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Boulder’s 2020 lobbying agenda keys in on environmental goals

Climate-related initiatives dominate list of 62 policy stances

A worker lifts a plastic bag into the film plastic extraction unit at the Boulder County Recycling Center on Feb. 22.
A worker lifts a plastic bag into the film plastic extraction unit at the Boulder County Recycling Center on Feb. 22.

Boulder in 2020 is again set to lobby for a slew of legislative changes to Colorado and U.S. laws that could help the city reach its environmental, housing and human rights goals.

City Council on Tuesday will take public input before considering approval of a proposed list of stances on 62 state and federal matters relevant to a range of issues including municipal court operations, city water rights and Boulder’s use of red light photo radar cameras for traffic enforcement.

But legal tweaks meant to enhance the city’s ability to mitigate climate change dominate the list, with 14 policy objectives laid out in the legislative agenda pitched by city staff.

Among the six top priorities staff is suggesting receive the most focus in the upcoming state legislative session, two have an environmental basis: Asking the state to allow local governments to ban the sales of specific types of plastic materials and restrict the use of certain containers or consumer products, and restoring local government authority to regulate pesticides and their applications.

The other four top priorities for Boulder at the Statehouse under the proposal are:

  • Supporting changes to state policy to improve and preserve the rights of residents in mobile home communities.
  • Discouraging the use of e-cigarettes and tobacco, especially by youth.
  • Repealing a ban on local governments demanding residential rental developments provide affordable units on site.
  • Prohibiting the use of phones and other mobile devices while driving without a hands-free system.

Local government regulation of pesticide use on private and public lands was allowed before 1996, but has since been preempted, the city’s proposed legislative agenda states.

“While pesticides can be effective in killing insects or weeds, there is now overwhelming evidence that some pesticides pose a significant risk to people, particularly children, and other non-target organisms such as pollinators, birds and other wildlife,” the city’s proposed legislative lobbying agenda states. “These pesticides can disrupt ecosystems, contribute to biodiversity loss, degrade soil health and destroy habitat. … Moreover, organic agriculture produces farms resilient to climate change because high soil organic matter content and mulching help to prevent nutrient and water loss.”

Boulder is working to phase out the use of pesticides on its agricultural open space lands, but city officials recognize limited herbicide treatment is the only feasible management method in some cases, and have committed to using the least toxic options available when those arise, according to Open Space and Mountain Parks spokesperson Phillip Yates.

Phil Taylor, founder of MadAg, the group hired by Boulder County to develop a plan to transition county open space farmer tenants away from using genetically modified seeds and neonicotinoid pesticides by 2025, sees the value of organic agriculture as a climate change-fighting tool, but cautions against hasty local chemical pesticide bans.

“We clearly need reform in pesticide use, and application,” Taylor said. “We need major reform. And I think letting individual communities have more power in making those decisions is probably a wise thing to do. … With pesticide regulations need … very thoughtful social programs and public financing to help farmers find economically viable solutions when those tools are taken off the table for them. … I can easily see a future of farming without pesticides, we just can’t get there by banning them for everyone. We have to more thoughtfully create new systems of working with nature and not against it. That’s going to take several decades probably.”

The environmental benefit of plastic bag bans was questioned by free-market think tank The Heartland Institute earlier this year, despite the common vilification of their harm to the environment.

“Manufacturing plastic bags also consumes less than 4% of the water needed to make paper bags,” the Heartland opinion stated. “In the process, plastic bags produce fewer greenhouse gases per use than paper or cotton bags.”

The Conservation Law Foundation, a New England environmental advocacy organization, disagreed with such assertions in a June report.

“Plastic is always the wrong option,” the foundation stated. “It pollutes and is toxic throughout its production and use. … Although bag bans won’t solve the plastic crisis on their own, they do help to change plastic consumption habits and cause consumers and retailers to be more open to alternatives.”

At the federal level, Boulder has proposed three lobbying priorities:

  • Supporting continued research funding for the federal labs in the city and the University of Colorado.
  • Ensuring there is no mistreatment of migrants in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities as well as programs serving as alternatives to detention operated by federal contractors like Gunbarrel-based BI, Inc.
  • Promoting more understanding of the connection between pesticide use and climate change mitigation strategies, especially the potential role of regenerative organic agriculture in slowing potentially harmful climate impacts.

“The priorities take into account the expected political realities of the upcoming session and accordingly are first and foremost pragmatic,” the city’s proposed legislative agenda states. “Nevertheless, they are considered important and are also considered incremental steps that will create support in future years for some of the city’s more ambitious legislative goals.”