DENVER, CO — During a virtual bill signing ceremony today, Governor Jared Polis signed into law three bills to hold corporate polluters accountable, enhance public notification requirements when toxic chemicals are emitted by polluters, and improve the energy efficiency of new public school constructions.

HB20-1265, sponsored by Representatives Adrienne Benavidez and Alex Valdez, will inform Colorado communities when toxic chemicals are emitted from many refineries, factories, coal plants and other facilities. These air toxins heavily impact the communities that live close by and can cause a number of health complications. This new law requires facilities to conduct outreach in English and Spanish and notify the surrounding communities when they release toxic levels of benzene, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide into the air. The requirement applies to both anticipated or unanticipated incidents, including as a result of a malfunction, start-up, shutdown, upset or emergency. 

“The new law signed today will protect the rights of all Coloradans to breathe clean air and ensure they are empowered with clear information about the activities of their industrial neighbors,” said Rep. Benavidez, D-Adams County. “The often low-income, often non-English speaking communities that are directly affected by toxic emissions have a right to know when polluters release deadly chemicals into the air their children breathe. This common sense new law requires notification and will help ensure Coloradans have the information they need.”

“This new law came about through the power of an organized community demanding change,” said Rep. Valdez, D-Denver. “Notifying communities when dangerous levels of toxins have been emitted is a reasonable requirement for industry, but it will go a long way towards empowering our neighborhoods, our families, and our state with crucial information. I’m proud of the work we’ve done here.”

The second bill signed into law, HB20-1143, sponsored by Reps. Dominique Jackson and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, would hold polluters accountable by increasing criminal penalties for the pollution of state waters and raising the maximum daily fine for civil air and water quality violations. The bill would also give the Attorney General and District Attorneys jurisdiction over water quality violations. 

“By increasing the consequences for polluters, today we took an important step towards ensuring corporate accountability and protecting our environment,” said Rep. Jackson, D-Aurora. “All Coloradans have the right to clean air and water, and this will go a long way to guarantee that the bad actors infringing on this right are held accountable.”

“Far too many people of color and low-income Coloradans deal with the health impacts of air and water pollution in their communities every day,” said Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver. “This new law provides more tools to crack down on polluters and encourage them to take community health and safety more seriously. There is no excuse for polluting the air our communities breathe and the water our children drink.”

Finally, Governor Polis signed SB20-124, Representative Bri Buentello’s bipartisan bill to help Colorado’s public schools become more energy efficient. Under current law, the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program uses a specific set of guidelines when reviewing applications for grant funding for capital repairs or improvements. This new law will add a guideline for the BEST program to consider when looking at grant applications that they consult with the local electric utility on energy efficiency, beneficial electrification, and distributed generation opportunities.

“As a teacher, I know firsthand how much Colorado’s schools need the type of support provided by BEST grants,” said Rep. Bri Buentello, D-Pueblo. “In addition to considering things like health and safety issues and broadband connectivity, the BEST program will now  take into account the energy efficiency of schools applying for grant funding. Helping our schools become energy efficient will save school districts crucial funds and go a long way towards protecting the environment that Colorado’s children will grow up with.”