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.

Around the country, over 300,000 people participated in more than 370 marches. In Denver, although the weather forecasted a foot of snow, more than 5,000 people joined the march to show that Coloradans want action to address climate change.

Missed out on the march last weekend? Don’t worry, here are some of the best signs from the day that demonstrate how witty, dedicated and passionate the thousands of Coloradans who attended are about climate action and environmental justice.

1. “There are no jobs on a dead planet”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

2. “March Now or Swim Later” and “YOLO Earth! (You Only Live on Earth)”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

3. “Dare to Care for our Air President Billionaire”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

4. “Defend, Not Defund”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

5. “Resist Bigly”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

6. “Make the Earth Cool Again”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

7. “Heed the Lorax, Save the Planet”

Will McKay / Will McKay Photography

 

8. “Wake Up!”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

9. “People and Planet Over Petroleum and Profit”

Alejandro Silva

 

10. “We Can Fix This”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

Written by Gabe Kiritz, Public Lands Business Organizer

There have been several recent attacks from Washington, D.C. on Colorado’s public lands and waters. Just this week, the Trump administration issued an executive order that will begin a process to “review” the 30 national monuments created since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres, which could result in Colorado’s iconic Canyons of the Ancients national monument being shrunk or losing it’s protections entirely.

Additionally, the Trump administration’s proposed budget threatens harmful cuts to our nation’s public lands and environment. The Department of Interior, which manages our national parks, national wildlife refuges, other public lands, is facing a massive 12 percent cut that would have major impacts on conservation and our recreation economy.

These public lands support diverse economic interests, including an outdoor recreation economy that’s estimated to be as large as the auto industry and pharmaceutical industry combined, at $887 billion. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, outdoor recreation employs more Americans than construction, computer technology, or education. Cutting funds for our public lands damages the communities that depend on tourism and outdoor recreation, the wildlife living on those lands, and the health and well-being of Americans who explore our nation’s wild places.

That’s why Colorado businesses have decided to stand up and speak out. In fact, 98 businesses just signed on to a letter with the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance calling for Senator Cory Gardner to defend and protect Colorado’s public lands. Here’s an excerpt from their letter, and you can read the full text here:

“Colorado’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and monuments are essential to our industries, way of life, and bottom lines. COBA members are united to conserve and protect access to our public lands and sustain our state’s economy….

We now urge you to support our economic interests by advancing meaningful public lands protections and defending our national public lands from any and all legislative attacks…”

The companies that signed this letter are outdoor recreation manufacturers, retailers, guides, and outfitters, alongside ranches, marketing firms, tech companies, and startups, depend on public lands for their way of life and to attract employees. They make Colorado a thriving place to do business.

With this letter in hand, seven Colorado business leaders flew to Washington, D.C. on March 27th, 2017 to meet with staff from Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Scott Tipton’s offices. There, they called for leadership in standing up for Colorado’s public lands. They asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to:

Colorado business leaders in Washington D.C.

The call for leadership has been made — will our representatives respond and protect Colorado’s economy?

The outdoor recreation industry in Colorado has continued to be an important indicator of how much progress Colorado has made on public lands over the last few years. For example, no land seizure bills have passed in the Colorado state legislature, despite almost ten attempts by extremist legislators to do so. These bills would have paved the way for our public lands to be seized by the state and eventually leased or sold off to private interests. Additionally, last year our state legislature established Colorado Public Lands Day, the first state holiday of its kind in the country.

That’s why, when the Outdoor Industry Association announced that it was looking for a new home for its massive Outdoor Retailer show that is friendlier to public lands that Utah, Colorado was in a position to make a strong case that we deserve the show. In fact, Conservation Colorado ran these ads in Utah newspapers making the case for the show to come here:

Senator Gardner claims to stand with Colorado businesses and the outdoor recreation industry. However, his track record thus far this Congress on protecting public lands and air quality, two fundamental pieces of natural infrastructure that sustain a healthy recreation economy and Colorado businesses, does not reflect these values. Senator Gardner must prove he values public lands as much as the support of the outdoor industry. Defending against attacks on our lands and supporting proactive legislation is a good place to start.

As the businesses said in their letter to Senator Gardner: “Our public lands are essential to Colorado’s economy and quality of life. Please uphold the legacy of bipartisan support for protecting public lands that makes us proud to base our businesses in Colorado.”

Contacts:
Elizabeth Whitehead, Children’s Hospital Colorado, 303-775-6601
Mike Wetzel, Colorado Education Association, MWetzel@coloradoea.org
Brian Turner, Colorado Public Health Association, 303-257-7142
Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235, jessica@conservationco.org

The Colorado House Education Committee is taking testimony this afternoon on HB 1306, a bill that would provide funds for Colorado schools to voluntarily test for lead in their drinking water. Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in these districts, 77 schools were found to have lead in their water.

“Lead in drinking water is extremely damaging to health, especially in young children, and research shows that there is no safe level for lead exposure,” said Daniel Nicklas, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “We must take every precaution to prevent children from consuming lead, and that starts with providing schools with the tools they need to take the first step.”

“School district budgets are in crisis across the state with the ongoing cut to schools known as the Negative Factor expected to increase in the coming school year” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “Rural school districts are struggling to keep teachers, so we certainly cannot expect them to divert precious resources away from the classroom to test drinking water. This bill provides necessary funding to give schools the help they need to ensure the health and safety of students.”

“From a public health perspective, lead poisoning can affect children throughout their whole lives and create impacts on the whole community,” said Brian Turner, MPH, President of the Colorado Public Health Association. “We must empower schools with tools to keep kids safe and ensure that they live healthy and fulfilled lives.”

“A safe environment should be the right of every child,” said Kristin Green, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado. “Unfortunately, lead poisoning remains a problem in our state and across the country. It is our obligation to make sure that every kid is drinking clean water. This bill is an important move in the right direction.”

HB 1306 is co-sponsored by Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Tony Exum. Funding will come from an existing water quality improvement fund. It prioritizes testing for older schools and for schools with younger children. Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing more funding to mitigate the issue.

Written by Pete Maysmith

President Trump recently signed an executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, along with a host of other Obama-era policies designed to protect our health and environment from climate change. While Trump claimed this action was to promote energy independence and bring back coal jobs — both of which are not likely to be influenced by this — in reality it is a clumsy attempt to bolster the fossil industry at the expense of our health and our climate.

Fortunately, Colorado and the West will keep making progress in spite of the president’s backward efforts. This is evident because of popular sentiment, market forces, and the opportunities that exist in our state.

In Colorado (and increasingly across America), citizens understand that climate change is a threat to our livelihood and we need to take action. Following the release of the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Conservation Colorado collected thousands of signatures from Coloradans wanting to see quick action from our state to comply with the plan. Those people, along with 66 percent of our state, still want to see climate action, even if it isn’t in the form of a national plan.

Conservation Colorado’s Protégete team in 2015 holds a poster with over 3500 signatures from Coloradans calling for climate action.

In fact, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Coloradans support increasing the share of energy from renewable sources like wind and solar to create jobs and economic opportunity in rural Colorado. That’s not a partisan divide — Coloradans from both sides of the aisle understand that we should lead on renewable energy, both because it is a linchpin for clean air and because it means economic growth, including in rural areas.

The impacts of climate change on our forests, rivers, and air are becoming more evident in Colorado. These changes threaten who we are as Coloradans, from wildfires in March to extreme drought predictions for the Colorado river. The evidence is clear and cannot be ignored, and the public is realizing that more and more. Across the U.S., concern about global warming has reached a three-decade high.

As public concern grows, so do the market forces that caused coal to slow down in the first place. Wind and solar prices are dropping, while their use skyrockets. The number of jobs in Colorado’s solar industry increased by 20 percent in 2016, as the state’s solar capacity jumped 70 percent. At the same time, the state is ranked second in the nation for wind jobs, with 14,800 workers currently. Wind jobs are expected to grow by 54.7 percent in Colorado over the next four years.

Coloradans know that to promote jobs and help rural economies, we need to pursue industries with potential for growth. Right now, that’s wind and solar — and the opportunities in Colorado are limitless. Wind and solar are already providing real income through taxes, benefits to farmers, good paying jobs, and supporting the general economies of small towns on Colorado’s eastern plains. In many places, wind companies lease land from farmers to install wind turbines, providing a new income stream on land that is also usable for other agricultural activities. Already, more than $5.4 billion worth of renewable energy projects have been built in eastern Colorado, and we have the capacity for more.

Colorado’s had a promising start to lead on climate solutions. Our renewable energy standard of 30% by 2020 and the “Clean Air Clean Jobs Act” of 2010 that converted coal-fired power plants to clean resources like wind and solar put us on a great trajectory. Our state has proven it is possible to reduce carbon pollution in ways that boost the economy.

Looking forward, we’re working on a host of ideas to further cut down carbon pollution in Colorado. From fighting for investment in alternative modes of transportation to renewing a successful energy efficiency program, there’s a lot happening at the state level.

No matter what politicians or bureaucrats in Washington, DC do or say, here in Colorado we keep fighting to clean up air pollution and combat climate change. States have led and will continue to lead the way when it comes to the clean energy revolution. Despite President Trump’s intransigence, there is hope and it lies in state and local action. By adding more renewables, working with partners, and focusing in on the state level, we can get things done in Colorado and serve as a leader for other states to follow.