GMOs make November's ballot; water, air and energy make news, too 


This week in SimpliCity, we're looking at issues unfolding within various levels of government. You'll soon be asked to vote on one, and can take action on another immediately.


Last Wednesday, the Colorado Secretary of State verified the signatures to place Initiative 48, regarding the labeling of genetically modified food, on November's ballot. The question now: Can Colorado once again be in the vanguard, as it was for recreational marijuana, in the battle for GMO transparency?

More than 171,000 signatures were collected (with only 86,105 needed), turning the initiative into Proposition 105. It would require that "food that has been genetically modified or treated with genetically modified material" be labeled "Produced With Genetic Engineering" starting July 1, 2016.

Whether that would be in small type on a product's nutrition panel, or splashed on the front packaging (should Prop 105 become law) would be decided by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. For now, spokesperson Mark Salley says, "No implementation plans have been made."

Larry Cooper represents Right to Know Colorado, which campaigned for the GMO initiative. Of anticipated opposition to the proposition, he says, "My question is, 'What are you hiding?' If GMOs are safe, as you say they are, why not label the food? ... We have a right to know what's in our food."

A recent Slate article says that in 2014 alone, 25 states have proposed 67 pieces of GMO-labeling-related legislation. But opposition tends to be fierce: In 2012 in California, for instance, more than $46 million was spent to beat one ballot measure down.

In May, Vermont became the first state to push a GMO-labeling mandate through. But it has since been beset by a federal lawsuit initiated by four national groups, including the Snack Food Association (hide yo' kids!), claiming the bill is unconstitutional. Vermont's attorney general is defending the law and, according to the Burlington Free Press, projects an $8 million fight.

How much does Right to Know have on hand for a battle?

"We don't have any money," says Cooper. "But I believe Coloradans are very intelligent and know what GMOs are and are concerned about knowing what's in their food. I think it's going to be very hard to confuse them."

Ahead of November, Right to Know is calling for volunteers and contributions. Find them at righttoknowcolorado.org.

'Hey, hey, EPA!'

Public comment periods are open at the Environmental Protection Agency through Oct. 16 on the Rule on Waters of the U.S., and through Oct. 20 on the Clean Power Plan. And Kim Stevens, campaign director at Denver-based Environment Colorado, a citizen-based advocacy group, says these federal rulings have "huge implications for Colorado."

The Rule on Waters seeks to close decade-old loopholes — "polluter-driven court decisions" that "gutted the Clean Water Act," Stevens says. "Every polluting industry is working to keep this from moving forward."

The Clean Power Plan, meanwhile, has seen the coal industry cry foul over a call to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels in coming years. Those account for 40 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions, representing the single largest contributing factor to global warming, she adds.

Speaking on both efforts, Stevens says: "We're in the most amazing spot we've ever been. The EPA has named this their top priority, also the president, who came up with the idea for the carbon rules and for closing the loopholes ... We need to organize and show support."

Comments can be made at epa.gov or via Environment Colorado at environmentcolorado.org.

Grid grab

On Friday, Aug. 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the 2011 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 1000, which, according to Environmental Defense Fund attorney and writer Michael Panfil, "aids in the promise of a cleaner, smarter, and more efficient power grid."

A Think Progress article posted last week by writer Ari Phillips sifts through the dense language to sum up why this mandate will "level the playing field for independent transmission projects." Basically, he writes, Order 1000 will facilitate "the coordinated construction of the many new and updated electric transmission lines needed as fossil fuel and renewable energy projects come online in disparate parts of the country" while also "making it easier for large-scale renewable energy projects to connect to the grid."

Reached for further clarification on Order 1000's significance, SunShare's David Amster-Olszewski says "it's like going from analog to digital. It increases our capacity to do more things faster ... this ruling says how we're going to get it done and funded."

When he spoke at the EPA's Clean Power Plan hearing in Denver, Amster-Olszewski noted that his own business model was illegal until the Colorado Community Solar Gardens Act came along a few years ago, making Colorado the first state in the nation to pass such legislation.

"How we invest in this asset, the grid," he says, "will define our ability to scale up solar and wind meaningfully. It will be one thing to get solar above 1 percent [of our energy production], but quite another to hit 10 or 30 percent."

Order 1000 had been challenged by the South Carolina Public Service Authority, which took issue with states being forced to collaborate on a regional level with energy transmission plans and associated costs for new capacity.



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