Senate & House Democrats Announce Appointments to Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates

DENVER, CO – Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, announced the Democratic members who will serve on the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates:

From the Senate, appointed by the President of the Senate: 

  • President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder
  • Senator Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County

From the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives: 

  • Representative Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood
  • Representative Matthew Martinez, D-Monte Vista

President Fenberg will serve as Chair of the Committee and Representative deGruy Kennedy will serve as the Vice Chair. “The recent spikes in energy prices have sent Coloradans’ utility bills through the roof, and it’s costing too many working Colorado families an arm and a leg just to heat their homes,” Fenberg said. “Democrats are committed to making Colorado a more affordable place to live, and our work on this critical committee will help us uncover the root cause behind high prices. I look forward to teaming up with my colleagues to find solutions that will better protect consumers, improve stability, and save people money on their energy bills.”

“We owe it to Coloradans to get to the bottom of what is causing skyrocketing utility costs, and I’m honored to be appointed to a Joint Select Committee that is committed to making our state more affordable for everyone,” said deGruy Kennedy “We know many Coloradans are stuck paying higher-than-normal energy bills this year, and our role in this Joint Select Committee is to better understand pricing inconsistency, uncover other factors that lead to high prices and hopefully help prevent future price hikes.” 

“Coloradans are struggling to make ends meet and skyrocketing utility bills are only making matters worse,” Cutter said. “Before us is a unique opportunity to hear from utility companies, regulators, advocates, and every day Coloradans about what role the state can, and should, play in protecting consumers and ensuring Colorado remains an affordable place to live. I’m honored to serve on the Joint Select Committee and I’m committed to working diligently to get Coloradans the answers they deserve.”

“Many Coloradans were prepared for snow and ice this winter season, but many weren’t prepared for the inconsistent and expensive energy bills they received,” said Martinez. “I’m ready to get to work as a member of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee that’s dedicated to uncovering what is leading to higher energy costs for hardworking families across Colorado. Our goal is to look at multiple factors that could be causing the rise in utility prices and explore ways to save Coloradans money on their energy bills.”

Fenberg and McCluskie convened the Joint Select Committee to investigate the causes of Coloradans’ rising utility rates and explore potential actions to prevent future price hikes, saving Colorado’s working families money on their energy bills.

The Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates will seek expert testimony from utility companies, relevant agency staff, regulators, consumer advocates, and policy experts in order to better understand issues such as the impact of volatility in natural gas markets, the frequency and justification for rate increases sought by utilities, and other relevant factors. 

Read more at CoHouseDems.com

Bill would fix oversight in Colorado fentanyl law by expanding protections for users who call 911

Bill would fix oversight in Colorado fentanyl law by expanding protections for users who call 911

New bill would cover fentanyl users, drug sharers who try to stop an overdose

By Seth Klamann (Feb 3, 2023) 

bill introduced in the Colorado House late Thursday would expand a state law that provides immunity to drug users who try to save someone from overdosing, after those same protections were inadvertently undermined by lawmakers during last year’s fight over fentanyl legislation.

The bill would fix that apparent oversight, made when legislators tightened penalties for fentanyl possession in 2022. But it would also expand those immunity protections, available under the state’s Good Samaritan law, to users who report an overdose of other illicit substances but were found to have shared drugs, and the measure would also provide an additional legal defense to some accused low-level dealers.

Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, cast the changes as common-sense solutions intended to save lives and work within the realities of drug use: At low levels, the lines between user and seller are often blurred, and calling for help should be encouraged whenever possible.

But law enforcement and district attorneys indicated they’re leery of some of the changes deGruy Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, is proposing.

Though representatives for those groups told The Denver Post late Thursday that they’re still examining the bill’s impact, law enforcement spent much of the last legislative session calling for tight penalties for anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl and other drugs, citing the state’s ongoing overdose crisis.

The diverging views of substance use and how to structure state laws to address it echo that bruising legislative fight, which pit public health experts against law enforcement groups and stretched across two contentious months. Ultimately, lawmakers last year lowered the threshold to charge users with felony, rather than misdemeanor, fentanyl possession.

Through that work, lawmakers essentially made a special carveout for fentanyl possession, distinct from Colorado’s broader felony drug framework. In turn, that cut some users out of the state’s Good Samaritan law, which deGruy Kennedy said was the result of lawmakers working on a large piece of legislation at the 11th hour last May.

The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader Mike Lynch, who was a vocal supporter of increasing penalties last year, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

“The bill will make sure that people that are calling in an overdose event to try to save a life, who stay on scene and fully cooperate with law enforcement, are not going to face harsh penalties for choosing to do the right thing,” deGruy Kennedy said.

That cleanup is largely noncontroversial for the constellation of law enforcement, district attorneys and harm-reduction advocates monitoring the bill. There’s more disagreement with how the measure would apply to drug sharing and to certain low-level drug dealers.

The bill would extend the Good Samaritan law to a person who reports an overdose to 911 and cooperates, but was subsequently found to have shared drugs with others. It wouldn’t give immunity to any drug dealers, but if someone who called 911 is suspected of selling small quantities of drugs, they could use that cooperation with first responders as a defense at any subsequent trial.

“What we’re really talking about, in the vast majority of cases, are going to be buddies getting together to share drugs, which may involve splitting the cost of drugs that one of them purchased, which would trigger a distribution crime,” deGruy Kennedy said. “To be clear, they are culpable of a crime in that case, but what I want to assert is that they need to prioritize saving the life of the person overdosing as opposed to running from the police.”

A coalition of Colorado law enforcement groups is still examining the bill but has concerns about the distribution and sharing provisions, a representative said Thursday. Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, said prosecutors are in a similar position.

District attorneys for Denver, Adams and Broomfield counties — with whom deGruy Kennedy said he consulted in crafting the bill — were unavailable for comment late Thursday afternoon.

Experts in substance use, like the Harm Reduction Action Center’s Lisa Raville, have long maintained that sharing drugs and pooling money are common among substance users and don’t fit neatly into drug laws. Raville, whose Denver facility provides clean needles and smoking kits to substance users, praised the bill on Thursday.

She said the new fentanyl penalties enacted last year had discouraged many substance users from calling 911.

“It was very clear that folks were very concerned,” she said. “There was no good message, no one could feel confident in calling 911, so they simply weren’t. As the largest provider of harm reduction services in the state, I could not feel confident for them to call 911 either.”

Read more at DenverPost.com

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy appointed as Speaker Pro Tempore

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy appointed as Speaker Pro Tempore

By HANNAH METZGER hannah.metzger@coloradopolitics.com Dec 12, 2022

State Rep. Chris Kennedy has been appointed to serve as speaker pro tempore for the Colorado House of Representatives during the upcoming legislative session.

Incoming House Speaker Julie McCluskie picked Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and announced the appointment on Monday.

“Kennedy’s institutional knowledge, proven leadership and dedication to making Colorado a better place for everyone are exactly why he will make an excellent speaker pro tempore,” McCluskie said. “Kennedy has stepped up to fight for Coloradans, their families and the caucus values we all share. Chris will make a wonderful addition to our new leadership team and I could not be happier to have him take on this important role.”

As speaker pro tempore, Kennedy will preside over the House when the speaker is absent. Speaker pro tempore is one of the only leadership positions appointed by the speaker instead of being elected by the majority caucus.

Kennedy has served in the House since 2017, being reelected for his fourth and final term in November.

Secretary of State approves recount in Colorado’s House District 43 race
ELECTIONS
Secretary of State approves recount in Colorado’s House District 43 race
By HANNAH METZGER hannah.metzger@coloradopolitics.com

Kennedy ran for House speaker in November, losing out to McCluskie, D-Dillon, after being eliminated in the first of two rounds of voting. Kennedy has been angling for party leadership for years, serving as assistant majority leader during the 72nd General Assembly and losing the role of majority leader to Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, in 2020.

Kennedy is the outgoing chair of the State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. During the upcoming session, he will serve as vice chair of the Health and Insurance Committee and as a member of the Finance Committee.

“I am humbled and excited to take on the role of speaker pro tempore,” Kennedy said. “Throughout my years at the Capitol, I have taken on a variety of roles and responsibilities and I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve achieved together for the people of Colorado. In this new role, I will have the honor of joining the most diverse leadership team in House history to help guide and support the work that lies ahead as we take on the state’s most significant challenges.”

The state’s 74th General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 9.

Read the story at ColoradoPolitics.com.

Bill to establish health based standards for toxic pollution in CO signed into law

Victory: HB22-1244 will require action to reduce emissions of toxic industrial pollutants


DENVER, CO
 — June 2, 2022

Today, in the West Foyer of the Colorado State Capitol, Governor Polis signed HB22-1244 (Public Protections From Toxic Air Contaminants) into law. HB22-1244 takes major steps toward protecting Coloradans’ health by requiring action to reduce emissions of toxic industrial pollutants.

The bill was backed by a broad coalition of community, public health, local government, and environmental groups. It was sponsored by Representatives Chris Kennedy and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, as well as Senator Julie Gonzales. Read the final version of the bill. (Read a summary of the bill as passed.)

This bill directs the state to establish state-level public reporting of toxic emissions from industrial facilities across Colorado and significantly strengthen monitoring of air toxics, particularly in disproportionately impacted communities. HB22-1244 also directs the state to identify “priority” toxics by rule. For these priority toxics, the state must adopt control regulations to reduce harmful emissions and establish health-based ambient air quality standards to address the health impacts on Colorado communities.

“HB22-1244 is a critical step in ensuring that Coloradans have clean air to breathe that isn’t harming our health,” said Sabrina Pacha, director of Healthy Air and Water Colorado. “Health researchers have been sounding the alarm for years that toxic emissions lead to asthma complications, chronic lung disease, cancer, and numerous other conditions, and the health based standards in this bill will make a significant improvement in the health of people across the state.

“Because of histories of racism, and, now, gentrification, those living closest to polluting industries are mostly low income working families and people of color, and historically disenfranchised groups,” said Camila Restrepo, member of Colorado People’s Alliance. “And when the most marginalized people in our communities are left behind we collectively carry the burden of their lost and compromised futures. The passage of HB22-1244 is another stepping stone for our communities that will have an impact on all of us.”

“Over the past year, Colorado has experienced some of the worst air quality in the world driven by ozone pollution, forest fires, oil and gas development, and transportation emissions. For years Latinos have been breathing some of the worst air pollution in the nation and have been demanding action to address toxic air pollutants caused from other industrial sites and the cumulative effects of historical environmental racism in our state,” said Beatriz Soto, Protégete director. “Thankfully, HB22-1244 provides a monumental win for ALL communities across the state — this bill will empower the state to protect our health through better monitoring and control of toxic pollutants from these industrial polluters.”

“This is decades in the making, our elders and ancestors fought for the Clean Air Act in 1970,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, CO state director of GreenLatinos. “Unfortunately, the work to regulate toxins wasn’t finished then and today, after 5 years of advocacy the people of Colorado are saying loud and clear — we have a right to clean air! Congratulations to the coalition that built power to get this done!”

“This bill moves us one step closer to a future where everyone in Colorado — regardless of what we look like or where we live — can breathe healthy, clean air,” said Tom Abood, community leader with the Together Colorado Climate Justice Committee. “We also know there is much more work to do, and we are committed to continue organizing in our faith communities toward environmental justice in Colorado.”

“This is a historic day in the fight to clean up Colorado’s air and improve the health of communities impacted by toxic pollution across the state,” said Rebecca Curry, Colorado policy counsel at Earthjustice. “But our work is not done with this bill signing. The true impact of HB22-1244 will be measured in its implementation, and it is incumbent upon all of us to keep the pressure on to hold industry accountable for its toxic air pollution.”

Read more at EarthJustice.org

New Law Puts More Doctors & Therapists Under One Roof 

New Law Puts More Doctors & Therapists Under One Roof 

By Shaun Boyd (May 18, 2022) 

DENVER (CBS4) – At Tepeyac Community Health Center, “treating the whole the person” is not just some catchphrase, it’s a core function of the clinic located in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood. It has an equal number of doctors and therapists, and Clinic Director Dr. Pamela Valenza says they often tag-team.

“And then a behavioral health provider will then go into that room and meet with the patient in real time when they came in just to see their doctor,” Valenza said.

That seamless handoff, from medical to mental health provider, has become the model in health care and a new law will help expand it statewide. The law, signed on Wednesday by Gov. Jared Polis, provides $35 million in grants over the next two years and another $4 million the following two years to help create more so-called integrated care practices where patients can see a medical provider and mental health provider in the same visit.

“We know what best practice is. We just have to expand it to the rest of the state,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, who co-sponsored the bill with Representative Chris Kennedy after a pilot program showed success.

In 2015, the state received federal grant money to facilitate the merger of about 350 primary care clinics and behavioral health practices. A federal study found more people got therapy and fewer were hospitalized as a result of integrated care. So, when Colorado received millions of dollars in COVID relief, Jaquez Lewis and Kennedy decided to expand the delivery model across the state.

“We believe this is such fundamental thing to creating a better more inclusive health care system,” said Kennedy.

Tepeyac Community Health Center is ahead of its time. Valenza says they began integrated care about 10 years ago.

“If you’re going to a health center that doesn’t have integrated care, what you get is a referral. And, if that patient might call, and they might have a 3-4 month waiting list.”

Many of Tepeyac’s patients, she says, couldn’t even get on the waitlists because they’re uninsured or underinsured. Even those with insurance have trouble accessing therapists.

Jaquez Lewis says the bill helps create true parity in health care.

“We will be able to integrate physical health care immediately with behavioral health care.”

While $39 million is a lot of money, Valenza says it will pay off in the long run.

“When we prevent hospitalizations, that person will be a more functioning person able to hold a job so it really has ripples across the socio-economic plane.”

The legislature allocated $450 million for behavioral health care during the 2022 session to, among other things, incentivize more people to become therapists and increase the number of residential treatment beds in the state.

This Thursday is Mental Health Action Day, and CBS News Colorado is streaming a Community Conversation on Mental Health. You can catch the special right after CBS4 News at 6 p.m. on May 19.

CBS News Colorado is partnering with MTV on “Mental Health is Health” seeking to improve mental health in our community by normalizing conversation about mental health, sharing resources, and highlighting groups taking action to help others thrive.

Read more at Denver.CBSLocal.com

Time running out for ‘must pass’ air pollution bill opposed by business groups

Time running out for ‘must pass’ air pollution bill opposed by business groups

House Bill 1244 targets emissions of 188 ‘air toxics’ overlooked by the EPA

By Chase Woodruff (May 9, 2022)

A coalition of environmental and community groups is urging Colorado lawmakers to back a “must pass” air pollution bill, as the clock winds down on the legislative session and a host of powerful corporate interests quietly mobilize against it.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 22-1244 on a 41-24 vote Friday, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. The bill would impose new rules on polluters and establish a new state program to address the emission of “air toxics,” a class of pollutants that advocates say are under-regulated at the federal level.

“Some of our most disproportionately impacted communities, my neighbors, are breathing in Colorado’s most polluted air,” said bill sponsor Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Democrat from Denver, in a statement. “This bill improves the way we monitor air toxics in Colorado and takes a proactive approach to reduce these harmful emissions based on what is best for our health.

Following up on previous air toxics legislation passed in 2020 and 2021, HB-1244 aims to strengthen emissions reporting requirements for pollution sources, while directing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a new statewide monitoring program and convene a scientific advisory board to guide its new regulations.

The rules would apply to a class of 188 substances designated as “hazardous air pollutants” by the Environmental Protection Agency, many of which are emitted as a byproduct of a variety of industrial processes. Emissions of toxic chemicals like benzene and hydrogen cyanide, for example, have long caused concern for communities near the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City.

The HAP classification triggers some federal regulations, but not the more rigorous health-based emissions standards that the EPA applies to the six “criteria pollutants,” a group than includes ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide. Supporters of HB-1244 say that at least 15 states, including Texas and Kentucky, have taken steps to address air toxics in the absence of stricter federal rules.

“These are not greenhouse gases, these are not the EPA-regulated criteria pollutants,” State Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat from Lakewood and a sponsor of HB-1244, said during a House floor debate on May 5. “They are the kinds of things that when they reach certain concentrations are likely to give people adverse health effects.”

The legislation would direct CDPHE staff to work with Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to identify up to five “priority” pollutants by the end of 2024, and adopt health-based emissions standards the following year. The priority list would then be updated at least once every five years thereafter.

“Coloradans are concerned about the sad state of our air quality and expect legislative action to clean it up,” Kelly Nordini, CEO of environmental group Conservation Colorado, said in a statement. “A key step is passing a bill that requires monitoring air toxics, develops health-based standards, and then requires companies to use technology to cut pollution and it’s Conservation Colorado’s top priority.”

Powerful opposition

More than 50 corporations and industry groups have registered to lobby against HB-1244, according to disclosure reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

An inquiry to Suncor was returned by a representative of FTI Consulting, a major fossil-fuel industry communications firm, who declined to comment. Records show Suncor has also retained a team of lobbyists from powerhouse Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, led by Doug Friednash, a Denver Post columnist and former chief of staff to then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Most of Colorado’s major electric and natural gas utilities have also lobbied against the bill, including Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy and the Platte River Power Authority.

An Xcel spokesperson pointed to the company’s recent settlement agreement on coal plant retirements, saying that while that agreement prioritized “customer cost protections and service reliability,” HB-1244 “does not address these critical objectives.”

Debate over HB-1244 on the House floor last week featured the adoption of a flurry of amendments proposed by the bill’s sponsors, including several negotiated with Republican lawmakers like Rep. Matt Soper, who represents several coal-dependent communities on the Western Slope.

The amendments included a new exemption for the state’s remaining coal plants, all of which are scheduled to close by 2031, and language specifying that emissions controls must be both “technically and economically feasible.”

“I hope that what you’re seeing with all these amendments that we’ve run is that there has been a tremendous amount of stakeholding,” Kennedy told his colleagues on the House floor.

With the General Assembly set to adjourn on Wednesday and an array of powerful business groups opposed, however, HB-1244 could face an uphill battle for swift Senate passage. Following its final approval by the House on Friday, the bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.

“We heard from impacted community members in regards to this bill, and that’s, in fact, who brought this policy forward,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez. “HB-1244 did not come to us from business, but it did come to us from communities that have been impacted by hazardous pollutants for generations.”

Read more at ColoradoNewsLine.com

With air quality worsening, Colorado’s top environmental officials seek millions more to fight pollution

The EPA is expected to label the state as a severe violator of the Clean Air Act later this year

By Noelle Phillips (April 10, 2022)

With the threat of missing another benchmark for improving air quality hovering like a blanket of summer smog, Colorado’s top environmental officials are asking the legislature for $47 million to hire more people and build better technology for monitoring unhealthy air, especially along the northern Front Range.

Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division expects the Environmental Protection Agency later this year to classify the state as a severe violator of federal air quality laws after the state recorded its worst-ever ozone levels during the summer of 2021, division director Michael Ogletree said in an interview with The Denver Post.

In 2019, the EPA declared Colorado a serious violator, forcing more enforcement of air pollution controls, and a move to the severe classification would further increase those enforcements to reign in the state’s worsening ozone problem.

“We’ve heard from folks that we will be reclassified to severe in the near future,” Ogletree said. “We’re preparing for that.

A change in its status with the EPA would force lower emissions thresholds for manufacturers and other industrial facilities, meaning more work for the Air Pollution Control Division, which already is operating with a short staff, Ogletree said.

The division needs the $47 million requested from the legislature to prepare for the incoming workload, and the larger budget would help put more programs in place to control greenhouse gas and other emissions that deteriorate the Front Range’s air quality and harms people’s health.

A more strict classification also would impact the state’s oil and gas industry.

Gov. Jared Polis asked for the money in the budget he proposed to the legislature.

As the Front Range population grows so does the number of gasoline-powered cars and trucks on the road. Those vehicles are the No. 1 source of nitrous oxide emissions, which is a major contributor to the region’s ozone problem. Emissions from power plants and oil and gas production facilities contribute by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air while bigger and more frequent wildfires in the West also add to the problem.

During the summer of 2021, ozone levels at all 16 of the state’s measuring stations exceeded 78 parts per billion, above the federal health standard of 70 ppb. And scientists expect the Front Range’s air quality to continue to deteriorate unless immediate action is taken.

The governor also is working with Democrats to create more laws that would address the worsening air quality. Multiple bills are pending this year that would spend almost $125 million to buy a fleet of electric school buses, replace old diesel trucks with newer ones that produce fewer harmful emissions, make electric bicycles more accessible and allow for free public transit fares during the worst summer ozone days.

Already, the state has implemented new laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. But many of those things take years to make a difference, and Polis’s administration hopes this year’s asks will have a more immediate impact, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The thing that’s probably hard for the public to understand is we’ve had so much go on in the last few years with these laws and regulations, but the state hasn’t seen the full benefit of these actions yet,” Hunsaker Ryan said.

The Air Pollution Control Division is operating with a permitting system that was created in the 1990s and complex air permit applications are still filled out on paper, she and Ogletree said. They want to move everything to a digital format and create online dashboards where people can check the state’s various pollution levels in near real-time.

“We can provide transparency to the community and everyone who is interested,” Hunsaker Ryan said.

The division employs 185 people, and if the budget request was approved, it would pay for an additional 106 full-time equivalent positions, Ogletree said.

One reason the Polis administration wants a huge infusion of money for its air pollution division is a change in how the division is funded. The division is financially supported through fees levied on industry, and, in the past, the division had to ask the legislature to increase fees, Hunsaker Ryan said.

“That always was a tough thing to do and it just didn’t happen,” she said. “Politically, it was a tough thing to do to go the legislature and get fees raised on industry.”

In 2019, the legislature allowed the Air Quality Control Commission to set the fees, but the commission didn’t want to place a sharp increase on industry right from the start, Hunsaker Ryan said. The budget request would give the division what it needs for two years to boost its staffing and technology.

“This is the way we intend to solve the problem of long-term underinvestment,” she said.

So far, Colorado’s efforts to improve air quality are earning support from environmental advocacy groups.

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a public interest group that promotes energy efficiency in six western states, including Colorado, is urging the legislature to approve the package of air quality measures to combat drought, wildfires and other climate disasters.

Even though the organization supports the legislation, there are parts it disagrees with. For example, one bill would replace aging diesel trucks with newer models, but the groupwants all diesel trucks off the roads, said Matt Frommer, the group’s senior transportation association.

“It seems like we are going backwards to create a new program for diesel trucks when we need to go all-in on electric trucks,” Frommer said. “We don’t have time to waste.”

2022 Air Quality Legislation

SB22-193

big bill that would:

  • Create a $25 million fund to provide grants to industrial and manufacturing facilities and local governments for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Among the projects that would qualify are efforts that would use hydrogen fuel, electric vehicles and projects to reduce carbon and methane emissions. The grant program would dissolve on Sept. 1, 2029.
  • Create a $12 million fund to increase public access to electric bicycles through grants and rebates. The program would be repealed on Sept. 1, 2028.
  • Spend $15 million to decommission the oldest diesel trucks operating in Colorado and replace them with newer, more fuel-efficient models. The grant money would be available for public and private entities through July 1, 2032.
  • Spend $65 million to buy electric school buses in Colorado through Sept. 1, 2034
  • Provides $7 million to the state health department for aerial surveillance of pollutants
  • Provides $750,000 to the state health department provide free RTD passes for employees
  • Caps annual fees for industry at $1 million this year and allows those caps to rise annually until they reach a $5 million maximum on July 1, 2024.

SB22-180

This bill would set aside $14 million to provide free public transportation, largely through RTD, for one month each year when ozone pollution is at its highest levels. It also would provide $30 million to expand Bustang, the state’s regional bus service.

HB22-1244

proposal that would give the state’s Air Quality Control Commission the authority to adopt rules that are more stringent than the federal Clean Air Act. The commission would be asked to regulate toxic air contaminants and companies that are sources of air pollution would have to submit annual reports that list the amount of contaminants they release. The bill also would develop a statewide air quality monitoring system and it would create a toxic air contaminant advisory board to determine which emissions would be monitored and regulated.

Read more at DenverPost.com

We’ve relied on industry to protect us from air toxics. That approach has failed.

We’ve relied on industry to protect us from air toxics. That approach has failed.

By Theresa Trujillo & Jessica Barnette (March 25, 2022) 

What if you found out you and your family might have been breathing in an invisible poison for years?

It sounds like a science fiction plot. But it’s a question that we and thousands of other Coloradans have been asking ourselves. Even for us, as professionals in health fields, trying to answer it leads to a bunch of scary unknowns.

Both of our communities, Pueblo and Lakewood, are near industrial facilities that emit pollutants known as “air toxics.” These pollutants — including chemicals like benzene, hydrogen cyanide, chromium, and ethylene oxide — can cause cancer or serious health impacts such as breathing difficulty, nausea, birth defects, or even death. And they’re more common in Colorado than you might realize.

Perhaps the scariest part: Colorado doesn’t currently have health-based standards that limit how much of these toxic substances industries can emit. The federal government has identified over 187 hazardous air pollutants, but in many communities, there is little or no monitoring of how much is in our air. We’ve been placing too much trust in industries that have a record of prioritizing profit over our health to be transparent and protect us from air toxics. This approach has failed, and the harm falls most on those living close to industrial pollution, who disproportionately tend to be people living on lower incomes, people of color, and the workers at these facilities themselves.

So we are thrilled to see a bill at the Colorado statehouse that would make significant strides towards monitoring and limiting toxic air pollution. We applaud the sponsors Reps. Chris Kennedy and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, who are leading the fight for House Bill 22-1244, “Public Protections From Toxic Air Contaminants.”

The harm falls most on those living close to industrial pollution, who disproportionately tend to be people living on lower incomes, people of color, and the workers at these facilities themselves.

The bill directs our state’s air quality experts to identify the pollutants that pose a risk, and establish health-based standards for the amount of toxics in our air. It also provides resources for monitoring air toxics around Colorado, and empowers communities to set up their own EPA-quality air monitoring systems and send the data to the state.

One of us, Theresa Trujillo, has been fighting this toxic pollution in Pueblo for years. Theresa and her family have seen how the city they’ve lived in for generations is treated as the dumping ground for the industrial pollution that the rest of the state doesn’t want in their backyards. As a health equity advocate, Theresa is deeply concerned about the higher rates of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer in Pueblo, particularly in communities of color. We should do everything we can to stop air toxics from compounding the health disparities we already see.

Another pernicious thing about toxic air pollution is that it can slip by unnoticed. One of us, Jessica Barnette, didn’t know until she started researching this bill that a medical facility in her own community was emitting potentially dangerous levels of a chemical linked to cancer.

At least 15 other states, including Texas, Oregon, California and Kentucky, have already taken up this issue and adopted comprehensive state and local-level strategies to address air toxics.

HB22-1244 would ensure Colorado doesn’t remain one of the shrinking number of states that leave their most impacted residents in the dark about their health.

Contrary to opponents’ alarmist claims, this bill isn’t going to spell economic downfall for industries. In fact, it fosters collaboration between state agencies and industry to implement advanced technologies that help cut air toxics emissions and better protect their neighbors.

The presence of toxic air pollution threatens other economic drivers like tourism and recreation.

Most importantly, poor air quality costs Coloradans millions of dollars a year in additional health care costs, insurance premiums and missed work due to health complications. When it comes down to it, no amount of industry profit or short-term economic gains are worth sacrificing the health and well-being of Coloradans.

Like an invisible poison in science fiction, toxic air pollutants can easily disappear out of sight, out of mind. But Colorado families deserve better than simply accepting toxic pollution in our air.

We have an obligation to our children and to future generations to start cleaning up the mess we’ve made, and to stop making these messes to begin with. We hope our legislators will choose a legacy of clean air and health equity for all Coloradans instead of profit for a few.

Read more at Coloradonewsline.com

Colorado income tax cuts benefit the rich most, nonpartisan analysis finds

Colorado income tax cuts benefit the rich most, nonpartisan analysis finds

Republicans are out of power in this state, but the income tax rate keeps falling

By Alex Burness (March 3, 2022)

When Colorado’s income tax rate shrinks, the rich reap greater benefits and inequality stretches, a new nonpartisan legislative analysis finds.

The analysis considered the potential demographic effects of HB22-1201, a Republican bill that proposes to reduce the state income tax rate, which applies to people of all income levels, from 4.55% to 4.4%.

“This bill may increase existing income disparities by providing larger tax savings for those with higher incomes, both in absolute amounts and proportionally to income,” the report reads.

Republicans believe the rate is too high, and have introduced proposed cuts at the legislature for several years in a row, with no success. This year’s bill and any others like it are virtually guaranteed to fail as long as Democrats control state government.

But the income tax rate keeps falling.

It was set at 5% for both individuals and corporations in 1987, and has been cut three times since then — most recently via a conservative-backed 2020 ballot measure. Conservatives plan to try to qualify for yet another ballot initiative this year to cut the income tax to 4.4%, which means they could get their way even with the statehouse bill likely headed nowhere.

The nonpartisan analysis states that households — single individuals or joint filers — with incomes above $150,000 would see 58% of the taxpayer savings brought about by the policy, even though that group comprises just 13% of Colorado’s taxpaying population.

A 17% plurality of Colorado taxpayers have incomes between $15,000 and $29,999, but that group would see just 1.8% of the savings, the report states.

There’s no scandal in these findings, said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a Republican who is co-sponsoring the tax-cut bill. Naturally, they say, savings are higher for people who have more money to begin with, just as people with more money would bear a greater overall burden if the flat income tax were increased.

“The whole idea is to allow taxpayers to keep more of their own money so they can revitalize an economy,” Sonnenberg said.

He added that he’s not sure why the analysis used “family median income,” which takes sources other than wages into account, as the household measure.

The analysis notes that non-white Coloradans are more likely to earn lower incomes, which means income tax cuts deliver disproportionate savings by race.

“For example,” the report reads, “while Hispanic/LatinX individuals constitute 21.8 percent of the statewide population, they constitute 29.7 percent of those with a family income of $0 to $29,999 and 9.9 percent of those with a family income of $100,000 or more.”

Cutting the income tax is a favorite policy pursuit of Colorado Republicans and of the Democratic governor, Jared Polis. Polis has even called for the state income tax to be eliminated altogether, though he concedes there is no immediately apparent political path to get that done.

The Democrats who hold majorities at the statehouse stand apart from Polis on this matter.

“The flat tax system in the first place is pretty inequitable,” said Lakewood Rep. Chris Kennedy, the Democrat chairing the House committee that is poised to kill HB22-1201. “When you’re asking a lower-income person to pay five-ish percent of their income, that takes a much bigger bite out of their ability to pay for gas and groceries than it does for someone making a million dollars a year.”

Democrats like Kennedy prefer a graduated income tax scale, in which people with higher incomes pay a higher rate. This does not exist in Colorado and, due to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, cannot exist without voter approval.

Statehouse Republicans reject the notion that a flat income tax can be inequitable.

“Everyone is paying their fair share in a flat rate,” said Sage Naumann, spokesman for the Colorado Senate GOP. “So what are they getting back when you cut it? Their fair share.”

Read more at DenverPost.com

Proposal mandating faster reconnection of power service causes concerns for utility companies

Proposal mandating faster reconnection of power service causes concerns for utility companies

By Marianne Goodland (January 28, 2022)

President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 6, 2021. The Biden administration is distributing an additional $4.5 billion in funds to help low-income Americans cover heating costs during a second pandemic winter, with cold-weather states receiving the largest share.

More than 44 million Americans are struggling this month to pay energy bills, according to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey.

Half a million of those Americans are in Colorado. 

And their inability to pay electric or natural gas bills — or both — can mean service disconnection, and with winter chills ahead, that can be a life-or-death situation.

Struggling Coloradans can tap a wide range of energy assistance programs, but wrinkles in the system persist, energy access advocates say.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, hopes to iron out what he perceives to be one of those wrinkles — by prohibiting regulated power utilities from disconnecting services on a weekend, a state or federal holiday, or at noon or later on a weekday.

House Bill 1018 also directs the Public Utilities Commission to adopt rules mandating utilities to reconnect a service on the same day a customer makes such a request. That rule would apply from Monday to Friday and so long as it’s not a holiday. 

It’s the same-day reconnection mandate that has Black Hills and Xcel Energy, Colorado’s investor-owned utilities, concerned, effectively arguing they would prefer to work directly with customers, rather than be compelled to act through a legislatively-prescribed solution to a highly complicated issue.  

Matt Lindstrom, a spokesman for Xcel, told Colorado Politics that disconnection is always the last resort.

Fewer than 1% — 0.6% percent —  of Xcel’s residential Colorado customers were disconnected in 2021, he said. Xcel Energy serves 1.5 million Coloradans. 

Lindstrom said reconnecting services, particularly natural gas, pose logistical issues.

“It takes time to safely reconnect service, especially on the natural gas side, and we must ensure the safety of our employees and customers during this process,” he said. 

Several energy outreach programs are available to consumers who are struggling financially to pay energy bills:

Kennedy has kept his eye on energy assistance programs during the pandemic.

In 2020, he was one of four sponsors of a measure that sought to assist Coloradans struggling to pay utility bills during the early months of the pandemic by using federal CARES Act dollars.

The next year, Kennedy sponsored a bill to ensure a better funding source for the Energy Outreach Colorado program, which up to then had relied, at least in part, on severance taxes. That’s become an unstable funding source due to the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry over a number of years, not just during the pandemic. The Kennedy measure required utilities to charge customers more to help finance an energy assistance program for low-income residents. State officials said that small cost to consumers — starting with $0.50 this October, ramping up to $0.75 in October 2022 and then annually adjusted for inflation a year after —  translates to big help for the state’s most economically vulnerable residents. Revenue from the charge goes to Energy Outreach Colorado, the Colorado Energy Office and the Department of Human Services. There is an opt-out provision in the law.

 Xcel Energy cited that new charge as among the reasons, albeit to a much lesser extent, why it sought permission from state regulators to increase energy bills during this winter. The main culprit for that rate hike is the sharp rise in natural gas prices, and a rate hike approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

That solved one of the funding issues, but a stickier one remained: how reconnections are handled.

Once an applicant has applied for an energy assistance program, that freezes the disconnection process, even if the consumer doesn’t qualify for the income-based program.

The other issue is how soon a consumer, who has paid the bill in full, gets back the power service.

Reconnecting electric service has become considerably easier over the years, with the advent of smart meters, known as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), that can be turned off and on with the push of a button.

“If you’re on AMI, you have to reconnect the same day. There’s no excuse for not doing that,” Kennedy insisted.

But reconnecting someone’s natural gas service is trickier, and Kennedy’s bill to require same-day reconnection in most circumstances is causing what the lawmaker calls a “complicated fight” with the investor-owned utilities.

As it works now, if a consumer pays the overdue bill after 10 a.m., there’s no guarantee the service will be reconnected that day. Kennedy wants to ensure electric reconnection takes place the same day, so long as the request comes in at least one hour before the utility’s close of business.

Reconnecting natural gas is a different situation. Once natural gas service has been turned off, the tenant  —  whether at a home or business —   has to be at the site for the reconnection.

Kennedy’s bill, however, requires same day natural gas reconnection if the customer makes the request before 1 p.m.

Under the bill, a utility gets an extra day to reconnect the gas if the provider has made a “qualifying communication” with the customer, which means something more personal than sending emails, letters in the mail or robocalls, according to Kennedy. It would require “a real conversation” with the customer, either by phone or in person, that confirms the resident is aware that his or her service is about to be disconnected and the options for payment assistance, the legislator said.

Kennedy said the utilities have expressed concerns about the same day reconnection requirement for gas, pointing out that it’s both a cost issue to provide an in-person communication, as well as a matter of staffing.

That staffing came into sharp relief in the days after the Marshall fire, when electric and gas service was shut off to thousands of homes. Once it was safe to restore power and gas to the homes, Xcel Energy deployed its workers from all over the state to make that happen. But it also meant diverting employees away from other parts of the state, including those who are responsible for reconnecting services. It’s an example of the logistical problem Kennedy’s bill may pose for the utilities. 

Black Hills Energy has fully deployed AMI meters to all of its electric customers, according to Carly West of Black Hills Energy, which serves 99,000 electric customers and 198,000 natural gas customers, mostly in rural Colorado.

When a customer calls in to request a reconnect, a company representative quotes the customer a reconnection price and schedules a reconnect order, sending a signal for the service to be turned back on, she said. That’s a half-hour at most for smart metered-customers.

Reconnecting gas is a far more involved process, West said.

A technician must connect with the tenant, get permission to enter the premises and relight the appliances.

As for the communication issue, West said her company makes direct phone calls in advance of the disconnection.

Xcel Energy does not have any compromise suggestions to what Kennedy is proposing, saying it is “are working with the bill sponsors and other stakeholders to ensure the safety, reliability, and feasibility of these proposed requirements.”

Lindstrom added Xcel Energy always wants to hear from customers who struggle to pay their bills.

“We will work with them to set up payment plans and identify internal and external resources that meet their specific needs to ensure they continue to receive electric and natural gas service,” Lindstrom said. 

The company is always willing to connect customers with available energy assistance programs, Lindstrom said, adding that, in 2021, about 3% of customers, or roughly 53,000, received assistance from LEAP.

“Additionally, many income-qualified LEAP recipients are automatically enrolled in our electric and natural gas affordability programs which provide additional assistance to keep bills affordable. In 2021, we enrolled over 33,000 Colorado customers in these programs for a total of $13.5 million in discounts,” he said. 

Black Hills’ West added that her company’s own program matches contributions dollar for dollar, and, in the last two years, the company has contributed almost $1 million each year to that fund. The company also does outreach to human services agencies as part of its communications efforts.

Kennedy’s bill is scheduled for its first hearing in the House Energy and Environment Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 2

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com