State environment budget takes big hit

Colorado’s budget for environmental protection is taking a hit of about 14 percent, or about $7.5 million from agency requests for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The environmental divisions had requests an increase of just under two percent — about $1.1 million — from the 2006-07 appropriation. But the agencies will have to be satisfied with a $6.5 million reduction.The largest single item in the decline is about $777,000 for state oversight of the Rocky Flats cleanup. “The physical remediation at the site is complete; however, the Division (of Hazardous Material and Waste Management) will continue to have a regulatory oversight role.” The new figure for Rocky Flats oversight, reflecting the state’s reduced role, will be about $245,000.

According to Joint Budget Committee Environmental Specialist Stephanie Walsh, state general fund contributions to the environmental protection divisions is actually increasing. “The main reductions are in funds at the federal level,” Walsh says. “The Environmental Protection Agency is getting cut, and they are passing less money along to the state.”

As with the Department of Natural Resources, some of the largest percentage increases in environmental division budgets are the result of the increased oil and gas drilling activity in Colorado. The Air Quality Division’s permits and compliance section is up 19 percent.

The state has a compact with the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone. The state began to regulate these oil- and gas-related VOCs in 2002. The JBC Working Document  (PDF) says:

Since that time, the oil and gas development boom has resulted in the industry becoming the largest source of VOC emissions in the Front Range.  Oil and gas emissions now comprise over 30 percent of total VOC emissions in the Denver-metro area …

According to data from the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state issued 4,363 drilling permits in 2005.  Based on the data for the first seven months of 2006, it appeared that approximately  5,180 drilling permits could be issued in 2006 – an 18.7 percent increase.

The boom has resulted ina 50 percent increase to the air quality division for oil and gas equipment permits, from 400 in 2005 to 600 in 2006. “As of August, 2006, approximately 240 oil and gas action requests were backlogged,” The JBC says.

The result of all this activity is a 24 percent increase in the budget for the permits and compliance section from 2006-07 to this year. Virtually all of the $830,000 increase comes from general fund cash funds.

The Water Quality Control Division is also seeing a large increase in its permitting and compliance budget, a bump of about 10 percent. But Walsh says that is the result primarily of new housing developments, expanding towns demanding more water, and more Environmental Protection Agency regulations.