Colorado joins 22 other states in launching legal fight against Trump rollback of fuel-efficiency standards

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and counterparts in 22 other states on Wednesday filed a lawsuit aimed at killing the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel-efficiency standards for reducing climate-warming gases and other harmful air pollution from vehicle tailpipes.

Led by California, the states and major cities — including Denver — have asked federal judges to reverse Trump’s Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicle Rule, which was finalized in March and loosened requirements set under the Obama administration to make cars and light pickup trucks about 5% more efficient each year.

Trump’s rule means vehicles over the next decade would emit hundreds of millions more tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Instead of making cars that can cover 54 miles per gallon by 2025, automakers could make cars that cover 40 mpg by 2026.

Federal officials argue this will make new cars more affordable, encouraging more Americans to upgrade to relatively cleaner cars.

This lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, contends the Trump rule violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“We so depend on protecting our land, air and water for our lifestyle,” Weiser said in a conference call Wednesday with attorneys general Xavier Becerra of California and Dana Nessel of Michigan.

“Climate change is not a theoretical, looming challenge. It is there today,” Weiser said, referring to “less natural snowpack than ever before” and a growing burden on future generations to deal with climate change impacts.

He cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that, more than a decade ago, established EPA power to regulate pollution that causes climate change.

“It is the job of the courts to get the EPA on track,” Weiser said.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, in a prepared statement, noted that vehicle emissions are a top contributor to air pollution over the city and are fueling climate change — causing harm to the public’s health and prosperity.

“If these rules are rolled back, the Trump administration will negate the progress that has happened across the country in these areas during a critical point in history,” Hancock said. “We are past due for our country taking more meaningful action, which is why Denver joined this important lawsuit.”

In 2010, EPA officials, state leaders and automakers began working to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases and other pollution from passenger cars and light trucks made after 2017. Automakers have been working to meet these standards. Since 2018, Trump administration officials have been saying the standards are inappropriate and no longer feasible.

The lawsuit is the latest by states led by Democratic governors challenging rollbacks under the Trump administration’s EPA that leave states more on their own to deal with climate and health threats.

Colorado public health officials have been trying to carry out an order by state lawmakers to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution from about 125 million tons a year to around 62 million tons by 2030 and 13 million tons by 2050.

EPA rollbacks include weakening of protection for waterways and wetlands, rejecting a tougher limit on soot, and reducing control over mercury pollution from power plants. Trump administration officials have said the environment is cleaner than it was in the past and that they are ending what they call Obama-era regulatory overreach in order to increase economic growth.

In addition to Colorado, California and Michigan, the states participating in the lawsuit include Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia. Denver is joined by the cities of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

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Colorado lawmakers could cut K-12 education spending 15% to fill hole left by coronavirus

Colorado lawmakers tasked with crafting a balanced budget cut more than 15% from the state’s $4.6 billion K-12 education budget Thursday afternoon.

At the same time, Colorado schools this week received a $510 million infusion of federal coronavirus relief money from Gov. Jared Polis. That’s in addition to $121 million in federal assistance earmarked for schools.

These one-time funds must be used before the end of the calendar year for purposes related to the pandemic, but they will soften the immediate blow of state budget cuts. Nonetheless, many school districts are concerned state money won’t be restored for years to come, as this is likely to be the first of several difficult budget cycles.

“When we were facing a 25% reduction to the general fund, a quarter of the state budget, it’s pretty incredible that we did what we set out to do and that was to minimize the impact,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat and member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The six-member budget committee was tasked with filling a $3.3 billion budget hole. Widespread job losses and business closures related to the coronavirus are expected to decimate tax revenues. The cut to K-12 education was their final act of an agonizing two weeks that left no department untouched and brought both staff members and legislators to the brink of tears more than once.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit co.chalkbeat.org.

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Second Colorado dispensary will soon begin offering marijuana delivery

Boulder will soon be home to two dispensaries legally delivering medical marijuana.

Helping Hands Cannabis on Pearl Street recently procured its license for delivery and expects to begin service to medical patients in mid-May, according to co-owner Johnny Kurish.

Kurish decided to offer delivery as a way to safely reach patients during the pandemic. Helping Hands closed voluntarily before Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March “because we couldn’t see a responsible way to conduct business inside of our premises and still be cognizant of public health and our staff’s health,” Kurish said.

When he found out that Boulder’s medical marijuana code allowed for delivery, he knew that would be a better option.

About 20% of Helping Hands’ business is in medical marijuana; the rest is sold on the recreational side of the dispensary, Kurish said.

“We’ve seen people just let their medical cards expire over the years,” Kurish said. “But I do expect these delivery rules to bring some people back into the medical world.”

Legislators legalized cannabis delivery with the passage of House Bill 1234 in 2019. The law permits medical marijuana deliveries to start in 2020 followed by recreational cannabis deliveries in 2021, but left it to municipalities to individually decide if they will allow the services.

So far, Boulder and the nearby town of Superior are the only districts known to allow marijuana delivery. The Dandelion dispensary in Boulder was the first dispensary to obtain its delivery license and began servicing local patients in March.

Helping Hands is still finalizing many of the details of its delivery program, but Kurish said starting in May, customers will be able to place orders through the dispensary’s website. They’ll be able to pay with a debit account, too, thanks to an app called Strike, which the dispensary is using to collect payments.

Delivery has been a hot-button issue during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Colorado business confidence plummets on coronavirus concerns

Already wobbly coming into the year, confidence among Colorado business leaders has suffered a blow more severe than any delivered during the Great Recession.

“With all the uncertainty right now there is a lot of pessimism,” said Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Leeds Business Research Division at the University of Colorado Boulder, on a conference call Tuesday.

Business confidence helps determine whether investment and hiring will take place or when it is missing, whether a pullback in spending and job cuts are likely. During the early days of the outbreak, there was a faint hope that employers might hold the line and not shed their workers.

But the quarterly Leeds Business Confidence Index shows morale is shot and business leaders see dark days ahead. That could help explain a record surge in initial unemployment claims.

CU has been surveying business leaders in the state every quarter for 17 years, going back to the aftermath of the tech and telecom bust. Between March 1-20, surveyors heard back from 400 executives in the state regarding their expectations for the state and national economies, sales and profits, and hiring and business spending.

Any score above 50 indicates an expectation of growth while below 50 indicates an expectation of contraction. After finally crawling back to 50.8 in the first quarter as trade war concerns eased, the bottom fell out of the index, which went all the way down to 29.7.

A decline like that is unprecedented. Those surveyed had the least hope in the second quarter for the U.S. outlook, 21.8, and more for the Colorado economy, 28.8. Expectations for sales, profits and hiring in their industries all scored in the low 30s. Optimism was higher for the third quarter with a score of 38.2, although that is hardly a ringing endorsement of what is to come.

What is remarkable is not only the depths of pessimism the index captured but how quickly sentiment has turned. Coming into the year, a key worry for business leaders in Colorado was finding enough help and retaining workers, Lewandowski said.

Executives in many of the hardest-hit industries have pivoted 180 degrees, scrambling to cut payrolls fast enough to preserve cash and survive.

But those job cuts are likely to crush consumer confidence in an economy where consumers account for 70% of spending. That will hit future sales. A negative spiral is now in place.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its measure of U.S. consumer confidence hit its lowest level in three years, going from 132.6 in February to 120 in March, but it may not be fully capturing what is going on.

“March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction — rather than a temporary shock — and further declines are sure to follow,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, in a news release.

A daily confidence survey from Morning Consult is recording a much more severe drop in consumer confidence, however, and economic forecasters keep adjusting their outlook lower. Goldman Sachs had earlier estimated the U.S. economy would contract 24% in the second quarter. On Tuesday, it said that a 34% decline was more likely.

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Colorado readies guidelines for prioritizing coronavirus patient care in case of hospital overload

Colorado health officials are finalizing guidelines to help doctors on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis make the excruciating choices about how to prioritize care for COVID-19 patients should the pandemic overwhelm the capacity of the state’s hospital system.

Julie Lonborg, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association, said the state’s medical network is currently “not anywhere near capacity” but the growing numbers of coronavirus cases in the state — the latest tally Tuesday was 2,966 cases and 509 people hospitalized with COVID-19 — could quickly change that situation.

“We have to get ready for it to be a lot of patients all at once,” Lonborg said.

That kind of surge could lead to the nightmare scenarios that have most notably played out in northern Italy, where doctors have been forced to decide which critical patients get scarce equipment and staffing to keep them alive.

“There may be dire circumstances where our resources are unable or are insufficient to provide optimal care to everyone,” said Dr. Darlene Tad-y, a physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora who serves on the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, or GEEERC. “Should we reach that moment, I hope community members will feel we have done our due diligence in using the utmost sense of fairness and ethics in what we write.”

The 19-member GEEERC is in the midst of finalizing recommendations for how to put in play the Colorado Crisis Standards of Care Plan, a set of emergency protocols meant to help caregivers manage a health crisis when “demands related to patient care and public health needs radically exceed available resources.”

“This is statewide guidance on how to do triage in the most ethically defensible way,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

It’s expected that the group will forward its report to the governor’s office in the next week to 10 days.

At the core of the guidelines is the acknowledgment that when things get desperate — like there’s a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators or medical staff — “there may be circumstances in which resources should be diverted from patients with a lower likelihood of benefit to those with a greater likelihood to benefit,” according to the 2018 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s All Hazards Internal Emergency Response and Recovery Plan.

But how those patient care priorities are determined is critical, said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

“We don’t want assumptions made about quality of life — that because someone has an underlying condition or a disability they have less to offer,” she said. “We don’t want them to use a disability characteristic that is not relevant to the pandemic (to deny care). It has to be scientifically based and not based on the assumption or belief about the value of someone’s life.”

According to a story published by ProPublica and the Arizona Daily Star, several disability advocacy organizations recently filed complaints with the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about wording in disaster preparedness plans for the states of Washington and Alabama.

They object to wording in Alabama’s plan, for instance, that states “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.”

Tad-y, the CU doctor who sits on GEEERC, said Colorado’s approach to critical care is not to look at categories of people but at an individual’s overall health condition and their likelihood to survive coronavirus.

“Primarily, we’re looking at the clinical status of our patients as it relates specifically to this illness,” she said.

The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that Colorado will hit its peak COVID-19 cases on April 17, when it says there could be a shortage of nearly 2,000 hospital beds and nearly 500 intensive care unit beds based on the measures the state has taken so far to stem the spread of the virus. A number of efforts are underway to close that gap.

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