A slew of environmental legislation was among the measures passed in Colorado during the chaotic final days of the 2022 legislative session.
Democratically-backed legislation to better regulate toxic air pollution, improve Colorado’s dismal recycling rates, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings have all received Legislative approval and are being headed to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk in a bid to overcome Republican delaying tactics that marked the end of the session.
All three won the final round on Wednesday, just hours before the midnight deadline mandated by the General Assembly’s constitution. Although the Democrats, who control both the Senate and House of Representatives, made a number of policy concessions in exchange for an end to GOP roadblocks, environmentalists cheered when many of their priorities made it through the “cuff‘ before the legislature was adjourned for the year.
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House Bill 22-1244, which would establish a new federal program to regulate certain toxic air pollutants, sped through the Senate in just three days after winning House approval last week.
“As anyone who’s tried to breathe in the Denver metro area this past summer knows, Colorado is facing an air quality crisis,” Senator Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and supporter of the bill, said Wednesday in the Senate.
“This is a major victory for our community, especially communities of color and low-income communities that have been disproportionately affected by toxic pollutants for far too long,” said Lizeth Chacon of the Colorado People’s Alliance in a statement.
The final version of HB-1244 included an amendment proposed by Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, a Pueblo Democrat, during a Senate debate on Tuesday. Hinrichsen’s amendment would give the General Assembly the power to determine which air pollutants will ultimately be regulated. In the final passage, the Senate passed the bill by a 21-14 vote, with all Democrats and GOP Sen. Kevin Priola in favor.
In addition to HB-1244, lawmakers passed two bills that would create a $65 million grant program to help school districts purchase electric buses and a $28 million pilot program for toll-free public transportation during the summer ozone season. Both were part of a bill touted by Democrats as ways to improve regional air quality after dangerous smog along the Front Range worsened dramatically in 2021.
Recycling programs, building emissions
The last passage on Wednesday also won House Bill 22-1355, a Producer Responsibility Act that would require manufacturers of many types of products to pay into a fund based on their product packaging that would be used to expand recycling infrastructure statewide.
“If this legislation goes into effect, it will help reduce the amount of plastic we produce, particularly unnecessary single-use packaging, and ultimately how much plastic waste we throw away,” said Rex Wilmouth, Senior Program Director for Environment Colorado, in an explanation. “For too long, plastics manufacturers have placed the responsibility for managing plastic – recycling and disposal – on the shoulders of individuals and local communities. Colorado’s Producer Responsibility Act will make important changes to hold manufacturers responsible for eliminating plastic waste.”
Our bill tackles one of Colorado’s biggest sources of pollution while saving families money.
– State Rep. Tracey Bernett, on a bill that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings
Recycling rates in Colorado have long lagged behind the national average, but business groups, including manufacturers of a commonly recycled product, have expressed strong opposition to HB-1355. The American Forest & Paper Association responded to Wednesday’s passage of the bill by asking Gov. Jared Polis to veto it.
“[Producer responsibility]could shift the economic burden of new recycling regulations from municipalities to Coloradans,” said Terry Webber, AF&PA vice president of industrial affairs, in a press release. “These additional costs would hurt small businesses and low-income households in particular.”
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives also finally approved a bill on Wednesday aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, voting broadly in line with party lines to accept amendments passed by the Senate last week. House Bill 22-1362 would establish a statewide minimum standard for building energy regulations, requiring local governments to enact regulations that meet minimum standards for energy efficiency, rooftop solar power, electric vehicle charging and more.
“Our bill addresses one of Colorado’s biggest sources of pollution while saving families money,” said Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Louisville Democrat, in a statement. “If we build right the first time, we reduce air pollution, save Colorado residents on their electric bills, and create more energy-efficient homes and buildings.”