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Earth Day, Schmearth Day 

Legislature kills most 'pro-environment' bills

Environmentalists get one day each year to celebrate Earth Day. The Colorado Legislature, however, gets to spend four whole months trashing the planet.

At least that's what green groups say the state's lawmakers have been up to since the current legislative session began in January. Most pro-environment bills have gone down in defeat, while several anti-environment bills have advanced, according to the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

"The environment is definitely losing at the state Capitol this year," said Monica Piergrossi, a director for the coalition, which represents about 80 organizations across the state.

Carrie Doyle, a lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters, concurred, saying her work this year has been mostly a defensive effort to "stop bad things from happening."

She has gotten little help in that regard from El Paso County lawmakers, who, with just a few notable exceptions, have consistently cast what she would consider to be "anti-environment" votes.

Environmentalists say they're not sure why their bills have been getting the shaft, although they speculate that the recent public preoccupation with drought, wildfires, budget shortfalls, terrorism and war has drawn attention away from the need to save the environment.

And though polls show that voters are still concerned about growth and the environment, "the state Legislature doesn't always reflect the values of Coloradans," Doyle said.

Dependence on coal

The "biggest loss" of the session, according to Piergrossi, was the defeat of House Bill 1295, which would have required large, private utilities to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, or geothermal energy. Currently, only 1 percent of the utilities' energy comes from such sources.

The measure was introduced by House Speaker Lola Spradley, a Republican, and had the support of two Colorado Springs Republicans, Reps. Mark Cloer and Lynn Hefley. Rep. Mike Merrifield, the sole Democratic lawmaker from El Paso County, also backed the bill.

"I think we need to do what we can to lower our dependence on coal and lower our dependence on oil from other countries," Cloer said. Hefley did not respond to a request for comment.

While the bill cleared the House, two Colorado Springs Republicans -- Sens. Ed Jones and Andy McElhany -- cast crucial votes to kill it in a Senate committee.

Though Jones did not respond to a request for comment, McElhany said he opposed issuing mandates and was concerned the bill might raise customers' utility rates. Voluntary programs already in place, through which customers can choose to pay more for renewable energy, should be allowed to work, he said.

"The voluntary program was working very well," he said.

Just dam it

Two water-conservation bills backed by the environmental groups also died in committee. House Bill 1120 would have outlawed covenants that restrict Xeriscaping and lowered sales taxes on water-saving devices. Senate Bill 94 would have required cities and counties to address water-supply issues in their master plans.

Still alive as of press time was Senate Bill 87, which would require large water providers to adopt specific conservation goals and measures. Sen. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, voted against the bill, saying it would take away local control over water conservation.

"Denver would impose on the entire state how local communities manage their resources," Lamborn said.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are opposing Senate Bill 236, which would authorize $10 billion in funding to build new dams to increase Colorado's water-storage capacity. Doyle, the League of Conservation Voters lobbyist, said dam-building is too expensive, degrades the environment and doesn't address the current water shortages because it takes too long.

All of El Paso County's Republican senators, however, back the bill.

"We need more water storage in Colorado," Lamborn said. "We do need to conserve, but conservation alone will not solve our current problems."

Paving the way

To the environmentalists' dismay, El Paso County's senators have also tried to take money from mass transit and spend it on highways.

Colorado Springs Sen. Ron May introduced Senate Bill 132, which would have eliminated the requirement that 10 percent of state transportation funds be used on mass transit. Though all of his fellow El Paso County senators backed the proposal, it ultimately died.

May did not respond to requests for comment, though Lamborn claims the current 10-percent set-aside primarily benefits Denver.

"I strongly believe that we need more money for asphalt and lanes, and the main place where transit is used is in Denver," he said.

May, McElhany and Sen. Ken Chlouber, who represents a portion of El Paso County, also supported Senate Bill 74, which would force the Denver area's Regional Transportation District -- a taxing district specifically created to fund mass transit -- to spend 10 percent of its revenues on highways.

"I want more money for highways," Chlouber said.

The bill is still pending.

Terje Langeland

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