DENVER, CO – Governor Polis today signed two bills into law to invest millions into helping communities transitioning away from coal and to lay the groundwork for the development of a passenger rail to connect Colorado from our Northern to our Southern borders. Both of these bills were sponsored by Majority Leader Daneya Esgar.
“The two new laws created today have been longstanding priorities of my Southern Colorado constituents for years,” said Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, sponsor of HB21-1290 and SB21-238. “Creating the framework for front range rail today will allow us to take advantage of federal transportation funds efficiently and keep Colorado connected from North to South. At the same time, making a major investment in the Office of Just Transition will go a long way toward supporting coal-dependent workers and families in communities like mine. I’m so proud of the work we did this session to create a more prosperous and connected Colorado for all.”
The Office of Just Transition was created by the legislature in 2019 to support coal workers, employers and communities as they plan for the future closings of coal plants and mines upon which their communities depend. As market shifts, consumer choices and environmental policies move our state toward renewable energy, the Office and the Just Transition Action Plan was created to support coal transition communities.
HB21-1290, also sponsored by Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will invest $15 million of state stimulus funds into the Office of Just Transition. Of that amount $8 million will go to the Just Transition Cash Fund and $7 million to the newly created Coal Transition Worker Assistance Program account within the fund.
The new law requires the Office of Just Transition to use these funds to implement the Just Transition Action Plan and provide funding for existing programs that make targeted economic development investments in coal transition communities for business retention, creation, expansion and attraction; infrastructure investments; and strategies for attracting increased investment in these communities. The Coal Transition Worker Assistance Program’s share of the funding will be allocated to programs that directly assist coal transition workers, including apprenticeship programs, financial planning support, tuition reimbursements, job search assistance, on-the-job training, or other strategies to help impacted workers.
“The framework created today gets us one step closer to making Front Range Rail a reality,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, sponsor of SB21-238. “In addition to keeping Colorado connected, a passenger rail between our Front Range communities will revitalize local economies, improve congestion on our highways and help us lower emissions. After today, Colorado will be uniquely prepared to receive federal transportation funds and put them to work for our constituents right away.”
SB21-238 creates the Front Range Passenger Rail District and tasks it with conducting the necessary research, development, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the Front Range Passenger Rail system, which would connect Coloradans living and working along the I-25 corridor. The new law outlines funding options and authorizes the District to pursue a sales and use tax that would be subject to voter approval.
The District will be overseen by a board of directors that are instructed to work closely with RTD and Amtrak to ensure the passenger rail and transit systems are compatible and work well for travelers. The law ensures Colorado will be in position to benefit from the federal government’s proposed investment in railroad development.