Colorado lawmakers approve landmark product standards to save energy and water, improve air quality, and reduce toxic mercury pollution, and slash consumer bills

May 5, 2023

Josh Valentine, Communications Director,  Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) | 303-304-7613


[DENVER, CO]Colorado legislators on Monday passed a landmark environmental bill slashing energy and water waste, reducing toxic mercury pollution, and reducing smog-forming pollution from common consumer products and household appliances. 

HB23-1161 requires new gas furnaces and water heaters sold in Colorado to reduce emissions of smog-forming nitrogen dioxide pollution, and phases out the sale of mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs. The bill also updates Colorado’s energy and water-saving standards for five products while adding an additional nine products. These new standards will phase in between 2025 and 2026 for new products for sale in the state. 

“This landmark bill will help Coloradans breathe cleaner air while ensuring the appliances and products in our homes and businesses don’t waste money, energy, and water,” said Christine Brinker, Senior Buildings Policy Manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and a lead proponent of the legislation. “This bill ensures Coloradans will have climate-friendly options that are more affordable to use for many years into the future.”

To reduce smog-forming nitrogen dioxide pollution and help improve outdoor air quality statewide, the bill sets ultra-low NOx emissions standards for gas furnaces and water heaters sold after January 1, 2026. The American Lung Association recently ranked metro Denver’s smog pollution as the sixth-worst in the U.S. Because these appliances vent outdoors, they are an under-recognized source of NOx pollution in the U.S. Breathing ozone pollution can cause shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, and heightened risk of respiratory infections. Long-term exposure to ozone pollution risks premature death, respiratory harm, and cardiovascular harm. 

The bill also requires the state to analyze whether greenhouse gas emissions from gas water heaters and furnaces are declining enough by 2030 to meet Colorado’s climate goals. If the targets are not being met, state regulators can propose new standards to bring emissions in line with the reduction goals.

“This bill will improve Coloradans’ health, especially those with asthma and other respiratory conditions aggravated by pollution in and near their homes,” said Megan Kemp, Advocacy Manager for Healthy Air & Water Colorado. “Nationwide, effective pollution controls have successfully decreased NOx pollution from power plants. However, there have not been comparable efforts in many U.S. states to slash this pollution from gas-fired appliances like furnaces and water heaters. This bill is another important step towards creating a healthy future for Colorado.” 

“Colorado’s gas appliances emit more smog-forming pollution than all our gas power plants combined, according to our analysis. Cleaner gas appliances will help immediately reduce this pollution,” said Srinidhi Sampath Kumar, Program Manager of Carbon Free Buildings at Rocky Mountain Institute. “Additionally, these new pollution standards will help encourage more Coloradans to purchase heat pumps and heat pump water heaters which can run on renewable energy and produce zero on-site emissions.”  

By phasing out the sale of mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs by January 1, 2026, the new law will reduce exposure to mercury pollution, a potent toxin that can cause serious and permanent damage to the central nervous system, especially in pregnant women and young children. The new law also helps protect workers, especially those in janitorial, sanitation, and waste hauling, from being exposed to mercury pollution when old lightbulbs are disposed of and break. The bill will accelerate Colorado’s transition to LED lightbulbs, which contain no mercury, use half the energy, and last two to three times longer than fluorescents. 

“Mercury is a neurotoxin that is dangerous even in small doses, because it can cause harmful and long-term health effects,” said Lauren Swain, Coordinator for Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado. “It can cause extensive and permanent developmental and neurological delays to babies who are exposed in utero. This bill will protect Coloradans’ health, while reducing the toxic burden on our communities, including communities of color and low-income communities, as well as our workers.”

“We should not continue to use toxic mercury to light our homes and businesses when nontoxic, highly efficient and affordable alternatives are available that can last twice as long and cut energy use in half,” said CoPIRG Clean Air Advocate Kirsten Schatz. “In addition to ending toxic lighting, this bill will cut harmful air pollution, reduce energy waste and save consumers money. The cleanest, cheapest kilowatt-hour of energy is the one we don’t even use in the first place.”

States have set energy and water efficiency standards since the early 1970s for products not already regulated at the federal level. The products in the bill were chosen for high consumer savings, wide product availability, and similar standards in other states. This includes certain faucets, sprinkler controllers, air purifiers, gas fireplaces, and electric vehicle chargers, among others products.

“This bill is a victory for Coloradans and the climate,” said Brian Fadie, State Policy Manager for the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which coordinates and advocates for strong, money saving appliance and lighting standards at the state and federal level. “By guaranteeing consumers can purchase energy and water efficient appliances and products, Colorado’s new standards will lower energy use, save residents and business owners money on utility bills, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Colorado’s most recent drought was an urgent reminder of the importance of saving every gallon of water possible,” said Sarah Snead, Senior Campaign Representative for Colorado Building Decarbonization at Sierra Club. “One of the most effective tools we have is preventing water waste. Water-efficient products are an easy way to conserve a precious resource that will benefit our wallets — and the environment.”

Reducing household expenses and ensuring healthy communities for working families is a key focus of the new law.

“People of color have been disproportionately impacted by the increased costs of energy and by air pollution,” said Portia Prescott, President of the Rocky Mountain NAACP CO-MT-WY State Conference. “We need to take every possible step to ensure that our residents, especially our low-income families, can afford their utility bills. By making appliances and products more energy efficient, this bill advances a key solution to helping alleviate a financial burden communities across Colorado are facing from the cost of heating and powering their homes. It will also reduce air pollution and protect the air we breathe.”

“Low-income residents and communities of color in Colorado often live in homes that are older, draftier, and have less-efficient appliances that cost more to run. This compounds families’ financial burden when energy prices spike,” said Lorena Gonzalez, Climate Advocate for Conservation Colorado. “Because these new standards will help prevent energy waste, they will be an important step toward achieving a goal of ensuring all Coloradans live in healthy, safe, energy efficient homes with affordable utility bills.” 

“Along with substantially improving peoples’ health, this bill will put more Coloradans to work in the state’s growing clean energy economy,” said Susan Nedell, E2 Mountain West Advocate. “E2’s analysis shows that 61,000 Coloradans already work in clean energy jobs, and the largest segment of those, 34,000, are in energy efficiency-related jobs. This bill will ramp up those high-quality jobs, benefitting both our economy and climate.”

The bill was sponsored by Representative Cathy Kipp from Fort Collins, Representative Jenny Willford from Northglenn, Senator Lisa Cutter from Jefferson County, and Senator Faith Winter from Westminster.

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The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) is a public interest organization promoting greater energy efficiency and clean transportation in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.