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Guest Opinion: Tracey Bernett: Concrete and climate change – Boulder Daily Camera

By Rep. Tracey Bernett

One of my favorite memories of the 2021 legislative session was when I was on the House floor urging my colleagues to vote for HB21-1303… at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night just a few weeks away from the close of session.

There I was, talking about concrete in the middle of the night, thinking to myself, “who the heck cares about concrete?” Well, let me tell you why you should care.

The processes used to manufacture concrete and steel emit 14% of total greenhouse gasses (GHGs) worldwide. And if cement, which is the “glue” in concrete, was a country, it’d be the third largest GHG emitter in the world. While we cannot eliminate the use of these vital building materials, we can encourage the use of environmentally friendly practices during their creation.

When Colorado builds infrastructure like roads and buildings, the state purchases large volumes of key materials like concrete, cement, steel, asphalt, glassand wood. While there is no easy solution to the environmental problem created by the manufacturing of construction materials, HB21-1303 uses one of the legislature’s most powerful tools — the budget — to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many manufacturers recognize their impact on the climate and are working hard to reduce their emissions. However, this bill encourages not only manufacturers of these products to reduce their GHG emissions, but more importantly, it requires architects and contractors to specify greener construction materials where practical and economical. Market demand for more environmentally friendly products is increasing. Leveraging Colorado’s purchasing power to prefer clean products from low-emitting manufacturers will encourage manufacturers and builders to do their part. Colorado is already home to some of the greenest cement and steel manufacturers in the nation, so this is great news for local producers.

By selecting materials that are manufactured with lower Global Warming Potential (GWP), state agencies will reduce the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, helping meet Colorado’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. It encourages manufacturers of these materials to improve their processes to lower their GWP to qualify as a supplier on Colorado state projects. This encourages use of lower GWP materials produced using recycled materials, renewable energy, or different manufacturing processes like carbon sequestration, which reduces GHG emissions. Steps like these can help reduce our state’s emissions as we expand and rebuild our infrastructure throughout the state. By balancing the progress and growth we have already seen in Colorado’s economy with the need to combat climate change, we can grow an economy with environmentally sound communities.

Furthermore, by selecting materials produced using processes with lower environmental impacts, Colorado can reduce smog, toxic emissions, particular matter and greenhouse gasses released into our atmosphere, and reduce respiratory and other public health issues. Alongside the fight against climate change are the major health implications of cleaner and better practices. From the largest cities to the smallest towns, when we have cleaner water and fresher air, we all benefit. Especially for groups particularly vulnerable to a deteriorating environment, practices that protect our environment can improve health and quality of life in dramatic ways.

Not only does this bill protect the environment and promote sustainable practices, but it also provides a boost to our local and state economies. Some of Colorado’s manufacturers of key construction materials are industry leaders in “green” practices and materials. Many of these “green” materials are already in the market, providing environmentally friendly products without increasing cost or sacrificing performance. By supporting these green manufacturers and encouraging more builders and manufacturers to create and use “green” materials, we help give the local industry a competitive edge nationwide. This, in turn, helps our state and local economies by providing jobs and revenue in our communities across the state.

HB21-1303, The Buy Clean Colorado Act, directs the Office of State Architecture and Department of Transportation to establish policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time by accounting for and limiting the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of key building materials in state-funded building and transportation projects. This bill is the most comprehensive in the nation, not only in the scope of materials, but also in scope of projects. Last month, the Gov. Polis signed this bill into law, putting Colorado on the front lines of the fight against climate change. This is one of the many bills in the 2021 legislative session that I brought to address climate change and improve the everyday lives of everyone in Colorado.

Rep. Tracey Bernett lives in Longmont and represents Colorado House District 12.

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