Tackling Tough Policy Choices in Colorado – Careful Consideration Versus Unintended Consequences
As we count down the last month or so of the 2023 legislative session, CMA’s lobbyist Dianna Orf told me a legislative staffer remarked to her that despite the session being half over, two thirds of the work was still be done. That includes the introduction of many new bills, some of which are described in Dianna’s report in this newsletter.
That statement made me think about the totality of this year’s legislative session, how sweeping and dramatic changes to Colorado’s laws have already been enacted, and bills introduced and debated literally at the last minute. Colorado lawmakers have tough choices to make on big issues, yet need to make sure their decisions don’t have unintended consequences.
So far this session, majority Democrats have passed far-reaching legislation attracting a lot of interest by the public concerning guns and abortion access. Perhaps though, passage of bills strengthening employee protections (though majority Democrats defeated legislation mandating certain practices pertaining to the scheduling of retail and restaurant employees) will affect both small and large employers.
We’ll continue to see bills likely to pass encouraging renewable energy, and efforts to further discourage production of Colorado’s natural resources such as oil and gas. Nearly every new environmental program, including legislation just introduced governing carbon capture and sequestration and existing statutory programs will contain environmental justice provisions. Inclusion of these new programmatic changes will further make permitting of both small and large projects more difficult as we examine proposals implementing Colorado’s Environmental Justice laws debated and implemented.
Perhaps the biggest proposal being debated this session affecting Colorado homeowners will be the effort to end single family zoning in neighborhoods pre-empting local government land use authority. Look for a fierce battle between Governor Polis, the environmental community, and the business community versus local governments as Colorado policy makers address what is described as an affordable housing crisis.
Issues such as the lack of affordable housing in Colorado don’t have easy answers, and we’ll let others debate the merits of zoning laws. Our members have told us how difficult it is to hire and retain employees due to the lack of affordable housing for example in mountain and rural communities that support our industry. Legislators will have difficult decisions to make in finding solutions to the housing issue, and there may not be one single action that works uniformly across Colorado.
Perhaps policy makers should look back at previous legislative sessions and ensure the policy choices they make, particularly the big ones that could carry long term consequences. Our case in point: In 2010 session the General Assembly passed the “Clean Air Clean Jobs” bill mandating fuel switching in the Denver metro area power plants from coal to natural gas. The bill, negotiated in secret by Xcel Energy, three natural gas companies, the Public Utilities Commission and Governor Ritter mandated the end of the use of coal in the Denver-metro area power plants. Electric utility ratepayers who experienced sharp spikes in their gas and electric bills this year have suffered because of the poor decisions made in 2010 incentivizing natural gas usage and removing coal as fuel in the premature retirement of coal fired power plants, a strategy that cost Coloradans dearly this winter.
Legislators are looking for someone to blame, so they set up a special committee to examine why natural gas rates are so high, but at the same time are looking for ways to discourage production of oil and gas and subsidize “decarbonization” of our electric infrastructure.
In the meantime, we all know the world will need substantially more minerals to manufacture electric vehicles, their batteries, and the infrastructure to power an economy that will continue to need more electricity. Just as we helped Colorado grow in the last 140 years, we’re the industry that will lead in the production of the minerals and energy we need to take on the challenges Colorado faces today and the next 100 years.