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Colorado bill package hopes to curb climate change by offering consumers incentives

Colorado bill package hopes to curb climate change by offering consumers incentives
Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-21 20:34:08-04

DENVER — Between the windy weather and blooming blossoms, spring is in the air all around Colorado. For Martyn Church, the owner and manager of Eco Lawn and Garden, warmer weather means a return to the busy season for his business.

Eco Lawn and Garden is one of only a handful of lawn companies in the state that runs entirely on electric lawn equipment.

After years of working for landscaping companies and breathing in the fumes from their gas-powered equipment, Church decided that when he opened his own business, he wanted to make the switch.

“The fumes were really bad for you. The noise is incredible and then once we started with the electric, it was obvious that the noise was a huge pollutant in our neighborhoods,” Church said.

At first, the equipment was expensive and the batteries wouldn’t last long, but he said the technology has come a long way and now his equipment can even outlast the gas-powered equipment.

“The equipment is lighter, for one. They’re very quiet and they're easy to use. There's very little maintenance on them at all. There's no changing oil, there's no changing filters, there's no changing fuel filters,” Church said.

Gas-powered lawn equipment contributes to roughly 10% of ozone in the state.

With Colorado’s air quality facing a federal downgrade, Colorado lawmakers are looking for ways to incentivize people to do their part.

A bill package aimed at curbing climate change is currently making its way through the state legislature, and would do everything from offer incentives to agriculture producers that capture carbon to electrifying school buses.

Some of the bills target businesses while others are more consumer-driven. All of them are being run by state Democrats and most of them are being opposed by Republicans.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 22-138 would, among other things, incentivize people to buy electric lawn equipment by offering them a tax credit. The credit would be applied to the price upon purchase, meaning people won’t have to worry about writing it off later.

“So, they walk to the cash register and they receive their tax credit. They don't have to put extra money up front and then claim it later and, you know, lose the receipt,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, the bill’s prime sponsor.

A previous version of the bill called for a ban on the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment by 2030, however the ban was removed from the bill after receiving industry pushback.

The tax credit would result in a 30% discount for people who choose to go electric from 2023 to 2029.

The bill also required the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) to include climate-risk assessments in its annual report and updates greenhouse gas emission reduction goals to add a 40% reduction goal for 2028 and a 75% reduction goal by 2040.

Church said while there are a few downsides to electric mowers — like the fact that some cannot cut the grass as high as he would prefer — he likes the equipment because it’s healthier, lighter and less noisy.

“I think if you don't want to get left behind, now's the time to start switching your equipment over,” he said.

Another bill, Senate Bill 22-51, would exempt air-source and ground-source heat pumps from the state sales tax. It would also create an income tax credit for consumers who buy those heat pumps.

“If we can switch over to heat pumps, not only do we reduce pollution, but we also drastically reduce costs, because the monthly utility bills go down,” Hansen said.

He insists that having more families and businesses move away from the gas businesses will not only save money but also cut down on pollution.

However, the units are not cheap — a legislative fiscal analysis found that the average price of an air-source heat pump is $6,000 while a ground-source heat pump will typically cost $20,000. So, even with a 13% discount, much of the burden would fall on the consumer or business.

Senate Bill 22-180, meanwhile, would create a grant program to offer free transit rides to people during ozone season June 1 through August 31. The goal is to get more people out of their cars and onto buses or trains to reduce pollution.

If approved, the majority of the funding would go to the Regional Transportation District to cover the fares of riders during the ozone months. However, the program would only last for the next two summers.

Another bill, Senate Bill 22-193, would set up several grant programs in the state to help businesses and families cut down on pollution. A portion of the bill calls for a grant program to help school districts transition to electric buses for their students.

“That may not sound like much to those of us who don't ride a school bus anymore, but your kids do. And it's important that they have cleaner air to breathe,” said Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver.

One portion of the bill calls for the state to spent $750,000 to offer free annual RTD Eco Passes to state employees while another part sets up a grant program to offer money to public and private entities to help decommission and replace their old diesel trucks.

The bill also calls for the creation of a new grant program to help low-income families afford electric bicycles.

“What we want to do is we want to make them cheaper. That allows anybody who wants one — they get one. We believe in saving people money, but also in inclusivity,” Valdez said.

While Democrats are touting these bills as an important step forward in the fight against climate change, Republicans are questioning whether they are necessary.

“What they're asking to do is take money out of our general fund and subsidize companies, private industry or public industry, and that ultimately is on the backs of our taxpayers,” said Rep. Dan Woog, R-Weld.

Woog said he agrees that he too wants clean air and water for the state, but he said the better plan is to let the free market play out as the technology becomes cheaper and more readily available.

“Over time, those changes are going to happen anyway and there's really no reason to push people and to make them pay for this by pushing it faster,” He said.

He’s more supportive of a gradual approach, particularly at a time when inflation and prices are high for both businesses and consumers.

He said he also questions whether these ideas will actually result in cost savings and insists that people know how to save themselves money on their own without the interference of the government, so he doesn’t see a reason why lawmakers should use taxpayer money to meddle.

Max Boykoff, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, agrees that actions on the parts of consumers will only make a small dent in the overall climate picture.

“Those kinds of individual actions really, honestly, only make modest greenhouse gas reductions,” Boykoff said.

The changes made by consumers or businesses today also won’t result in an immediate improvement to the environment.

“Sadly, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stays in the atmosphere 50 to 200 years,” he said.

Still, with Colorado facing drought conditions and a hot summer ahead, Boykoff said every little bit helps in mitigating the effects of climate change, so he said it’s important for both people and businesses to get started right away.