July 7, 2023
The 2023 legislative sessions were a marathon of drafting, advocating, negotiating, testifying, and amending, but across our region, WRA saw significant milestones and successes in our statehouses. WRA staff engaged on 43 bills across five states – opposing bills that would harm our communities and delay our transition to clean energy and supporting 29 bills that improved water security, strengthened utility regulations, and established permanent conservation funding.
We work at state capitols because we know that state action is a powerful lever of change, and the policies we implement are the fundamental building blocks for a better future for the Interior West. Our targeted approach allows us to move the needle on climate change action by tailoring solutions to the unique needs of each state.
Read on to learn about WRA’s key priorities and successes in each state.
Funding for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund
The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund was created in 1990 as a voter initiative to direct $10 million annually from the Arizona State Lottery to Arizona’s parks and trails. The Heritage Fund provides grant opportunities for trail projects, outdoor environmental education programs, local, regional, and state parks, as well as historic preservation projects through legislatively appropriated funds. Since the creation of the fund, over $207 million, including grants and matching funds, has been invested in open space and trails, along with cultural sites, across Arizona. In 2010, the Fund was repealed, losing an estimated $130 million in public benefits for Arizona communities and defying the wishes of voters. In 2019, the Heritage Fund was put back into statute and given one-time boosts of $5 million in 2021 and $2.5 million in 2022.
Gov. Hobbs signed a $17.4 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year that included $6 million to the Heritage Fund and $500,000 for the Arizona Trail. This funding will open up remarkable opportunities for programs benefiting Arizona’s cultural, historic, and natural resources and continues to ensure that future generations can enjoy the natural wonders of Arizona. Arizonans continue to show strong public support for protecting and expanding public land protections.
Senate Bill 23-295 – Colorado River Drought Security Task Force
This bipartisan bill establishes a task force to make legislative recommendations to provide additional tools to help Colorado respond to drought in the Colorado river basin. The task force will bring diverse water resource stakeholders to the table – including farmers and ranchers, water conservation districts, Front Range water providers, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes, conservation groups, industrial water users, and state officials. WRA’s Orla Bannan, Healthy Rivers Strategic Engagement Manager, has been selected as one of the conservation group appointments.
During the 2023 legislative session, WRA tirelessly advocated for comprehensive state policies to address the growing crisis on the Colorado River. We built partnerships and worked to find consensus around conservation actions to keep more water in the river. Unfortunately, negotiations to create a drought security program stalled at the state legislature. Undeterred, WRA played a key role in shaping the Colorado River drought task force bill to ensure that important water conversations continue over the interim and result in comprehensive solutions before it’s too late. Staff testified in support before the Senate and House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, where the task force bill received unanimous support.
While the task force is a step in the right direction, it is just the beginning. Over the next six months task force members must work cooperatively to produce meaningful legislative recommendations for urgently needed programs to address water scarcity. WRA remains committed to driving these conversations and advocating for comprehensive state action to protect the Colorado River and the communities that rely on it.
Senate Bill 23-291 – Utility Regulation Act
After a winter of record-breaking energy prices and calls for accountability from Colorado’s largest public utilities, the legislature decided to act and established the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates to investigate the utility cost issue. After hearing from the experts President Fenberg drafted SB23-291 that incentivizes utility companies to use more cost-efficient methods to produce electricity and enact measures to protect customers from price spikes. The law takes several critical steps to protect ratepayers, including requiring utilities to eliminate fossil gas line extension allowances — expensive subsidies paid by utility ratepayers to developers for new gas line hook-ups. Colorado is the second state in the U.S. to eliminate these subsidies. The law also requires utilities to improve the cost efficiency of electricity production while minimizing fuel costs, saving Colorado ratepayers money. The Utility Regulation Act is a historic step by the Colorado Legislature to protect consumers against future rate spikes due to volatile gas prices and the rising cost of fossil gas investments.
WRA staff were invited to present to the special Joint Select Committee, and staff experts were active at every step, from assisting in the drafting of the bill, to testifying in support of the measure, to lobbying key votes, reviewing amendments and suggesting language, detailing the impacts, and educating legislators on the issue.
- HB23-1005 – New Energy Improvement Program Changes
- HB23-1134 – Require Electric Options in Home Warranties
- HB23-1161 – Environmental Standards for Appliances:
- HB-23-1210 – Carbon Management
- HB23-1252 – Thermal Energy
- HB23-1272 – Tax Policy That Advances Decarbonization
- SB23-016 – Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Measures
- SB23-092 – Agricultural Producers Use of Agrivoltaics
- SB23-178 – Water-wise Landscaping in Homeowners’ Association Communities
- SB23-270 – Projects to Restore Natural Stream Systems
Assembly Bill 184 – Zero-emission medium and heavy-duty (MHD) vehicles incentive program
Nevada is leading the way to a clean transportation future that promotes economic opportunities and healthy communities. AB184 creates the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program, which will use new funding in the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to accelerate access and adoption of medium and heavy-duty vehicles – from delivery vans and garbage trucks to school buses and semi-trucks – for Nevadan . The legislation received support from a broad range of businesses and organizations and passed with nearly unanimous, bipartisan votes. Nevada businesses will benefit from the reduced fueling and maintenance costs of zero-emission vehicles, as well as a lesser upfront cost to purchase the vehicle(s). And the public will benefit from a reduction in transportation-related air pollution, especially in lower-income neighborhoods and diverse communities.
From start to finish, WRA played a key role in establishing the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program. We worked with the bill sponsor, coalition partners and state agencies to propose this program, help draft it, testify in support, coordinate public outreach, and lobby for its approval. WRA met with Nevada businesses to garner their support for the bill, which ultimately led to its successful passage and signing from Gov. Lombardo.
Funding for NV Outdoor Education and Recreation Grant Program
Passed in 2019, the Nevada Outdoor Education and Recreation Grant Program provides Nevada students opportunities to experience the outdoors with the goals of improving academic achievement and personal wellness and inspiring an appreciation of nature. This program will provide outdoor education and recreation opportunities for underserved students across Nevada and build up the next generation of Nevada’s environmental stewards. In the 2023 session, WRA successfully advocated for an appropriation of $500,000 for the program for the first time since its establishment. Our team worked to keep the funding alive through the process and was able to successfully pass the funding in the final days of the session.
Senate Bill 9 – Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund
SB9 establishes the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, a permanent conservation trust to leverage federal money and deliver critical resources to New Mexican communities. The $100 million appropriation for the fund is the single largest land and water conservation investment in New Mexico history. This legislation also establishes New Mexico’s first dedicated and long-term funding stream for land and water conservation and situates the state to leverage federal money that has historically been left on the table without access to the required matching funds. The Legacy Fund will support existing state programs that prioritize land and water conservation, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection. It will also increase jobs in New Mexico’s rapidly growing outdoor industry, make outdoor recreation more accessible for New Mexicans, and support rural and agricultural communities.
WRA led the effort on developing the policy and building a diverse coalition of organizations to garner support from the governor’s office and state agencies and carried out a successful lobbying effort at the legislature. Currently, the trust is funded with a $100 million appropriation, but to ensure it can meet the needs of New Mexico communities in perpetuity, the next step is to ensure the state adds additional funding in coming years.
Funding for the Strategic Water Reserve
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also approved an investment of $7.5 million for the Strategic Water Reserve. This program was created through bipartisan support in 2005 as a publicly held pool of water rights. The reserve is used to purchase or lease water rights to keep the state’s rivers flowing for the benefit of endangered species and to meet obligations under interstate water compacts. After the economic crash in 2008, funding was pulled, and the program has since struggled to receive any appropriations from the state. This year, the New Mexico legislature restored its investment at nearly triple what the program has ever received in a single appropriation. WRA worked to ensure this historic investment and continue a program that’s critical in ensuring that the state can purchase or lease water rights that may have otherwise gone to private investors.
SB118 – Water Efficient Landscaping Incentives
About 70% of Utah’s municipal water use is outside the home, mostly for thirsty turfgrass. While some turf areas provide benefits (e.g., parks and playgrounds), many are hardly used and could be replaced by visually appealing drought-tolerant vegetation that requires little to no water. SB118 provides $3 million annually for Utah’s statewide turf replacement program to incentivize property owners to swap out unused turf for waterwise landscaping. WRA successfully advocated for the creation of the program and $5 million in funding in the 2022 session.
The bill establishes grant funding available for residents statewide and matches incentives from existing turf replacement programs managed by wholesale water suppliers. It also goes one step further: in order to participate, municipalities must adopt a water efficient landscaping ordinance to address outdoor water use in new developments. While we supported bolder actions overall, in total there was still some $400M dedicated to water conservation in the session.
Opposing Anti Climate Legislation
We strongly opposed HB425, which sought to modify state energy policy to prioritize the use of fossil fuels and require one major utility to face more oversight when proposing to close or convert a coal plant to other fuels. The bill ultimately passed but was watered-down to mostly be a statement bill requiring a study. We also strongly opposed a resolution released in the final days titled, Joint Resolution Highlighting the Hazards of Net Zero Energy. WRA and our partners successfully stopped this one-sided attack on the thriving renewable energy development across Utah and the significant advancements in emissions reductions from Utah’s largest utilities.
Building strong and sustainable structures of state action takes time. It requires years of diligent building and learning. WRA leverages the successes and lessons of each legislative session to adjust, grow, and prepare for the next step in fighting climate change. WRA is committed to working through the policy cycle and process year after year to create a thriving, equitable future for Western communities.