Climate, Technology, & Environmental Bills — What Passed and What Didn’t?
By David Oonk
June 23, 2021
Lawmakers passed numerous climate, environment, and technology bills this legislation designed to protect our state’s lands and people.
Photo by Sheelah Brennan on Unsplash
The 2021 legislative session in Colorado officially came to a close on June 12, 2021. Throughout the session, legislators introduced, heard testimony on, and debated numerous climate, technology, and environment bills, ranging from legislation about soil health to broadband to plastics and more. Here’s a quick round-up of important bills that passed this session—
- HB21-1181 – Agricultural Soil Health Program. The Agricultural Soil Health Program bill will create a voluntary soil health program through the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Through the program, a system for monitoring the environmental and economic benefits of soil health, a soil health inventory, and a soil health testing program will all be created. Importantly, the bill will also create a soil health advisory committee. The legislation had broad support from farmers and ranchers and soil health (and carbon sequestration) enthusiasts.
- SB21-072 – Public Utilities Commission Modernize Electric Transportation Infrastructure. It’s no secret that Colorado has ambitious clean energy goals—SB21-072 is designed to help the state meet those goals by creating the Colorado Electric Transmission Authority, requiring transmission utilities to join organized wholesale markets, and authorizes the public utilities commission (PUC) to approve utilities’ applications to build new transmission facilities if the facilities will help the state to meet its clean energy goals.
- SB21-060 – Expand Broadband Service. The broadband service bill changed and added definitions and also reduced the membership of the broadband board. First, the bill changed the definition of “broadband” in Colorado to increase the downstream and upstream speed requirements. Second, the bill also added a definition of “critically underserved” regarding broadband—”a household or area that lacks access to at least one provider of non-satellite broadband service delivered at measurable speeds of at least 10 megabits per second downstream and one megabit per second upstream.”
- HB21-1161 – Management of Plastic Products. One controversial piece of environmental legislation to make it through both houses this session is HB21-1161. The bill will ban plastic bags and polystyrene (styrofoam) containers, but not until 2024. In 2023, stores throughout the state will start charging $0.10 per bag. One big compromise in the bill is that small stores—defined as any store with three or fewer locations—will not be subjected to the rules.
- HB21-1189 – Regulate Air Toxics. A revival of earlier legislation, the regulate air toxics bill passed and is likely to be signed into law. The bill addresses multiple additional public health protections related to air toxic emissions, and will require “covered facilities” (the definition of which was changed by the law) to conduct outreach to nearby communities and ensure that the outreach is conducted in the two most prevalent languages spoken in the communities; to conduct real-time fenceline monitoring and to publicly report those results; and to take corrective action within 15 days if a violation occurs.
- SB21-260 – Sustainability of the Transportation System. This ambitious transportation funding bill will create new sources for the development and construction of a sustainable transportation system in Colorado. Such plans will include allocating investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and alternative transportation options.
What Didn’t Pass
- SB21-161 – Voluntarily Reduce Greenhouse Gas Natural Gas Utility. One piece of legislation that some environmental groups were gunning for that failed is SB21-161. The bill would have aligned with the goals established in HB 1261 and the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction goals by establishing GHG reduction targets for utilities by using the utilities’ 2019 emissions as a baseline, and then requiring the PUC to adopt greenhouse gas reduction programs.
- SB21-200 – Reduce Greenhouse Gases Increase Environmental Justice. One of the more controversial bills this legislative session was SB21-200. The bill would have directed the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to consider the social cost of emissions and require GHG reductions on a “linear or more stringent path.” The controversial piece is that the bill would have enabled the AQCC to actually enforce the state’s GHG emission reduction goals. While the legislation failed—in large part because Governor Polis threatened to veto it if it made it to his desk—key pieces of the plan will be added to other legislation to support environmental justice efforts. For example, HB21-1266 – Environmental Justice Disproportionate Impacted Community, which did pass. Under HB21-1266, an environmental justice ombudsman will be hired within the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) and a task force will write a plan for promoting environmental justice throughout the state. Importantly, the bill also struck a compromise around GHG emissions regulation: while SB21-200 would have required the ACQQ to target emitters economy-wide, HB21-1266 will only set emissions targets for oil and gas operations, factories, and power plants.