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Larry Green, left, of Newcastle, Colo., listens as Area Rent-Alls general manager Shaun Jones explains the operation of Green’s new Toro lawn mower in the rental and small-engine sales business’s shop in Westminster on May 13, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Two Democratic state lawmakers have introduced a sweeping climate and environment bill that would outlaw gas-powered lawn equipment along the northern Front Range, set new greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and force insurance companies operating in the state to conduct a climate assessment.

Senate Bill 138 also aims to make carbon capture and sequestration easier and ensure the state’s pension system for public employees can weather the effects of climate change. 

“I really see this as just a bill that is filling in the gaps,” said state Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat. 

Here’s a breakdown of what the expansive measure would do:

Lawn mowers and leaf blowers

The legislation would prohibit the sale or advertising of devices with “small off-road engines” – such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers — starting on Jan. 1, 2030, in areas of the state with air pollution worse than what the Clean Air Act allows.

These so-called non-attainment areas currently include the entire Denver metro area.

The idea is to reduce ozone and greenhouse gas emissions from gas-powered lawn equipment, which are outsized polluters. The California Air Resources Board says that operating a gas-powered lawn mower for an hour can have the same polluting effect as driving a Toyota Camry 300 miles. 

Operating a gas-powered leaf blower for an hour is even worse, according to CARB. That’s the equivalent of driving the Camry 1,100 miles.

“The two-stroke engines typically found in lawnmowers, leaf blowers, trimmers — that sort of thing — are estimated to produce almost 20% of the ozone,” Hansen said. 

MORE: Should I let my kids outside? and other Colorado air pollution questions

The measure would encourage Coloradans to switch to lawn equipment powered by electricity by offering an income tax credit equal to 30% of the purchase price for new mowers and blowers bought in tax years 2023 through 2029. 

Businesses that use lawn equipment would be eligible for a rebate if they purchase electric alternatives.

Hansen said the bill aims to give people a long runway toward making a transition to electric lawn equipment .

A climate-risk assessment for insurance companies

The measure would require insurance companies operating in Colorado to perform a “climate-risk assessment” by Jan. 1, 2024, and each year forward that determines the economic and business risks that climate change poses to their business. 

The reports would be made public by the state.

Washington Avenue and Trail Ridge Drive in Louisville during the Marshall fire on Dec. 30, 2021. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The review must include an analysis of how climate change would: 

A similar review for PERA

The bill would require the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the pension system for Colorado’s public employees, to complete a similar climate assessment of its investment portfolio.

The first report would be due Jan. 1, 2024, and would have to be conducted annually. Similar to the insurance review, the PERA report would have to be posted online.

New greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals

The legislation would add two new benchmarks to Colorado’s existing goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Right now, the state must reduce emissions by 26% by 2025 from 2005 levels and then by 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Senate Bill 138 would also require that emissions are slashed from 2005 levels by 40% by 2028 and by 75% by 2040.

Hansen said adding the benchmarks would ensure Colorado is on track to meet its emissions goals. He worries there is too much time between the current goals.

“I think having a clear target in 2040 will really help us stay on track,” he said.

Making carbon capture and sequestration easier

The bill would give the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission authority to regulate so-called “class VI injection wells,” which are used to sequester captured carbon emissions. Right now, only the federal government has the ability to regulate such wells, which are used to inject carbon dioxide deep into the ground.

“If you think about all the industrial processes that produce carbon dioxide, we are going to need options to remove that from the atmosphere,” Hansen said. “So this would make it more possible for the state to allow that.”

Making the agricultural sector a partner in fighting climate change

Finally, the measure requires Colorado’s commissioner of agriculture to work with the Colorado Energy Office and the Air Quality Control Commission to conduct a study examining carbon reduction and sequestration opportunities in the agricultural sector.

The bill would also direct the Colorado Agricultural Value-Added Development Board to offer financing for farmers who use their land for both agricultural purposes as well as solar-energy generation, as well as change the tax code to add such projects to the definition of solar energy facilities. 

Who is for and against the bill?

Hansen’s coprime sponsor on the bill is Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver. 

​​”This bill is an ambitious next step in both disclosing data and reducing greenhouse emissions,” Valdez said. 

There are already a number of groups that have lined up to oppose the measure, including the Colorado Propane Gas Association, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Concern and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.

A host of organizations, including PERA, Xcel Energy, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are seeking changes to the measure.

One big hurdle for Hansen and Valdez will be Gov. Jared Polis, who has clashed with Democratic state lawmakers in recent years on environmental and climate policy. But Hansen said he thinks Polis, who has veto power, won’t stop the measure.

“I think I’ve talked to the governor’s office about each of the sections,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of agreement. I think there are some changes that they’re requesting, which I think are pretty reasonable. That’s the normal process. We’ll be working through that. I’m planning a number of tweaks and changes to the bill.”

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul