Legislators are gearing up for the session convening January 12. The first deadline for submitting requests for bills was December 1, which led to a flurry of activity. We know of only one potential bill affecting minerals and we are awaiting actual bill language before weighing in. Several potential water bills have caught our attention, however, including three discussed at the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The first would deal with incentives to discourage speculation in water rights—already illegal under Colorado law. The bill was discussed in concept in the committee, but widely acknowledged to require much additional work before introduction. The second would require the State Engineer to designate headwaters of rivers and streams in Colorado with the Clerk of each water court required to issue a separate resume of pending applications in that jurisdiction to those individuals who ask for notification om order to provide public comment, presumably to provide more protection for designated headwaters. That bill is also undergoing addition work by its proponents.
The most novel approach we are hearing is based on resolutions passed by the Village of Ridgeway and the Town of Nederland which declare that nature has inherent legal rights and should be represented in legal proceedings by an appointed guardian of those interests. Although only resolutions, proponents have indicated their desire to see implementation through state law.
Of course, one of the more time-consuming discussions at the legislature will involve how to spend the federal dollars flowing in from the American Recovery Plan and eventually from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The Governor has submitted his preferred budget to the Joint Budget Committee which is now receiving staff briefings on each departmental budget request as well as the Governor’s priorities which focus on pre-payments toward education, homelessness, and mental health.
The Governor also requests increases for improvement in air quality. Of particular note, the Air Quality program at CDPHE is seeking to add approximately 138 FTE to oversee permitting, inspection, and ultimately enforcement as Colorado ratchets down its emission limits in response to the downgrading of air quality in the Front Range. Ozone-precursors emanating from manufacturing and oil/gas exploration will undergo increasing scrutiny at both the major and minor source levels. To fund these new positions, CDPHE is requesting 27.4 million for FY 23-24 to “jump start” the program, although the department acknowledges it will need to increase fees in order to retain these employees. At present, any measurable air quality benefits from the huge increased expenditure are speculative.
For some legislators, this will be their last session either because of term limits or because the redistricting leaves them without a district in which they can run. The loss of Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (term limited) and Sen. Don Coram (redistricted) will be keenly felt by the mining community. As urban influence continues to increase in the General Assembly, the importance of members from rural Colorado cannot be overstated. CMA will continue to identify and work with candidates from both rural and urban backgrounds to educate them about the important role that mining continues to play in Colorado.