April 1st, 2014
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act. I was happy to accompany many individuals at the Capitol to celebrate the beauty of Colorado’s wilderness. Representative Hamner and I welcomed John Fielder, a renowned Colorado nature photographer, and David Mason, Colorado Poet Laureate. Both John’s and David’s work captures the glory and vitality of Colorado’s wilderness area and their contributions help preserve nature for generations to come.
In my district alone, there are several wilderness areas protected under the 1964 act: Gunnison Gorge, Uncompahgre, Weminuche, West Elks, Maroon Bells, Collegiate Peak, and Raggeds. Below is a tribute to the Wilderness Act of 1964 as presented at the event on Monday.
We acknowledge and celebrate the National Wilderness Preservation System, and the positive impact that it has had on Colorado. The bipartisan Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System and through the act, along with subsequent additions, we have protected 3.6 million acres of Colorado’s most magnificent public lands. In Colorado, some of our most iconic places protected as wilderness, including: the Maroon Bells, Dominguez Canyon, the Flat Tops, the Collegiate Peaks, the Great Sand Dunes, much of Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Indian Peaks are some shining examples of the diverse lands and ecosystems in our state. The National Wilderness Preservation System protects and sustains habitats and watersheds while supporting Colorado’s vibrant outdoor recreation economy which generates over $13 billion in direct spending annually. Protected lands are widely supported by the citizens of Colorado. Let us honor the uniquely American qualities of the National Wilderness Preservation System’s accomplishment, a remarkable societal compact whereby the American people elevated stewardship. In this golden anniversary year of 2014, we invite all Americans to visit and enjoy Colorado’s wilderness areas, to learn about their history, and to aid in their continuing protection and stewardship.
March 3rd, 2014
As you may have learned from my communication statewide this summer, the state is developing the Colorado Water Plan that focuses on how to address long-term water needs. In the headwaters region, stream flows and the environment are two critical elements that influence our economy. You can just ask our fishing, rafting, and tourism industries what impact drought has on our economy when water temperature rises, our rivers run low, or sometimes even run dry. Over the interim the Water Resources Review Committee, we worked on legislation to help better utilize this precious resource, while protecting Colorado’s prior appropriation doctrine. I will be sponsoring the water legislation below.
HB14-1026 – Flexible Water Markets – Flexible Water Markets is a new concept developed from a state sponsored research study. It will create a more flexible change-in-use system for water rights by allowing a water right owner to apply for a “flexible use” designation when fallowing, reducing consumptive-use cropping, non-consumptive uses, water banking, or developing other alternatives to prevent the permanent dry-up of irrigated lands. The water right resulting from this change-in-use case can be flexibly applied to different uses based on the yearly conditions.
SB14-023 – Reduced diversions through water efficiency savings -This bill is a product of a several years of effort identifying incentives for agricultural water efficiency. Last year, SB13-019 protected our headwaters by allowing water right owners to conserve by diverting less five out of every ten years without it impacting their historical consumptive use. After an extensive stakeholder process, this year I introduced a bill to incent irrigation efficiency and not penalize the water rights of those making irrigation infrastructure improvements. It will allow the “saved” non-consumptive water from efficiency upgrades to be put back into the stream while protecting the water rights holders and downstream users.
HB14-1030 – Hydroelectric Generation Incentives – Small hydroelectric generation is an underdeveloped resource that can be a valuable asset to the irrigation community in particular. This bill aligns Colorado with the recent streamlining requirements for small hydro approvals by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). HB14-1030 will ensure that project applicants can simultaneously clear federal and state review as quickly as 60 days without weakening or undermining the safety of the environment and can add new jobs to Colorado’s Economy.
SB14-115 – Public Comment and General Assembly Approval of the Water Plan – SB14-115 establishes the state legislature’s role in developing Colorado’s new water plan, which will outline the future of our state’s most vital natural resource. When dealing with something as important as the Colorado Water Plan, it is necessary that as many voices are heard as possible, including elected officials involvement along with their constituents. This bill will broaden the scope of participation in this planning process. SB14-115 seeks more input and also affirms the countless hours of effort put into the plan by Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and stakeholders at the grassroots level to reach out to all Coloradans. Everyone should have an opinion on this plan and I encourage you all to get involved.
Senate District 5
We are Listening
Health Care Resort Rates: Community meeting on health care rates in mountain communities
Earlier this month Representative Hamner and I hosted a meeting in El Jebel, Eagle County to discuss the resort rates and access to health care in mountain communities. Commissioner Marguerite Salazar and health care providers addressed local officials, business owners, and individuals, and community members offered many helpful concerns and solutions. At the meeting many issues were identified including access to catastrophic plans for individuals over 30 years old. We have since worked to assure that a catastrophic plan is now available and can be accessed through the Connect for Health Colorado website.
I have follow up meetings scheduled with Commissioner Salazar, County Commissioners, and interested citizens so we can continue to find a solution to the high resort rates health care costs our workforce and community members are facing. In the near future, we are planning another meeting in Summit County to address
Delta County: Community meeting on the mine idling and resulting job loss
On February 8th I helped organize a meeting with state resources in Paonia to discuss how the community can recover following the significant job losses resulting from the idling of the Elk Creek mine. OEDIT hosted a follow-up meeting this week to further discuss the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Program to continue their efforts to support the community.
Stay Updated & Informed
- State Water Plan
- Update on Hemp in Colorado
- Registration will be available March 1, 2014.
- Judicial Learning Center – If you are planning a visit to the capitol, make sure to reserve a tour of the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Learning Center. It is a great way for students and adults to learn about our court system and tour this important new building.
- March 7th – 5pm Town Hall @ CMC in Leadville
- March 8th – Chafee County
- March 15th – Pitkin County
- March 22nd – Eagle County
- March 23rd – Gunnison County
Committee Smart Act Hearings for the Department of Natural Resources
HB14-1021: Concerning violations on Independence Pass. Thanks for the support in committee from Commissioner Newman, Sherriff DiSalvo, and County Manager Jon Peacock
I’m honored to have received COSEIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve sponsored over 30 energy bills over the past 8 years to diversify our energy portfolio.
Thank you to Girl Scout Troop 2518 for their testimony and research on HB14-1024 which designates the Claret Cup Cactus as Colorado’s official state cactus.
Colorado Senate Majority Whip
Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Chair
Capital Development Committee, Chair
Local Government Committee, Member
Business, Labor & Technology, Member
Water Resources Review Interim Committee, Chair
Joint Technology Committee, Member
InterBasin Compact Committee (IBCC), Legislative Representative
Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE) , Member
Colorado Tourism Board, Member
February 27th, 2014
Published on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
People came to hear what state and local agencies could do to help those without work due to the idling of Elk Creek Mine in Somerset. The community meeting was held at EnergyTech in Paonia on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Sen. Gail Schwartz had organized the meeting and was joined by Rep. Millie Hamner and facilitator Reeves Brown, who is the executive director of the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Also participating were Ray Lucero of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Elyse Ackerman of DOLA, Darcy Owens-Trask of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Mike Ludlow of Oxbow Corporation, Caryn Gibson of Delta County Public Schools, Sarah Carlquist of Delta County Economic Development and John Jones of Delta-Montrose Technical College.
A sheet was available to those attending, with the contact information for each of the speakers so that those attending could be in contact with them. The meeting ran a half hour longer than planned, but those with questions still unanswered could reach the different speakers later for answers and direction.
Sen. Schwartz thanked everyone for “taking time on a snowy Saturday afternoon to visit with us. I feel today is an important meeting.” Her hope was the meeting would “provide insights into some of the opportunities available at the state level for Delta County, the community and your industry.” Sen. Schwartz stressed the contributions of the generations of coal miners “that have served this community and our nation generating the coal necessary to heat our homes. Today still, over 60 percent of our electric generation [within Colorado] is coal-fired. We know a diverse portfolio of resources is the future of this state long-term.” She said there are different perspectives but people can find ways to work together.
Sen. Schwartz said the methane capture off Elk Creek Mine is a perfect example of that.
Rep. Millie Hamner said she was there with the others “to listen to the constituents and to help solve problems.” She continued, “The idling of the Elk Creek Mine has resulted in many very serious challenges for those of you that live in the North Fork Valley community. Not only has this idling of the mine resulted in the layoff of 300 people, it has impacted school enrollment … tax revenue and local businesses.”
She said the meeting was to inform the public of immediate resources and also to look ahead to long-term solutions and opportunities to broaden the economy.
Ray Lucero of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment oversees three Work Force Centers. He said his department helps people on a daily basis to find work. Many can change their lives for the better. The department has the largest database of job listings in the state through Connecting Colorado. Job listings are available online 24/7. They also help displaced workers train for another career. There is training available at Delta-Montrose Technical College and Colorado Mesa University. They can also assist with unemployment insurance, and help people with their resumes and interviewing skills.
Elyse Ackerman is the regional manager for the Department of Local Affairs out of the Grand Junction office. DOLA works primarily with local governments providing technical assistance for municipalities and counties. They have financial and grant programs available, energy impact grants, community development block grants and other grant programs. “Your communities are really good at tapping into those funding sources, and we are in regular communication with each other in how our grant programs can support what your community is trying to achieve,” Ackerman said.
As the local communities work to continue a thriving local economy, DOLA has programs such as the Main Street Program. It is designed to create “a grassroots-driven energy behind economic development that brings the business owners, the local government and residents to work together to create a vibrant community center in downtown,” Ackerman said. Delta and Cedaredge have been involved in that program.
Darcy Owens-Trask does regional development for the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). She works on only rural programs. “If a business wanted to come here and replace some of the jobs that have been lost,” she said, “we are the department that might be of some assistance.” Their departments attract global businesses to Colorado. The Colorado Innovation Network has resources for exporters. The Tourism Office does a lot of promotion for this area, she said. The Colorado Film Office, Colorado Creative Industries, small business development centers and business funding and incentives are all part of this state organization.
They offer various tools to help businesses grow. They offer strategic fund tax credits to help businesses. The REDI Program (Rural Economic Development Initiative) is available to help this region attract new jobs and to help businesses here to grow. They offer grant funding and technical assistance to diversify and add resiliency to the economy. All of Delta County is included in their programs.
OEDIT will have a meeting on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. at EnergyTech in Paonia for local government, business and community leaders to talk about the REDI Program. The grant can help pay for public infrastructure, business facilities and workforce training.
Mike Ludlow, mine manager for Oxbow Corporation, first explained that the Elk Creek Mine has not closed, but has been idled. “About a year ago, December 2012, we had a geologic event that caused an air blast and interrupted our ventilation. A short time later, we had a spontaneous combustion event underground in the area where the longwall produces coal. We sealed the mine to deprive the spontaneous combustion of oxygen. In August, we removed those seals and went back in to recover the longwall. Within 12 days the spontaneous combustion rekindled, and it was at that point that we made a decision that it was not safe to recover the longwall. So, it was a decision based on safety and safety of the employees that we resealed the mine. We continued development for another four months. At that point it became obvious to us it was going to be a year or more before we could procure another longwall mining system.”
That is what they are doing now. They are looking at new and used longwall systems that would fit their applications. Ludlow said they are “actively pursuing getting back into the business.” Procuring a new longwall could cost between $50-$80 million.
He described the business climate as “very, very difficult.” Electricity in the U.S. is generated using coal by less than 40 percent. “Coal is really going to be a fuel of choice throughout the whole world. It’s going to be in demand,” he said. “Germany is building coal-fired plants. China is closing some of their older plants and retrofitting them with modern scrubber technologies.”
Three major power plants at Hayden and Craig in Colorado and Deseret in Utah are equipped with modern scrubbers and control emissions. “Those power plants have no impact on the environment,” Ludlow said.
Caryn Gibson, school district superintendent, said that the district has been losing students for five years.
Sarah Carlquist, director of Delta County Economic Development, said the loss of 300 jobs has “crippled” the area. That is the equivalent of losing over 19,000 jobs in the Denver metro area. Each loss of a coal mine job equates to seven other jobs being lost in the community.
John Jones, director of Delta-Montrose Technical College, discussed various training programs offered for those who want to add to their skills or learn a new skill.
Reeves Brown concluded by saying no solution comes from outside, it comes from within. The best assets of a community are it’s people. He wanted everyone to know that “We want to support you.”
Tom Anderson, a 19 year veteran of Oxbow, said at 64 he is concerned where his next job will be. He’s afraid there won’t be another opportunity in this state for him and he will have to leave the community. He has three job interviews, all in other states. He has paid to upgrade his skills in search of better job opportunities.
Sen. Schwartz said she would like to work with Mike Ludlow on how the state can streamline permitting on the new Oak Mesa coal mine.
February 25th, 2014
|On Thursday, February 13th, the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee passed SB14-115 approving the state legislature’s role in developing the Colorado Water Plan, which is a massive, multi-year effort to secure the future of our state’s most critical natural resource.
Senator Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, and Senator Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, worked with the Governor’s office and listened to other stakeholders to amend SB14-115 achieving consensus on: the role the legislature, commitment to protecting Basin Roundtable Plans (BIPs) and the opportunity for statewide public comment on the plan.
Any discussion of our future water needs always spark statewide interest. The Governor’s executive order creating the Colorado Water Plan process did not include a role for the legislature. As a state, we need to be assured that the long term planning for water incorporates as many voices as possible, including the elected officials representing their constituents. SB14-115 is intentionally bipartisan and has sponsors that represent geographical diversity across the state.
“Every year, the Colorado General Assembly considers numerous water-related bills – placing lawmakers at the center of Colorado’s water policy conversations,” said Sen. Schwartz, D-Snowmass, Chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee, and the Water Resources Review Committee. “The goal of this bill is not to have the legislature take over the process of creating the Colorado Water Plan. Instead, it’s intended to broaden the scope of participation and ensure that all voices are heard in this planning process including the legislature. Bottom line, SB14-115 will allow for more input and affirms the countless hours of effort put into the plan by Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, stakeholders at the grassroots level, and reaches out to all Coloradans.”
Elements of the Bill:
- To reaffirm the Basin Roundtable process
- The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will present the scope, fundamental approach and basic elements of the plan to the Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC).
- Allows the WRRC to hold public meetings with the CWCB in each regional basin for two consecutive summer interims.
- Allows for the public and WRRC comments to be provided to the CWCB for consideration prior to the adoption of the plan.
- Once the plan is developed, the CWCB will be required to present to the WRRC on a regular basis, or if it is significantly amended.
February 25th, 2014
By Andy Vuong
The Denver Post
POSTED: 01/05/2014 12:01:00 AM MST4 COMMENTS
| UPDATED: ABOUT A MONTH AGO
Colorado lawmakers and industry officials are dialed in on plans to overhaul a program that reimburses carriers more than $50 million annually for providing land-line phone service in rural areas.
A revamp of the so-called High Cost Support Mechanism is expected to rank among the top business issues this coming session after efforts over the past three years failed. The federal government and other states have already restructured similarly outdated subsidies, shifting the money toward broadband expansion.
Though competing measures are floating around, the consensus is that Colorado will also aim to repurpose the funds for broadband rather than eliminate the subsidy, which is backed by a 2.6 percent surcharge on land-line and mobile phone bills.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has initiated a review to determine which areas of the state have sufficient competition and should no longer qualify for High Cost support. Industry leaders expect that process to free up several million dollars as early as this year.
Lawmakers such as Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, have held town hall and stakeholder meetings in recent weeks to seek input in shaping proposed legislation. Another town hall is scheduled for Tuesday in Limon.
“It’s a crime that three or four years have passed and we’ve done so little to advance rural infrastructure,” Schwartz said. “By funding land lines and copper-line phones, we’re funding buggy whips with a really important asset of $50 million to $60 million a year.”
The High Cost fund was established in the 1990s, before the proliferation of cellular coverage, to ensure that all Colorado residents have access to affordable phone service.
Previously, proposals to phase out or phase down the fund have been tied to sweeping and complicated updates of the state’s telecom rules and terminology. And broadband expansion hasn’t always been attached to efforts to overhaul the program.
“The bill that I had last year was wrapped into a larger concept, and that concept failed,” Schwartz said. “This year, I’m working on a stand-alone bill that will dedicate the High Cost fund at some level toward infrastructure development, especially in rural Colorado.”
Broadband expansion is a top priority for Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose staff members have participated in discussions related to the repurposing of the High Cost fund.
“The governor supports broadband expansion to rural and unserved communities,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said, adding that “details are still being discussed with legislators and stakeholders.”
The details that could present the most conflict include:
• Whether the broadband funds would cover both unserved and underserved areas of the state, or just unserved areas.
• Whether grant recipients would be required to contribute matching funds.
• Which agency would administer the program.
• How much would remain for land-line service in areas that are still “high cost” to serve.
Telecom giant CenturyLink receives more than 90 percent of High Cost funds annually and has, in the past, resisted efforts to change the program. The carrier, which acquired Denver-based Qwest in 2011, appears relegated to the fact that the program will shift toward broadband.
“We’ve heard that if there are reductions in the voice support, then that should go to a broadband fund, which we support,” said Jim Campbell, a CenturyLink regional vice president. “We support it under the guideline that it goes to unserved areas and not underserved areas.”
He also said a matching-funds component should be included.
“If a company is going to apply for support for broadband funding, they ought to put some of their own investment in,” Campbell said. “Industry has to have some skin in the game.”
Fort Morgan-based Viaero Wireless, which provides cellular service in rural Colorado and draws from the High Cost fund, has drafted a measure that doesn’t include a matching requirement.
Jon Becker, vice president of business at Viaero, said the company likes the idea of matching funds but didn’t want such a requirement to prevent smaller providers from seeking support.
“We wrote it without and wanted to have a discussion of ‘Does it make sense to have it in there?’ ” Becker said. “Maybe it’s a quarter match.”
Viaero’s draft bill would limit the use of the High Cost funds for infrastructure build-out and not operating expenses. Becker said the carrier may draw from the broadband fund, but that wouldn’t be the only benefit.
“If there is high-speed broadband in rural areas, you therefore bring more customers and more need to the table for wireless services,” Becker said. “Whether we get the broadband portion or not, any economic growth in eastern Colorado is good for us.”
As for whether the money would go toward underserved areas, Becker said the money should be available to communities that don’t have access to Internet download speeds of at least 4 megabits per second and upload speeds of 1 Mbps.
Becker estimates that the PUC’s current review of High Cost areas could free up $3 million to $10 million in funds this year.
PUC spokesman Terry Bote pegged the figure at less than $10 million and noted that CenturyLink could still apply to keep the funds for voice service “even in competitive areas if they can make a persuasive case for it.”
Rural-broadband activist Ken Brenner, a trustee for Colorado Mountain College, has drafted a measure that would shift administration of the High Cost funds from the PUC to the Department of Local Affairs.
The measure also proposes to require grant applicants to form a local technology-planning team that includes at least one community organization, such as a county government, school district or hospital.
“It’s a local solution crafted by the people who use it every day,” Brenner said.
Lawmakers are also expected to introduce at least one separate measure to update Colorado’s telecom rules, such as stamping into law that Internet Protocol-enabled services are unregulated. The state’s existing laws don’t currently address services such as Voice over Internet Protocol.
“The state of Colorado hasn’t updated its (telecom) statutes since 1996,” said Angela Williams, D-Denver.
Last year, a bill co-sponsored by Williams to exempt IP-enabled services from regulation unanimously passed out of the House but stalled in the Senate.
Read more: Lawmakers aim to shift $50 million phone subsidy toward broadband – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_24843279/lawmakers-aim-shift-50-million-phone-subsidy-toward#ixzz2uPCtyb55
Follow us: @Denverpost on Twitter | Denverpost on Facebook
February 25th, 2014
The 2014 Legislative Session is now underway. It is hard to believe that we are already two weeks through this year’s process. Once again, I look forward to representing the citizens of District 5 as we work on legislation to improve the lives of all Coloradans. Stay in touch and follow the progress of the General Assembly this session online!
Senate Floor, Day 1 of the 2014 Session
Economic Development & Jobs for Rural Colorado
Economic development in rural areas has always been a primary driver of my legislative effort. I want to highlight a few pieces of legislation aimed at rural economic development and job creation that will be presented in the upcoming session.
Connect Colorado with Broadband – In today’s world, adequate broadband access in our rural and mountain communities is a critical economic driver. High speed internet access allows new businesses to move into our communities, students to connect remotely to classrooms, and hospitals to care for us. We have been working on finding ways to fund critical broadband infrastructure in our hardest to reach areas for years, and this year I intend to address this issue. In the 21st century, our communities cannot continue to sit and wait for connectivity. This winter, we hosted community meetings in Fairplay and Limon with broadband stakeholders, County Commissioners, and citizens from all over the state to find points of agreement on funding rural broadband infrastructure, and create funding for a broadband grant program. Your Input and support is valuable for the success of this bill. We should be introducing a bill shortly.
Greening Schools and Communities – I am working on a bill to implement ideas from the Powering Up Conference in Carbondale last fall. Energy efficiency is the most effective way to save money on your utility bills and uses new technology to save energy. Energy efficiency contractors in our communities are looking for tools to encourage municipalities and schools to become more energy efficient, while simultaneously creating local jobs. In order to continue economic growth in the district, a new bill would allow the current funding for renewable installations in schools to be extended to include efficiency upgrades and could allow communities to finance energy efficiency projects using affordable bond rates.
Senate District 5
Above(Left): Presenting in Carbondale to an Energy Efficiency Conference. Above(Right): Touring the Montrose Forest Products Mill
We Are Listening: Important Upcoming Dates & Events
Community meeting on health care in mountain communities
Please join us to discuss the rates and access to health care in mountain communities. Commissioner Marguerite Salazar and health care providers are coming to discuss options for our community and listen to your comments. Representatives Hamner, Mitsch Bush, and Rankin have also been invited.
- February 1st
- Eagle County Community Center, 20 Eagle County Dr, El Jebel, CO
Community meeting on the mine closure and resulting job loss
Please join us to discuss the community impacts resulting from the closure of the Elk Creek Mine on February 8th in Paonia. I will be joined by representatives from the Department of Labor and Employment, the Office of Economic Development, and the Department of Local Affairs to address what resources the state can provide to assist Delta County in these difficult times. Representatives Coram, Hamner and Wright have also been invited.
- February 8th
- Delta-Montrose Technical College (Gymnasium) – EnergyTech, 4th Street, Paonia, CO
Upcoming Town Halls on the calendar
- February 22nd – Gunnison County
- March 7th – Lake County
- March 8th – Pitkin County
Stay Updated & Informed with these links
General Assembly Website – Follow bills and stream audio & video
State Water Plan
Update on Hemp in Colorado
Judicial Learning Center – If you are planning a visit to the capitol, make sure to reserve a tour of the new Ralph L.Carr Colorado Judicial Learning Center, a great way for students and adults to learn about our courts.
- 2 E 14th Ave, Denver, CO 80203
- (720) 625-5000
February 25th, 2014
Our service men and women decorating the Capitol Christmas tree
During this special time of year, my thoughts are filled with family, friends, the citizens of my district, and those who have faced significant tragedy or loss during 2013. This year, floods, drought, fires, and violence have ravaged many Colorado communities, yet we all pulled together and did our best to support one another. Let us hope that 2014 will bring a gentler time and allow for our losses to heal.
As many of you know, this will be my final session in the Colorado Senate due to constitutional term limits. It has been my honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Southern, Central and Western Colorado, representing Senate District 5 (SD5), over the past seven years. I look forward to finishing my service in 2014 in the same robust manner that has guided my work thus far, protecting our unique quality of life and fighting for opportunity for the residents of Colorado’s rural communities.
After a busy summer and fall spent meeting with citizens and local elected officials, and holding public meetings on issues including the new Colorado Water Plan, I am now preparing for what promises to be a productive 2014 legislative session. My bills will, in part, reflect the work of the interim committees on which I served, including the Capital Development Committee, the Joint Technology Committee, and the Water Resources Review Committee. They will address some of the critical infrastructure and economic development issues facing our state. As I have for the past seven years, I appreciated the opportunity this interim to travel throughout the seven counties of SD 5, and to listen and learn about the issues of greatest concern.
I would like to take this time to introduce my staff for this session, as they are fundamental to my ability to serve SD5. Andrew Sand has been doing superb work as my legislative aide since late 2012 and will continue to oversee our office throughout this session. He, along with interns Mary Miller, Courtney Pickus, and Nathan Adams will assist with legislation, field your perspectives on policies under consideration, and respond to requests to our office for assistance. I always appreciate your capitol visits, emails and calls on every issue before us; regular communication is the key to better serving you and advocating for the interests of SD 5. We look forward to serving you!
Senate District 5
“By the weekend, the gold of the Colorado Capitol should be glimmering once again, as crews slowly bring down the curtain that has shrouded the dome during the $17 million restoration begun in 2010.” Read more from the Denver Post: Update on the Capitol Dome Project
Prior to construction The newly regilded dome
Atop the dome scaffolding!
General Assembly Home Page – Follow bills and stream audio & video
- Come visit! January 8thopening day open house at the capitol
- 8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. in my office #332
- February 8th – Delta County
- February 22nd – Gunnison County
- March 7th – Lake County
- March 8th – Pitkin County
- Chafee – TBD
- Hinsdale – TBD
- Eagle – TBD
October 2nd, 2013
A national research firm recently presented the findings of a study examining the Colorado prison system to a legislative panel. The study specifically focused on the ability to meet correctional housing needs in the near future. This study is important for rural communities like Delta and Buena Vista because shifting prison populations have the potential to impact corrections employees and neighboring communities.
Colorado has followed a national trend of falling prison populations for roughly the past five years. This decrease is due, in part, to statutory reform, fewer arrests and lower crime rates. The shrinking population left prisons with more vacant beds than was expected just a few years ago. Some observers expressed concern that these vacancies could lead to prison closures or layoffs for employees. As of 2012, Colorado employed just over 3,700 correctional staff employees. Since many of our state’s correctional facilities are in rural areas, any layoffs have the potential for a disproportionate negative impact upon small communities.
The state commissioned a national research firm, CNA Analysis & Solutions, to study Colorado’s prison system. The study’s researchers recommended that all of the nearly twenty five facilities continue to operate at current capacity. The research indicates that the recent decrease in inmates will slow down. While projections vary, the consensus opinion is that inmate populations will not only level off but likely increase slightly over the next five years due to Colorado’s increasing population. However, the study’s prediction of a modest inmate rise is not a result of higher crime rates. As our state continues to grow, we should expect our need for correctional housing to follow suit.
This spells good news for Senate District 5 communities like Delta and Buena Vista. The facilities in those communities, Delta Correctional Facility and Buena Vista Correctional Complex, are among others in a category called Tier 2. The research found that these facilities are among the best suited to meet the projected increase in housing needs. One projection even calls for reopening 350 beds in Buena Vista by 2018. Both Delta and Buena Vista facilities jointly employ about 275 people and are excellent candidates for potential expansion. At this time, the system is stable and no immediate changes are planned.
Correctional facilities function as an key economic pillar in our rural communities. Inmates serve an important role in local industries such as agriculture and firefighting, and inmates also benefit from the dedication of the community at the prison facility. I truly understand the deep impact that job security has on each and every employee’s family, friends and local economy. That is why I am encouraged by the study findings that show facilities like Delta and Buena Vista are not in jeopardy of closing; instead, they are likely to serve an even bigger role in the near future. This spells a bright forecast for our rural economies– and families. I will continue to vigilantly monitor any proposed prison changes and vigorously fight to protect the interests of all SD-5 residents.
September 12th, 2013
DENVER, August 16, 2013 – Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) is celebrating its 17th year of supporting a sustainable energy future with a full day conference, auction fundraiser, and annual awards on September 6th at the University of Denver Sturm School of Law. Speakers will include industry experts, technology professionals, and policymakers including the director of the Colorado Energy Office, Jeff Ackermann. Representative Max Tyler will accept the Larson-Notari award, in recognition of his clean energy contributions to the state, and Senator Gail Schwartz will accept the newly instituted Randy Udall Award for leadership in energy and climate change policy.
RANDY UDALL is a personal hero of mine and it is humbling to be receiving an award in his memory this evening.
I believe, Randy’s life goal was to impart a sense of personal responsibility for the environment in each of us. Yet, he was realistic in the sense he understood that his individual impact would have limitations, and he had to inspire an army of folks to accomplish his mission. One of the more remarkable facets of his nature was to envision multiple paths to an end goal and embrace strange “bedfellows” along the way. This is a lesson for all of us!
One tool for building his army of superheroes was through his prolific writings and speaking. He was a great teacher and father who instilled in young people his vision for a better world by giving his time so generously. What a terrific communicator he was, putting complicated concepts into such attainable terms! We all can recall a “Randyism’. Like:
“You know what fries my bacon? In 2011, Germany installed more solar power in one year than Americans have in 50. If it were just the industrious Germans, I could probably handle it. But the laid-back, Fiat-driving Italians did the same thing. The Italians!”
“Given climate realities, we desperately need a rapid energy transformation, but wishing can’t make it so. As a Vulcan might say, what is desirable is not necessarily probable..” and goes on to say ” Unless saving energy quickly becomes the nation’s focus, we already have the answer: “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here.”
Randy also wrote about, “My daughter Ren celebrated her 25th birthday last summer. She’s a member of what I call Generation B, where B stands for “bonfire.” Since her birth, more than half of all the fossil fuel consumed in human history has been burned, and more than half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have ever produced has gone skyward. As it steadily accumulates in the atmosphere, this enormous plume, now measuring 30 billion tons each year, is enough to melt glaciers, strand polar bears on sea ice, shrink the Colorado River, and alter the climate on which life depends.”
Over the past several years, as you are aware, Randy and I worked together on the “Eligible Resource of Methane” in the RES. A highly successful and unlikely collaboration between coal mines, the environmental community, a aspen ski area and DMEA and Holy Cross rural electric utilities. Randy taught us an important lesson, the ability to identify mutual areas of interest by understanding those on the opposite side of an issue in order to achieve a common goal. It is not the norm to embrace climate deniers to attain climate benefits of mitigating the hazardous methane gas from coal mines, but we now know that it can be done, while saving trees, water, wildlife habitat, snowpack, jobs, and industry.
I joined you earlier today for the remarks of Jeff Ackerman, Director of the Colorado Energy Office. He gave an inspiring perspective on what Colorado has achieved over the past several decades to become one of the nation’s leading states in renewable energy. We have developed a strong RES for IOUs and REAs, built strong legislative incentives for adoption of new technologies, and are identifying new challenges moving forward.
Jeff cleverly defined a “disease” from which I also suffer, along with many of you in this room, no doubt: “Advocacy”, which is characterized by suffering from passion, unease and vision. As advocates, I believe that we have a mandate to complete Colorado’s energy picture by moving to a broader framework of carbon and climate. Replacing KWH of electricity with BTUs of energy so we can incorporate all renewables into our incentive structure while preserving our climate as a whole.
We can move beyond the constraints of focusing on “30% of 30%” of the electric generation sector, and make a commitment to the other 70% of energy consumption–the transportation sector uses 30% of our energy. And then move on to the new frontier of the built environment that consumes 42% of our energy resources. The time is now for real action around climate and efficiency (as Amory would say the “Negawatt”).
In closing, I am so honored by your award this evening, and like so many, our work has just begun. In some respects I feel it is similar to what we felt when we lost Randy Udall at such a vibrant stage of his life and in my opinion he was not done! His passion, unease and vision were his calling and he defined advocacy in many respects. As Paul Anderson stated at a tribute for him help explain Randy’s drive for many of us:
“He had such a strong passion for the environment. His connection to the wilderness was without limit. His caring for the natural world was a way of caring for his soul. “
Onward soldiers, Randy has planted a sense of responsibility in each of us to care for the natural world around us and embrace a vision that includes everyone at the table for generations to come.
I would also like to acknowledge Randy’s family including Leslie Emerson. We can’t do what we have to do without the support of our families. Thank you CRES for this honor.
August 30th, 2013
Colorado Water — July/August 2013
By Lindsey Middleton, Editor, Colorado Water Institute & MaryLou Smith, Policy and Collaboration Specialist, Colorado Water Institute
Threat of water shortage in Colorado along with increasing demand has water users and managers from many sectors reconsidering the benefits of water conservation. Ag water conservation has become a hot topic in the state due to a bill, SB 13-019, introduced in the last Colorado legislative session by Senator Gail Schwartz, District 5, with Representative Randy Fischer (District 53) sponsoring the bill in the House.
The bill brought to the forefront an issue that has been controversial for some time, as many believe that little if any water in Colorado is meaningfully available for conservation, hence the saying “one farmer’s waste becomes the next farmer’s water right.” Still, agricultural producers are being asked to look deeper into the opportunity for conservation, despite the complexity return flows brings to the issue.
“How do we find some additional tools, besides our instream flow programs, to motivate Ag water users to adjust their diversions at specific times? That was the thinking originally,” explains Schwartz of her motivation for introducing SB-019 in January of this year. “In the long term, we asked what would be some tools, such as infrastructure, that would allow Ag users to count on running less water without risking the loss of any historic consumptive use.”
Some had urged Schwartz to wait for more discussion about Ag water conservation among various constituencies before introducing the bill, but she chose to move ahead. “This being the second year of drought we were facing, I thought it would be more important to move forward,” explains Schwartz. After introducing the bill, Schwartz approached the Colorado Water Congress (CWC). CWC is oft en a first step for water legislation, and their formal support of a bill can help ease a bill through the voting process. As a result of discussions with CWC, Schwartz put the bill on a slow track, asking CWC to form a sub-committee and review the issues in more depth.
According to CWC State Affairs Committee member Dick Brown, who represents Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority on the committee, “The bill got narrower in scope [as we went on], which is not uncommon.” Among other changes, the bill was reduced to Water Districts 4, 5, and 6 on the West Slope.
Brown adds that Schwartz agreed to CWC revisions and amended the bill accordingly. The CWC voted to support the amended SB-019 and to work with Senator Schwartz over the summer (when Colorado’s legislature is not in session) to discuss concerns with the excised portions of the bill.
The amended bill was passed by the state legislature in April. Changes included removing a section that would allow a water judge to approve a change of water right for conserved water in certain cases. The bill as passed is already having a positive effect on some. Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water and Sanitation says her region’s tourism-based economy, which relies on river flows, benefits from Senator Schwartz’s bill, even in its truncated form. In fact, Eagle River Water and Sanitation has already begun to reach out to water rights owners in their region to conserve on a broader scale.
“We acknowledge that this tool may be difficult to use in other areas where water administration is more complicated,” says Brooks, “but we believe it can work for us.”Brooks testified for SB-019 before the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee out of a desire to protect cooperating diverters.
“The part of SB-019 that did pass alleviated the concerns of diverters that they would get penalized for cooperating,” says Brooks—concern that conservation hurts historic use averages has been a holdup for such efforts in the past.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, located near the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin, draws water from the Eagle River and Gore Creek. They are the second largest municipal water provider on the Western Slope.
“Healthy stream flows support fishing, boating, and the aesthetic values that draw visitors and drive our economy,” says Brooks. Outreach to diverters in 2012 resulted in cooperation from irrigation diversions, golf courses, and others agreeing to a 15 percent reduction in diversions initially and up to 25 percent as flows dropped through the 2012 summer season. But while diverters were willing to divert less, they questioned what the long-term effect on their water rights might be. SB-019, says Brooks, supports these cooperative efforts by protecting those who participate from being penalized in terms of historic consumptive use calculations if they ever require a change of use.
Among other aspects, SB-019 contains language that gives appropriators a “safe harbor” when they decrease their consumptive use. It calls for water judges to not consider any decrease in use resulting from a variety of programs, including certain water conservation programs, land fallowing programs, and water banking programs.
Brown, who was part of the CWC sub-committee providing recommendations for the bill, says that there was some debate about aspects of SB-019. “Some folks were really nervous that this was going to be a significant change in water policy since it tackled the issue of use it or lose it,” he says.
One of the objections to the original bill had to do with unintended consequences for other areas of the state, such as the Rio Grande Basin. “From what I have seen,” says Schwartz, “through recent legislation we are channeling different options for different basins.” She says by applying SB-019 to most of the West Slope, the bill was able to seize upon a timely opportunity and serve as a pilot for applications elsewhere. “We have the opportunity with roundtables to really look at specific needs for different basins,” she says.Schwartz says dialogue will continue as part of summer and fall sessions at the capitol. “We have more time,” she says, “but we will nudge people into having the conversation rather than have it evolve on its own.”
One group that is taking up the challenge of looking at Ag water conservation from the producer’s point of view is the Colorado Ag Water Alliance. “We want to see what opportunities might exist for Ag conservation instead of just saying it can’t work,” said CAWA member Robert Sakata. A CAWA committee will be meeting with Senator Schwartz this summer.
“These are difficult conversations, and I think we have to have them,” says Schwartz.