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Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act passes Senate

House Bill 1365, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act that I sponsored with Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction), passed the Senate on third and final reading. This will help Colorado achieve Clean Air requirements by retrofitting or replacement of out-dated coal fired power plants on the Front Range with low or non-emitting energy sources such as cleaner burning natural gas. Overall, the bill will create many new jobs in Colorado, but there were concerns raised about costs to consumers and potential impacts to the coal industry. Therefore, we included two amendments in the bill to protect against unintended and unforeseen consequences. I supported an amendment that requires the Public Utilities Commission to take into account economic, health and environmental impacts on communities when implementing the bill. In drafting its plan to reduce harmful emissions, the PUC will make special consideration for communities where coal is economically prominent. I also supported an amendment, offered by co-sponsor, Sen. Penry, to prevent utility cost increases to Colorado consumers by this change until July of 2012. By adopting this amendment we advanced clean air and good jobs without requiring Colorado residents to pay more in their energy bills.

I worked hard this week to encourage approval of a proposal for the state to exercise its option to purchase 10,460 acre-feet of water from the Animas-La Plata project in Southwest Colorado. If purchased, this water will help secure water supplies for future needs in southwest Colorado, as well as firm up needs in other parts of the state by mitigating the impacts of delivery requirements to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact. The estimated cost of the water is approximately $3,500 per acre-foot, which will prove to be a sound investment for our state. To be clear, the money to buy the water will not come from the precious and sparse general fund dollars that the legislature is working hard to conserve. By statue, money used to fund water projects is allocated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board from severance tax revenues generated from oil and gas development, which are expected to be higher than previously anticipated. By federal law, any water that is not purchased by the state is allocated equally to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The measure was unanimously approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Monday, and has also been endorsed by the Colorado Water Congress.

The Long Bill (next year’s budget) will be considered by the Senate next week. There will be tough decisions that will need to be made in the projections to insure that Colorado maintains a balanced budget. An issue regarding the ability for Fort Lewis College to adjust tuition rates was identified, but was addressed by an amendment in the House offered by Reps. Tipton, Roberts, and Pace. In discussions with representatives of Fort Lewis College, there are no plans to raise tuition during the next year, but it is important that they are treated the same as other colleges and universities regarding tuition flexibility. We recently received good news about our state’s economic forecast, but difficult cuts are still necessary until the economy makes a full rebound.

I met with Australian dignitaries and water experts in the latter part of the week. David Downie and Sally-Ann Watts are representatives of the Australian government who came to Colorado to discuss some shared water supply and environmental concerns between Colorado and Australia. The discussions about municipal supplies, irrigation, and drought were very beneficial, and there were many similarities that were identified regarding unpredictable water supplies in our respective regions. It was great to discuss water issues from an international perspective.

The Senate adjourned early this week for Good Friday and because Friday was also a furlough day for Colorado state employees. The 3-percent pay cut state employees have absorbed has helped save taxpayers $27 million during a difficult recession. I am thankful for their sacrifice.