2009 legislation is environmental hit and miss
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - 20:36
One of my first blogs with MNN described the status of environmental legislation in Colorado. The Colorado House and Senate, collectively the General Assembly, met this year beginning in January and adjourned in late May. Some key issues were funding clean coal plants, tax credits for renewable energy installations, water rights and forest fire control.
Here are the results of a few of the most significant environmental bills of 2009:
House Bill 1129, one of the most publicized of the conservation bills, was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on June 2. This new law allows homeowners and farmers to set up rain catchment containers to collect rainwater. This salvaged water can be used to water gardens, crops or livestock. It was previously illegal to 'steal' rain that might eventually run into streams, due to the complex (and in my opinion, outdated) water rights of Colorado. Container size can range from a small barrel attached to a rain gutter, to huge 2,000+ gallon collection tanks on farms and commercial properties.
This new law is a great step to help conserve water resources in the West, since collecting rain seems better than draining finite aquifers or diverting rivers. However, the ecological implications are unknown, as there are limited data on the effects of collecting rainwater vs. collecting ground or surface water. Therefore, the law includes a basis for scientific study on the impacts of such 'precipitation harvesting projects', comparing retrieval efficiency and renewablity in different areas. It is important to see if there are severe negative consequences to local ecosystems and water reserviors as this practice is popularized.
Senate Bill 106 states that the Colorado Water Conservation Board can fund water projects throughout the state at its discretion, with no expiration date. This law provides much-needed funds to programs from nonprofits to universities.
House Bill 1126 encourages installation of solar thermal and other renewable energy technologies. Solar thermal, unlike using solar panels to directly create electricity, can heat homes and commercial buildings during the chilly months without using outside energy inputs. The heat collected by the solar collectors heats up a water tank and can then heat additional areas of the home or maintain water heaters. Hot water heaters can easily be converted to accept this thermal input (see picture below). This law will prevent increased loads on the existing power grid.
Senate Bill 235 doubles the wildlife habitat program's yearly revenue to $7 million. Much financial aid is needed to protect Colorado's wilderness areas from outside interests that would decrease the quantity and quality of habitat for thousands of species.
House Bill 1105 provides money to green and other companies that need start-up capital via an investment tax credit. This law decreases the risk involved in creating a new cutting-edge business by lowering costs for the budding company. The green industry should see tremendous expansion and evolution as a result of this law.
The following bills did not make the final vote, or were not signed into law by the governor:
House Bill 1055 would have demanded that utilities disclose their yearly carbon footprint. I feel that such a practice is an important step toward accountability for pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Energy utilities need an incentive to cut back their emissions, either financial or through government control.
House Bill 1098 would have provided state funds to help pay for clean coal plants. New coal plants, such as the Cherokee 3 project in Pueblo, will likely be built as energy demands continue to rise; by losing this bill, the state is only aiding the continuation of the standard dirty technology by not dissipating higher technology costs.
House Bill 1199, the Healthy Forests, Vibrant Communities Act was signed into law. This act provides state funds to assess wildfire risk throughout Colorado's forests. However, due to the formatting of the law after the federal Healthy Forests Act, this law places high importance on protecting existing homes and infrastructure without concerning the actual health of the forest ecosystem. As an ecology student and Colorado native, I have witnessed and learned that fire suppression tends to create more intense and thus destructive fires when they do ignite. Such laws also alter historical forest structure, as new species succeed traditional pine and fir species, or succession slows altogether. Sugarloaf Mountain outside of Boulder is a great example. A fire burned so intensely that the mountain is still almost completely bare 20 years later (see first picture below; enhanced to show foliage). Compare this with another photo I took of the surrounding sub-alpine forest, just a mile away (second picture below). Note the lack of tree succession in the first photo; only a few grasses despite the absence of competition for light, space, and nutrients among tree species.
All in all, I am happy with the amount of environmentally conscious issues that were on the ballot and with the number that were signed into state law. Hopefully this trend will continue in Colorado in the future and will serve as a positive example to other Western states and the federal government.
Also on MNN:
• Free rain: Colorado makes it legal for homeowners to harvest water
Photos courtesy of: (from top to bottom, left to right)
birdseye building company/Flickr
my own portfolio (last two)
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