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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 1, 20175min660
Chris Hansen

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s July 11 Executive Order puts Colorado on the path to meet America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025. It does this by building on the clean energy progress we have already achieved as a state, and by prioritizing working with utilities to achieve these goals.

This is a smart economic move. The International Finance Corporation estimates the Paris Agreement will create $23 trillion in investment opportunity, which means Colorado can create good jobs by working toward the Paris target. This is also a realistic move. We can meet these goals today, while decreasing consumer costs and generating new investment for our workers and communities by working with utilities and industry.

Renewable power is now the cheapest new source of electricity for power customers. Colorado has proven we can harness our abundant wind resources while maintaining grid reliability and low costs.  Building renewables is a winner for consumers because it avoids buying fuels and helps reduce pollution.  The real challenge is managing the transition from older, less efficient power plants to a clean fleet while addressing local economic consequences, including job losses caused by these closures.

When power plants are retired, they often have residual value. They are called “stranded assets” because the plants and equipment, already included in consumers’ rates, still need to be paid off.   This is exactly what is happening in Colorado and around the country to old generation plants and we must be prepared.

Fortunately, there is a proven solution to repay the utility without creating additional burdens on ratepayers: refinancing these stranded assets at a much lower interest rate using ratepayer-backed bonds.  This approach is time tested, and has been employed in more than 20 states since 1997. Consumers save a bundle as these low-cost bonds replace more costly capital payments. Utilities’ shareholders benefit as their capital is returned immediately and reinvested into more efficient and clean energy investments.  Finally, some of the significant savings generated by the plant retirements can be used to assist displaced workers and communities.

During the 2017 legislative session, state Rep. Daneya Esgar and I introduced HB17-1339 to bring this refinancing approach to Colorado. The bill authorized ratepayer-backed bond refinancing and detailed what the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) would need to consider to approve a utility’s use of the bonds. It also directed that 15 percent of the savings from the refinancing be earmarked to help workers transition and communities recover.  Workers, consumer representatives, and communities all offered support for HB17-1339.  The bill cleared the House, but died in the Senate based on opposition from coal mining interests.

Gov. Hickenlooper is looking for ways to meet his climate goals without costing taxpayers money.  Our approach can do this while also reducing costs for customers and putting private dollars to work in communities where plants close in a “win-win-win” solution.  It’s a win for electric consumers who save money by lowering interest costs and by avoiding buying fossil fuels.  It’s a win for utilities and their shareholders; they get to recycle their investment capital into more productive new clean energy investments at a fair return.   And in a first in the nation, Colorado will have resources to help communities and workers when power plants retire without needing additional tax dollars or expenditures.

I invite the governor to consider using ratepayer backed bonds as one tool in the toolkit he is assembling to address our climate goals.  Now that new, cleaner options cost less than running older more polluting plants, it is time to seize the economic opportunity at hand and make the switch.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 5, 20174min600

ColoradoPolitics.com and other news media have reported extensively on efforts by the 2017 legislature to tackle the rampant abuse of opioids across Colorado; notably, a pilot program authored by two Democratic state lawmakers from Pueblo was OK’d by their peers and signed into law by the governor. Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, will use marijuana tax revenue to train practitioners and expand treatment for opioid addiction in Pueblo and Routt counties, two places hit hard by the abuse of the drugs.

Of course, that effort just scratches the surface. It’s tempting whenever the legislature acts on a crisis to declare it solved, but we all know better, and an overview by Pulp Newsmagazine of the ongoing fight against rampant opioid abuse in Pueblo reminds us of the scale of the problem. Pulp’s Kara Mason writes:

The evolution of opioid addiction in Colorado, particularly in Southern Colorado, has been aggressive to say the least.

In April, a multi-agency report under the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention showcased a grave picture of the problem across the state: heroin-related deaths doubled from 2011 to 2015, heroin seizures by Colorado law enforcement increased 2,035 percent during the same time period and the number of people who were in treatment for heroin addiction increased 128 percent.

And one takeaway from Mason’s reporting is that delving deeper into the opioid issue involves more than just legislation; for one thing, it requires concerted action by the communities most affected, like Pueblo:

In each 2015 and 2016, Pueblo County saw 12 overdoses related to opioid use — the highest death count in the state, three times the state rate. And according to Dr. Michael Nerenberg, who runs the mobile needle exchange program in Pueblo, the problem isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse.

At a February Pueblo City Council work session Nerenberg said over the course of a year — June 2015 to June 2016 — the exchange had a reported 3,020 visits, which comes out to just over 250 visits per month. The needle exchange saw 420 total new clients and distributed nearly 200,000 needles. 118,000 were collected by the volunteers, which Nerenberg said is a conservative estimate.

How have city government and other agencies responded? What more could they do? And what role can the federal government play? Read Mason’s story for insights into those and many other questions swirling around Colorado’s opioid crisis. Pueblo is as good a place as any to look for answers; the Steel City is on the frontline of the battle.

 



Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 22, 20176min970

The legislative pushback on opioid abuse in Colorado got lost in the shuffle of winners and losers at the end of the session. Lawmakers and the Colorado Department of Human Services have a lot to show for the past few months.

Their work is warranted. The abuse of hard drugs is being called crisis in the state, and overdose deaths have doubled since 2000.

Colorado has the second-highest rate of prescription drugs abuse in the country, behind Oregon.

This past session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 74 to create a pilot program in Pueblo and Routt counties, where heroin deaths have soared.

Lawmakers also approved Senate Bill 193 to use $1 million of marijuana tax money for a substance abuse research center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

House Bill 1351 calls on the Department of Human Serves to study options under Medicaid for inpatient and residential recovery programs. Currently the state offers only four days of emergency treatment.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen’s name and influence have been common on the legislation addressing substance abuse the past two sessions.

“Our state and nation are facing a health crisis and it is imperative we take action to support people who are suffering from this disease,” said the Lakewood Democrat who has made her mother’s fight with addiction part of her congressional campaign.

“For far too long, these people have been disregarded because of the stigma associated with addiction. But after years of overprescribing, a large portion of the population is addicted to pain pills. Everyone knows someone who is affected, and inaction is not an option.”

At Pettersen’s request, lawmakers created a committee to study substance abuse disorders and suggest solutions for next year’s session.

The committee will study data about the scope of the issue, as well as existing practices. Pettersen said lawmakers would “study prevention, intervention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery support strategies for opioid and other substance use disorders in Colorado.”

Programs for Pueblo and Routt

Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, both Democrats from Pueblo, pushed for the pilot program for Pueblo and Routt counties.

In a newsletter to constituents, Garcia said Pueblo makes up 6 percent of Colorado’s population, but 18.1 percent of heroin abuse cases in 2014.

Senate Bill 74 will help increase access to addiction treatment, including behavioral therapy and medication, the local lawmakers said.

“This represents a bold and innovative effort to directly tackle some of the very serious challenges of opioid addiction, specifically in southeastern Colorado,” said Esgar.

Said Garcia: “There are many stories I have heard about families and their loved ones that struggle with opioid addiction. In our community of Pueblo, this epidemic has particularly harmed our young people, and are tearing homes apart, but there just aren’t enough treatment options available. I know this bill is critical not just for Pueblo and Routt counties, but for all of Colorado, to expand access to treatment so we can take a modest, yet very important step in combating the opioid epidemic.”

Federal aid

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, wrote in his column this month that drug addition epidemic in Colorado. He simultaneously announced Colorado will receive a $7.8 million federal grant for opioid prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

“I know that Colorado’s health care providers, law enforcement officers, educators, and community support groups are committed to saving lives and bringing an end to prescription drug and heroin abuse, and this grant will be extremely helpful for our state,” Tipton wrote.

The  Colorado Department of Human Services will use federal money on medication-assisted therapy, family therapy, the overdose medication Naloxone, emergency room studies, crisis services, training for doctors and nurses, residential treatment and training and equipping law enforcement.

“The Office of Behavioral Health continues to be concerned about the devastating effects of misuse of prescription pain medication and heroin addiction on individuals and our communities,” Nancy VanDeMark, the office’s director, said in a statement. “This funding will enable communities to expand the treatment and support they provide to individuals addicted to opioids.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 2, 20175min540

The death Sunday of onetime 3rd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek — a legend in southern Colorado politics, a linchpin in the state Democratic Party and a friend to countless Coloradans — has prompted an outpouring of praise and memories from fellow Puebloans as well as the state’s political establishment.

The Pueblo Chieftain’s Peter Roper captured the moment and the sentiments from a host of political notables. Roper did some diligent reporting tracking down quite a few of them. Here’s Democratic former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm:

“Ray never took politics personally. … He had such joy. He was the role model of a good legislator in my mind. He was always a solid Democrat but understood that Democrats don’t have all the answers either, so he was willing to reach out and work with Republicans and anyone.”

…”If we had lawmakers like Ray on both sides of the aisle today, there isn’t anything our state couldn’t get accomplished.”

Former Colorado Republican Chair and longtime political image maker Dick Wadhams:

“Ray was a good man, plain and simple, and that made him the politician he was. … I remember when Republicans were looking at redrawing the 3rd District to include some of Jefferson County and they laughed and said, ‘Kogovsek won’t survive that.’ ”

“I told them never count out Ray Kogovsek. He’ll be tough to beat wherever you draw the lines.”

Legendary lobbyist and Pueblo power broker Wally Stealey:

“I’ve lost my good friend and so has Pueblo. … He was a good legislator and good lobbyist for Colorado. It was impossible to know Ray and not consider him your friend. He had that great personality that let him tell somebody to go to hell and they wouldn’t take it personally because he didn’t mean it that way.”

Democratic state Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo:

“Before I even ran for office, Ray made time to meet with me when I was a community organizer. … He had heard about the work I was doing in the Pueblo community and wanted to know how he could help me succeed.”

Be sure to read Roper’s full story; it taps into a Who’s Who of Colorado politics that is sure to enlighten those who were unfamiliar with Kogovsek and warm the many who knew him. Here’s the link again.

And for the record, here’s Kogovsek’s biography in brief, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Born in Pueblo, Colorado, Kogovsek graduated from Pueblo Catholic High School, 1959. He attended Pueblo Junior College, Pueblo, Colorado from 1960 to 1962. Kogovsek received his Bachelor of Science degree from Adams State College, Alamosa, Colorado, 1964. He then did graduate work, at University of Denver, 1965. He served in the Pueblo County Clerk office from 1964 to 1973. He worked as a paralegal aide from 1974 to 1978. Kogovsek served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1969 to 1971. He then served in the Colorado Senate from 1971 to 1978. He served as a delegate, Colorado State Democratic conventions from 1966 to 1979.

Kogovsek was elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-sixth and to the two succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1985). He did not seek reelection to the Ninety-ninth Congress. He was a resident of Pueblo, Colorado. Kogovsek died on April 30, 2017.

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 27, 20173min43
Resilient Pueblo has seen good times and bad as well as everything in between. Throughout it all, the city’s fortunes have hinged significantly on its fabled steel mill, the onetime Colorado Fuel & Iron company that today is known as Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel. What was good for the mill almost always has been good for the […]

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Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 10, 20164min48
Frances Koncilja, candidate for the state’s Public Utilities Commission, received a strong thumbs-up from the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee Monday. Koncilja, a Denver-area attorney with ties to Pueblo, was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and won confirmation from six of the seven members of the Business Committee. Both chambers of the Legislature will […]

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