Happy New Year! Will we see a repeat of 2020?
Legislature will be back—later. Pre-session fundraisers by both political parties are being held—virtually for the Democrats and in small groups for the Republicans. The cost of participation continues to rise regardless of format.
Following a three-day Special Session held in December that focused on economic relief for COVID-19 impacted companies and individuals, the Democrat Majority announced that it would convene for the 2021 General Assembly on January 13 as scheduled. However, after swearing in newly elected legislators and hiring employees for the upcoming session that body will recess until at least February 16 to determine how best to conduct business as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. Colorado is still in a declared public health emergency, allowing the legislature to continue operating under Joint Rule 44 which was approved by the Colorado Supreme Court last spring. That rule permits the 120-day session to proceed non-sequentially, that is allowing legislators to convene, recess and return at a later date to accommodate strategies to reduce exposure. The 2020 session was delayed by two months as the legislature recessed mid-March and reconvened late May, allowing legislators to cast floor votes via internet platform. The Executive Council of the legislature is scheduled to take up further discussion of Joint Rule 44 when it meets on January 12. Nationwide, there is speculation that state legislatures will create “super-spreader” events as lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, and other members of the public gather under the dome. The Special Session allowed members of government agencies and the public to testify remotely from home via computer to avoid mixing in the Capitol. Absent significant changes in the rate of viral infection, remote participation is likely to continue into 2021.
Meanwhile, the Joint Budget Committee is back at work in person and virtually, hearing departmental budget requests and determining how best to spend limited dollars. The State benefitted in 2020 from an influx of one-time dollars from federal relief funds and un-spent Medicaid dollars. Whether there will be additional federal stimulus money and in what form is uncertain.
Regulatory agencies continue their work unabated. The Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is convening stakeholder meetings prior to publishing its proposed rules on Temporary Cessation and implementation of HB 19-1113 to require establishment of dates for wrapping up water treatment at hardrock mines following site closure. A large stakeholder meeting is scheduled via Zoom on January 7 from 1-4:00 pm. CMA’s hardrock committee is actively participating in that process and will continue to do so throughout the rulemaking.
Plant closure accelerated. December’s Rock & Coal reported a preliminary decision by the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt Regional Haze regulations that would close several Colorado power plants earlier than scheduled. Among those targeted in the rule were both units of Hayden in Routt county. That decision was reversed in the Commission’s December meeting, citing “new information.” Commissioners nevertheless urged the Public Utilities Commission to require early closure for climate protection. They got their wish on January 4 when Xcel Energy announced that its Energy Resource Plan being submitted to the PUC in March would include early closure dates for Hayden Unit 2 (2027) and Unit 1 (2028). While Xcel has stated that no power plant workers would be laid off, nothing is being said of the coal miners that work to supply those units.
CDPHE has scheduled another stakeholder meeting to discuss potential dredge and fill legislation from 9-10:30 am also on January 7. The likelihood of such legislation remains dependent on whether the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts Colorado’s stay prohibiting implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The State had obtained the stay in federal court arguing that the new federal rule was inadequate to protect all state waters (defined in statute) formerly covered under the previous Waters of the U.S. CDPHE says if the stay is lifted, it will need to develop and implement a dredge and fill permit program to cover activities no longer under permit by the Army Corps of Engineers. Oral argument on the stay was held November 18; no decision has yet been issued.
CDPHE continues to hold stakeholder meetings on development of Guidance for various industries to implement the new TENORM regulations adopted November 18 by the Colorado Board of Health. CMA opposed the legislation authorizing the rules in 2018 and expressed concern throughout the rulemaking, although the regulatory program’s impact on mining remains unclear. The regulations simply adopted a framework establishing levels of radioactivity that would separate exempt activities from those requiring either registration or a specific license. Details are being left to guidance documents which are still under development.