Life in the legislature

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Don Coram is Colorado State Senator for District 6

The 2016 legislative session is moving into full gear these days, with much of our time now being spent in committees as bills get their first hearing in front of these committees of reference. If a bill makes it past its first hearing, it’ll then move to what’s called the second reading on the senate floor. There, substantive debate and possible amendments determine whether the bill will move on for a final 3rd reading vote in the Senate and possible passage to the House, only to repeat the same process there.

If a bill has a state fiscal impact, it detours to the Appropriations Committee before debate on the Senate floor. There are many potential “off ramps” as a bill winds its way through the legislative process; patience and stamina are helpful virtues for legislators awaiting the fate of their proposals.

In addition to chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee and serving as vice-chairwoman of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, I’m kept busy meeting with people who are interested in providing feedback on my bills and perhaps seeking amendments to them. One of the bills that I’m working on most often these days will, if passed, give electricity generation from woody biomass an incentive similar to what solar energy received under state law.

This biomass bill is my effort to assist projects in high wildfire risk areas by removing forest brush and small diameter trees and utilizing these fuels to produce electricity at relatively small power plants. This type of project helps move us forward in reducing wildfire risk, thereby improving public safety and avoiding the high costs associated with fighting wildfires.

Utilizing the woody biomass in small-scale power plants also creates jobs in local communities desiring new economic opportunities.

Based on feedback I’ve received on the introduced bill, I’m amending it to provide that the renewable energy multiplier would be for those woody biomass projects that produce biochar which is carbon-neutral or carbon-negative. Solar and wind energy have benefitted from the use of incentives under the renewable energy standard and, while there aren’t likely to be many of these small woody biomass power plants around the state, they can offer the significant multiple benefits, mentioned above, without cost to the state.

Left as is, when the woody biomass burns in catastrophic wildfires, we waste that fuel and its energy potential and the fires cause significant damage to air quality. Watersheds located in the burn areas and downstream are negatively impacted as well. It’s time we move to a more proactive approach to Colorado’s forest health and this is one step forward in that direction.

In early February, I’ll also be presenting in committee a bill that would continue the wildfire risk reduction grant program. This competitive state program awards grants to project applicants who provide matching funds and resources, including volunteers, to mitigate the risk of wildfires in their areas. This has been a very successful program and widely utilized in many of the counties of my district.
Remote video testimony for both of these bills will be possible from southwest Colorado, rather than having to drive the Capitol in Denver, by going to the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango on the day of hearing. If you’re interested in testifying, please contact my office for more details.

About the author

Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts is the Senator for Colorado District 6 which encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel counties. In 2015, she was elected to serve as the President Pro-Tem for the Colorado State Senate.