Colorful Colorado is a special place because of its magnificent landscape. Famous for its mountains and forests, Colorado has a vivid and diverse geography that also includes high plains, mesas, canyons, plateaus, rivers and desert lands. The quality of life for citizens of Colorado and visitors is intrinsically tied to its rich array of natural resources. These resources are not only important to Colorado, but reach beyond its borders. For example, four of the nation’s prominent rivers — the Platte River, Arkansas River, Rio Grande River and Colorado River — originate in the mountains of Colorado. Colorado has a long history of protecting and preserving its natural resources.
When hazardous substances or oil are released into the environment, they create risks to human health and injure or destroy natural resources. When contamination occurs that creates risks to human health and damages the environment there are two distinct processes to address the contamination — cleanup and restoration — each with independent legal authority and purposes. During the cleanup process responsible parties must clean up the contamination so that it no longer presents unacceptable risks to human health. The purpose of the cleanup process is to mitigate risks to human health, therefore, the cleanup process may or may not restore the environment to its pre-release condition. In cases where the cleanup does not restore the environment to its pre-release condition, or where the contamination caused interim or residual injuries, the Colorado Natural Resource Damages Trustees have the authority to require responsible parties to restore the environment to its pre-release condition.
When hazardous substances or oil injures or destroys natural resources, the citizens of Colorado are deprived of these resources and the services they provide. In such instances, the State may conduct an assessment, or valuation, of the “damage” represented by the injury or destruction of natural resources. This Natural Resource Damage Assessment uses technical, ecological, biological, legal and economic disciplines to determine what natural resources have been injured; to assess the costs of restoring, rehabilitating, replacing or acquiring the equivalent of the injured resources and their services; and to seek compensation from responsible parties. The compensation the State receives from this process is then used to restore, replace, rehabilitate or acquire the equivalent of the injured natural resources at no expense to the citizens of Colorado.
Colorado seeks compensation for these losses through offices that have been designated as trustees for the State’s natural resources. These Natural Resource Damages Trustees are committed to exercising, as appropriate, the State’s trusteeship to the fullest extent authorized by law to restore Colorado’s natural resources.
In Colorado, the Attorney General, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or their delegates serve as the Natural Resource Damages Trustees (Trustees). They are responsible for acting on behalf of the public when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed as a result of an oil spill or release of hazardous substances. Currently, John W. Suthers, Colorado Attorney General; Martha E. Rudolph, Environmental Programs Director at CDPHE; and Bob Randall, Deputy Director of DNR serve as Colorado’s Natural Resource Damages Trustees.
The Trustees authorize their staff, or trustee representatives, to evaluate contaminated sites for potential natural resource damage claims; conduct natural resource damage assessments; resolve natural resource damage claims through settlement or other legal action; and distribute funds received from responsible parties for restoration projects. When conducting trustee business the Trustees follow the Colorado Open Meetings Law (§ 24-6-401, et seq. C.R.S.).