Environment - Bees and Pollinators

How Colorado’s 2024 legislative session will impact the environment

Chase Woodruff

(Colorado Newsline) Despite bipartisan agreement on a handful of key reforms, Colorado’s 2024 legislative session highlighted the deep divides and entrenched interests that define some of the state’s thorniest and longest-running environmental challenges.

Colorado Democrats and environmental groups began the year with an ambitious plan to crack down on ozone pollution from the oil and gas industry. It was the most significant new attempt to regulate drilling since a sweeping health and safety overhaul passed by Democrats in 2019, and the opposition it drew from deep-pocketed industry groups was similarly intense.

PROMO 64J1 Government - Colorado Capitol Building Flags - iStock - japhillips

© iStock - japhillips

In an eleventh-hour deal brokered by Gov. Jared Polis, proponents abruptly changed course, agreeing to drop most of the proposed regulations in favor of a new fee on oil and gas production to fund public transit and conservation projects. Other bills approved by lawmakers this session, which ended Wednesday, aim to establish or expand protections for disproportionately impacted communities, drinking water supplies and wild streams and wetlands.

“The 2024 legislative session was a win for the climate, for Colorado consumers, and for equity,” Elise Jones, executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said in a statement. “In particular,  lawmakers approved unprecedented funding for bus and rail service across the state, and adopted a package of climate-friendly land use bills to enable more affordable and abundant housing opportunities in Colorado’s cities along transit lines, while reducing transportation pollution and traffic congestion.”

Separately from the package of ozone reforms, lawmakers for the first time considered a bill that sought to put an end date on oil and gas extraction in Colorado as part of the state’s efforts to address climate change. Similar plans to phase out drilling are underway in states like California and in countries around the world, but Colorado’s Senate Bill 24-159 likely never stood a chance; facing a veto threat from Polis, a Democrat, and lacking support from key Democratic lawmakers, it died in its first committee hearing in March.

Air and water quality

Senate Bill 24-229Ozone mitigation measures

One of two bills introduced late in the 2024 session as part of the compromise on oil and gas issues, SB-229 will make a relatively minor set of reforms to the way state agencies issue permits and enforce regulations on oil and gas operations. It will give Colorado’s Energy and Carbon Management Commission more explicit power to penalize operators and address the problem of orphaned wells, and codify a mandate on oil and gas producers to reduce emissions of so-called ozone precursors, which Polis first issued in an executive order last year.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

Senate Bill 24-230Oil and gas production fees

Beginning in July 2025, this bill will levy new fees on oil and gas production in Colorado. The per-unit fees will be adjusted quarterly based on benchmark prices, but will roughly equate to a surcharge of about 0.5% per barrel of crude oil, and will raise between $100 million and $175 million in a typical year. The revenue will fund projects to offset the impacts of oil and gas pollution, with 80% allocated to public transit projects and the remainder used by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for land acquisition and habitat projects.

SB-230’s fees will substantially increase the share of oil and gas production revenue collected by the state, while doing little to offset its exceptionally low rates of conventional taxes on the industry, a Newsline analysis found.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

House Bill 24-1338Cumulative impacts and environmental justice

Sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Manny Rutinel of Commerce City and Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs, HB-1338 directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to carry out the recommendations of the state’s Environmental Justice Action Task Force. Those measures include increased oversight of the state’s only petroleum refinery, the Suncor facility in Commerce City, and the creation of a “rapid response” inspection team to act quickly to address air quality complaints.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

House Bill 24-1379Regulate dredge and fill activities in state waters

Sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskie of Dillon and Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Weld County, HB-1379 reestablishes protections for certain streams and wetlands following a 2023 Supreme Court decision that excluded them from the federal Clean Water Act. The bill creates a new CDPHE permitting program to regulate dredge and fill activities that impact those waters, with a variety of exemptions, including for many agricultural operations.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

Senate Bill 24-197Water conservation measures 

Another bipartisan water bill, SB-197 would implement several conservation proposals endorsed by last year’s Colorado River Drought Task Force, including the expansion of a program for the temporary loaning of water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to protect the environment.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

Senate Bill 24-81Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals

SB-81 expands the state’s ban on products containing cancer-causing PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals,” to include new categories of items like nonstick cookware, ski wax and artificial turf.

It was signed into law by Polis May 1.

Land use and transportation

For the second legislative session in a row, climate and environmental advocates lined up in support of a push to steer Colorado land-use policy towards more abundant, higher-density housing development. Proponents say the reforms are a critical step towards meeting the state’s clean transportation and energy goals, but they’ve run into stiff opposition from local governments and homeowners who object to the state interfering in local zoning and development policies.

Following the defeat of a sweeping package of land-use reforms in the 2023 legislative session, sponsors revived several of its components in piecemeal fashion this year.

House Bill 24-1313Transit-oriented communities

The most ambitious of 2024’s housing bills, HB-1313 sets goals for Colorado’s most populous cities to increase housing density in areas nearest to public transit stations. It establishes a $35 million fund to support infrastructure in communities that meet the goals, but a controversial provision that would’ve withheld state highway funding from local governments that failed to comply was stripped from the bill prior to its passage by the Senate.

The bill was signed into law by Polis on Monday.

House Bill 24-1152Accessory dwelling units

Accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “granny flats,” are housing units built on a property with an existing single-family home. HB-1152 would legalize the construction of ADUs across virtually all residential areas in Colorado’s most populous cities and suburbs, prohibiting local governments from restricting their construction on any land zoned for single-family residential development.

The bill was signed into law by Polis Monday.

House Bill 24-1007Prohibit residential occupancy limits

HB-1007 bars local governments from regulating the number of unrelated people who can live together in a housing unit, except for standards enforced based on building or fire codes. Low occupancy limits in cities like Boulder — which prohibited more than three unrelated people from living together until last year, when it raised the limit to five — have been a flashpoint in local battles over housing affordability.

The bill was signed into law by Polis  April 15.

House Bill 24-1304Minimum parking requirements

HB-1304 would prohibit local governments from enacting minimum parking requirements for new housing developments in areas nearest to transit service. Critics of such ordinances say they inflate the cost of constructing new housing units while exacerbating traffic congestion and vehicle pollution.

Polis signed the bill into law  May 10.

Senate Bill 24-184Support surface transportation infrastructure development

As the state ramps up efforts to win federal funding for a new passenger rail system along the Front Range, SB-184 would create a new revenue stream for rail infrastructure spending by levying a new fee of up to $3 per day on rental cars. Transportation officials said the $58 million raised annually by the new fee will help the state “compete effectively” for federal passenger rail grants.

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

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