Legislative Update: Halfway to Adjournment!

Last weekend we hit legislative day 60, halfway to the final day of the 120 day legislative session. In that time over 600 legislative proposals, resolutions, memorials, and procedural matters have been introduced at the Capitol! Many of those are on the Governor’s TO DO list as a top priority, including expanding Colorado’s Affordable Housing stock. Instead of an omnibus housing bill, such as last year’s flawed SB 23-213, the proposals are coming in more manageable chunks, albeit still riddled with unworkable provisions. Take for instance the requirements to allow Accessory Dwelling Units on lots zoned for a single residence or dense development of multi-family structures near transit without thought for water and sewer capacity. The March Quarterly Economic Forecast from the Legislative Council and the Governor’s Office of State Budget and Planning is scheduled for March 15, following a Snow Day March 14. Let’s see if rumors of a tight budget and burgeoning program requests show any cooling of legislators’ progressive enthusiasm.

Housing Remains Critical. Controversy will continue to dog the housing issue. Local governments are losing sleep over bills to push development of more affordable housing because, although more incentives are included in this year’s approach, all bills limit the discretion of local governments to “just say no.” Zoning must allow for more multi-family structures to be built, and planning departments are starting to feel overwhelmed when they consider infrastructure and available services.

Emissions Limits put Oil and Gas in the Cross-hairs. On the environmental side, all industrial activities from agriculture to mineral extraction and manufacturing are confronting an avalanche of proposals to limit air emissions, eliminate chemicals, and protect water quality as they seek to maintain their operations – let alone expand or grow! At least twelve air quality bills, addressing the ozone non-attainment region with some statewide provisions, call for severe curtailment of emissions from stationary sources, mobile sources, heavy equipment, and even lawnmowers. CMA’s government Affairs Committee has taken an OPPOSE position to the series of air quality bills because of concern over the precedent they set and the potential for non-attainment mandates leaking over to our operations throughout the rest of the state.

The oil and gas industry, from pre-production activities to refining, is under the microscope as lawmakers scramble to accomplish in one session what has been unachievable for decades – to limit the formation of ozone from NOx and VOCs in the presence of sunlight. Many of these bills are the result of discussions in the Interim Ozone Air Quality Committee, which was denied legislative drafting authority, but whose individual members have managed to introduce legislation beyond their allotted five-bill limits. The most aggressive of these bills is SB 24-159 which bans issuance of oil and gas permits after 2030 and restricts wells under permit during 2028 and 2029. The bill takes the unprecedented step of expanding liability for clean-up of abandoned wells to not only current owners and operators, but to previous owner/operators in a joint and several liability.

Emphasis on Environmental Justice. The bills also focus on impacts to disproportionately impacted communities—those with low economic means and residents of color. Several bills build upon HB 21-1266 which created the Environmental Justice Task Force and incorporate the recommendations of that body. While we may think of these bills as addressing primarily urban problems, in fact by using a modeling tool called “Enviroscreen” it has been determined that disproportionately impacted communities are found across the state and approximately 40% of Coloradans reside within them. One bill, HB 24-1399, adds two members to the Air Quality Control commission: one who represents disproportionately impacted communities and communities of color, and a climate scientist who does not derive income from a regulated entity. The bill also requires the AQCC to adopt GHG regulations from manufacturing and industrial facilities that were addressed through the recent GEMM 2 rulemakings. This legislation voids alternate methods of compliance that had been adopted during the GEMM 2 rulemaking by disallowing a payment other than for a greenhouse gas credit through a trading program. This is just one example of legislators attempting to overturn work of the state’s regulatory agencies by declaring “not good enough.”

Species Protection on the Upswing. The 2023 legislature saw bills implementing Initiative 114 to reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado. This year the Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has two bills before the legislature, one to reintroduce wolverine (a member of the weasel family) into high-elevation environments following its listing as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The second bill adds rare (now defined as native) plants and invertebrates (bugs, butterflies) under the purview of CPW and funds the division to survey those species to determine their populations and whether measures should be recommended to conserve them. Any program would be voluntary but concern over any potential land use restrictions remain under cynical watch. CPW is currently trying to “mend fences” following the disastrous roll-out of the Wolf plan and defeat of one of their three CPW appointees.

Don’t Trust That Bill Title! (Trigger Warning—the author’s biases are in full view here) While some Coloradans might take hope from a recent bill with the short title “Reduce cost of natural gas,” the full title of HB 24-1370 is “Measures to Reduce the Cost of Use of Natural Gas Infrastructure” is not much better. Particularly when one considers that the true purpose of the bill (once read in its entirety) is to curtail the use of natural gas. The bill would push utilities that supply both natural gas and electricity to convince neighborhoods to not replace aging gas infrastructure or extend pipelines into new developments, but to instead undertake a “neighborhood-scale alternatives project” to switch over to electrification or thermal heat pumps. This is a follow-on to legislation from 2022 and 2023 requiring utilities to submit Clean Heat Plans and to reduce emissions from heating and cooling buildings. The bill is honest about one fact: “costs are fully recoverable regardless of the performance of the alternative energy service.” Guess who will pay for this transition? Notably the bill has a Petition Clause instead of a Safety Clause, meaning that if it should pass and be signed into law, unhappy citizens may initiate a petition to repeal it.

When is public business not public? SB 24-157 (Open Meetings) was recently signed into law by Governor Polis to clarify that discussions of public policy issues between legislators is NOT public business unless it concerns an introduced legislative measure or a bill in an interim committee. Discussions of Pre-introduction drafts are generally not subject to open meetings laws.

Governor’s Appointees Confirmed. The following individuals were recently appointed and confirmed by the Senate to serve on boards and commissions that interact with the mining industry.

Energy Impact Assistance Advisory Board: Joseph Redmond of Hayden CO and Trisha Stiles of Aurora

State Land Board: Josephine (Josie) Heath of Boulder CO; Christine Scanlan of Keystone CO

Mined Land Reclamation Board: William Baker representing Agriculture; Karn Stiegelmeier representing conservation; Eleanor Irene (Nell) Wareham-Morris representing the mining industry. Ms. Wareham-Morris was reappointed to the position and is employed by Climax Molybdenum.

Coal Mine Board of Examiners: Hugh (Vince) Cowan of Paonia, CO serving as a coal mine owner, operator, manager, or other mine official actively engaged in underground mining.

Dianna Orf
CMA Lobbyist