|Rural Colorado has key role in America's energy future|
|Written by By Marianne Goodland, State Capitol reporter|
The annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recently drew a record audience to the Denver Renaissance Hotel. Ken Salazar, who next month steps down as Secretary of the Interior, spoke to the more than 250 in attendance on natural resources issues.
The United States is on a good path to defining its energy future, Salazar said, under President Barack Obama’s energy agenda. That includes developing additional oil and natural gas in the United States. He noted that the nation is producing more oil in the Gulf of Mexico than before the BP disaster in 2010. In the last four years, the amount of renewable energy produced—wind, solar and geothermal—has doubled.
In addition, the Bureau of Land Management has instituted projects to permit development of renewable resources on public lands. In the last four years, 10,000 megawatts of power, the equivalent of 30 power plants, have been generated through renewable energy projects on BLM land.
There is a “very significant role for rural America to play” in that energy future, Salazar said. It includes biofuels, wind farms on the eastern plains of Colorado, or a 3,000 megawatt farm in Wyoming to bring energy to Las Vegas. “Rural America will play a key role” in addressing America’s energy future, which he called “imperative” for the United States.
The Feb. 14 conference also featured a workshop on draft rules for food production from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Food Safety Modernization Act sets forth new produce safety standards and preventive controls for human food. The first two sets of draft rules were issued last month and apply to both domestic and international food producers.
Devin Koontz of the USDA said that the draft rules are intended to be risk-based and flexible and not a “one size fits all” approach. The draft rules were developed after more than 500 meetings with farmers and industry leaders, Koontz said.
The food produce safety rules are a new area for the USDA, Koontz said. The standard is based on preventing contamination, with specific standards for certain commodities. The rules apply to farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold most produce in raw or natural states. Farms with less than $25,000 in income per year, on a three-year average, would be exempted. The rules also don’t apply to grains or produce that requires further processing, which are covered under different standards.
Comments on the proposed rules are due by May 16. For a full list of the proposed rules, go to http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA.
In action at the state capitol in the past week:
Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton) has introduced House Bill 13-1231, which would limit the already-rare practice in Colorado of tail docking of dairy cattle. Under HB 1231, tail docking, the partial amputation of a dairy cattle tail, would be prohibited unless performed by a licensed veterinarian and under anesthesia, performed for therapeutic purposes and that the vet attempts to “minimize the animal’s long-term pain and suffering.”
Lebsock told this reporter that he knows of just one farm in the state, in Morgan County, with about 10,000 head of cattle where the tails are docked. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice, as does animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which has worked with Lebsock on HB 1231.
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), who opposes HB 1231, said that if the bill truly means to address animal cruelty, it should include dogs and cats, whose tails are partially amputated. Tail docking also is common with pigs and sheep.
Lebsock said his bill is intended to address abuse with only one animal, dairy cattle. He indicated the issue is a public relations problem for agriculture. “I want our agriculture industry to look good,” he said. Lebsock is a Sterling native whose family still owns a farm in the area.
Lebsock is a member of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, but HB 1231 was assigned to the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, where it is likely to get a more friendly reception. But he also said that if HB 1231 does not get signed into law, the bill’s proponents are planning to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to stop the practice, and he believes it would pass with at least 75 percent support.
HB 1231 is on the calendar for a Thursday, March 7 hearing.
The House last week approved the first four bills contained in the Democrats’ gun control package, largely along party-line votes, with all Republicans opposed and most of the Democrats in favor. The four bills went through close to 12 hours of debate in the House on Feb. 15 and another four hours of final debate on Feb. 18.
Rep. Ed Vigil (D-Alamosa) told his House colleagues he would vote against all four of the bills, earning a show of support from House Republicans. HB 1224, which would limit high-capacity ammunition magazines to 15, passed on a vote of 34-31, with three Democrats voting against.
HB 1229, which requires a background check on any gun transaction, passed 36-29, with Vigil the lone “no” vote. HB 1226, which would require those going through a background check to pay for it, was the closest vote, 33-32, with four Democrats voting against.
The last bill, HB 1226, which bans concealed weapons on college campuses, passed 34-31. All four bills are now awaiting action in the Senate.
The first bill by Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) to clear the Senate is now awaiting action from the House ag committee. Senate Bill 13-075 is one of several bills from the summer Interim Water Resources Review Committee that deals with water conservation efforts, and the bill unanimously passed the Senate Feb. 13.
SB 75 encourages water conservation. Under the bill, once a final permit is established by the state engineer for water usage from designated groundwater basins or aquifers, that will be the basis upon which further water usage is set.
During a Feb. 7 Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee hearing, Brophy cited the example of Don Brown of Wray. Brown installed more efficient irrigation equipment, but as a result his final permit was changed from 400 acre feet to 335 acre feet of allowable use, in effect penalizing him for saving water.
“This protects [farmers’] interests long-term,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, who chairs the Senate ag committee which passed SB 75 unanimously. Colorado Farm Bureau endorsed SB 75 during the committee hearing.
Brophy didn’t fare as well with several other bills.
Senate Bill 13-064 would have asked voters to decide whether Colorado would be on Daylight Saving Time year-round. The bill was assigned to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which rejected the bill on a party-line vote on Feb. 4.
The next day, the Senate Transportation Committee killed Brophy’s SB 16, at his request, which would have put into law standards on the use of self-driven vehicles.
It’s already perfectly legal to operate a self-driving car in Colorado, Brophy told the committee. The bill would allow people to work on cell phones while in the vehicle, for example, and that would require a change in statute. “I look forward to seeing this technology evolve over the years; it’s coming sooner than you think,” Brophy said.
Committee chair Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder), thanked Brophy for bringing the bill to the committee and the issue to his attention, which he said he found fascinating.
People with impaired vision could benefit from the technology, according to Denny Moyer, executive director of The Ensight Skill Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation. Moyer, who has macular degeneration, has not been able to drive for the last 25 years, and noted that unemployment for the vision-impaired is 75 percent, largely because they can’t get to work.
Seniors also will benefit from this technology, Moyer said. “It will mean true independence for people who experience vision loss.”
Google has developed a self-driving car project, and the vehicles involved have logged more than 400,000 miles in California and Nevada without an accident. Darcy Nothnagle of Google called Brophy’s leadership on the issue “forward-thinking” and that the technology will be there sooner than people think.
On Feb. 18, following a lively three-hour hearing, the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee killed Sonnenberg’s HB 1125, also on a party-line vote. The bill would have asked that the state veterinarian be consulted before livestock could be seized.
The bill stems from a case in Clear Creek County, where reindeer and other livestock were seized by local animal control officials. Sonnenberg said he wanted livestock cases reviewed by “someone with 12 years of education on animal health, not 12 hours of training.”
The bill drew strong opposition from a number of animal rights groups, including Lisa Pederson of the Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agency. Pederson told the ag committee that HB 1125 would set up different standards of cruelty for livestock than for other animals. “It would weaken existing animal cruelty statutes,” she said.
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association also opposed HB 1125; Dr. Curtis Crawford said the bill raised unintended consequences for both people and livestock.
The bill’s standard for seizure, “eminent death,” is “ill-defined,” Crawford said, and it also raises liability and safety concerns for veterinarians.
Republican efforts to ban the enforcement in Colorado of any new federal firearms laws also went down to defeat on Monday. HB 1187, co-sponsored by Sonnenberg, was defeated by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 7-4 party-line vote.
Sonnenberg has had better luck with his bill on modernizing the receipt process for commodity warehouses. The Senate ag committee gave HB 1034 its unanimous seal of approval on Feb. 14 and it now awaits approval from the full Senate.
Holyoke Enterprise February 28, 2013