Environmentalists defend legislative gains

DENVER – When Republicans took charge of the House of Representatives this year, environmentalists fretted they might lose some of the gains made over the previous four years when Democrats controlled state government.

They needn’t have worried.

Environmental advocates did much to maintain the progress they achieved when Democrats held the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature, including protecting rules requiring utilities to use more renewable energy and oil and natural-gas regulations that the industry says are onerous.

“They pretty much ruled the roost,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican from Berthoud.

With help from the Democrat-led Senate and support from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper – who said Colorado can create jobs and still protect the environment – conservationists defended their most significant agenda items.

This year environmentalists forced public utilities to switch to natural gas, defeating a Republican proposal to leave one coal-fired plant that supporters argued would save consumers $132 million in spending on an overhaul that would provide only minimal reductions in pollution (House Bill 1291).

Lundberg unsuccessfully fought to keep the coal-fired plant. “The plan that got approved was very expensive,” he said.

Environmental advocates also successfully fought a measure (Senate Bill 71) that would have rolled back new renewable-energy requirements, keeping in place a recently passed 30 percent requirement.

They helped kill a plan to cut roads and transit funding (House Bill 1075).

Conservationists also had the support to kill a bill that would have barred consideration of benefits of clean energy in utility planning (Senate Bill 58), and helped defeat bill that would have exempted some counties from automobile ozone emissions inspections (House Bill 1082).

For his part, GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty said environmental groups were forced to defend their gains because they had no chance of expanding them because of a divided legislature.

Kevin Bommer, legislative analyst for the Colorado Municipal League that represents about 260 communities across the state, said his organization worked successfully with environmentalists to defend the new fees for auto registration to pay for roads and bridges, but they lost a measure that took away local control on the installation of solar panels.

The bill (House Bill 1199) sets limits on fees for government approval of installation of solar energy equipment, taking away local control.

Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said environmentalists were worried after conservative Republicans won control of the House this year and introduced measures challenging the new laws and regulations that have been imposed.

“We had made a lot of gains on clean air, clean energy and sustainable transportation. We were able to hold the line and protect those gains,” she said.

Pete Maysmith, director of Colorado Conservation Voters that promotes pro-environment candidates, said environmentalists are worried that Republicans will try again next year, when it’s an election year, and voters will be worried about pocketbook issues, including increased fees for energy and auto registrations. He said he expects those attempts to fail, as well.

“There were efforts to undo the gains we made this year, and they all failed,” Maysmith said.

“Colorado has established itself as a national leader in renewable energy and that brand has value,” he said.