Proposed bill aims to cut pollution through 30% discounts on electric lawn equipment

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-27 12:58:58-05

DENVER — A bill aimed at improving Colorado’s air passed its first committee test on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 23-016 does everything from offering tax credits on electric lawn equipment to setting new deadlines for greenhouse gas reductions.

“We need to do our part to make sure we avoid the climate crisis that will be coming if we don't reduce emissions,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, D - Denver, the bill’s prime sponsor.

The bill would, among other things:

  • Require big insurance companies and the Public Employees’ Retirement Association to complete an annual climate risk disclosure on their investments
  • Specify that wastewater thermal energy equipment is a type of pollution control device
  • Authorize the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to regulate certain injection wells that the federal government currently regulates
  • Modify how fixed bill credits are calculated for community solar gardens
  • Require local government to expedite reviews of land use applications to renovate transmission lines.

Part of the bill could also result in some savings for consumers by offering a 30% tax credit for people who buy electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers and other lawn equipment. Customers would immediately be offered the discount at the register, and then the companies selling the equipment would file for the tax credit.

A similar bill failed in the legislature last year when lawmakers reached the end of the session.

“We're not taking anybody's mower away, but we do want to incentivize people to make the switch,” Hansen said.

Though they are small in size, gas-powered lawn equipment emit a lot of pollution into the environment.

“Pound for pound, gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers produce a lot more ozone-forming emissions even than the cars and trucks we drive,” said Kirsten Schatz, clean air advocate for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG).

Utah Clean Air found that a person using their snow blower for roughly eight hours over the course of the winter season is the equivalent to driving a car from Los Angeles to Miami in terms of pollution. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board found that operating a lawn mower for one hour results in as much ozone-forming emissions as driving a compact car 300 miles, or from Colorado Springs to Grand Junction.

That’s because small lawn equipment doesn’t have the same filtration system as cars.

“They're spewing a lot of these ozone-forming pollution and other pollution straight at you while you're out there clearing your sidewalks and your driveway, and that's not anything that anybody wants to be breathing in,” Schatz said.

COPIRG supports SB 23-016 because of its incentive program and says this electric equipment will be cheaper for consumers and easier to maintain in the long run because they don’t require gasoline.

The group estimates a complete transition away from gas-powered equipment will result in achieving one-fifth of the amount of ozone reductions the state needs to make to meet United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards.

Another part of the bill would update the clean air standards for the state and set new deadlines to reach them. Right now, Colorado law calls for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in 2030 and 90% in 2050.

“I really feel like those need to be updated to reflect the latest science,” Hansen said.

SB 23-016 calls for the new target to be 100% reduction by 2050. Hansen admits there would still be emissions, but it would be offset in different ways.

“It also sets interim targets. So right now, we have nothing in statute between 2030 and 2050, no milestones along the way. This bill would fill that in with targets of 65% by 2035, 80% in 2040 and 90% in 2045,” Hansen said.

The aim of all these deadlines is to keep the state on track to hit its ultimate goal.

However, business groups are concerned with the idea and what it would take to reach the new goals. Rachel Beck, executive director of the Colorado Competitive Council, says industries already worked with lawmakers in recent years to come to a compromise on the current target dates, and speeding up the timeline could be expensive.

“We are talking about massive infrastructure projects, and these things don't turn on a dime. We're talking millions, maybe even billions, of dollars, and years, or even decades, to change these kinds of infrastructure projects,” Beck said. “The results of this bill will be an increase to residential utility bills, small business utility bills at a time when no one can afford to pay one penny more.”

Beck insists that business groups are already onboard with making the clean energy transition and are taking serious steps in that direction. However, she says moving the goalposts when a compromise was just reached on the current target dates is not only unfair but could also put a lot of investments at risk with the uncertainty.

Beyond that, Beck says the technology to achieve these ambitious goals still needs to catch up.

“Industries will be able to meet these goals at varying degrees of speed, depending on where that technology is. And if we legislate in advance of that technology, that's not going to be effective,” she said.

Hansen disagrees, saying the reason utility bills are so high right now is because of natural gas prices and last year’s cold snap that customers are having to pay for. He insists that speeding up the target dates is achievable and will lower costs for consumers in the long run because utility costs won’t be as susceptible to volatility in the oil and gas market.

In a statement, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce said clean air and water will benefit everyone and that it is committed to working with policy makers in good faith around the clean energy transition. However, the Chamber says this bill moves the goal posts.

"The Denver Metro Chamber supports incentive-based approaches to facilitate our energy transition in ways that are technically and financially possible. We don’t want to see Colorado lose jobs and tax revenue with unrealistic timelines and targets geared around political campaigns instead of science.”

The bill passed its first committee test Wednesday and will continue through the legislative process.

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