Science Notes

Colorado Climate & Environment Bills in 2021

PERA Divestment, Public Banking, and Plastics Ban

By Mikkela Blanton

March 2021

While addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts is at the top of legislators’ to-do lists, advocacy groups haven’t forgotten about climate, energy, and environment issues and are pushing (at least) three bills this legislative session. The following three bills aren’t the only high-impact pieces of legislation likely to be considered in Colorado this session, but they are three that could have major environmental impacts and that have generated high levels of support. 

PERA Divestment

Established in 1931, the Public Employees Retirement Association of Colorado (Colorado PERA) is the state’s public retirement system. For years, environmental groups like 350 Colorado and Fossil Free PERA Colorado have been calling on the state to divest PERA pension funds from fossil fuels. The motivation for this bill is not only climate-related, but fiduciary; in a world that’s moving away from fossil fuels, many argue that diverting from fossil fuel investment is key to setting up funds for long-term success. This is the reason that New York State recently divested its $226 billion pension fund, according to NY State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Multiple Colorado cities have already taken steps toward divestment. Denver completed its removal of investments in fossil fuel companies in 2019; Boulder County commissioners decided to move away from insurance companies that put money into fossil fuel investments in 2020; and Aspen recently announced a divestment plan, which is anticipated to take two years to fully complete. 

Sources indicate that the Colorado PERA divestment legislation will be introduced by Representative Emily Sirota. The bill will mandate that Colorado PERA divest from fossil fuel investments over a five-year period, beginning with divesting from coal in the next 24 months.

Public Banking

A public banking bill may have seemingly little to do with science-policy and society issues, but there’s a reason that environmental organizations are backing the creation of a state public bank. According to the Colorado Public Banking Coalition, a public bank could “enable local governments to make more money available for loans for urgent needs such as affordable housing, clean energy, infrastructure, health care, education, student loans, environmental clean up, sustainable agriculture, broadband, and independent media…” A public bank may also be able to better serve the needs of unbanked and underbanked populations, according to the group. 

While no legislation on public banking has been introduced as of this writing, it is expected that such a bill will be proposed during this legislative session. 

Plastics Ban 

The accumulation of plastics in the earth’s environment is adversely impacting humans, wildlife, and habitat; plastic is also oil- and gas-derived, which means that it requires non-renewable resources to manufacture. During the 2021 legislative session in Colorado, Democrats will attempt to ban single-use plastic bags and styrofoam packaging in stores and restaurants. While this is the second time that Democrats are trying to pass such legislation, the 2021 bill takes the law a step further – it would also include lifting a current ban on local governments’ ability to prohibit certain plastic products. In other words, if a local government found that the state plastic ban didn’t go far enough, it could issue its own, more prohibitive ban. As reported by The Denver Post, if a ban does pass this session, it won’t be immediate; instead, polystyrene products and single-use plastic bags would likely be phased out of stores and restaurants over two years. 

The bill was announced in early February 2021 and will be officially introduced soon. 

A dump truck at the Larimer County landfill. Photo courtesy of The Colorado Sun.

Stay in the Know + Get Involved

The state legislature is also anticipated to review climate- and environment-related bills on composting human remains in a process called natural organic reduction; soil health and soil testing; and animal shares, which would allow consumers to purchase individual cuts of meat directly from ranchers in the state, thereby promoting local food systems. Food that is produced locally sometimes has a lower carbon footprint, particularly when farmers and ranchers use sustainable or regenerative farming practices. For those who are interested in following the activities of the Colorado General Assembly during the 2021 legislative session, visit You can also follow the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network on Twitter and check out our Policy Engagement Hub for more ways to get involved.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: