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Bills address watersheds, forests, natural disasters

We celebrated Earth Day last week, a holiday set aside to show our love for nature, ample water, clean air and a healthy world. The Legislature takes the celebration seriously.

Rep. Barbara McLachlan

Understanding how important our watersheds are, House Bill 22-1379 offers grants to help manage healthy forests and protect our drinking water. It addresses the urgent need to reduce wildfire risks by implementing treatments focusing on promoting watershed resilience. It’s a great bill for the Western Slope.

It joins other wildfire bills that support firefighters, provide funding for more equipment, set up mitigation measures for our wilderness/urban interface and steep mountain slopes, and encourage the working relationships between our state and federal forest managers.

Senate Bill 22-206 helps victims of natural disasters. As forest fire season has been stretched into forest fire years, we must prepare for, and rebuild from, the ensuing results. This bill creates a disaster resilience rebuilding program, providing loans and grants to property owners to rebuild; a sustainable rebuilding program, providing grants to rebuild with sustainable and energy-saving materials; and the office of climate preparedness, helping to coordinate disaster recovery efforts.

As air toxins affect our health, oftentimes without our even knowing it, House Bill 22-1244 creates a program to monitor for air toxins in both rural and urban locations. The health-based air-quality standards will help protect individuals who are more vulnerable to this type of air pollution.

Another bill, Senate Bill 22-193, aims to improve Colorado’s air quality by offering grants to private and public entities for voluntary projects to reduce air pollutants from industrial and manufacturing operations.

It also offers grant money for an electric bike share or ownership program, and a rebate program for people who live in low- and moderate-income households to buy non-polluting commuting equipment. And another grant will help school districts finance and maintain electric-powered school buses.

We are lucky to have so much geothermal energy in Archuleta County, as Senate Bill 22-118 adds this energy to the existing solar energy statutes, promoting its use as an alternative energy source. The bill also encourages developing educational materials for consumers on this sustainable, low-emission option.

Several bills are still on the legislative drawing board:

● One looks at building codes to include energy-saving products and designs. They would help Coloradans save money on their energy bill and reduce climate emissions.

● Another will put the responsibility for using recyclable materials on the producer, helping consumers have more options when they want to recycle. This could reduce the use of non-recyclable packaging materials and keep excessive product out of landfills. Colorado’s 15 percent recycling rate is less than half of the nation’s average.

● A third bill, strongly supported by the water community, addresses the Perfluoralkya and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals in a multitude of products. PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” are entering our water sources. The bill creates a timeline to phase out the distribution of many products that contain intentionally added PFAS chemicals.

Our earth should be celebrated every day.

Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, is serving her third term representing La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray, Hinsdale and Gunnison counties. She has been a journalist and teacher.