There are many reasons that we choose to live in Colorado, but the unrivaled natural environment is near the top of almost everyone’s list. Whether it is our spectacular mountains, wide open plains, or clear blue waters and sky, the environment is what makes our state so special – and that is what we at Colorado Conservation Voters fight to protect.
What We Do
Colorado Conservation Voters works to turn conservation values into Colorado priorities by advocating for strong environmental policies, endorsing conservation-minded candidates, and holding elected officials accountable. Thomas Friedman made one of the best cases for what we do when he wrote in the New York Times, “the greenest thing you can do is this: Choose the right leaders.” This is the premise of Colorado Conservation Voters.
Over the past seven years, conservationists have made tremendous progress towards protecting our environment by passing landmark policies at the capitol and at the ballot box.
The first victory in the drive to make Colorado a leader in renewable energy came on the heels of a disappointing loss. In 2004, the conservation community—working with farmers, bankers, and business leaders—failed to find the final vote in the state Senate to pass a 10% renewable energy standard. Undaunted, environmental groups decided to take the issue directly to voters on the ballot. Not surprisingly, the voters approved a 10% standard for wind and sun power in November of 2004.
In 2007, after building a pro-conservation majority in the state legislature, eighty-six out of one hundred lawmakers voted to double the renewable standard to require that 20% of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. Last year, a pro-conservation legislature hiked the standard to 30% by 2020. In nine short years, Xcel Energy and other investor owned utilities will get nearly one third of their power from the wind, sun, and other forms of renewable energy. The 30% mandate gives Colorado the second highest renewable energy standard in the country.
Clean energy jobs are also vital to Colorado. As our economy struggles to regain footing, the work we have done to grow the New Energy Economy has made clean energy jobs one of the brightest sectors in Colorado. The New Energy Economy has created more than 17,000 jobs here in Colorado and a report last year found that the renewable energy sector would create at least another 23,000 jobs between now and 2020.
It is no accident that Colorado has become a national leader in renewable energy production. Strong and wise leadership on key environmental issues from our elected officials has positioned us at the forefront nationally on these issues. Supporting those officeholders and then advocating for smart environmental policy is what Colorado Conservation Voters is all about.
With pro-conservation elected leaders in place, environmental advocates were not only able to increase the renewable energy standard to 30%, but also win other key victories for the environment including:
- Passing the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act of 2010. This high profile measure will take 900 MW of coal-fired power plants offline by 2017 or earlier. Reducing the amount of coal we burn means we will have cleaner air, better public health, and we will cut global warming gases we send into the atmosphere. The law, passed with broad, bi-partisan majorities, is already becoming a national model. By taking a multi-pollutant approach we will be able to cut nitrogen oxide pollution by 80% while also addressing mercury, carbon, and other pollutants.
- Creating a balanced Oil and Gas Commission that includes representation from conservationists, sportsmen, and local communities instead of a commission that only worked for the industries.
- Winning better protection of our drinking water by allowing the water courts to consider water quality when making decisions.
- Protecting open space and our agricultural heritage by stopping the abuses of the Tax Increment Financing process whereby tax money was funding the paving over of productive farmland into strip malls.
We won these exciting conservation policies by helping legislators understand the importance of conservation to our state’s future. However, it is important to remember that as recently as 2003, there were just 33 pro-environment legislators out of 100 in the General Assembly. Pro-conservation bills were defeated quickly in committees and environmental advocates spent their time working to defeat rollbacks to existing environmental protections. Through working with our colleagues in the conservation community to be more strategic and effective politically and in the legislature, the political landscape shifted dramatically.
Why the change? There are a number of reasons, but key among them is who Coloradans put in office. In 2006 and 2008 Coloradans elected environmental supporters and champions, which created and protected conservation majorities in the state House, Senate, and Governor’s office for the first time in memory. These majorities are what allowed us to win the key environmental victories described above.
In 2010, the political landscape shifted again. Nationally, a tidal wave of anger and discontent swept hundreds of pro-conservation elected officials out of office. Here in Colorado though, voters continued to support pro-conservation candidates. We still have a bi-partisan pro-conservation majority in the state Senate and have a pro-conservation governor in John Hickenlooper. Unfortunately, we are one vote shy of having a pro-conservation majority in the state House. The changed political dynamic will make it harder to pass groundbreaking environmental legislation but we will continue to make important progress on key issues.
The Environment’s Watchdog
CCV accountability projects such as the Legislative Conservation Scorecard and the Governor’s Report Card are complimentary tools to measure how well our elected leaders are protecting our environment. They are critical devices to educate citizens about how their legislators are voting and to help hold those elected officials accountable to their actions. The annual Conservation Scorecard provides factual, nonpartisan information about how each member of the legislature voted on a range of conservation issues. The Scorecard includes only those House and Senate votes on which the conservation community clearly communicated its position to legislators, and, except in rare circumstances, excludes non-controversial consensus votes.
We have made great strides in protecting our way of life, but there are still special interests that threaten our environment every day. Contamination makes its way into our drinking water, natural areas that are critical to our wildlife are being leased for oil and gas exploration, and we must keep fighting to reduce global warming pollution. There is much work to be done. We need to solidify Colorado as a national leader on environmental policy. We must insist that the oil and gas industry leave a smaller footprint. We must work to protect nature from urban sprawl. We need to ensure that every Coloradan has a safe and healthy environment for generations to come.