenge of providing safe learning conditions for their students.”

“A safe environment is a human right,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado. “We’re thrilled that legislators from both sides of the aisle stood up for Colorado kids and will help keep them safe from lead pollution.”

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

News is breaking that the tragic accident in Firestone, where two people were killed in a home explosion, was caused by natural gas leaking from a cut flow line.

Here is a reaction from Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado:

The Firestone tragedy is the most recent– and heart-breaking– wake-up call that oil and gas exploration is a dangerous, heavy industrial activity that must be kept away from homes and schools. For years, communities across the state have raised concerns about the perils of siting homes and oil and gas facilities near each other, but these cries for change have fallen upon deaf ears. We have been left with empty promises from the oil and gas industry and tragedies such as this.

Our elected officials must act with great urgency to strengthen the rules and laws governing oil and gas drilling. This means taking any action necessary to put the burden of proof for showing that drilling is safe onto the industry, not onto concerned community members.

Moving forward, the COGCC must take decisive action and not allow any oil and gas activity unless it is proven to be safe to human health and our air and water. The fact that the commission is even considering appealing a court decision applying this standard is shocking.

A few items of interest regarding the state of play of oil and gas drilling in Colorado:
– In a case (Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) decided in mid-March, the Colorado Court of Appeals determined that protection of public health and the environment is “a condition that must be fulfilled” before the commission can issue permits. In its meeting yesterday, the commission noted that it is “still deciding whether to pursue an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.”
– The state Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, supported and encouraged by the oil and gas industry, recently voted down a simple, clarifying bill that would keep oil and gas well 1,000′ from school property, not just school buildings themselves.
– Oil and gas development is coming soon to even more suburban neighborhoods, as seen in maps of Adams and Arapahoe Counties.