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Joey BunchJoey BunchNovember 10, 20175min6070

Conservation Colorado is this juggernaut green organization that gives state and national candidates the heebie-jeebies in the West’s political wilds. Last year, 54 of the 60 candidates it endorsed went on to win.

And whenever legislation affecting the environment, large or small, is debated at the Capitol in Denver, Conservation Colorado is there in big ways and small.

But this year Conservation Colorado made its first municipal-level endorsements in Aurora Wards I and II.

Michal Rosenoer, the organization’s Front Range field manager, and her organization also helped campaign for Crystal Murillo and Nicole Johnston, too.

“This election is also an important triumph of progressive values and people-power over oil and gas-backed interests,” Rosenoer said. “Despite industry front group Vital for Colorado investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on these and other local races at the eleventh hour, voters ultimately picked candidates who pledged to stand up for our right to clean air, open spaces, and healthy communities.”

She also said, “Crystal and Nicole will bring a much-needed focus on diversity and inclusivity to the Aurora City Council, and will be champions on issues including oil and gas, transportation, growth, and social and environmental justice.”

The day after the election, however, Rosenoer, the Front Range leader, was tweeting about what was going down on the Western Slope the day before the election.

A protest over methane gas in Durango clearly warmed the spirits of the state’s largest environmental organization, which seems to have a lot of fires on a lot of fronts these days. (Donald Trump is good for business, if you make being your business.)

The Durango Herald’s Jonathan Romero reported that about 100 people gathered in a Durango park to raise a ruckus over Trump’s rollback of bipartisan rules passed last year to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas wells on public lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Without this rule our county could face terrible health impacts,” Kellie Pettyjohn, a local farmer, told the Herald. “We don’t want this one-year delay. We want this rule in place.”

Based on rules first adopted in Colorado, the BLM methane rule would affect more than 100,000 wells that Romero reports can release up to 180,000 tons of methane annual a year. Moreover that’s methane that could be captured and sold to bring in additional money for schools and other public projects.

Conservation Colorado was all over the local activism.

Lisa Pool, Conservation Colorado’s field organizer for Durango, told us more:

“It was remarkable to see how well the protest was attended and how passionate people were about the subject,” she told Colorado Politics. “Here in Durango we suffer from a cloud of methane pollution, so the issue is visceral for people. They were infuriated not only by the proposed delay, but also by how limited the public is allowed to be engaged by the process. Protestors of all ages were fired up and chanting throughout.”

The organization Thursday announced it’s promoting communications director Jessica Goad to deputy director, where she’ll “work more directly on elections, campaigns, building the team, and helping hire a new executive director.” Pete Maysmith stepped down as the organization’s leader last month to take on a national role with the League of Conservation Voters.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchNovember 9, 20177min2350

Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican father of our national parks, said it in 1906.

“The lack of power to take joy in outdoor nature is as real a misfortune as the lack of power to take joy in books,” the old Rough Rider said.

That’s why you find Teddy Roosevelt, and not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, creator of the New Deal, on Mount Rushmore, alongside Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.

We don’t view our national parks as handouts to be cut on the whims of Washington gamesmanship. We view them as treasures.

And now the Trump administration plans to make sure we pay a king’s ransom to use them. And it feels like just that, ransom.

The National Parks Service is ready to hike the cost — dramatically — for everyday people to visit what they already own during peak tourism seasons at 17 of the country’s most popular parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It would soon cost $70 a car to take my out-of-state friends from Estes Park to Grand Lake, instead of the 20 bucks I’m used to paying. Motorcycle riders will pay $50 and bicyclists and hikers will pay $30 to get in.

The other parks are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Denali in Alaska; Glacier in Montana; Acadia in Maine; Olympic and Mount Rainier in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; and Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California.

The park service needs the money for a $12 billion backlog in repairs and improvements, because Congress and presidents won’t do their jobs and make sure parks are available and affordable to anyone who can get there, the idea Roosevelt had in his head and heart.

Poorly funding parks and public lands, however, has manufactured a shameful crisis. The sticker shock of a 250 percent increase in admission is the latest ploy to open up the lands to more drilling, foresting, hunting and off-roading for pay.

“We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said when he announced the price hike last week.​

That sounds similar, but not quite as complete as what he said at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver in July.

“Our great lands, our treasures, belong to us,” Zinke said.

But that was only part of his message in Colorado.

“I can tell ya, the war on American energy is over,” the former Montana congressman said.

But what Zinke didn’t say is that the administration will have a fight on its hands to bring more development to public lands, sacrificing a mantle conservationists can rally around — and win.

Scott Braden, public lands advocate for the Conservation Colorado, said “undoubtedly” the parks need more revenue and the maintenance backlog is real.

“Any economist would tell you that if you have too much demand, you should probably increase the price of the supply,” Braden told me.

“However, my concerns are twofold. One, is that the Trump budget and indeed appropriations over the last however many years of sequestration have further strained the ability of the NPS to carry out its mission. Shifting that cost burden to just the users of the parks is misguided, because national parks should be a national funding priority. Second, by increasing the costs of visiting parks, we make it harder to get kids outdoors, especially kids from poorer families and undeserved communities. This hurts our chances to educate and build the next generation of Americans who will care about parks and public lands.”

Zinke said the year before President Obama took office, the department made about $18 billion a year from offshore drilling, but the figure had fallen to just $2.6 billion last year.

He said the decline was an example of the “consequence of locking and shutting American energy, access and recreation off of our lands.”

Industry pays or you pay, get the picture?

Communities at the gates, such as Estes Park and Grand Lake, will certainly get it if tourism pays a price.

In 2015, more than 305 million people visited national parks, which was an all-time record. Visitors spent $16.9 billion in nearby communities.

Somebody always pays.

Politicians in both parties have no problem picking winners and losers, as long as their side wins.

The night before he visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Zinke said it disturbed him that people don’t trust the government anymore — “how far we’ve come from the government I grew up in; the government of Reagan, when the president would say something you knew it was true when our government was on our side.”

The public comment period on the fee hikes is open until Nov. 23. You can comment online at the National Park Service’s planning website or by mailing a letter to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop 2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 17, 20174min3600

When it comes to conservation policy, Colorado is the best of the West.

That’s the finding of a scorecard released Tuesday by The Center for Western Priorities.

The scorecard rated state-level policies on public lands access, outdoor recreation and responsible energy development in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Colorado is way better than other Western states when it comes to “responsible energy development.”

Colorado scored an 8 out of 10. The next highest states were Utah and Wyoming at 4.

The scorecard measured “setbacks of oil and gas wells, public disclosure of fracking chemicals, spill reporting and transparency, baseline water testing, oil and gas methane emission reduction, well and mine bonding, and whether taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the use of their public lands for private energy development.”

Colorado also was tops in recreation, with a 7 to Utah’s five.

But our state was tied with five others for second place in public lands and access, scoring a 5 while Montana had an 8.

Jennifer Rokala, the executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said the Trump administration is offering troubling proposals on environmental issues.

“Fortunately there’s a different story to be told at the state level,” she said.

Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, said Colorado has benefitted from Gov. John Hickenlooper and key legislators charging a different direction than the Trump administration.

Hickenlooper, for instance, plans to stay the course on reducing greenhouse gases, even as the Trump administration abandons President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the U.S. membership in the Paris Climate Accord.

“I think in Colorado, we can tell a pretty compelling story of that alternative leadership,” Braden said of Trump on a press call with reporters Tuesday morning, citing Hickenlooper.

He said Colorado has show the real dollar value of a thriving outdoor recreation industry, noting that the Outdoor Retailer show relocated from Salt Lake City to Denver this year, because of Utah leaders’ unacceptable policies on public lands.

“Taking care of our public lands is good for business in Colorado,” Braden told reporters, adding the great outdoors is a big part of the state’s brand.

He noted that Great Outdoors Colorado has put nearly $1 billion into the infrastructure around public lands since it was passed by voters in 1992.

When the lottery sunsets in 2024, Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization with 35,000 members, will be there to fight for it.

He said Colorado Parks and Wildlife faces a serious funding shortage. Parks and state lands are cared for with parks fees, permits and hunting licenses.

An effort to raise those fees failed in the last session, but Braden said the legislative push hopefully will begin anew when the next session convenes in January.

“We work to elect and hold accountable conservation leaders,” he said on the press call.

Rokala lauded Colorado’s West-leading scores but added, “No one state does everything perfectly.” She said that Western states can learn from one another.

Indeed, Nevada held its first state Public Lands Day on Sept. 30, and year after Colorado created its day of celebration and months after its first celebration of the day, helped the third Saturday in May each year.

She noted that Colorado has the strongest methane-waste prevention program in the country. The federal rule, in fact, is based on Colorado’s effort.


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Tom RamstackOctober 13, 20175min353
WASHINGTON — Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday called for more local input into federal decisions to designate public lands as national monuments. Tipton, R-Cortez, was responding to a bill approved by a congressional committee one day earlier that seeks to revise the Antiquities Act, which empowers the president to preserve federal lands. “Unfortunately, […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 21, 20175min23430

The man who made Conservation Colorado the engine of the state’s environmental movement is pulling out of the station. Pete Maysmith is becoming the senior vice president of campaigns for the national League of Conservation Voters.

Since taking over as executive director of the then-little-known Colorado Conservation Voters in 2009, Maysmith has led the organization to become the largest and most effective environmental organization in the state with 36,000 members, Colorado Conservation Voters merged with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, four years ago to become Conservation Colorado, an organization that enjoys a seat at the table with policymakers working on clean energy, public lands and the first statewide water management plan, among its initiatives.

Conservation Colorado spent $1.3 million on elections last year, winning 90 percent of the races in which it endorsed candidates.

“Pete has been a passionate defender of the landscapes and natural environment for which Colorado is famous, as well as an amazing organizer of the public to make sure these lands are protected,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statment. “It’s hard to imagine all that he will do at the national level. The quality of our air and water is in good hands.”

Said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver: “Under Pete’s leadership, Colorado has seen many notable conservation victories. We can always use more Colorado commonsense leading the way, and Pete’s knowhow combined with the League of Conservation Voters’ political muscle will help bring the issue of climate change to the forefront.”

Carrie Curtiss, Conservation Colorado’s deputy director, will serve as acting executive director through the end of the year, at which time she’ll leave after 11 years with the organization. Conservation Colorado will perform a national search for an executive director.

“We are so proud of Pete and the wisdom, tenacity and endless energy he has brought to Conservation Colorado,” Diane Carman, chairwoman of the organization’s board, said in a statement. “The fact that our national partner has recruited him speaks volumes about the power and success of this organization. Conservation Colorado is strong, healthy, and will work harder than ever to pass visionary environmental policies and elect pro-conservation candidates in 2018. We wish Pete the best and look forward to working with him in his new role.”

Maysmith has been on the League of Conservation Voters board since 2015, doing electoral work with its Political and Campaign Committee. He’ll step down from that role to work for the league full-time.

“In the new reality that is the Trump administration, now more than ever we need to build our organizing and political power to ensure that our elected officials represent our values,” Maysmith stated. “I’m thrilled to take on the challenge of building the conservation movement nationally and in other states, and together we will fight the forces that seek to pollute our air and water and undermine our right to a healthy environment. I am certain that the organization is in good hands, and I will be cheering them over the coming months and years.”

Maysmith will be based in Colorado.

He will oversee the League of Conservation Voters’ federal and state independent electoral programs, as well as grassroots organizing and advocacy around issues.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Pete onboard as staff after serving a key role on our board and as a state leader,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation voters said. “Pete brings a record of success that will help us channel the energy the public is feeling right now to stand up to the most anti-environmental president in history and elect real environmental champions up and down the ballot in 2017, 2018 and beyond.”

In a statement released by the league, Maysmith said, “The need to have leaders in Washington and the states who will fight for our clean water, clean air, clean energy and public lands is clearer than ever before, and LCV’s two million members and state partners in 28 states stand ready to take back pro-environment majorities.”


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 20, 20174min7200

Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates and Denver-based Conservation Colorado are releasing a report Wednesday that analyzes policies the legislature and state agencies could adopt to reduce carbon pollution and help fight off climate change.

The document backs goals set by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in his July executive order on climate change.

The report shows asks current and future legislators to:

  • Adopt a statewide goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and by 90 percent by 2050. (Hickenlooper’s order set a goal of a 26 percent reduction by 2025, “but we must build on that by establishing pollution limits for 2030 and 2050,” the two environmental groups said in a joint statement.)
  • Advance policies that reduce carbon pollution in electricity, transportation, industrial, commercial and other sectors.
  • Enact a market-based cap on carbon pollution. The groups cited a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program as possibilities.

The full report should be  available on both organizations’ websites today.

While interesting goals, the proposals have little chance of getting through the current legislature. Democrats hold a solid House majority, a nine-seat edge in the 65-member chamber, but Republicans control the Senate, 18-17. The statehouse GOP won’t budge on their support for oil and gas production. They look upon such recommendations from the left with extreme skepticism.

Next year, however, is an election that should shift the balance of power, potentially putting a Republican in the governor’s office, or Democrats could take the majority in the Senate.

Climate-change activists point to the high stakes.

”Climate change is already causing more severe wildfires, droughts, flooding and other harm to our communities and current carbon pollution reduction plans are not enough to avoid even more severe impacts in the future,” Jon Goldin Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, said in a statement. “Our state, businesses, local governments, and communities need to get behind comprehensive statewide action on climate change to reduce carbon pollution by 45 percent by 2030 and to ensure a healthy and resilient economy.”

Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said the report offers a path forward on climate change.

“Gov. Hickenlooper’s important actions on climate change this summer set us on the right path, and now we need to embrace the challenge and implement specific policies that grow our clean energy economy and defend against the impact of climate change that we’re already feeling in our state.”

Here is the governor’s executive order on climate change.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20174min1540

Environmental groups are cheering on a plan to spend Colorado’s $68 million lawsuit settlement from Volkswagen on green-powered solutions to getting around.

Under the draft, $18 million for transit buses, another $18 million for trucks and buses that run on alternative fuels, $10 million to electric vehicle charging stations plus administration and other clean-air spending.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will hold a public hearing on the prosal oon Sept. 18 and take public comments into October before a final decision that’s expected in November.

The $68 million is the state’s entire share of a mediated $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen after  it was discovered the automaker installed computer software to cheat emissions tests in about 550,000 diesel vehicles from 2009 through 2016. About 9,700 of those vehicles were sold in Colorado.

The money from the settlement must go toward reducing vehicle emissions.

“The goal of this settlement is to reduce harmful pollution and positively impact public health as much as possible,”Sophia Guerrero-Murphy, transportation and energy advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said in a statement. “To accomplish these goals, the CDPHE needs to electrify our buses and trucks. This is also an opportunity to make sure our whole state benefits from infrastructure that will positively impact our air and quality of life, especially underserved urban and rural communities.”

The $10 million Colorado could put into electric-charging stations is the maximum the settlement allows. That’s enough to put in 60 fast-charging stations. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group say if those stations are placed 30 miles apart, the stations would offer enough juice to cross interstates 70, 25, and 76, along with most of U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 50, U.S. 285 and U.S. 40

“Volkswagen’s misleadingly dirty cars emitted pollutants by as much as 40 times over the legal limit,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG’s director. “Colorado has an opportunity to use this money in a truly transformative way by focusing on electric cars, buses and trucks. Supporting electrification is the best way to put us on track to where we ought to go — a transportation system with zero emissions.”

Will Toor, the transportation program director for SWEEP, said Colorado should “hit the accelerator for electric vehicles” with the windfall.

“Because Colorado’s major utilities have been closing their most polluting older power plants and rapidly adding wind and solar, the state’s electricity mix is getting cleaner and cleaner so moving towards electricity as the fuel for vehicles puts us on a path to a zero emissions transportation system,” he said in the statement.

More electric vehicles on the road has the support of most statehouse Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. Last December he, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said they would draw up a plan over the next year to put up stations to give electric vehicles a network of more than 2,000 miles of highway.

“Our residents and the millions of visitors to our states will be able to drive electric vehicles from Denver to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas—from the Rockies to the Pacific,” Hickenlooper said at the time.