Originally Published By Charles Ashby In The Daily Sentinel The Colorado House approved a bill Wednesday to keep a sales and use tax exemption for timber companies that gather and sell wood damaged by pine beetles. It was one of several measures aimed at dealing with climate change and wildfires that advanced through the Colorado Legislature this week. The exemption, which expired last year, was put in place as a way of encouraging logging and milling companies to harvest the dead wood as a way of reducing it as a fuel in wildfires. On paper, House Bill 1261 appears to cut state revenues by about $500,000 a year, but that’s money the state has never collected. The Legislature created the pine beetle wood exemption in 2008 to encourage a new market to do something with the damaged wood. Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, who introduced the bill with Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, said the bill would continue to encourage private companies to harvest and sell the wood. “I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the products out there on the marketplace, but it’s very pretty, red, blue, green stains through the wood,” Catlin said. “This is just an opportunity for the state of Colorado to help get some of that dead wood out of the forests and put to good use before it becomes nothing but fuel.” The measure passed 63-1, with Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, casting the lone dissenting vote. Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said the bill will continue to help get that wood out of the state’s forests. It would extend the exemption to 2026, and makes it retroactive to June 2020, when the original exemption expired. “To be able to encourage and incentivize getting more of that out of there, and to have a little bit of an exemption really is good public policy,” Soper said. “This helps develop the market for beetle kill, it helps to give an incentive for people to go cut it, it helps give an incentive for mills,” added McKean. “That’s what we ought to be doing, the carrot approach to figuring out how to make sure that people have a viable way of using a resource that we really need people to harvest. Standing beetle kill only has a certain shelf life.” The bill now heads to the Senate. The measure is one of several aimed at wildfire mitigation. On Tuesday, the Legislature sent HB1008 to Gov. Jared Polis to sign. That measure, also partly sponsored by Catlin, allows local governments and water conservation districts to join together to form special improvement districts — with taxing powers — to complete forest health projects. The measure had wide bipartisan support in the House and Senate, including from Catlin, Coram and Soper along with Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail; and Reps. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, Perry Will, R-New Castle and Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. Also on Wednesday, the House gave preliminary approval to HB1208, which would create a new government-run enterprise to fund a new Natural Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. The program, to be funded from a new fee on insurance companies that provide property or casualty coverage. The fee, $2 on insurance plans, is expected to raise nearly $5 million a year, and would be paid out in grants to fund specific projects designed to mitigate disasters caused by climate change. Several Republicans, including Catlin, said that although homeowners would hardly notice the fee increase, private businesses, especially farms, would be unfairly hit by larger premiums because of that proposed fee. To help avoid that, lawmakers agreed to exempt multi-peril crop insurance from the fee. Another measure dealing with the same issue is HB1242, introduced by Donovan and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango. It would create the Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office to provide technical aid to farmers and ranchers in mitigating the impacts to wildfires and climate change. That bill has cleared the House and is being considered in the Senate. The Legislature also is considering several other measures that increase funding to fighting wildfires and mitigating their impact, including on the state’s watersheds.
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