Colorado legislature approves air quality bills

The Colorado legislature on its last day took a step — albeit an expensive one — toward improving air quality, particularly along the Front Range.

The General Assembly passed a package of bills, including one that will invest $65 million in electric school buses, that environmental advocates celebrated as a positive step toward lessening air pollution and the harmful effects it has on people’s health.

“Focusing on human health and the children has been a priority for us,” said Ean Tafoya, Colorado director of Green Latinos, after the bills were passed.

The bills mostly were sponsored by Democrats and are part of Gov. Jared Polis’s commitment to improve the state’s air quality.

The legislation was approved as the Environmental Protection Agency is set to downgrade Denver and the northern Front Range to “severe” violators of federal ozone standards from “serious” violators, which experts say will lead to higher gas prices for motorists and require more manufacturers to apply for air permits in an effort to reduce the harmful emissions that cause ground-level ozone.

Polis prioritized improving the state’s air quality in his budget, eventually receiving $47 million in new funding to expand the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division.

One bill, SB22-193, sends $125 million to the state health department and the Colorado Energy Office to administer grants for electric vehicles and energy efficiency projects.

The bill passed Wednesday will:

  • Create a $25 million fund to provide grants to industrial and manufacturing facilities and local governments for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Among the projects that would qualify are efforts that would use hydrogen fuel, electric vehicles and projects to reduce carbon and methane emissions. The grant program would dissolve on Sept. 1, 2029.
  • Create a $12 million fund to increase public access to electric bicycles through grants and rebates. The program would be repealed on Sept. 1, 2028.
  • Spend $15 million to decommission the oldest diesel trucks operating in Colorado and replace them with newer, more fuel-efficient models. The grant money would be available for public and private entities through July 1, 2032.
  • Spend $65 million to buy electric school buses in Colorado through Sept. 1, 2034
  • Provide $7 million to the state health department for aerial surveillance of pollutants
  • Provide $750,000 to the state health department to provide free RTD passes for employees
  • Cap annual fees for industry at $1 million this year and allow those caps to rise annually until they reach a $5 million maximum on July 1, 2024

A second bill, HB22-1244, would change how the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission regulates toxic air substances. The commission would be able to put more stringent requirements on the types and amounts of toxins a company can release, based on the impact on human health.

Another bill, SB22-180, will set aside $14 million to provide free public transportation, largely through RTD, for one month each year when ozone pollution is at its highest levels. It also would provide $30 million to expand Bustang, the state’s regional bus service.

 

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