Earth Day resonates throughout Colorado

By Elizabeth Stortroen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

At age 39, Earth Day seems to be reaching its prime. The once-counterculture event celebrated on April 22 is now only a small marker of the omnipresent, Obama-administration-funded “New Energy Economy” — and it’s everywhere.

On March 28, nearly a month before the Big Day, Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, led the first official Colorado observance of Earth Hour, a global action against climate change that began in Australia in 2007, and is observed on the last Saturday of March.

“In recognition of Earth Hour and the enormous threat of global climate change … the symbolic gesture of turning off the State Capitol lights underscores the importance of energy efficiency and conservation as one of the most effective means to address climate change,” said Kefalas, as he watched the lights dim beneath the Gold Dome.

In 2005, Mayor John Hickenlooper pledged to improve the environment of Denver and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by signing the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the state by up to 20 percent by 2020 and up to 80 percent by 2050.

In 2006, Hickenlooper established the Greenprint Denver initiative to help the city reach its climate action plan. Greenprint Denver supports sustainability as a core value to improve efficiencies in resource use and to reduce environmental impact.

During the Democratic National Convention last August, Hickenlooper and Gov. Bill Ritter seized the moment, using the DNC as a platform to show other cities how to implement environmentally friendly stewardship.

Some of the “legacy programs” established during the DNC remain active, said Michele Weingarden, director of Greenprint Denver.

“Our sustainability efforts stretch further than that week alone,” Weingarden said.

She said the bike-sharing program that debuted during the convention will be implemented in Denver this summer, and trash-recycling programs for large events also are up for renewal.

“We are also providing information so event planners can learn how to stage carbon-neutral events in Denver,” she said. “The beauty of this project is that the money used to offset carbon is used for the state of Colorado’s carbon fund, which funds energy efficiency projects in our own state.”

At the state level, Ritter established the Governor’s Energy Office in 2007, which has been working with communities, utilities, private and public organizations and individuals to promote development of as wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy technologies.

Need help going green? Throughout the year, the Sierra Club of the Rocky Mountains will be hosting free, one-hour Home Energy Solution Training seminars throughout Denver. For more information, go to rmc.sierraclub.org.

“We will be taking people through different ways to cut down their energy usage through installing solar panels or becoming a part of the wind source program,” said Jonah Fruchter, regional conservation organizer for the Sierra Club. “But since not everyone in these economic times can afford solar, we will also be taking people through easy and affordable energy efficiency steps to help them cut down their energy usage at home.”

The Grand Old Party is on board. Dick Wadhams, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, said conservatives are always seeking to conserve — by turning off the lights when they leave the room, for example.

“This is important, and Republicans look for efficient ways to do things that serve an environmental purpose,” Wadhams said. “We try to live our lives in an environmentally responsible way every day.”

Wadhams said the Republicans have long been dedicated to the environment, noting that Republican President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and that former Republican Gov. Bill Owens fought for T-Rex and the completion of Light Rail along Interstate 25.

Freshman Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman is the prime sponsor of a proposal to give tax breaks to people who buy toilets, sprinkler systems and other household plumbing fixtures that conserve water.

“This legislation will help conserve one of our most precious resources,” Coffman said. “Conservation has got to be our first line of defense in our ability to meet our future water demand.”

Two other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, 4th Congressional District Democrat Betsy Markey and 5th Congressional District Republican Doug Lamborn, have signed on as co-sponsors for the bill.

Lamborn said members of his staff recycle nearly all the paper in his Washington office and most either use public transportation or walk to work.

“We all have a responsibility to protect the environment,” Lamborn said.

Pat Waak, chair for the Colorado Democrats, said the people at state headquarters use energy efficient light bulbs, have installed LCD monitors for the computers, recycle and car-pool to and from work and events.

“We are very, very conscious of the environment,” Waak said. “It is a very high priority for us, and we are trying to do our part to help our environment for generations to come.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, of Denver, also is doing her part. As vice chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, she plays a key role in developing comprehensive global climate change legislation.

Last year, DeGette helped lead the passage of a national Renewable Portfolio Standard, which has been incorporated into the global climate change package currently under consideration.

Kristofer Eisenla, DeGette’s communications director, said DeGette and her staff “take conservation of our natural resources seriously, whether in our daily lives or by enacting forward-thinking public policy.”

This session, Colorado’s legislators have sponsored several pieces of legislation aimed at environmental improvement, including:

Democrats:

• House Bill 1035, sponsored by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, and Sen. Rollie Heath, D- Boulder, concerning tax refunds for Clean Tech Companies. Allows small clean technology companies to receive refunds of state sales and use taxes paid on personal property for research and development of clean technology. Status: Senate Finance and Appropriations.

• House Bill 1149, sponsored by Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, requiring commercial homebuilders to offer prospective buyers the option to have the home prewired for solar photovoltaic installation. Status: Heading to the governor’s desk.

• House Bill 1312, sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, concerning renewable Energy Loans for Schools. Status: Senate Education Committee.

• Senate Bill 31, sponsored by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, concerning clean technology discovery grant program that advances research and development of clean technology. Status: Heading to the governor’s desk.

• Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Edward Vigil, D-Fort Garland, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, concerning tax-exempt blended diesel products. Status: Heading to the governor’s desk.

• Senate Bill 171, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, Rep. Edward Vigil, D-Fort Garland and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, concerning new energy economy job training. Offers targeted funding for community colleges to work directly with new energy companies to create customized job training programs. Status: Heading to the governor’s desk.

Republican:

• House Bill 1162, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, concerning intergovernmental cooperation for the purpose of mitigating wildfires. Status: House consideration of first conference committee report.

• House Bill 1217, sponsored by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, concerning the creation of local improvement districts for the purpose of improving public utilities. Status: House waiting for approval of Senate amendments.

• House Bill 1332, sponsored by Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, and Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, concerning the repeal of provisions requiring a cumulative economic analysis of state and air quality control measures every five years. Status: House third reading.

• Senate Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, and Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, concerning the requirement that state-owned vehicles operate on compressed natural gas. Status: Heading to the governor’s desk.

Bipartisan:

• House Bill 1129, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to select the sponsors of up to 10 new residential or mixed-use developments that will conduct individual pilot projects to collect precipitation from rooftops and impermeable surfaces for nonpotable uses. Status: Senate Appropriations.

• Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, continuing the existence of the agricultural energy-related projects and research program until 2012. Status: House Appropriations.

• Senate Bill 158, sponsored by Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, concerning analysis by the department of natural resources of conservation programs implemented on private lands. Status: House Appropriations.

Beth@coloradostatesman.com