Colorado Editorial Roundup
Posted April 19
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, April 14, on a water conservation plan for Colorado:
We're all familiar with the anticipated water supply gap that gave rise to Gov. John Hickenlooper's executive order calling for the formulation of a state water plan.
That plan has been completed and the Colorado Water Conservation Board has sketched out an implementation measures with cost-effective ways to make the most of every drop.
The Legislature can do its part by passing a bipartisan bill that would embed urban water conservation into land-use decisions — something the staff at the Colorado River District has advised the Sentinel's editorial board as a key to reducing pressure to divert Western Slope water to the thirsty Front Range.
HB1273 is sponsored by Reps. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Hugh McKean R-Loveland, and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Matt Jones, D-Louisville.
The bill essentially requires that all new development be built "water-smart" from the start. It closes a loophole that allows new home developments to be less water-wise than they're capable of.
This idea fits squarely within existing attitudes among Westerners about water conservation. A recent Conservation in the West Poll conducted by Colorado College as part of its State of the Rockies Project shows 77 percent of Colorado voters surveyed favor using water supply more wisely by encouraging conservation, reducing use and recycling. In contrast only 15 percent favor diverting water from rivers in less populated areas of the state to communities where more people live.
Colorado's population is predicted to double by 2050, which means communities throughout the state will need more water than they currently have. As Western Resource Advocates points out, building new homes water-smart from the start is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most politically viable ways to reduce water needs — yet current law does not require new developments to even list the water-wise actions that are planned to reduce use.
The bill changes current law to require new developments to describe the water-conservation and demand-management actions that will be implemented, and makes a review of those actions an explicit part of the permit approval process. It prohibits local governments from approving permit applications unless applicants demonstrate that appropriate water conservation and demand management measures have been included in the water supply plan.
Common-sense strategies available to new home developers include low-water toilets and showerheads, efficient irrigation and xeriscaping. Local governments would decide which strategies for new development work best in their communities.
The bill would help fill the state's water-supply gap, which will stifle economic development if not properly addressed. It will keep more water in Western Slope rivers for recreation and tourism.
Throughout the West, nine in 10 voters are willing to reduce the amount of water their households use. This bill helps meet that enlightened view.
The bill has passed the House and awaits a committee assignment in the Senate. We urge senators to support it and help the state continue to make strides toward eliminating the supply gap.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, April 13, on air quality near oil and gas operations:
A group of 17 Colorado state politicians have outed themselves as science deniers, in writing. No amount of empirical scientific data, regarding a pollution concern, seems good enough if it does not further their political agenda.
At issue is an environmental report issued in February by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding fracking and other forms of oil and gas extraction. The department is part of the administration of Gov. John Hickenlooper, a liberal Democrat.
Hickenlooper is so concerned with global warming that he vowed to march on with something similar to President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, even after the Supreme Court of the United States put the president's energy regulations on hold.
Worried about potential negative effects oil and gas mining have on air quality, the governor's environmental agency assessed more than 10,000 air quality samples taken near oil and gas operations.
The agency used the samples to examine 62 substances of concern for people living or working within 500 feet of fossil fuel production rigs.
The scientific assessment found concentrations of toxins, surrounding oil and gas wells, are lower than standard limits set for short- and long-term exposure. Cancer risks near oil and gas rigs are within the EPA's range of "acceptable risk."
With 10,000 samples to examine, the evidence is overwhelming. We'd call it a consensus of scientific proof that oil and gas rigs don't harm our air.
Environmentally conscious legislators should be celebrating. The study could help them sleep at night, as it finds our state's oil and gas wells pose no imminent health risk.
Lo, they are not dancing in the aisles. Instead, they are protesting good news.
Oil and gas opponents apparently wanted polluted air. They wanted a report that could help them shut down fracking. That's why state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, led 16 other Democratic senators and representatives to sign a letter complaining about the study.
Jones has been a leading advocate of legislation designed to regulate fracking into oblivion.
"Since CDPHE is charged with protecting the health of the people of Colorado, this study should use the precautionary principle that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous," the letter states.
State environmental officials did their jobs. They looked for bad air. That's why they examined 10,000 samples for 62 compounds.
They released honest, objective scientific data that show our air is clean in the immediate vicinity of oil and gas production operations. They found nothing to suggest we should shut down an industry that provides high-wage jobs by harvesting resources that heat our homes and fuel our cars.
Brow-beaten by anti-energy fundamentalism, state officials vow to "continue to evaluate health risks using more comprehensive, relevant data currently being collected." The February report, state officials say, merely "evaluates the existing science."
"Existing science" is settled science, unless and until conflicting data emerge. Science has spoken, and fracking does harm our air. Activist legislators should stop denying scientific proof to further a political crusade against energy.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, April 14, on Colorado and federal marijuana rules:
Earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper joined governors from other states that have legalized cannabis consumption — both for medical use and just for fun — in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Extending an olive branch, the governors reasonably ask the Trump Cabinet members to "engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems."
The letter asks for a continuation of the status quo as practiced by the Obama administration, and we completely agree. Overall, as we have argued many times in our pages, the legalization experiment has been a success. Gone are the bad old days of filling jails and prisons with users of a drug that's shown again and again to be safer than alcohol.
Hickenlooper's collaboration with his peers should matter to Sessions and Mnuchin, and not simply because he is the governor of the first state to open its doors to legal recreational cannabis sales. The former businessman certainly cannot be called a stooge for the weed industry. Hickenlooper was against the voter-approved Amendment 64 that legalized recreational sales here, and he maintains an arms-length approach to the experiment.
At the governor's behest last week, lawmakers gutted a bill that would have paved the way for bring-your-own marijuana social clubs. Hickenlooper is expected to soon sign two other anti-marijuana bills: one will crack down on Colorado's gray market by prohibiting co-op grows that allow cultivators to collectively grow their allotted plants; the second sets a strict limit on how many plants can be grown in residential areas.
When asked about his stance on expanded legalization by The Cannabist's Alicia Wallace last month, Hickenlooper noted he tells other governors considering the change, that "they should wait a year or two, maybe three years. Get more data and make sure there aren't unintended consequences. I don't think there needs to be any rush toward a sudden nationwide transformation. Let's make sure we get it right first."
Hardly the words or actions of a pot zealot white-knuckling the armchair with fears of the feds.
And yet, Hickenlooper notes in the same interview that Colorado has not seen a spike in teen use, nor has it seen a big increase in people's consumption of cannabis. The black market has largely been tamed here, though there are admittedly some lingering problems on that front: problems that would of course mushroom under at Trump administration crackdown. The state operates a robust regulatory framework that makes sure the product people are buying is safe. Tax revenue has benefited the state also.
"I'd say that the experiment — as it continues to move forward — has gone better certainly than I anticipated and I think certainly better than many people anticipated," Hickenlooper said.
But the governor holds out no hope that a reversal of Obama's policies in a state that now has a flourishing cannabis industry would unfold without great mishap. Lawmakers are working on getting an in-case-of-crackdown bill to the governor's desk. It would allow recreational cultivators to transfer their plants to the medical side to avoid federal confiscation.
President Trump said on the campaign trail that legal-weed states should be left alone. It's been truly odd seeing him allow Sessions to send jitters through the legal marketplace.
Trump, Sessions and Mnuchin should answer the governors' letter quickly, and with kindness, as Hickenlooper appears to be on their side most of the time with his reasonable, moderate approach.
The (Longmont) Times-Call, April 16, on license fee hikes for hunting and fishing:
Hunters and anglers in Colorado rely on Colorado Parks and Wildlife to maintain habitat and keep the state's lakes and reservoirs stocked. So paying license fees makes sense. In fact, it's critical for them to pay their way, because the department is funded without tax dollars.
But the prospect of 50 percent increases in the cost of licenses gives some of those who hunt and fish a different view of the state's "Hug a hunter/Hug an angler" campaign. Some fear that House Bill 17-1321, which would allow Colorado's Parks and Wildlife Commission to raise hunting and fishing fees by as much as 50 percent, would be license to pick their pockets during the embrace.
The thought of a 50 percent hike raises the question of whether everyone who takes advantage of Colorado's great outdoors is carrying their weight. After all, why should those who hunt and fish carry the burden for items such as dam repair, parks infrastructure and law enforcement upgrades when hikers, cyclists, kayakers and other outdoors enthusiasts don't pay anything?
That's a fair point, although anglers should not complain about their fees helping to pay for boat inspection stations that keep lakes and reservoirs free of nuisance species. Fisheries aren't maintained for hikers. And hunters need wilderness to be conserved and big game populations to be maintained. Hunting and fishing licenses are not new, nor are they unique to Colorado.
Further, it's been 12 years since the Colorado Legislature raised hunting and fishing fees. Revisiting fees now is not out of line.
But introducing a 32-page bill in April is pushing things a bit, especially for fees that will affect Colorado residents and could be a deterrent to out-of-state visitors. As Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo told the Denver Post, "It always worries me when we get later and later in the session and things get snuck into pieces of legislation and then we are left to deal with them for years to come. These types of changes will be around for a long time."
Considering that Parks and Wildlife held 18 statewide meetings last year to discuss the need for increasing fees, a bill introduced almost three months into the session has to raise questions about whether lawmakers can give it the consideration it deserves, and the public plenty of opportunities to hear and comment on how any new fees will be spent.
While we're not opposed to increasing fees for hunting and fishing — the privilege of fishing in Colorado's lakes and streams is worth the current $25 and then some — we are for making sure that lawmakers take time to consider their effect on the state.