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Water and energy bills on the table

I was accused of trying to break the Senate’s gavel last week. I had the honor of presiding over the committee of the whole for the first time, although I’m unsure if I’ll be allowed to chair again if the gavel doesn’t recover. It was a thrilling experience; it’s not every day you get to preside over Senate proceedings. In general, I managed to work my way through it while keeping the procedural errors to a minimum.

A number of important bills were debated recently, although that could be just my feeling because I’m sponsoring these “important bills.” I’m happy to report that Senate Bill 25 and 82 passed unanimously through committee. Senate Bill 25 extends the long-term funding of the water efficiency grant program to 2020 (currently set to expire in 2012) and Senate Bill 82 repeals term limits of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe environmental commission.

I also introduced a resolution authorizing the use of funds administered by the Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority for projects that provide safe drinking water to Coloradans and control water pollution. These funds are critical to the survival of important water projects in our state and are desperately needed by communities around Colorado. I have always viewed water policy as a non-partisan issue, particularly because water is needed and shared by everyone. Unfortunately, this resolution quickly became politicized when some legislators took issue with federal provisions contained in the application of funding. The fact remains that these projects are put at risk without the authorization of the eligibility list. We cannot play political tug-of-war at the expense of our citizens who depend on these projects for good jobs and safe drinking water. Fortunately, the majority of my fellow legislators agreed, and the Senate ultimately passed the resolution.

Thursday, I joined the governor and Reps. Max Tyler and Jack Pommer to announce House Bill 1001, a bill I am sponsoring along with Sen. Gail Schwartz. The bill will increase the Renewable Energy Standard from 20 to 30 percent by 2020 for Investor-Owned Utilities like Xcel Energy and Black Hills Corp. Energy providers across Colorado are developing new and innovative sources of renewable fuel. We must applaud and advance their efforts, and continue to expand the new energy economy in Colorado. The bill will create more jobs and put Coloradans back to work, while making us a national leader in renewable energy. Increasing the standard will also protect Colorado against future price spikes in energy caused by instability in fossil fuel prices. By requiring utility companies to generate nearly one-third of their electricity from renewable resources, we will continue to improve our energy, environment, and economic security.

To energy providers in our area, I want to assure you that the statute remains unchanged for Rural Electric Associations. This is an issue I have been working very hard on and as a result, this bill will only apply to larger investor-owned utilities that have the resources and capacity to meet this deadline with less difficultly. I commend the work our local REAs are doing to also expand their sources of renewable energy. The new law will ensure REAs have time to continue to do so.

The Senate will also start to hear House Bills 1189-1200. These house bills address the suspension of tax exemptions currently provided to some private entities by the state. I want to make clear that I too have concerns about these bills and there are some I may not support. This is a difficult issue because the state is in a budget crisis and, as the constitution requires, we are doing everything we can to balance the budget. Thank you for the calls and e-mails regarding this matter; I will certainly keep your concerns in mind.