New briefs: Congressional wildfire coalition forms, group asks Polis for action on oil and gas, and more

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Ben Nelson, Envision Studio

Rep. Neguse, others introduce wildfire caucus and legislation

Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse and Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) recently announced the launch of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, which intends to raise awareness and bipartisan consensus on federal responses to wildfires.

In the Caucus’ first action, Neguse and Curtis introduced bipartisan legislation to help communities recover from wildfires that ravaged many parts of the West last year. The Wildfire Recovery Act would enable emergency response funds to be more flexibly applied to areas in need.

“In Colorado and across the West, our communities are facing unprecedented devastation from more frequent and more intense wildfires,” Neguse said in a press release, adding that the needs of “our local fire crews, our Western communities and fire mitigation and recovery efforts” will be prioritized in future actions.

The Wildfire Caucus is foundationally bipartisan — members of one party can only join if a congress person from the other party joins at the same time. Currently there are 10 members of Congress, all from Western states, in the Caucus.

The Caucus will advocate for funding for disaster relief, prevention and mitigation; share relief programs and resources with communities before, during and after wildfire season, and present science-based management proposals in Congress. 

There’s local support for the efforts, too. Former Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner said in a statement supporting the Wildfire Recovery Act: “Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme wildfires in our community and countless others. Recovering from these events is costly, and the federal government is an essential partner in that process.”  

Environmental group calls on Polis to pause oil and gas leasing as Colorado plans land sale

As the Biden administration continues efforts to pause the proliferation of oil and gas on public lands, WildEarth Guardians recently called on Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to follow suit and halt oil and gas leasing on state public lands. The request comes as the Colorado Land Board is set to sell off more than 100,000 acres of oil and gas leases across the state.

“Sadly, climate progress in Colorado is being actively undermined by Governor Polis’ own administration,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s clear the state needs to step it up to ensure complete climate leadership. That starts with making sure state-level climate action aligns with federal action.”

In a letter sent to Polis, WildEarth Guardians asked the governor to reconsider all oil and gas permitting in the state. So far this year, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has approved more than 200 new drilling permits. The group also asked Polis to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, saying that the low bonding rate for extraction companies is liable to leave communities on the hook for cleanup in the future.

WildEarth Guardians also asked Polis to commit to a plan that ensures a just transition for oil and gas, not just coal. Such a move would bring Colorado in lockstep with the direction of the Biden administration.

“We believe Colorado has been a climate leader, but that leadership must evolve and keep pace with new policies, new actions and new opportunities,” the group wrote in the letter. “In light of President Biden’s climate action at the federal level, we have to catch up. Please seize the opportunity presented by the president to ensure complete climate leadership and action for our state.”  

A panel discussion on Boulder’s history of racial exclusion

Boulder’s oldest law firm, Hutchinson Black and Cook (HBC) (founded in 1891), is hosting a four-part community discussion series on race issues in Boulder County, in coordination with several local organizations.

The series, “The roots of today’s racial exclusion in Boulder County and the road ahead,” starts Feb. 25 with a discussion focusing on the experiences of Boulder’s black community and will feature Quintard Taylor, professor emeritus of American history at the University of Washington; Penfield Tate III, a form Colorado legislator and son of Boulder’s only black mayor; Charles Nilon, a professor of environmental science at the University of Missouri and son of CU Boulder’s first tenured black faculty member; and Polly Bugros McLean, author and associate professor of media studies at CU Boulder.

The series of discussions is part of a larger set of racial equity initiatives HBC is undertaking in the wake of the widespread calls for change last summer and the recognition “of the overwhelming homogeneity of the Boulder community.”

The series is co-sponsored by BlackPast.org, The Center for the America West, the Boulder chapter of the NAACP, the Native American Rights Fund, University of Colorado School of Law and CU Law School’s Black Students’ Association.

The Feb. 25 program (7-8:30 p.m.) is free and can be accessed at hbcboulder.com.