GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO — Today, the Department of the Interior officially announced that it plans to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction.

In response, Erin Riccio, Western Slope field organizer with Conservation Colorado, released the following statement:

“It’s no surprise the Bureau of Land Management wants to relocate to Grand Junction. With a fantastic quality of life supported by our stunning public lands, the location is a no-brainer.

“We’re among the many residents in Grand Junction who are excited about this news that will benefit the local economy and bring employees closer to some of the lands they manage. However, moving the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction won’t actually protect our treasured landscapes as long as the Trump administration’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda is in place. At every opportunity, this administration and its supporters have gutted public input processes and dodged transparency requirements, even going so far as to allow drilling permits during January’s government shutdown.

“It is also worth noting that Senator Cory Gardner, who took credit for this move, continues to serve as a cheerleader for President Trump’s anti-conservation agenda. He voted time and time again to cut West Slope residents and Coloradans out of land management decisions, open treasured landscapes to drilling, and remains the only Colorado Senator to never sponsor a Colorado wilderness bill.

“We’re excited that the BLM is coming to Grand Junction. But regardless of where the BLM calls home, Coloradans want a fair public process with a more comprehensive lands management focus than the ‘energy dominance’ agenda of the Trump administration and Senator Gardner.”

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Today, Conservation Colorado released its 2019 Conservation Scorecard, an annual look at how every state legislator voted on key environmental bills during the recent legislative session. The scorecard provides Coloradans with the information they need to ensure their elected officials reflect Coloradans’ values, including protections for our air, land, water, and communities.

“Colorado’s 2019 legislative session was historic by any measure,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “From climate action and clean energy to oil and gas reforms to protecting our lands, water, and wildlife, this year’s scorecard provides an accounting of who helped and hindered Colorado’s progress.”

Here are top-line results from the Scorecard:

Key votes scored include:

  • Colorado’s Climate Action Plan (HB1261)
  • Comprehensive Oil and Gas Reform (SB181)
  • EV Utility and Tax Credits (HB1159 and SB77)
  • Hard-Rock Mining Reform (HB1113)
  • Conservation Easement Improvements (HB1264)
  • Promoting a Just Transition (HB1314)

Senate

  • 18 Senators had a perfect score.
  • The lowest scores were Senators Chris Holbert, Vicki Marble, and Jim Smallwood at 0 percent each.

House

  • 36 members had a perfect score.
  • The lowest scores were Representatives Mark Baisley, Susan Beckman, Perry Buck, Tim Geitner, Stephen Humphrey, Kimmi Lewis, Lori Saine, Shane Sandridge, and Dave Williams at 0 percent each.

Nordini continued: “This year, the Colorado legislature passed commonsense policies that were years in the making. At a time when the stakes could not be higher, Colorado’s new elected leaders produced results that will protect our state for years to come.”

DENVER – Today the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan allowing the gas drilling industry to dominate Colorado’s idyllic North Fork Valley with new oil and gas leasing. The plan failed to adopt a community-supported proposal that was under consideration by the agency to protect the water supply, wildlife and scenery of the North Fork Valley.

Previously, the North Fork Valley community has fought back three previous attempts to lease public lands for drilling close to the towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia while the agency worked to complete its land use plan. The final resource management plan for the area will guide management of public lands for decades to come.

The Western Slope Conservation Center issued the following statement from Patrick Dooling, Executive Director:

“We are extremely disappointed that the BLM is moving forward with a plan that so clearly disrespects the wishes of our community and prioritizes drilling over all other uses here. The push to open our public lands for expanded drilling in Colorado’s premier sustainable farming and agri-tourism region is broadly opposed by local farms, businesses, and residents.

“The BLM’s final plan directly neglects the wishes of local governments, numerous organizations and countless citizens and shows that the current administration continues to prioritize the interests of the oil and gas industry over the public. We have fought back irresponsible drilling leases before and we fight back against this attempt to lock in risk of future drilling for years to come.”

The Wilderness Society issued the following statement from Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director:

“Instead of protecting the clean water supply that allows the North Fork Valley to thrive, the BLM is putting the gas drilling industry first.”

“It’s a shame to see Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a native Coloradan, hand out favors to fossil fuel interests at the expense of local farmers, recreation businesses and the public here in his home state.

Not only does the plan sellout the community in the North Fork Valley by ignoring the locally-grown North Fork Alternative Plan, it also guts protections for critical wildlands across Colorado’s western slope. Places like Dry Creek Basin and Roc Creek – public lands that offer backcountry recreation, scenic views and important wildlife habitat – would be stripped of protections under the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the plan.”

Conservation Colorado issued the following statement from Executive Director Kelly Nordini:

“Today is just one more example of President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt putting the oil and gas industry ahead of local communities. Instead of helping foster the North Fork Valley’s thriving and growing agriculture and outdoor recreation economy, they are placing these sustainable industries in the crosshairs of an industry that threatens the very clean air, water and climate that helps these local businesses.”

“The Trump administration’s so-called ‘energy dominance’ agenda isn’t just a giveaway of public lands to their polluting industry friends, it mortgages Coloradans’ very future by exacerbating climate impacts instead of avoiding them.”

Why is this so important to western Colorado?

Why is this so important to western Colorado? Oil and gas development is incompatible with a healthy future for the spectacular North Fork Valley of western Colorado. The communities of the North Fork Valley are strongly opposed to oil and gas development, largely due to the negligible economic gains and the significant irreparable damage that could occur from oil and gas activities in the watershed.

  • Clean Water: The North Fork Valley is a hub of organic and traditional agriculture and one of only two federally recognized wine regions in Colorado. Protection of the valley’s water supply relies on protecting the North Fork from source-to-use. Pollution must be prevented from entering this critical water system. For farmers and the agricultural economy, water quantity and quality are both of utmost importance. Organic agriculture, specialty crops, and high-quality hay all depend on abundant water free from contamination.

Surface contamination and spills, which occur regularly in Colorado oil and gas fields, could spread rapidly through the irrigation systems that water the valley. Oil and gas development is well-known to contaminate water supplies, both above and below ground, and to harm water bodies, rivers and source areas. That is a risk too great for operators in the valley, home to Colorado’s highest concentration of organic farms, an agritourism haven, and major headwaters to the Colorado River system.

  • Wildlife: Of particular concern are impacts to mule deer, elk, Canada lynx, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, bald eagle and greenback cutthroat trout. Coupled with the impacts of existing energy development, additional leasing and development directly threaten rare mid-elevation habitat and the wildlife which depends upon it. The state currently does not possess adequate data on elk and mule deer populations in the area of the proposed development, and CPW staff have indicated that recent elk population numbers in the area have been in steep decline over the last few years. The local elk and mule deer are essential to the local economy, not to mention the ecology of our landscapes.

At risk in the final plan are some of the same lands the local community joined together to oppose leasing in 2011 and 2012, and again in late 2018. The initial leasing attempts prompted the BLM to consider a locally grown vision for the North Fork Valley that would keep energy development away from sensitive areas. The BLM agreed to consider the North Fork Alternative Plan in the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan revision, however, the proposed final plan ignores the local community and undermines the citizens’ vision.

The BLM had been deferring leasing in the North Fork Valley while it revised the Uncompahgre RMP and made a long-term plan for managing the many values of this special landscape, but under Trump administration policies the agency is plowing forward with highly controversial, short-sighted leasing proposals. With its drilling above all other uses strategy for public lands, the Administration is deaf to the voices and vision the local community has worked with the BLM on for years. “Energy dominance” for the purpose of enriching fossil fuel industry executives could well result in farmers, winemakers and ranchers losing their livelihoods.

The North Fork Valley is too wild, too beautiful, and too productive to be sacrificed for oil and gas interests. Efforts to move forward with leasing in the North Fork Valley will continue to be met with strong opposition. The valley has produced energy for our country from public lands for over a century from its coal mines. Now is the time to protect remaining wildlands in the area for future generations to enjoy.

Cover image: North Fork Valley, CO. Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society.

I write as the enthusiastically wide-eyed recent addition to Conservation Colorado. My name is Koki Atcheson and I graduated from Colorado College this May with a BA in Environmental Science: Integrated and a minor in Education. I am so grateful to the Public Interest Fellowship Program and Conservation Colorado for this opportunity to start as a Communications Fellow.

I accepted a position in Colorado, far from my home base in Honolulu, Hawaii, because I recognize the state of Colorado as a national leader in advancing pro-environmental policies, public lands protections, renewable energy, and clean air and water for all people. I draw inspiration from Colorado’s green spaces of all sizes and the energy of city planners and community members working in partnership with nature. I see hope and great potential in the conservation movement, and I am eager to join a team who works relentlessly toward a better future for our environment and our people.

Once I walked through Conservation Colorado’s doors, I did not wait long to experience advocacy work firsthand. Moments after finding my desk, I listened in on a tele-press conference detailing Senator Cory Gardner’s voting history, and the implications of his anti-environmental votes. This was my introduction to what it means to hold elected officials accountable.

Senator Gardner has failed to fulfill his advertised commitments to renewable energy and the environment. Between 2015 and 2018 he voted against the environment 85 percent of the time. This record does not honor the conservationist identity that I share with 69 percent of Coloradans.

Reading Conservation Colorado’s report of Senator Gardner’s voting history, I was most upset to see that he has made surface-level claims of pro-environmental beliefs without stepping up as a leader in climate policy, sponsoring a wilderness bill, or consistently voting to secure the best interests of Colorado’s people and environment. These findings reinforce the necessity of digging deeper than political candidates’ promotional materials, and making this information easily accessible.

In Colorado, pro-conservation elected officials accurately represent the values and needs of residents. Pro-conservation actions promote public health through policies that minimize displacement and pollution, and maximize green spaces for all. In this way they are a vehicle for justice, and can work to counteract centuries of environmental racism.

Senator Gardner has an immense opportunity to represent Coloradan values and leave a positive legacy for the state he serves through working to advance clean energy, fully sponsor conservation bills, and protect the wilderness areas that keep Colorado wild.

If Colorado hopes to remain a proud champion for our environment, all of our elected officials must step up and boldly pursue action that honors our state’s human and natural needs. In my time as a Communications Fellow at Conservation Colorado, I look forward to learning from a wealth of mentors who are doing the political work to sculpt an equitable, environmentally connected future.

If there’s one thing that Coloradans all share, it’s a love for our public lands. From the rushing waters of the Arkansas River to the otherworldly atmosphere of the Great Sand Dunes, our state and national parks are a shared playground where our communities can recreate and connect with nature — and with each another.

A group of people after a day of work with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy

The Rocky Mountain Conservancy

According to the latest Conservation in the West poll, 73% of citizens live here in the Centennial State thanks to our ability to live, work, and play near public lands. Public lands don’t just fill Coloradans’ weekend plans; the communities and businesses that thrive around public lands fuel a thriving outdoor recreation economy that supports nearly 230,000 local jobs and contributes more than $28 billion in consumer spending per year.

It’s clear that public lands aren’t just a part of the Coloradan’s lives; public lands are essential to the Colorado way of life.

We love our public lands so much that Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a state holiday in honor of our public lands. Colorado Public Lands Day, which occurs each year on the third Saturday in May, celebrates Colorado’s varied public landscapes and offers all Coloradans an opportunity to spend time in and show their support for the places we love.

Six people stand on a trail

Rocky Mountain Field Institute

Across the state, dozens of different nonprofits and groups organized activities — from trail cleanups to speeches from the stage of a music festival — that gathered Coloradans around a common cause: to protect, preserve, and appreciate our public lands. The crew at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy organized a trash clean-up at around the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. Together, 30 volunteers collected over 50 pounds of trash.

The folks from the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, and the Friends of Red Rock Canyon worked to restore a trail in the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Afterward, the group toasted to a job well done at Fossil Craft Beer Company, a Colorado Springs brewery, that released an “RMF-IPA” collaborative beer that was brewed using local ingredients. Public lands lovers with the Colorado Mountain Club helped perform essential tread maintenance, fixing three eroded areas and bolstered three sections of critical edge with rocks on the Cave Creek trail near Palmer Lake.

Ralph Lefthandbull sings and blesses Colorado Public Lands Day participants

Ralph Lefthandbull sings and blesses Colorado Public Lands Day participants

The Front Range Conservation Colorado team and Protégete, alongside partners Volunteers for Outdoor ColoradoContinental Divide Trail CoalitionSierra Club Colorado, and Mile High Youth Corps, gathered at Del Mar Park in Aurora to talk with community members about the importance of access to our public lands. The event opened with a blessing from Ralph Lefthandbull, a local Lakota man who burned sage as a part of a ceremony to start the Colorado Public Lands Day celebration.

For Regina Whiteskunk-Lopez, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair, Colorado Public Lands Day arrives with the reminder that it’s vital that we recognize the history of our public lands and the ties to the lands, no matter our history. The outdoor recreation world has a challenge ahead of itself to continue to make sure our public lands are genuinely free, said Whiteskunk-Lopez, “we must acknowledge, reconcile, and most importantly heal from our past.”​

Community organizer, Finangi, celebrates Colorado Public Lands Day with her daughter.

Community organizer, Finangi, celebrates Colorado Public Lands Day with her daughter.

It’s not a secret that the outdoor recreation industry — and most Americans — struggle to recognize and understand the fact that companies’ profits come from stolen land. It’s not a secret that public lands, now and throughout history, have not always been a safe place for black, brown, and indigenous communities. So, it’s not a shock that the members of the industry have made missteps in its efforts toward lasting, impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. It is especially unsurprising when you take a look at the history of our public lands, examine which opportunities were given to governments and people, and think about which communities have reliable access to healthy, sustainable public lands today.

A New Frontier: Working on Inclusivity and Diversity in the Outdoors


Connor Ryan performing a ski jump

Connor Ryan

Connor Ryan, an athlete ambassador with Natives Outdoors, recognizes that most Americans find it difficult to look at the reality of the devastating humanitarian and environmental implications of colonialism and Manifest Destiny policies; but “that’s a story we can’t get away from as native people.” In the outdoor recreation industry, Ryan recognizes that indigenous communities are looking for “some level of justice” and the acknowledgment that companies are reaping billions in profit “because we lost our home.” This reexamination and reckoning with history is crucial, affirms Ryan, as conservation and the environment play a role in public lands policy and the outdoor industry. “There’s an equal exchange that can come out of allowing our voice to play a role in how we take care of these places,” said Ryan, “because we’ve been doing that for thousands of years.”

“Nobody really wants to deal with the fact that the outdoor recreation industry tends to be a bunch of white, cisgender, heterosexual men — and few are willing to grapple with their privilege,” said Amanda Jameson, an avid backpacker and blogger who works with Big City Mountaineers and joined Conservation Colorado and Protégete on Colorado Public Lands Day. “The industry hasn’t taken the time to sit with their complicity in all of this,” said Jameson.

For Cristal Cisneros, who’s currently pursuing a Doctorate degree and is a volunteer with Latinos Outdoors, the most significant growing pain the industry is facing — “and most frustrating aspect” of the industry — is that diversity, equity, and inclusion are meaningless buzzwords for a lot of companies.

Cristal Cisneros sits in front of a lake

Cristal Cisneros

“When you think about it, what are they really doing? Are companies hiring people of color; are they in executive positions?” asked Cisneros. “It’s not just people of color; it’s people with disabilities, it’s non-binary folk; all kinds of people that need a seat at the table,” she said. Systematic change across the outdoor recreation and conservation worlds, said Cisneros, is needed to create real change.

For a lot of Coloradans, Colorado Public Lands Day fosters a safe space for this conversation while providing an opportunity to celebrate our shared love of public lands.

“In Colorado, it’s kind of second hand to be involved with the outdoor world as a Coloradan. That’s unique and deserves to be celebrated,” said Ryan. He continued, “Having a day to honor our public lands is a beautiful thing — and it makes a lot of sense!” said Ryan.

“It’s really important for people, especially people from marginalized populations, to reclaim that bond with nature and reap the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature,” concluded Cisneros. “Colorado has so many beautiful spaces, so it’s essential to truly appreciate where we live.”

Amanda Jameson

Amanda Jameson

“There are a lot of organizations like African American Parks and Nature Experience, Queer Nature, and Latinos Outdoors that are out there spreading the word, doing the work, and trying to give a voice to those of us who have not been traditionally represented in the outdoor industry,” shared Jameson. “To have a state and the people in the state recognize that public lands are so important and that there’s an entire day devoted to that means a lot. It’s one of the reasons I’m out here in Colorado: the mountains, the sky, and the outdoors and to be around a lot of like-minded people on this day, in this place.”

Written by Jenny Gaeng

Saturday, May 18 is Colorado Public Lands Day. Like the best holidays, it’s not just a day; it’s a mission.

Eight years ago, I lay in a meadow under the stars, sea-level lungs aching after the climb, and gazed at the unimpeded Milky Way. At the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, the galaxy smeared across the sky as if someone dipped their finger in chalk and trailed the color through space and time. For the first time, I saw myself in the context of everything, thanks to our public lands.

Koda, Organizer Jenny Gaeng’s dog, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

Year after year, I returned to the Sangre de Cristos. I canoed to a waterfall in a glacial lake, learned to spot wild raspberries, climbed a fourteener and tearfully spat that I would never do it again (then I did it again). I brought guest after guest to the meadow of my metaphysical baptism: my mom, my friends, a once-true love, a random Tinder date. I presented the land and the lake as if I owned them, chatting proudly about weather and geology. Yes, the Sangre de Cristos were mine; they belonged to all of us, as public lands do. It seemed uncomplicated.

My story isn’t unique, nor is the fact that it’s one colored by privilege.

I started to research the history of the area. I learned that the Southern Ute camped and traveled in the Sangres, hunting elk and gathering roots and seeds for medicine. I read the dramatic crest of the mountains served as a fortress against invasions — before the Spanish found their way in from the south. I found out that “Blanca Peak” is another name for Sisnaajiní, the sacred eastern boundary of the Navajo homeland; today, the tribe still fights to protect this area from oil and gas drilling operations.

Front Range Field Organizer Jenny Gaeng.

Millions of people visit Colorado’s public lands every year to hike, climb, ski, hunt, fish, and maybe have a life-changing experience as I did. And like me, the vast majority of visitors are white — nearly 95% of visitors to Forest Service lands self-identified that way during monitoring from 2010-2014. The disparity between racial demographics and National Forest visitors in Colorado ranges from 30-70%.

The roots of this fact are not a mystery. The United States has an established history of white supremacy that is set up, protected, and perpetuated by racist policies across our economy, government, and the systems these institutions create.

“Public lands for all,” we say. But you can’t just tell someone they own a locked building and expect them to find a way inside; everyone needs a key. I was lucky enough to be handed one.

On the ridge to Sisnaajiní , renamed and known now as Blanca Peak, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. The colonial practice of “discovering” and renaming landscapes erases the indigenous history of our lands and continues throughout the modern era.

Representation, marketing, and centers of outdoor recreation help cultivate a homogenous outdoor culture. It’s personified by being thin, fit, and clad in expensive gear; it’s predominantly male, cis, heterosexual, and hinges on the knowledge to survive and thrive in the wilderness. It’s what we see on the cover of Outside Magazine and it’s what we see on trails throughout Colorado. Coloradans that identify as nonwhite can hike for days in the Colorado backcountry without seeing a face that looks like theirs.

And that brings me to my mission — to our mission.

Gazing down at the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

Outdoor adventurers and activists of all races, genders, and backgrounds are upping the representation game and inspiring new generations. You should pay more attention to their words and ideas than mine, and Conservation Colorado will be featuring their voices in the lead-up to Public Lands Day. Let’s talk about it. Let’s raise their stories as high as Mt. Elbert!

We love our public lands in Colorado. We love them enough to fight for them, which is the reason Colorado Public Lands Day exists. We love them enough that we’ll never stop trying to make them the best they can be — which means looking critically at our history, and shaping our future to be more inclusive and representative of all Coloradans.

We have to work together. I’m never sure of the way forward, and I’m bound to say the wrong thing or screw up at some point — we all are.

As Teresa Baker said in a recent episode of the Safety Third podcast, “Rebranding the Outdoors: “This is going to feel inauthentic as hell — because it hasn’t been done…push your fears aside about it not feeling authentic because that’s just where we are.”

If I can climb Crestone Needle and cross the Conejos River in the spring snowmelt, I think I can learn more about what it takes to make public lands truly representative and open to all people. I think you can, too.

Each year our stunning landscapes attract over 80 million visitors to our state. These visitors are drawn to the world-class recreation opportunities that our mountains, lakes, and rivers offer, along with the unique agricultural products that Colorado is known for.

Last year showed us all how this could change as we witnessed some of the worst temperatures, wildfires, and snowpack in our state’s history.

Wildfires scorched more than 430,00 acres of Colorado’s forests and grasslands in 2018.

Recreation


Owners of water sports businesses who rely on healthy, flowing waterways had real concerns about their future customer base last summer. Flows in nearly every river across the state were at least half of their average and in many places, water levels were too low for fishing and rafting. A drier climate threatens to make these impacts even worse, which could seriously hurt our state’s $3.8 billion water-based recreation industry.

Farming


Farmers who depend on adequate water levels to cultivate their fields to feed our communities and a $40 billion agricultural industry feared that their crops and life savings would dry up after some water users were shut off. If our snowpack continues to deplete, water shortages will likely become more frequent along with crop failures and our position as the nation’s largest grower of organic produce.

Ranching


Ranchers who count on predictable rainfall patterns to nourish our nationally renowned sheep and cattle herds were concerned whether they would have enough water for their livestock to drink, let alone to irrigate pasture or other crops. Inability to plan when and what to plant due to a changing climate could lead to early auctions and selling off parts of herds to avoid long-term profit loss—measures that many have already been forced to take.


There’s no question Coloradans are already grappling with the risks that climate change and air pollution pose to our future way of life. Rising temperatures and dirtier air are jeopardizing our health, livelihoods, agricultural heritage, and outdoor recreation economy.

As one of the fastest-warming states in the nation, Colorado has a responsibility to prevent the worst effects of a changing climate by setting science-based goals to reduce carbon pollution. House Bill 1261, a climate action plan, is an opportunity to create a framework to tackle climate change and preserve our outdoor legacy by setting a 90 percent carbon-reduction target by 2050.

We must act now to ensure a better future for the next generation of Coloradans. Air pollution is already harming our most at-risk populations; hotter temperatures will only exacerbate its negative health effects. It’s up to us to create a climate action plan and leave a livable, healthy Colorado to our kids and grandkids and this bill is critical to protecting our communities, economies, and way of life—now and for years to come.

Today, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt will replace former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who resigned in disgrace last December under a cloud of ethics violations.

Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado, released the following statement in response:

“Being a Colorado native does not give David Bernhardt special qualifications for running the Department of the Interior, and shame on Senator Gardner for letting the fox guard the henhouse simply because he’s from the same neighborhood. Senator Cory Gardner made a huge mistake with his vote today, given Bernhardt’s troubling record and spiraling conflicts of interest. Westerners love their public lands and the environment and Bernhardt cannot be entrusted to protect them on our behalf.

“Senator Gardner likes to talk about protecting public lands for future generations, but today’s vote to confirm a former oil lobbyist puts the public lands we love at risk. This is yet another instance of Senator Gardner telling Coloradans one thing and then doing the opposite.”

Whether you think about it every day or once in a blue moon, mining significantly impacted Colorado’s past — and continues to influence the present and our future.

Mining operations helped build Colorado’s economy — and many of our towns’ names reflects this relationship: consider Leadville, Silver Cliff, Telluride, Eldora, or Goldfield. While it’s important to celebrate our shared history, it’s vital to recognize that the environment surrounding these communities still bear the scars demonstrating its ungilded past.

Consider the decaying and decrepit structures, dangerous tailing piles, and toxic pollution that impact our waterways. Though the mining fueled the state’s economy, it came at significant costs that still affect Colorado communities and our environment. It’s time we stop living in the past and implement legislation that reforms how the state approaches modern mining activities. Luckily, our legislators are one step ahead of us.

On its way to Governor Polis’ desk, HB 19-1113 — Protect Waters From Adverse Mining Impacts aims to address the lingering problems descended from mining operations and pollution. HB 19-1113’s directive is clear: to protect the health and safety of Coloradans by making sure that water quality impacts are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided in the mining process.

Senator Kerry Donovan

For senate sponsor Kerry Donovan, preserving the health of our rivers is a central aspect of how we must address Colorado’s ongoing mining operations to preserve the natural resources “that all Coloradans depend on – like water.”

We all remember the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. An estimated 3 million gallons of toxic sludge poured into the Animas River, turning its water into an unseemly orange, and contaminating water sources across the West. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated situation: Colorado has more than 23,000 inactive or abandoned mine sites leaching toxins and polluting more than 1,800 river miles. “Water quality statewide is suffering from pollution,” reflected Rep. Barbara McLachlan, one of the House sponsors of HB-1113, four years after the Gold King Mine spill.

In many cases, the companies who made their riches from mining our state’s minerals are no longer around to pay the clean up costs. Take the Summitville Mine in the San Luis Valley. Taxpayers ended up footing a bill worth over $21 million to cover the bankrupt company’s costs.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. There are over two dozen mines that need similar treatments — and require similar clean up costs — in Colorado.

Representative Dylan Roberts

For Representative Dylan Roberts, another sponsor of the bill, the next step to clean up our rivers is clear: to implement better practices to make sure the long-term impacts from mining are not impacting our water quality.

Once signed into law, HB-1113 will change three aspects of the current process:

  1. The industry can no longer rely on self-bonding: Self-bonding, a practice that allows a mine operator to offer financial proof of resources to cover clean up costs instead of providing the resources upfront, most often forces taxpayers to pay out when companies encounter financial strife or bankruptcy. Currently, Colorado is one of only seven states that allow this practice, signalling to Coloradans members that it’s time to change the way the mining industry operates.
  2. Taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill to clean up operators’ messes: The current law only requires land remediation, not water, to be factored into the size of the bond. Thanks to this bill, operators will be held accountable and required to provide financial evidence they can afford clean up costs and not pass along to taxpayers.
  3. Mining operators can’t rely on perpetual pollution as their Plan A: Industry operators must set a “reasonable” end date for their clean up efforts. Though the law will not require operators to set a specific date, they must estimate a time frame to complete clean up efforts — helping to avoid perpetually polluting mines like Summitville.

Voices of Support


Tom McNamara

HB-1113 protects more than just our waters: it protects every living thing that relies on healthy rivers, including Colorado’s natural ecosystem and wildlife species. Testifying about the importance of the mining bill, avid sportsmen and Conservation Colorado member Tom McNamara spoke of how clean water supports the ecosystems that Colorado wildlife and citizens rely on:

“This legislation puts forward common sense reforms that protect the taxpayers AND our ecosystems, while not affecting current producers and allowing future mines to operate. HB1113 will preserve Colorado’s mining legacy, while working to better safeguard and support today’s outdoor recreation economy.”

Mark Waltermire

For Mark Waltermire, the owner and operator of Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss and board member of the Valley Organic Growers Association, HB-1113 is “a good step forward” to ensuring that farmers have the access they need to clean water, which is essential to the success of Colorado’s farms and businesses. The bill will help “take the financial burden of clean up off of our collective shoulders and puts it on those responsible” — the mining companies.

Bennett Boeschenstein

Bennett Boeschenstein, the mayor pro-tem of Grand Junction and city council member, recognizes the importance of water quality on Coloradans’ drinking water and local industries like agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism. “Our farmers ranchers recreation and tourism industry and our citizens depend on having healthy rivers and streams,” he recently testified.

After years of testimonies, hearings, and meetings, a bill that protects our rivers from the adverse effects of mining is finally becoming law. This bill wouldn’t have passed without bipartisan compromise and grassroots support — a lot of which came from YOU, our members!

With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and make Colorado’s future one that we’re proud to leave as our legacy. Donate today to support our waters, our air, our environment, and our Colorado!

DENVER — Today, the Colorado legislature voted on final passage of SB 19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. It now heads to Governor Jared Polis, who is expected to sign the measure.

Conservation groups responded to the bill’s passage with the following statements:

“Coloradans can breathe easier today knowing that our state is finally on track to put the health and safety of workers and residents, and our environment ahead of oil and gas industry profits. Thank you to our leaders who heeded voters’ clear message and delivered these overdue reforms.”

— Kelly Nordini, Executive Director, Conservation Colorado

“Rural Western Coloradans throughout our region applaud the passage of SB 181 and a critical step forward to protect our people and our environment while letting the industry continue to do business in our state. We thank the legislators who worked so hard to ensure communities living with oil and gas development have more a voice on decisions that directly affect their health and well-being.”

— Emily Hornback, Director, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action

“SB181 is an important foundational step for impacted Coloradans. It is time that communities have a voice when it comes to massive industrial projects being forced into their neighborhoods and near their schools. Thank you to our legislators who stood up for Colorado’s impacted communities today.”

— Sara Loflin, Executive Director, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans

“These are the protections Coloradans are clamoring for. They’re vital for our health and safety and are needed nationwide. Governor Polis should sign this bill as soon as it hits his desk.”

— Sam Gilchrist, Western Campaigns Director, Natural Resources Defense Council

“Grand Valley Citizens Alliance members past and present have been working on health and safety issues in Garfield County’s gas patch for over 20 years. We want to thank both House and Senate legislators who made our vision reality – that people will finally have an equal voice about oil and gas development in their neighborhoods.”

— Leslie Robinson, Chair, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance

“Coloradans will finally have a voice when it comes to oil and gas development in our state. We thank our elected officials for listening to the urgent calls from Coloradans who are ready for change. The policy changes in Senate Bill 181 will help to make our communities healthier and safer.”

— Jim Alexee, Director, Colorado Sierra Club

 

Industry groups spent heavily on misleading advertising against SB 19-181. Analysis conducted by Westword’s Chase Woodruff as the bill moved from the Senate to the House showed that “the fossil-fuel industry [outspent] proponents of SB 181 by more than a 15-to-1 margin.” That spending included included TV advertising that was labeled “misleading” by the Colorado Sun and, at various points, “full of overstatements” and not “not accurate at all” by 9 News’ Kyle Clark.

Once signed, SB 19-181 will:

  • Refocus the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to prioritize health safety and the environment over industry profits and create a commission with paid, full time experts;
  • Empower local governments to have a stronger say by clarifying basic powers such as zoning and noise limitations and allowing local oversight and enforcement of operations;
  • Greatly reduce harmful air pollution including methane, a potent greenhouse gas;
  • Better protects property owners from forced pooling; and,
  • Combat the growing problem of orphaned wells by setting forth a rule making around financial assurances and bonding requirements for oil and gas permits.