The 2019 Legislative Session is about to adjourn on May 3rd, and it was a highly eventful session for the climate movement! Having dipped my toes in climate lobbying as a 350 Colorado volunteer for the first time this year, I would like to share with you what an exhilarating, empowering and hopeful ride this session has been. – Miranda 350 Denver Volunteer
Together with Colorado Rising and several other grassroots environmental groups, 350 Colorado started the year by welcoming sitting and freshman legislators with our “We Won’t Back Down” rally on the North Capitol steps on January 4. As legislators entered the building, we reminded them with signs and songs of the 1.1 million votes cast in favor of greater setbacks, and of the need to prioritize health and safety over fracking profits.
Having set the stage on day 1 of the 72nd General Assembly, our next step was a series of Climate Lobby Days, one each in January, February and March. Meeting face-to-face with government officials to influence policy positions is probably not what most of us imagined ourselves doing. But the wonderful volunteers of 350 Denver and 350 Colorado made it easy by getting us all together for breakfast, pairing us up with other folks from the same district, and helping us figure out how to find our elected officials and what to say to them. [My personal experience is: Your legislators actually do listen, and do care what we have to say. If you don’t believe me, try it next year!]
With the help of our wonderful climate partners, we had a great turnout, blanketing the Capitol hallways with citizens spreading one central message: “Act on Climate Now”. In January, little specific legislation had been introduced yet, so our Lobby Day message focused on overall priorities. In February and March, we could zoom into specific bills before the legislature. Either way, our efforts were helped immensely by all the hard work done in 2018:
- Our work in 2018 on the People’s Climate Justice Platform helped us to frame climate justice as a priority topic for our legislators.
- Our work on Proposition 112 and the 1.1 million Colorado votes cast in favor of it (despite being outspent 40:1 by the opposition) helped us to convince our legislators that there is serious support for health and safety over fracking profits among Colorado voters.
The Nitty Gritty: Legislation
1) SB19-181: Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations
What it does: This bill reforms oil and gas operations in Colorado. Changes COGCC mission statement so they no longer foster oil and gas development and instead regulate prioritizing public health, safety, the environment and wildlife. Also empowers local governments with more authority regarding oil and gas in their borders. (Exactly how much authority is unknown.)
Currently: The bill was passed the Senate and then by the House on 3/29. The Senate concurred with amendments made in the House on 4/3. Governor Polis signed the bill on 4/16.
Next steps: Next we will keep the pressure on the COGCC to promulgate protective rulemaking. Until that is in place, we call for a pause on COGCC permitting and local city and county moratoria on permits.
2) HB-19-1261: Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution
What it does: The bill references the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, sets CO GHG emissions goals reductions of 26% x 2025, 50% x 2030, and 90% x 2050, all compared to 2005 levels, and puts/retains the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) in charge of promulgating rules and regulations for meeting the goals. It requires the AQCC to solicit input from a variety of sources, including workers and communities that are “currently economically dependent on industries with high levels of GHG emissions.” We are urging that the 2030 goal be changed to 63% emission reductions and the insufficient 2050 goal be dropped) to be in line with a 66% chance of staying below 1.5 degree C temperature rise.
Current status: This bill was approved by both chambers on May 1st, and was sent to the Governor to sign May 13.
Next step:We will need to continue to pressure AQCC and elected officials to promulgate rules and regs, and to update the goals as the science demands.
3) SB19-096: Collect Long-term Climate Change Data
What it does: This bill requires the State to provide annual GHG inventories and calls on the Air Quality Control Commission to develop rules for achieving Colorado’s existing climate and clean energy goals.
Current status: This bill has passed the Senate and the House State, Veterans’, and Military Affairs Committee, which approved a WEAKENING amendment. Now emissions are only required to be tracked every TWO years, not annually.
Next step: This bill was approved by both chambers on May 3rd, and was sent to the Governor to sign May 17.
4) SB19-236: Sunset Public Utilities Commission
What it does: Reauthorizes the Public Utilities Commission and implements sunset report recommendations. Within this bill is an important provision to put a social cost on carbon when the PUC assesses resource choices as a way to hold utilities accountable.
Current status: This bill was approved by the House on May 2nd and the Senate on May 3rd, and awaits the Governor’s signature.
What it does: Assists workers and most impacted communities in a just transition from a coal-based electrical energy economy. We and allies are calling for the timeline to be moved forward, for designated funding, and for issues affecting frontline communities of color to also be given consideration.
Current status: This bill was approved by both chambers on May 3rd, and awaits the Governor’s signature.
6) HB19-1231: New Appliance Energy And Water Efficiency Standards
What it does: This bill would establish or update energy and water efficiency standards for a long list of consumer and commercial appliances and other products.
Currently: This bill was approved by the Senate on May 2nd and the House on May 3rd, and awaits the Governor’s signature.
What it does: This bill establishes an expedited process for a court to follow in a civil action in which a defendant files a motion to dismiss based upon the fact that the defendant was exercising the defendant’s constitutional right to petition the government or of free speech.
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP suit) is when industry sues or counter-sues plaintiffs and activists who challenge them in public or in court. These cases are by definition frivolous, and industry does not expect to win them, but because they force the other side (us) to spend time and money defending them they are a very effective deterrent to environmental activism and litigation.
Many other states have specific laws that allow judges to dismiss SLAPP suits and counterclaims quickly, and make SLAPP-plaintiffs (the industry) pay for the attorney fees of the activists they tried to sue. Colorado does not have such a law, but this bill would correct that.
Here are a few examples of SLAPP suits in Colorado:
Current status: On 4/27/19 the House passed, and on 5/3/19 the Senate passed. Awaits Governor’s signature.
8) HB19-1270: PERA Public Employees’ Retirement Association Board Assess Climate-related Financial Risks
What it does: This bill would have required PERA, Colorado’s state pension fund, to conduct an assessment of climate-related financial risk associated with their fossil fuel investments.
Currently: Despite an overwhelming number of people who spoke in favor, the House Finance Committee voted against the bill on 4/8 on the grounds that PERA is already adequately assessing this risk, so the bill is dead.
Next step: Please join the Fossil Free PERA campaign in keeping the pressure on PERA to ensure that indeed climate-related risk is being addressed. Learn more, join in and sign the petition in favor of PERA divestment from fossil fuels at FossilFreeCOPERA.org.
You can check for more details on legislation by keyword or bill number here: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills.
Thank you for taking action for lawmaking to help our state be a leader in efforts to address the climate crisis and make a just transition to renewable energy!