Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

As the 2017 Colorado state legislative session comes to a close, Conservation Colorado celebrated seven victories but also lamented several important bills that were killed or left on the cutting room floor by the state Senate.

Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado, put it this way:
This year’s legislative session had several great, bipartisan wins for conservation issues. Conservation champions and legislators on both sides of the aisle stood up for our air, land, water, and communities, and we’re proud of the passage of meaningful and innovative bills to protect our environment.

 

But throughout the session, a group of obstructionist right-wing Republican senators repeatedly blocked progress by voting ideologically rather than for the needs of everyday Coloradans. Their opposition to simple, commonsense fixes to problems facing Colorado — such as giving citizens the opportunity to vote on a long-term sustainable funding to solve our transportation problems — should serve as a reminder about why voting matters.

Key victories that Conservation Colorado achieved were:

  • Extended a successful energy efficiency program (HB 1227)
  • Helped schools test for lead in their water (HB 1306)
  • Outlawed “rolling coal” (SB 278)
  • Defended tax credits for electric vehicles (SB 188)
  • Supported energy assistance to low-income households (HB 1116)
  • Secured funding for healthy rivers (HB 1248)
  • Prevented bills that would seize or sell off our public lands from being introduced

Despite the wins, several other environmental priorities were killed or stalled this session thanks to ideological opposition. These bills included:

  • Funding for the Colorado Energy Office and important clean energy programs, which Republicans held hostage in order to try to provide a windfall for natural gas companies (SB 301)
  • Improvements to transportation infrastructure and multimodal options (HB 1242)
  • Funding for our state parks (HB 1321)
  • Opening up new opportunities for investment in electric vehicle infrastructure (HB 1232)
  • Three measures to keep our communities safe from oil and gas drilling in neighborhoods:
    • Better protecting children from oil and gas wells located near schools (HB 1256)
    • Providing notice and transparency to property and mineral rights owners in the gas patch (HB 1372)
    • Securing mapping of and information about oil and gas lines, a critical necessity in the wake of the Firestone tragedy (HB 1336)

Conservation Colorado will be releasing its annual conservation scorecard with scores for legislators based on their environmental votes during the 2017 legislative session early this summer.

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

In a huge win for the environment and the “resistance” against the Trump agenda, the vote to move forward with repealing a rule protecting air quality from oil and gas development just failed in the U.S. Senate. However, Colorado Senator Gardner voted the wrong way.

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

This is an incredible day for the environment and for citizens across the country who have been telling their members of Congress to vote for clean air. The vote should have been an easy one for the oil and gas lobby to win, but the power of citizen activism has broken through the political morass.

 

With that said, we are deeply disappointed in Senator Gardner’s vote. Despite more than 10,000 emails and calls from Coloradans and multiple protests at his offices on this issue, Senator Gardner managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by voting against Colorado’s clean air in what amounted to a futile vote for him.

 

It’s obvious from this vote that Senator Gardner is much more interested in joining the Washington, D.C. political club rather than representing the values of Coloradans. This is not the leadership that Colorado needs, and we will double down on our efforts to make sure that Coloradans of all stripes know what a threat Senator Gardner’s voting record poses to clean air and environment.

Senate Republicans today attempted to use a little-known procedure (the “Congressional Review Act”) to kill rules from previous presidential administrations. Today’s vote on the “motion to proceed” was 51-49, with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ) joining all 48 Democrats in rejecting the resolution.

Senator Gardner has a 100% record of voting with Trump and has voted against the environment seven times already this year, the methane vote being the eighth.

The BLM’s methane waste prevention rule was modeled on Colorado’s successful 2014 methane rules. The federal rule was finalized in November 2016 after three years of public process that included eight public meetings held across the country and 300,000 public comments. The rule would minimize the amount of wasted natural gas resources from oil and gas facilities on public and tribal lands by requiring companies to look for and repair leaks, minimize flaring (burning) and prohibit venting of gas directly into the atmosphere. All told, the rule could save $330 million worth of natural gas each year, which would result in increased royalties paid to the federal treasury saving taxpayers more than $800 million over a decade.

Last updated: 5/30/2017

Update 5/2/17 3pm: The Denver Post has reported that the fatal Firestone home explosion was the result of a cut supply line running from the nearby gas well. The cut seeped volatile gas into the home that ignited and caused the explosion.

News broke last week that a home explosion in which two people were killed and two were injured may have been caused by an oil and gas well that was located just 178 feet from the home. The news has caused two of Colorado’s top 10 oil and gas companies to temporarily shut down wells in the area.

Whether or not the investigation ultimately determines that a well was the cause, the tragedy is a grim reminder that oil and gas drilling is a dangerous industrial activity. Indeed, there have been several other recent disasters in Colorado caused by oil and gas drilling. Below we take a look at five that have occurred just within the last eight years.

The bottom line is this: there is mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction is dangerous activity, not only for the workers themselves, but also for those in close proximity to facilities. Colorado residents shouldn’t have to fear for their lives on a daily basis, worrying that a well or storage tank less than 500 feet from their home that they’ve been assured is safe is actually a danger to their health, well-being and maybe even their life. We cannot allow oil and gas drilling to take place near homes, schools, and other community buildings.

Oil and gas development isn’t slowing down or going anywhere anytime soon. Particularly in the Front Range, new leases and well pads with unprecedented numbers of wells are being approved within areas that are primarily residential, as seen in these maps of Adams and Arapahoe counties. If we are to prevent future tragic accidents, we must protect not just the areas that are already threatened, but those that face possible development in the months and years to come.

Whether the industry is at fault for the Firestone home explosion or not, this is a wake up call that the safety measures we have in place now are simply not good enough. We’ve long said that the burden of proof for proving that drilling is safe must be on the oil and gas industry. One example of a step the industry can take in response to this tragedy is to agree to a commonsense bill that set oil and gas wells further back from school property, which was voted down by a state Senate committee just a few weeks ago after strong opposition from the industry.

1. Tank Explosion, Mead, May 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

One person died and three were injured on Thursday, May 25th in an oil tank fire in Weld County. Workers were doing maintenance on an Anadarko oil tank battery when the fire sparked and caused the tank to explode.

2. Hudson Blowout, Weld County, January 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

A well blowout caused 28,000 gallons of oil, gas, and drilling waste water to gush from a damaged well over a period of three days. It shut down roads, and the effects were seen as far as 2,000 feet away from the site of the accident.

3. Legacy Elementary School, Frederick, April 2014

Unknown Operator

A storage tank exploded approximately 1,800 feet away from the elementary school and caused all students and teachers to shelter in place. Luckily, no one was injured.

The explosion that occurred just 1,800 feet away from an elementary school in 2014.

 

4. Windsor, February 2013

PDC Energy

A technical failure caused a valve to break and gush oil and green-colored flowback fluid for 30 hours before it was stopped. The spill was contained so that it did not affect nearby residential areas.

5. Ault, June 2013

Noble Energy

A worker failed to open a valve properly which resulted in the backup and eventual release of crude oil over 150,000 square feet of an organic farm. The farm had to scrape away and replace the contaminated soil. There were no reported injuries.

6. De BeQue, Colorado 2009

Unknown Operator

A spring used as a water source at a cabin in Western Colorado was contaminated with BTEX, a carcinogenic combination of benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The owner of the cabin drank multiple cups of the water before he realized it was contaminated. A tested sample of the spring water contained 100 micrograms per liter of BTEX. Five micrograms is the safety threshold for groundwater. A toxicologist with the oil and gas commission told him to get continued blood tests to check for liver or kidney damage. Because his spring is located within 3,000 feet of 18 wells and multiple other oil and gas activities, the exact cause of the contamination is unknown.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

If one takes Donald Trump’s words at face value, admittedly a dicey proposition, his administration and the anti-conservation majority in the U.S. Congress are likely to launch a volley of assaults on Colorado’s land, water, and climate. And yet, as the state’s largest environmental organization, we remain hopeful for the future. It’s not going to be easy, and the next four years will pose significant challenges to our Colorado values and our outdoor way of life. But we’re going to keep fighting in every way we can — and we know Coloradans stand with us.

First, let’s look at a few of the big challenges we’re facing from our next president:

  • He’s a climate denier. Someone who has called climate change a “hoax” and may put an oil executive in charge of our public lands does not inspire confidence for leading our country forward with renewable energy and addressing the climate crisis. The President-elect has pledged to roll back environmental laws and regulations that will keep us safe and healthy, from the Clean Power Plan to crucial limits on methane pollution. In Colorado, climate change is projected to cause droughts, hotter temperatures, and health issues, so it’s essential that we act to fight it in any way possible.
  • It’s not looking good for land conservation and wildlife protection. We could be facing a four-year “drought” of new protections for land and wildlife across the country. In addition, with an anti-conservation Congress, there are good reasons to be concerned for some of our bedrock environmental laws. This means the Antiquities Act, which was used in Colorado to protect Browns Canyon National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Colorado National Monument, could be under threat. Some congressional Republicans have been desperate to roll back key protections in the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that protects wildlife.
  • Oil and gas activity in Colorado. Image by Soren Jespersen.

    Dirty fuels will be promoted. President-elect Trump has pledged to increase dirty energy production, likely by accelerating permitting to drill or frack on our public lands. Colorado has significant coal, oil, and natural gas under our lands so we will need to be on high alert to counter a “drill, baby, drill” mentality.
  • The Colorado River is at a critical tipping point. A recent study by the University of Colorado found that the next president must act to prevent widespread water shortages in the Colorado River Basin. A continuing 16-year drought puts the entire Southwestern U.S. in danger of possible water cuts, but so far, Trump has not presented a plan of action.

Of course, none of this is certain. Trump’s candidacy was remarkably policy-free, and when he does talk about policy he frequently contradicts himself with the space of even a few days. All this means there is significant uncertainty about where he stands on key environmental issues. For example, at one point he endorsed local control of oil and gas during a visit to Colorado but it is not clear if he stills holds that view. He has also swayed back and forth on supporting efforts to sell off our public lands, although it’s important to note that the Republican platform contains language supporting this costly and unpopular idea.

At the same time, economic forces beyond the control of the president also provide tremendous uncertainty about the next four years. Oil and natural gas prices, and the impact of natural gas prices on coal, are controlled by the markets. In the past few years, we’ve seen natural gas development outpace coal due in large part to market forces. Even if the president-elect goes all-out to “bring back coal,” he may have little success.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, and Short-Term Energy Outlook (March 2016)

Meanwhile, renewable energy is booming as wind and solar are becoming more and more affordable. Wind and solar energy already support about 4,250 jobs in Eastern Colorado alone, far exceeding the approximately 1,400 jobs in Colorado’s coal industry.

At Conservation Colorado, we’ve got hope. Our work will continue, and it is more important now than ever.

We’ve got three substantial assets on our side:

Protesters fill the streets in downtown Denver, November 10, 2016

  • The will of the people. In Colorado, 77 percent of voters say environmental issues are an important factor in deciding whether to elect a public official. 72 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect public lands. 76 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote renewable energy like wind and solar. 77 percent of Colorado voters would rather use water more wisely than divert water from rural rivers. There are more numbers like this, but they all boil down to the same idea: Coloradans have strong conservation values, and want to see them represented in our government. Also, let’s remember, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5% here in Colorado — Coloradans did not endorse Trump’s vision for our environmental future.
  • Supporters on both sides of the aisle in the state Legislature. We fought for a pro-conservation majority in both the state House and state Senate this year, and we succeeded by expanding our conservation majority in the state House. However, the Senate remains under anti-conservation control. But conservation and the environment are bipartisan issues, and we’ve got several powerful examples of what we can accomplish when our elected officials work across the aisle on environmental issues. Last year with a similarly divided legislature, we scored big by passing electric vehicle tax credits, the first-in-the-nation Colorado Public Lands Day, and legalizing rain barrels. We’re looking forward to more of this bipartisan work in the upcoming year, with opportunities to modernize our transportation system, grow our booming outdoor recreation economy, and further keep Colorado a leader for the nation when it comes to energy and the environment.
  • Colorado’s governor is standing up for the environment. In his first post-election interview, Governor John Hickenlooper cited health care, climate action, and public lands as the three main areas of concern for Colorado under President-elect Donald Trump. He vowed that Colorado will continue striving to cut carbon pollution and further clean our air, and will not pull back our strong methane regulations for the oil and gas industry. He also expressed concern for protecting public lands, saying, “Those lands should not be put up for auction.” We’re pleased that the governor is taking a stand and allowing Colorado to chart its own path.

Governor Hickenlooper with Conservation Colorado staff, November 2016

Above all, we will stand together as a community to defend our natural resources and keep up the fight for the future. We’re not alone — a majority of Coloradans share these values and expressed them by voting for pro-conservation candidates in this year’s election.

Written by Sarah White

On January 1st, 2013, following a combined 60 year history of fighting for our spectacular environment, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters merged to create Conservation Colorado. Since then, we have hired 9 new staff members, opened a new field office in Durango, and engaged our 16,000 members to take 7,220 actions!

What else have we done? The list goes on, but we picked out 7 notable achievements that we couldn’t have reached without your support.

1) New Faces

We didn’t just hire anyone, we hired the best of the best to inject new energy to the endless tasks we take on to fight for Colorado’s future. Combining old and new has proven to be effective as we saw numerous bills we supported become law this year and took on new campaigns to protect Colorado’s land, air, water, and people. Plus, they certainly made Halloween fun:

2) That Good ‘Ole Rocky Mountain Air

Greenhouse-gas-causing methane harms Coloradans and adds to climate change. Don’t believe us? Just look at the stories we collected on Facebook of Coloradans living with oil and gas operations in their backyards. Basically, it’s a big – huge – deal that Colorado will be the first state to make oil and gas operators capture methane and other harmful pollutants. And, it’s all because of you.

3) Record-breaking events

Turns out our volunteers and members think we put on quite the party – so much so that we had record breaking attendance at almost all of our events this year. From our annual Rebel With A Cause Gala to our Save The Ales beer tasting event, Coloradans came out to support what they love: our state. In addition, we hosted the Beyond The Bones hiking series in Northwest Colorado, the ClimateFest concert in Denver, West Slope Harvest Celebration in Palisade, and the Save The Last Dance book tour all around Colorado.

4) Hey-O Durango!

We started out with offices in Denver, Grand Junction, and Craig, but soon realized that 3 wasn’t enough. So we did something crazy – we started an office in Durango! Our Southwest Organizer, Emily, was welcomed with open arms and plenty of things to start organizing around.

5) Local Grassroots Organizing Pairs Well With National Legislation

Wait a second, Colorado’s wildlife habitats and wilderness areas are being talked about on a national level? That doesn’t happen every year. Both the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act and Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act have widespread support from the communities, local businesses, and elected officials.  We couldn’t be more excited to see the progress these bills have made and to support the Colorado lawmakers who are working to protect them for future generations.

6) Water Planning

It’s one of those things that seems boring and wonky, but necessary. Yet, as Theresa showed us in her popular blog series, Drought Days, water is anything but. From our extreme summer drought to our extreme September floods, water proved more than ever just how vital it is to Colorado. This past year, we joined together with coalition partners to pass a reusable water bill and encouraged Governor Hickenlooper to clean up Colorado’s water – because water is anything but boring. Still don’t believe us? Just watch Colorado Rising, a short film featuring a family’s story about the High Park Fire of 2012:

7) 252 – woot woot!

252 may just be a number to you, but it’s a reason to celebrate for us. We fought hard during the legislative session for common sense safeguards against oil and gas pollution, but their multi-million dollar lobbying efforts pushed us back. However, we won big with Senate Bill 252, which increases access to wind and solar energy across ALL of Colorado. It became law this summer and Colorado will now get cleaner, sustainable energy…and jobs to go along with it.

We can’t put it all in one blog post, but simply put, we have had a good first year. We’re proud of this state and you should be too. But with our first birthday coming up on January 1st, we realize that there’s always more work to be done to protect the state that we love for future generations.

That’s where you come in – we have asked you to make calls, write emails, send in letters, and follow us on social media. And, you have done it all. We couldn’t achieve any successes without you and we definitely couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without your passion for Colorado. When thinking about who you want to give to this Colorado Gives Day, invest in a sure thing, invest in us and other members and volunteers like you who have made it clear to rest of our state that Colorado’s conservation voice deserves to be heard.