Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Top 7 local environmental stories this week

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 5:00 PM

In late August, these stories were making headlines:

1) Groundwater samples from several areas on the Air Force Academy tested above the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory level for two toxic, man-made chemicals, PFOS and PFOA.
  • Courtesy the City of Colorado Springs
2) Colorado Springs city officials continue to look for a way to settle the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 lawsuit against the city alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. Recent court filings cited efforts toward a “global settlement” with defendants: EPA, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The lawsuit claims the city violated its federal and state discharge permits by neglecting its stormwater system. A settlement could include higher monthly stormwater fees for Springs residents to fund additional drainage work.

3) Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order directing the state to conserve wildlife migration corridors and big game winter range.

4) Blue-green algae has been found in Homestead Ranch Regional Park pond, El Paso County said in an Aug. 23 release. Test results from other ponds in the county are pending. It’s the third body of water found to contain the algae, which poses a health risk. Some authorities report dogs have died in other states after being exposed. Algae also taints Prospect Lake at Memorial Park, and Pikeview Reservoir, part of Colorado Springs Utilities’ system. All three are closed until further notice.

5) The Colorado State Forest Service began accepting grant applications from organizations seeking to restore forested areas, improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk on non-federal land in the state.

6) State and national experts confirmed the presence of the emerald ash borer, an invasive and highly destructive tree pest, in Broomfield.

7) Colorado Springs Utilities will kick off a series of workshops to devise integrated resource plans for electric and natural gas by hosting a meeting Aug. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Conservation and Environmental Center, 2855 Mesa Road. The meetings will help determine how the city achieves its “energy vision” in the next 30 years. Factors include economic, environment, resiliency and innovation. Watch the meeting on Utilities’ Facebook page; submit questions and comments to energyvision@csu.org.
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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Polis pitches Impossible Burger, and people are mad

Posted By on Thu, Aug 22, 2019 at 9:21 AM

Burger King recently began serving Impossible Foods' Impossible Burger. - COURTESY IMPOSSIBLE FOODS
  • Courtesy Impossible Foods
  • Burger King recently began serving Impossible Foods' Impossible Burger.

"Have you tried Burger King’s new Impossible Burger?" Gov. Jared Polis wrote in an Aug. 15 Facebook post. "Right now it costs $1.00 more than a beef [W]hopper, and like many consumers, I can’t tell the difference on taste; but with new technology and efficiency it’s only a matter of time until a similar product costs less than beef."

Polis recently met with state Department of Agriculture staff and encouraged them to think about ways to address market demand for plant-based proteins, Colorado Politics reports. He didn't issue any specific directives, but offered meat-free Impossible Burgers to staff at the department's new research facility.

Some Colorado ranchers took the comments as a slap in the face.

The Colorado Livestock Association, for one, released a statement with the headline: "Colorado Governor starts food fight with farmers and ranchers."

"For the Governor to suggest that Colorado agriculture begin focusing on growing vegetables for plant-based proteins is confusing to the farmers and ranchers who have worked the land in rural Colorado for decades," the statement says. "Not only because Colorado’s arid climate doesn’t allow for growing the extensive list of ingredients in plant-based burgers and alternative proteins, but also because Colorado’s beef industry contributes so much to the state’s economy."

Impossible Foods' "Impossible Burger," which Burger King recently began serving (Bloomberg reports it's available in 15,000 restaurants and food service locations), contains soy and potato proteins, coconut and sunflower oils, and methylcellulose, a common culinary binder. The company, one of several rapidly growing plant-based protein companies, is valued at around $2 billion, Bloomberg reports.

The Impossible Burger could soon come to supermarkets as well — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave preliminary approval to the company's use of soy leghemoglobin, a color additive, for retail sales.

In 2017, agriculture (including livestock, agricultural soils and rice production) contributed to 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Livestock account for about a third of agriculture-related emissions, due to the methane they produce as part of their digestive processes.

But the Colorado Livestock Association argues that ranchers can't just switch from cattle to soy and potatoes.

"Livestock producers utilize grazing land that is too mountainous, dry or nutrient poor to be farmed and would otherwise go unused," its statement says. It adds that the technology used in beef production today is the "most efficient and sustainable in history."
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

City and EPA say they're working on "a global settlement" to end the stormwater lawsuit

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 12:58 PM

An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017.
Look for the city of Colorado Springs and environmental regulators to reach a "global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations" in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2016 lawsuit against the city for failing to comply with Clean Water Act regulations.

That "global settlement" also could come with higher stormwater fees, because the stormwater fee measure voters approved in November 2017 contains a clause allowing the city raise the fees to satisfy a court judgment.

On Aug. 19, parties to the case filed a statement in federal court saying they've "made significant progress toward settlement" but not revealing the details.

Rather, the statement said, "For the past nine months, the Parties have been working toward a global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations alleged [in the lawsuit].... and are continuing their work."

Considering the statement says a settlement could cover all violations, it wouldn't be surprising to see Colorado Springs agree to spend more to correct its long-neglected stormwater system.

On July 24, the court granted a motion to vacate further litigation deadlines and stayed the lawsuit until Nov. 22.
A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
  • A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
A status conference was to take place Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court, Denver.

The EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued the city in November 2016, alleging violations of the city's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which befouled creeks and, ultimately, the Arkansas River.

Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District later joined as plaintiffs.

A trial in September 2018 ended with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, now deceased, that the city did violate the permit by improperly waiving permanent stormwater best management practices (BMP), failing to oversee and enforce temporary BMP requirements, and improperly approving the design and installation of and failing to ensure the long-term operation and maintenance of a detention basin. The allegations were specific to certain sites. (Senior U.S. District Judge John L. Kane apparently has replaced Matsch in the case.)

The city's stormwater ballot measure, which imposed residences $5 per month via their utilities billings and non-residential properties $30 per developed acre starting in July 2018, included this provision:

"... such fees may be thereafter increased by City Council by resolution only to the extent required to comply with a valid court order, federal or state permits, federal or state laws, and intergovernmental agreements [IGA] of the city entered into before June 1, 2016." (The only IGA that qualifies in that provision is the April 2016 agreement with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on the city's stormwater drainage system.)

Read the Aug. 19 court filing here.
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Friday, August 16, 2019

Council debates adding new short-term rental requirements

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 6:05 PM

Some councilors say more regulations are necessary to prevent renters from throwing large, noisy parties in residential neighborhoods. - GOODSTUDIO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
  • GoodStudio via Shutterstock
  • Some councilors say more regulations are necessary to prevent renters from throwing large, noisy parties in residential neighborhoods.

Colorado Springs City Councilors recently engaged in yet another spirited debate over short-term rentals (STRs), which are usually booked through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. This one addressed occupancy and density, two issues have been repeatedly brought up by residents who desire more restrictions on the rentals.

There was no consensus among Council at the Aug. 12 work session — other than the decision allow an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed changes.

The meeting began with Principal Planner Morgan Hester explaining staff's proposal for regulating the number of occupants an STR can have. Under city code, no more than five unrelated people can stay in a single-family residence at any given time. And through a combination of housing and fire codes, code enforcement can say no more than 16 related people can occupy a residence. But in a short-term situation, these regulations become difficult to enforce, Hester said.

So, staff proposed limiting the number of people over the age of 12 who can stay overnight in an STR to two. There would be no limit on younger children.

That proposal got a mixed reception from councilors.

Councilor Don Knight suggested the age should be lowered to 2 years old, the age "when you go from a crib to your own bed," he said.

Councilor Wayne Williams agreed. "Otherwise you wind up that the neighborhood has, in this two-bedroom house, a couple [Boy Scouts of America] Scoutmasters, and 30 11-year-old scouts, which has a significant impact on the neighborhood," he said.

But Councilor Andy Pico said he was "queasy" about adding an occupancy requirement that could be difficult to enforce, and Councilor Jill Gaebler was staunchly opposed.
"I think [the proposed ordinance] is completely complicated and unenforceable," Gaebler said. "...We’re being completely inconsistent across housing types."

"If I have a two-bedroom house and somehow have five, six, seven, eight, nine, kids, should I be able to live in my house? Should I be able to visit a house that has two bedrooms?" she asked.

Councilor Bill Murray suggested instead adopting a regulation like one he said he had experienced while staying in Breckenridge, where any complaint against an STR that led to a call to law enforcement simply incurred a fine. Councilor Yolanda Avila agreed with that suggestion.

Staff's second STR proposal would add density requirements; namely, that only a certain number of STR permits could be issued to homeowners in a particular area.

City staff's recommendation was that "no short term rental unit shall be located within five lots along the same block face of another short term rental unit." But Hester presented Council with two other options.

One would be to issue short-term rental permits only to residences outside a 500-foot buffer surrounding the closest permit holder. Another would be to only issue one permit per block face. (Existing permit holders would be grandfathered in under all three proposed options.)

"This is unwieldy, to say the least," Councilor Murray said of the density proposal. "It picks winners and losers. It really doesn't, I think, resolve the overall problem of concern of misuse of the particular property at the disadvantage of your neighbors."

"I would rather us concern ourselves with performance — are you trashing up your neighborhood? ... Instead of sitting here and saying, 'Well, you can have [a permit], but I'm sorry, you're 500 feet away, you can’t have it,'" he added.

Councilor Tom Strand, who was also skeptical about the proposed occupancy requirement, thought the density restrictions could be problematic.
"I think we have to decide: Is this a problem that is in search of a solution, or the reverse?" he said. "[The density requirement] might work in some neighborhoods where it would allow people to have, you know, a reasonable use of their property, and in other neighborhoods it would be too restrictive."

Councilor David Geislinger seemed open to both the density and occupancy proposals, more aligned with Knight and Williams than the other councilors.

Council President Richard Skorman proposed having a public meeting on the proposed occupancy and density requirements in September, and starting that meeting earlier than normal to accommodate plenty of time for comment.

When City Council last passed an ordinance regulating STRS in September of 2018, City Council Chambers were overflowing with impassioned residents on both sides of the issue.

The ordinance that ultimately passed (and went into effect Dec. 31) limits the number of STRs per lawful dwelling unit and per property; bans STRs in trailers, tents and other mobile or temporary structures; requires that neighbors be given an emergency contact available 24/7; allows the city to shut down or suspend nuisance rentals; requires an annual $119 permit and the payment of applicable taxes (those who use sites other than Airbnb need a sales tax license); and sets forth a variety of other standards and rules meant to enhance safety and promote neighborhood tranquility.

Opponents, led by the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, had hoped for changes to the proposed ordinance that would have banned non-owner-occupied STRs and capped the number of STRs in the city.

The Neighborhood Preservation Alliance's leader, Michael Applegate, told the Indy in July that he was still pushing for those additions, as well as a guest registry (so police can track STR users) and better enforcement of a limit on unrelated people staying in the same home.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Toxic algae closes Prospect Lake; bacteria can harm people and pets

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 2:55 PM

  • Pam Zubeck
The city of Colorado Springs closed Prospect Lake in Memorial Park Aug. 9 after a water sample taken that morning tested positive for a toxin, cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

The banks of the lake are dotted with closure signs and the swim beach is roped off. Swimming, bathing, paddleboarding, boating of all kinds and other water activities are banned. No pets are allowed in the water.

Fishing areas remain open, but anglers are urged to clean fish well and remove guts.
Media around the county have reported that blue-green algae can be deadly to pets. Dogs in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas died recently after being exposed to the algae in lakes.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

NORAD: Melting Arctic increases enemy threat potential

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 1:00 AM

NORAD's base at Cheyenne Mountain. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • NORAD's base at Cheyenne Mountain.

America and Canada may be threatened by cruise missile attacks due to the Russian Navy deploying warships on Arctic sea lanes, NORAD and Northern Command commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said, according to the The Maritime Executive.

O’Shaughnessy’s remarks came in a July 23 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He commands the bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and NorthCom, based at Peterson Air Force Base.

As Arctic ice recedes, maritime actors will find new avenues of approach to North America, he said.

Navigating the Arctic requires specialized training and equipment, and Russia is designing difficult-to-defeat hypersonic cruise missiles for its fleets, The Executive reported. “When I look at the cruise missile threat,” O’Shaughnessy said, “I see that as one of the biggest threats we face.”

National Geographic reported in May, “[T]he Arctic is now warming faster than any place on earth, and its protective barrier of sea ice — which once kept commercial and military ambition in check — is melting away.”
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Help for watersheds

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Grasses and reeds growing by small reflecting pond in the Four-Mile Recreational Area, in the San Isabel National Forest. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Grasses and reeds growing by small reflecting pond in the Four-Mile Recreational Area, in the San Isabel National Forest.
Three agencies will cooperate on projects to protect watersheds in the White River and Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

Colorado Springs Utilities, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service will spend a combined $15 million to restore areas of the forest and promote wildfire mitigation over the next five years.

“Through partnerships like this one, land managers and water providers in Colorado can help ensure clean, reliable water for present and future generations,” Mike Lester, state forester and state forest service director, said in a release.

Projects will span 11,000 acres of watersheds.
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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Weld County, state commission wage war of words over oil and gas

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 at 12:01 AM

Local governments can now set stricter rules than the state for oil and gas. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Local governments can now set stricter rules than the state for oil and gas.

As Weld County, the state’s largest producer of oil and gas resources, sets up its own regulating and permitting system, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission warns that a new state law doesn’t allow jurisdictions to come up with less stringent regulations than the state’s.

Senate Bill 181
, a contentious piece of legislation passed earlier this year, changes the state’s relationship with the industry by moving from “fostering” oil and gas development to “regulating” it, and gives local jurisdictions the power to impose further regulations.

In response to that law, Weld County commissioners created an internal oil and gas department earlier this month.

But the state commission warned that while the law “provides local governments with siting authority over oil and gas surface locations, it does not diminish the COGCC’s authority to regulate the orderly development of oil and gas throughout the state.”
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Colorado Springs Utilities plans new reservoir

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 3:33 PM

Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado.

Aspen Journalism reported July 17 that Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora are stepping up efforts to build another reservoir on lower Homestake Creek that would hold up to 20,000 acre feet of water, or enough to serve roughly 40,000 households per year.

The two partners in the transmountain Homestake project have applied to the U.S. Forest Service to drill for soils testing at four potential dam sites.

The Aspen news agency also reported the partners must obtain congressional and presidential approvals to adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary to accommodate a dam.

If the reservoir is built, water would be pumped through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir at Leadville and on to the two cities.
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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Conservation Colorado grades state lawmakers on environmental issues

Posted By on Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 5:22 PM

  • Tony Webster via Flickr
Back in May, we reported on nonprofit Mental Health Colorado's release of its 2019 legislative scorecard, which assigned scores to state lawmakers based on how they voted on mental health-related bills.

If voting records on environment-related legislation (such as the notorious "oil and gas bill," Senate Bill 181) play a role in whom you choose to help elect, you also might appreciate this scorecard from Conservation Colorado.

The Denver-based nonprofit gave state lawmakers "scores" based on how they voted on "priority bills that affect Colorado’s land, water, climate, and communities." (Conservation Colorado isn't affiliated with a political party.)

The rankings are based on five bills related to "climate and clean energy," the oil and gas bill, two transportation bills, and five bills related to "land, water and wildlife." Most were approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat.

Environmental issues appear to be more polarizing then mental health, based on a comparison of the two scorecards. While Mental Health Colorado assigned scores across the spectrum, most lawmakers got either an A+ or an F when it came to conservation.

Spoiler alert: Three El Paso County Republicans (Tim Geitner, Dave Williams and Shane Sandridge) got big, fat zeroes from Conservation Colorado. For voters who don't like environmental regulations, that could, of course, be a good thing.

Here's a handful of included bills you maybe haven't heard of (and you can view the rest at Conservation Colorado's website):

House Bill 1026: "Parks and Wildlife Violations of Law" increases fines for violations of laws enforced by Colorado Parks and Wildlife — such as possessing live wildlife without a license, fishing without a license, or hunting without a hunter education certificate. It also changes the way fine revenue is distributed.

House Bill 1050: "Encourage Use of Xeriscape in Common Areas" prevents homeowners associations from prohibiting drought-tolerant landscaping in common areas. (There's already a law protecting individual property owners in HOAs who want to xeriscape.) It also requires special districts to allow such landscaping in open space and park land.

House Bill 1113: "Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts" essentially tells hardrock mines they can’t say that water quality can be maintained only through treating water for an indefinite period; they must show that their reclamation plan will lead to an end date for such measures. They must also provide financial assurances "in an amount sufficient to protect water resources, including costs for any necessary water quality 
protection, treatment, and monitoring,” according to the bill's fiscal note.

House Bill 1231: "New Appliance Energy And Water Efficiency Standards," according to Conservation Colorado, "sets new energy and water efficiency standards for many household appliances sold in our state, benefitting Colorado consumers, businesses and our environment."

House Bill 1264: Under a conservation easement agreement, a property owner agrees to limit the use of their land to serve a conservation purpose, in exchange for a state income tax credit. This bill, "Conservation Easement Improvements," extends the state's Conservation Easement Oversight Commission and the conservation easement certification program, and makes various changes to the process.

House Bill 1314: "Just Transition From Coal-based Electrical Energy Economy" creates the "Just Transition Office" to provide benefits for former employees of retired coal plants, award grants, and receive utility reports related to coal plant retirement.

Senate Bill 181: "Protect Public Welfare Oil & Gas Operations" makes major changes to the way the oil and gas industry is regulated in Colorado. It grants local governments broad powers to regulate oil and gas operations, including to “zone land use for mineral resource development, to site, monitor, and inspect oil and gas facilities, and to impose fees and fines,” according the bill’s fiscal note.

Senate Bill 236: This bill, "Sunset Public Utilities Commission," will "help Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission — the regulatory body responsible for determining which resources to use to power Colorado’s grid — drastically reduce these emissions by directing utilities in the state to generate more carbon-free electricity and consider the 'social cost' of carbon when planning future energy projects," according to the nonprofit. The bill requires a $1.1 million appropriation to multiple state agencies.

Here's how El Paso County legislators scored, on a 100-point scale.

• Rep. Terri Carver (R): 15

Carver opposed all of the bills except HB 1026 and HB 1113.

• Rep. Tony Exum (D): 100

Exum was excused for HB 1231, HB 1314, SB 236 and HB 1264, but voted for all of other the bills.

• Rep. Tim Geitner (R): 0

Geitner opposed all of the bills.

• Rep. Lois Landgraf (R): 8

Landgraf opposed all of the bills except HB 1050. She was excused for HB 1026.

• Rep. Larry Liston (R): 15

Liston opposed all of the bills except HB 1264 and HB 1050.

• Rep. Shane Sandridge (R): 0

Sandridge opposed all of the bills.

• Rep. Marc Snyder (D): 100

Snyder voted for all of the bills.

• Rep. Dave Williams (R): 0

Williams opposed all of the bills.

• Sen. Bob Gardner (R): 8

Gardner opposed all of the bills except HB 1264.

• Sen. Owen Hill (R): 8

Hill opposed all of the bills except HB 1264.

• Sen. Dennis Hisey (R): 17

Hisey opposed all of the bills except HB 1264 and HB 1050.

• Sen. Pete Lee (D): 100

Lee voted for all of the bills.

• Rep. Paul Lundeen (R): 8

Lundeen opposed all of the bills except HB 1264.
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Monday, June 24, 2019

Bike to Work Day is June 26

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day. - ALLEN BEAUCHAMP
  • Allen Beauchamp
  • Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.

Colorado Springs' Bike to Work Day is June 26, and there are plenty of reason to press your feet the pedals — starting with your stomach. The event, for which the Independent is a sponsor, features over 30 locations for cyclists to get a free breakfast including local businesses with yummy offerings. (Find yours on the map!)

You don't have to register to get breakfast, but you are encouraged to: It's a way for the city to judge how many people are getting out on their bikes and that factors into a lot of decision-making on how best to accommodate cyclists. You can register as late as the morning of Bike to Work Day!

Feeling nervous about your route? Check the city's bike map to figure out the safest way from home to work.

By the way, Bike to Work Day is just one of many events for Bike Month. So be sure to check out the other happenings.

Here are some tips to keep you safe on the road:

Under state law bicyclists are considered vehicles, however, they are much more vulnerable on the road. Please consider the following safety suggestions to help make for a pleasant ride to work that morning.
• People get around our city on foot, in car, by bus, on bikes and wheelchairs. Let’s be mindful so that we all arrive safely.
• Always wear a helmet.
• Always signal when riding on the road and obey all Colorado traffic laws.
• Be visible and alert to surroundings.
• Respect and be considerate of others on the roads and trails.

Want to hit a Happy Hour on the ride home and get a special deal? Here's the list:

Stop at any one of the local breweries listed below for a special deal as you bike home from work:
• Brass Brewing Co. (318 E. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Brewer’s Republic (112 N. Nevada Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Cerberus Brewing Co. (702 W. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• FH Beer Works Downtown (521 S. Tejon St), $1 off pints for riders
• FH Beer Works East (2490 Victor Pl/ Rock Island Trail & Powers), $1 off pints for riders
• Goat Patch Brewing Co. (2727 N Cascade Ave, #123/ Lincoln Center), BOGO for riders
• Local Relic (320 S. Weber St), ½ off first flight or full pour, plus BOGO select bottles
• Peaks N Pines Brewery (4005 Tutt Boulevard 80922), BOGO for riders
• Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 East Pikes Peak Avenue 80903), free pint with purchase of an appetizer ($10 minimum)
• Storybook Brewing Co. (3121A, N El Paso St), BOGO for riders on BTWD, 10% off for riders all year
• Tap Traders (3104 N Nevada Ave #100), BOGO for riders on BTWD
• Trails End Taproom (3103 W. Colorado Ave), 15% off beer pours for riders
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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

City tries "gutter bins" to keep cigarette butts out of creek

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 3:38 PM

"Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • "Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks.
To keep pollution out of waterways, city staff are thinking outside the box — and have their minds in the gutter.

In May, the city installed "gutter bins" in three downtown locations. The sock-like devices catch cigarette butts, pieces of Styrofoam coffee cups or whatever else people happen to discard that would otherwise flow down the gutter and, eventually, into the creek.

"The other day we pulled about 15 pounds out of one of them," says city stormwater specialist Jerry Cordova. "...We actually found a brand-new softball."

Cordova's team plans to try out the three bins for a while and possibly add them later in other parts of the city. The devices, manufactured by environmental technology company Frog Creek Partners, come with a price tag, but the bin lids are customizable — so companies who want to "sponsor" a gutter bin could have their names etched on the top, Cordova adds.

"This is one opportunity to [improve the water quality] without making a huge investment up front: Try it, see how it works and we can always scale this larger," he says.

Cordova also runs the Adopt-A-Waterway Program, which allows businesses and organizations to "adopt" a stretch of creek by keeping it clean in exchange for getting their name on a sign. And the city's Creek Week event draws hundreds of volunteers to clean up trash along Fountain Creek each fall.

While volunteers in those two programs can see the immediate difference that picking up trash for a day or two makes, Cordova points out that small pieces of litter accumulated over time can also harm the creek ecosystem.

The "gutter bin" lids are customizable. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • The "gutter bin" lids are customizable.
When someone walking downtown sees a cigarette butt discarded on the sidewalk, they may think, "Oh it's just a cigarette butt," Cordova says.

"But think about all the health warnings that you see about cigarettes and the dangers of smoking. ... Well, all those toxins get stuck in that little filter, that cigarette butt — so when that gets into our water, it's been leaching those chemicals into the water."

What's more, he says, fish will often eat cigarette butts floating on the water, and water fowl nibble them up while pecking at the ground for food.

"It seems like something small, but little things can make big differences, positive or negative, and so that's why we wanted these filters to capture those little pieces that many people overlook," Cordova says.
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Monday, June 17, 2019

Air Force diverted $66 million from other projects for PFAS cleanup

Posted By on Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 6:06 PM

Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield. - U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • U.S. Air Force/Eddie Green
  • Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield.
In March, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked the Department of Defense for details about funding diverted from other projects to pay for cleanup and testing for PFAS, a toxic group of man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam.

On June 5, the DoD responded to Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware by acknowledging that the Air Force had diverted $66.6 million from other projects to pay for PFAS-related efforts. The Army and Navy did not have to divert any funding, according to the DoD's letter.

Many of the projects put on hold involved cleaning up other pollution at former Air Force sites.

They included a $37 million landfill cap repair and soil remediation project at Galena Air Force Station in Alaska, a $8.6 million radiological cleanup at McClellan Air Force Base in California, and $4.5 million groundwater bioremediation and landfill cap repair at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan.

The funding diverted from those and other projects paid for PFAS testing at 16 former Air Force installations, along with groundwater and drinking water treatment for communities around Wurtsmith, Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire and March Air Reserve Base in California.

“Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars—perhaps billions of dollars—in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities," Sen. Carper said in a statement following the announcement. "Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination."
Lawmakers are looking to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which funds the Department of Defense, to procure more funding for PFAS testing and cleanup.

The bill already requires the DoD to phase out all firefighting foam that contains PFAS by 2023. While military installations including Peterson Air Force Base have switched to a version thought to be safer, and have stopped using the foam for training purposes, the military continues to use foam with "short-chain" PFAS chemicals, thought to be safer for public health and the environment.

On June 13, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would reimburse water districts (including those in Security-Widefield and Fountain) for treating and mitigating PFAS in drinking water.

“In the wake of contamination, local water districts around Peterson Air Force Base took the initiative and covered the cleanup costs to ensure the safety of drinking water for residents,” Bennet said in a statement. “This amendment will ensure these districts receive the full reimbursement they deserve.”

A separate amendment filed by a bipartisan group of senators would expand monitoring and testing of PFAS, and set a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFAS, two types of PFAS chemicals once found in firefighting foam.
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Friday, June 7, 2019

PFAS chemicals found in food illustrate scale of toxic problem

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2019 at 12:35 PM

  • Shutterstock
The PFAS problem just got a little scarier.

According to a leaked sampling results presented at an international conference in May, Food and Drug Administration researchers detected toxic, man-made PFAS chemicals in produce, meat, dairy, grain and seafood products across the U.S.

"This really is another blow to those who live in contaminated areas who are already experiencing negative economic impacts and fears of elevated health risks from PFAS contamination," says Jamie C. DeWitt, a pharmacology and toxicology professor at North Carolina State University.

A few days after the results were leaked, The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged it's investigating public exposure to the toxic, man-made chemicals through the food supply.

"The widespread use of PFAS and their ability to remain intact in the environment means that over time PFAS levels from past and current uses can result in increasing levels of contamination of ground water and soil," reads a recently added page on the FDA's website. "...PFAS can occur in food primarily through environmental contamination, including contaminated water and soil used to grow the food."

Advocates note that PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge, which contains waste from residential and industrial sources, could spread PFAS to soil when used as fertilizer. Currently, there are no federal regulations requiring testing of sludge for PFAS.

There are more than 5,000 chemicals in the PFAS group. Their use in household cooking products, food packaging, paints, fabrics and firefighting foam was once more widespread, but studies linking two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to serious health conditions has led to some efforts by government agencies to limit them.

Colorado recently banned the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS (except when required by the military).

And several years ago, the FDA got manufacturers of certain “long-chain” PFAS chemicals, thought to be more harmful to health and the environment, to agree to stop using them in items such as nonstick pans and packaging.

However, little is known about the health and environmental effects of newer, "short-chain" chemicals still in use by manufacturers. Some environmental advocates dispute that they are much safer.

Leaked results obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization, show that FDA researchers found PFOS — one of the more widely studied, long-chain PFAS chemicals — in approximately half of the meat and seafood products they tested from across the U.S. But the FDA determined the levels of PFOS in those products probably weren't a health concern.

However, chocolate cake with chocolate icing contained high levels of a little-studied short-chain chemical, PFPeA. That chemical was never approved by the FDA for use in products that contact food, says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund. Neltner hypothesized that the contamination came through greaseproof paper.

"That may happen because of a loophole in the law that says the company can determine something is safe without ever telling FDA," Neltner says.

The researchers also found PFBA (a short-chain chemical once used to make photographic film) in pineapple samples, and PFHxS in sweet potatoes.

PFHxS, like PFOS, is a long-chain chemical previously used by the military in firefighting foam. Notably, residents who lived near the Peterson Air Force Base while the foam was in use recently tested for blood levels of this chemical 10 times higher than that of the general population.

The leaked results describe how PFAS in firefighting foam contaminated milk samples at a dairy farm in New Mexico near an Air Force base. Those products were determined to be unfit for consumption and discarded.

Finally, according to the leaked presentation, the researchers detected the PFAS chemical GenX and numerous other PFAS in samples of leafy greens grown within 10 miles of a PFAS production facility in the eastern United States — though they determined those levels probably did not constitute a health concern.
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gov. Polis signs final bills into law, announces five vetoes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5.

At a June 3 appearance in Colorado Springs, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said this year's legislative session delivered victories for health care and education.

He emphasized that 95 percent of the 454 bills he signed "were bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats working together to make Colorado better."

Polis vetoed five bills on May 31, three of which concerned state occupational licensing requirements. The vetoes drew consternation from lawmakers in Polis' own party, including Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge. Duran sponsored House Bill 1212, which would have extended a program requiring managers of homeowners associations, or HOAs, to have state licenses.

“We are greatly disappointed that the work we have done to protect homeowners’ biggest investments in their lifetime — their homes — has been undone," Duran said via a statement from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Colorado Legislative Action Committee. CAI is an international membership organization for homeowners, HOA managers and businesses that provide services for HOAs.
"Managers of HOAs will no longer have to be licensed, which means they are not required to have background checks, demonstrate any knowledge of core competencies, show they understand Colorado HOA law or get continuing education," Duran continued.

On the other hand, Polis' vetoes drew rare approval from some conservatives.

“Governor Polis is right to veto legislation that makes it harder for Coloradans to find work," said Jesse Mallory, the state director of libertarian and conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Mallory was quoted in a statement from the group.

"Too often occupational licenses—government permission slips to work—are misused to protect entrenched interests, slamming the door on the dreams of would-be entrepreneurs," he added.

With his veto statement, Polis issued an executive order directing the Department of Regulatory Agencies to review existing and potential laws around HOAs and their managers, and recommend strategies for "efficient and effective" regulation.

"Before any unregulated occupation is to be regulated, or any regulated occupation is to be continued, the state should complete its due diligence to ensure that regulation will, in fact, ensure consumer safety in a cost-efficient manner," Polis wrote in his veto letter. "This bill does not meet that threshold."

Similarly, Polis vetoed Senate Bills 99 and 133, which would have required licenses for sports agents and genetic counselors. Both bills were sponsored by Democrats.

"Licensing in the United States over the years has at times prevented minorities and the economically disadvantaged from having the ability to access occupations," Polis wrote.

He also vetoed Senate Bill 169, which would have made changes to the budget submission process for information technology projects, saying that it limited the governor's ability to manage state contracts.

House Bill 1305 would have given tribal governments access to state databases for conducting background checks in child welfare cases. In his veto letter, Polis said the bill contained errors that would have forced tribes to comply with state child protection requirements. So in place of the bill, he issued an executive order allowing tribal governments access to the state databases while leaving out those mandates.

"In Colorado, we respect our government-to-government relationship with the Tribes," Polis wrote. "We also are committed to making resources available to assist the Tribes in conducting their governmental responsibilities."

In other news, here's some highlights from the list of bills Polis recently signed.


House Bill 1032: "Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education" appropriates money ($1 million annually) for the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education, closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements. It also prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching religious ideology, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, employing gender stereotypes, or excluding the experiences of LGBT individuals.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose
House Bill 1110: "Media Literacy" creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for ways to teach K-12 students how to read news critically, and discern fake news from the real thing. It allocates $19,800 from the state's general fund to the Department of Education for this purpose.
  • Sponsors: Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood
Senate Bill 007: “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” requires higher education campuses to adopt policies on sexual misconduct based on minimum requirements set out in the bill. It provides for oversight and requires training on the policies.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Pettersen and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora


House Bill 1039: "Identity Documents For Transgender Persons" makes it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation).
  • Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City
House Bill 1129: "Prohibit Conversion Therapy for A Minor" prevents licensed mental health and medical professionals from attempting to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy. Democrats, who won control of the Senate last fall, were finally able to pass this bill on the fifth annual attempt.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Esgar, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder


House Bill 1176: The "Health Care Cost Savings Act of 2019" creates a task force to analyze the costs of alternative health care financing systems, such as single-payer, and make a report to state legislators. Polis signed the bill, but noted his concern that the bill's appropriation (around $100,000) wouldn't be enough to hire an analyst. He directed the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to let him know in October whether legislators should request more money next session.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette
House Bill 1279: "Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances" bans firefighting foam that contains certain toxic, man-made chemicals: those classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (An amendment to the bill makes an exception for when PFAS-containing foam is "required for a military purpose.") The bill also requires manufacturers to disclose when personal protective equipment contains PFAS.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs
Senate Bill 077: "Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services" requires public utilities to facilitate charging stations and to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver


House Bill 1324: "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" adds protections against lawsuits viewed by First Amendment advocates, media organizations and others at infringing upon free speech. Specifically, it allows defendants accused of libel or slander to ask a judge to dismiss a civil case on the grounds that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Cutter and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Sen. Foote
Senate Bill 179: "Enhance School Safety Incident Response Grant Program" adds funding to an existing state program, which funds nonprofit-led school safety training for law enforcement and school districts. The bill appropriates $1.16 million to the Department of Public Safety for the program.
  • Sponsors: Sen. Lee and Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida
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