by Frank Smith, WCC Director of Organizing
The 69th General Assembly is underway in Denver and WCC is empowering grassroots voices to participate in state lawmaking processes.
The tone of the “session,” however, is relatively languid. Upcoming November elections, along with recent (successful) recalls in Front Range districts, have tempered efforts for large changes in policy or law.
From January to May the legislature is in session, and WCC members are tracking bills, talking with lawmakers, and developing positions or strategies. This year, we’re engaged on bills related to oil & gas, uranium, renewable energy, forest management, food & agriculture, and more.
This year could already be defined as the session of defending Rural Renewable Energy Standards. Multiple bills have unsuccessfully attempted to reduce, delay or stop last year’s Senate Bill 252, which created a 20% renewable energy requirement for rural Colorado. SB 252 also helped make it possible for methane vented from coal mines to be captured, like those found up the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River near Paonia, Colorado.
At its February meeting, WCC’s Board of Directors passed a resolution to oppose efforts that hurt rural renewable energy standards, or last year’s Senate Bill 252. We are working to defeat bills like House Bills 1067, 1113, as well as Senate Bills 35 & 82.
Oil & Gas
Oil & gas continues to be a high priority for WCC and other groups across Colorado. As drilling (and fracking) steamrolls into Front Range communities, there is increased interest in reining-in industry and protecting public health.
So far, few bills have been introduced and we expect action during spring months. WCC did work early in the session to oppose House Bill 1064, which would have punished local governments that adopted their own rules for oil & gas operations by cutting off “severance tax revenue”.
We’ve also heard there may be other bills coming, including one that would increase fines and penalties when oil & gas companies are out of compliance. Such a bill could increase the maximum daily fine and the maximum total fine, while exploring ways to better deter repeat offenders. We’re also excited to learn about efforts to introduce a bill that would kick-start health studies for oil & gas in some Front Range areas. We’re glad to see movement on critical health issues, and look forward to the Western Slope being included.
Food & Ag
WCC had high expectations for the legislature and local food in 2014, however little action has occurred.
We were primed to expand the Colorado Cottage Foods Act, which currently allows up to $5,000 to be made per eligible homemade item sold directly to consumer. In question are pickles, salsas and other acidified foods that are currently not allowed. We understand there is reason to be concerned about food borne illness, but there are tried-and-true ways to safely expand economic opportunities to those who pickle or can fruits and vegetables. For generations, pickles, salsas and other acidified foods have been made safely; we think it’s time for our state to legally recognize the great foods.
WCC was also tracking House Bill 1058, a bill that eventually died but would have encouraged voluntary labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms.
WCC’s pushing hard to make sure that state regulations for this toxic, radioactive material are updated.
We’re working to ensure water is cleaned-up after uranium activities cease; for rules to be updated to reflect new extraction techniques; and for public participation to be guaranteed in permitting decisions. Colorado regulators didn’t provide a public meeting on the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Montrose County until lawsuits were filed; our friends in Canyon City still don’t have clean water years after the Cotter Mill uranium closed; and ablation, a new technique that melds conventional mining with newer methods, still doesn’t have any rules in Colorado.
Stay tuned for bill introduction and for grassroots action opportunities!
Forest & Land Health
This year, off highway vehicles and forest fires are on our list for the legislature.
After a tough year of fires, the legislature is looking at a series of bills. Some relate to agricultural burning during risky conditions, coordination of local and federal authorities, and getting Colorado its own fleet of planes to fight fires. Thus far, WCC has largely been tracking the slough of fire bills, which includes but is not limited to House Bills 1150, 1007, 1008 & 1009, and Senate Bill 8.
There might also be a bill allowing Off Highway Vehicles onto certain highways, like previous sessions. WCC has been skeptical of this idea for safety reasons but also because of the chance for uncontrolled access (and damage) to lands. Many OHV and All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) users are responsible, but accidents happen and burdens would be placed on local emergency responders like Sheriffs’ offices or rural fire districts. Also, there is no guarantee that OHV-ATV users would stay on the road or only access travel routes via designated trailheads.
WCC cares deeply for democracy, social justice, inclusion and voting access. That’s why we’re tracking Senate Bill 141, which is an attempt at delaying implementation of last year’s HB1303, the Voter Access and Modernization Act, that created same day voter registration in Colorado. Same day registration is important for underrepresented populations, such as people of color or limited income.
WCC is also reaching out to Colorado’s Latino caucus and other community organizations with similar justice goals as WCC. There may not be too many bills this year for each other to support, but at least the collaborative conversations are starting.