A few recent stories and essays

Limits proposed on public-private partnerships  In a bill that could affect I-70, State Sen. Matt Jones proposes to restrict public-private partnerships to 35 years and to mandate increased transparency.

Piling on the renewables in Telluride  In 2009, the mayor of Telluride committed to an ambitious goal of dramatically reducing the role of fossil fuels in municipal operations. Solar panels for affordable housing units is the latest step toward that goal. But sometimes it’s two steps forward and it’s back you go, to borrow the line from Mary Chapin Carpenter, a frequent performer at Telluride Bluegrass.

open doorsA wanton waste of energy? Good business sense? Or both? Stores commonly leave open their doors on the cold, cold days of winter. And summer when the air conditoner is cranking, it’s the same story. A look into the thinking at two mountain towns that thought about telling merchants what to do — but didn’t. And the science that supports that decision.

Lessons of Ludlow Massacre, 100 years later  Our stories of the West are of horned bison and brown cows, frothy rivers and untamed wilderness, tended gardens and pastoral landscapes. Our art celebrates individual prospectors, brave trailblazers, lonely cowboys, stoic Indians. We overlook our industrial lunch-pail moorings. The massacre at Ludlow was one outcome of that process of industrialization.

77 years after we took leave of our senses To justify making cannabis illegal, strange and disturbing reasoning was used by do-gooding drug crusaders. You don’t need to imbibe in leafy, herbaceous substances to be muddle-headed.

4/20 a state holiday in Colorado?  Emboldened by their success in making marijuana legal, cannabis activists are leading a drive to ask voters to amend the state constitution an official state holiday. Meanwhile, Christo continues with his plans to put a plastic toupee atop Bald Mountain, near Vail. (Yes, you probably should read the rest of this).

The Fraser River carries very little water in late summer, although Denver’s planned increase in diversions wouldn’t change that as the water would be skimmed from the three runoff months of May through July. Photo/Story Group

How can less be more for the Fraser River?  An agreement struck between Grand County, Trout Unlimited, and Denver Water is loaded with promises fro adaptive management of the Fraser River and its tributaries that the architects of the plan say will lead to better aquatic health. It’s a strange alchemy, this idea that less can actually yield more.

Why George Schulz thinks we can breathe a sigh of relief Now 93, George Shultz takes small steps but paints big pictures. Again this year, at the third annual Vail Global Energy Forum, he was the star. He talked about the gift of natural gas and the need to decentralize our energy supply infrastructure.

Tim Wirth

Three principles of climate change politics Former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth helped bring international attention to the real risk of climate change in 1988 at hearings he staged with  James Hansen, mopping his brow, on a hot day in  Washington.  Wirth admits he wasn’t above a little skullduggery to heighten the drama. But he says that a carbon tax—regarded by most economists as the only way we can get the kind of change in energy systems started that are needed—could come within five years.

Gypsum biomass plantProducing electricity from forest debris  Colorado now has a major biomass plant at Gypsum, with another one planned at Pagosa Springs and more yet possible along the Front Range. This could help reduce wildfire potential in wildland-urban interface. But how carbon neutral are such plants?

Breckenridge expects that it can gain $1 million in revenues this year from cannabis sales, and most of those taxes will be paid by visitors. Who says there’s no such thing as marijuana tourism?

Does the climate crisis need a technological breakthrough or something else? Auden Schendler makes the argument that what is needed most is acting on knowledge that we already have.  The civil rights was galvanized by ordinary people. The climate crisis now needs its own Rosa Parks.

How global warming is helping Whistler Blackcomb And why the changing climate could destroy the ski area operations in the long. The view of mountain manager Arthur Da Jong.

Savages, stalkers and sports mascots Another school debates whether it’s appropriate to use “Redskins” as a mascot. Truth be gold, mascots would be better if creative and original. Some are.

U.S. 36The Koch brothers, Colorado Democrats and other conspiracies. While the conspiracy theory trotted out to explain plans for tolled express lanes for U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder were quickly deflated, there are probably good questions to be asked about public-private partnerships. But haven’t those questions already been asked?

Bus rapid transit in the Rockies The $46 million VelociRFTA  has a fleet of natural gas buses and WiFi capability to make the commute  between Glenwood Springs and Aspen more pleasurable. Directors think the new BRT system will boost ridership 20 to 30 percent.

Aspen has something to brag about. It has reduced its municipal carbon footprint well ahead of the deadline specified in its 2005 climate change manifesto, the Canary Initiative. The footprint has shrunk 30.7 percent. But for the community as a whole, the 6 percent decrease is really no better than the United States at large.

Loveland Pass avalanche siteAgain comes news of skiers and ‘boarders, young and strong, knowledgeable about avalanches, equipped with transceivers, shovels and other gear of survival – all of this woefully insufficient when faced with the wildly seductive snows of the Teton Range. It’s a common story in the Rocky Mountains, one told again and again, as the snowy torrents take their  toll of avalanche fatalities.

Aircraft Tails EGE

Eagle County Regional Airport has 195,000 available incoming seats this year, second only to Aspen among mountain resort destinations of the West. Could things be better? Some people in the Vail Valley seem to think so, and they’re out to create a beefier funding platform for direct flights, winter and summer.

Veritcal Harvest alternativeJobs for developmentally disabled adults and tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies on a year round basis. What’s not to like about the vertical greenhouse being planned adjacent to a parking garage in downtown Jackson, Wyo.  Construction of  Vertical Harvest is expected to get started later this year.

Beetle kill reduce

Vail and the wildlife risk to homes If potential for fire was always theoretically evident in Vail, first the bark beetle epidemic and then the fires along Colorado’s Front Range have made that potential less abstract. New mapping by fire chief Mark Miller finds that 42 percent of homes are at high risk of wildfire.


 Sizzling statistics: resort valleys in 2013 in numbers

Mountain towns of the West, those with ski runs in the background, speak more or less the same language. And sometimes they have numbers that echo. Here are some statistics I gleaned during the last year.

Nast: the mountain and the Clausthomas-nast-santa-claus

Cartoonist Thomas Nast created our image of Santa Claus and our symbols for Democrats and Republicans. A mountain in Colorado bears his name.

Slide090Peering into the global resource precipice

Since Thomas Malthus, people have worried that natural  resources cannot support growing human populations. If those fears have always been proven unfounded, the  presentation by Vince Matthews remains  disconcerting. For instance, half of all oil used by humans have been used since 1986.

Oil and gas from different sides of the drilling rig

Why has the oil-and-gas industry in Colorado resisted regulation of drilling? And what part of concerns by local communities are legitimate? As an attorney on both sides of the drilling fence since 1972, Howard Boigon shared his observations on what he called “the latest reel in a long-running movie” in a presentation at the FrackingSense 2.0 series sponsored by the Center of the American West.

 Who drove down U.S. greenhouse emissions?

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as of 2012 had fallen to the lowest levels since 1994. Who’s should take credit? That was one of the sparring points as panelists dissected the President’s Climate Action Plan at a Davis Graham & Stubbs breakfast energy forum.

Yampa RiverAnd what if it doesn’t snow

After two more dry years in the Colorado River Basin, water managers started worrying about a third dry winter — and too little water in Lake Powell to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam. That would have far-reaching ripples— or even waves.

Winding coal downsizedThe end of cheap coal

While it has often been said the United States has 200 years of coal, the easily recovered coal is about gone — with huge implications for the power grid, says climate activist Leslie Glustrom. She calculates only 20 years of surface mining at the Powder River Basin.

In an effort to dampen community greenhouse gas emissions, Snowmass Village adopted the new iterations of codes for green building and energy efficiency. The codes are comparable to the LEED gold standard.

ElkCamp001_full Jeremy SwansonThe Aspen Skiing Co. now strives for at least LEED gold on its buildings, including Elk Camp, the mid-mountain restaurant at Snowmass. But  David Corbin, the vice president for planning, admits frustrations. “I wonder if our buildings shouldn’t be dumber and have less sophisticated controls and maybe we should instead be working harder on our basic building envelopes.”

Sandpoint, Idaho, was first in the nation to apply for a federal license for hydroelectric production under new law signed by President Barack Obama in2 013, but a small project near Silverton is the first in Colorado.

DITHOTR E CoverEd Quillen wrote columns for 26 years in The Denver Post, and 100 of them from 1999 to his death have now been issued in an anthology “Deeper in the Heart of the Rockies.” He did his homework, was always entertaining, and ultimately was a truth-teller. All of this was evident at readings held in Salida, Colo., and in Boulder, Colo., in early November.

Scott Sampson

Scott Sampson, a curator of dinosaurs, aims directly at the current challenges of climate change and species extinction in arguing for place-based education that occurs outside, in nature. We need to be rethinking about “renaturing” or even “rewilding” our cities, he says.

Small Station cam 2 finalWill we someday be levitating up and down I-70? A new study favors meg-lev for high-speed trains in the mountains, but high-speed steel-wheeled trains for the Front Range between Pueblo and Fort Collins. But where’s the moola? The  Golden-Breckenridge train would cost $5.5 billion, and a Front Range train $14 billion.

Snowmastadon update Paleontologists were yanking the bones of mammoths, mastodons and other now-extinct species form the site at Snowmass. Three years later, they’re now in their research laboratories, trying to figure out how the climate form 75,000 to 135,000 can tell us about our own.

Severe weather expert Roger Pielke Jr. says the International Panel on Climate Change would better fulfill its mission of synthesizing science and informing policy makers if it wasn’t so bulky and, at this point, defensive. A case in point is the 2007 report’s session about severe weather.

Resilience in the face of severe weather Park City, Utah, has joined the ICLEI program for cities that seek to adapt to the more severe weather predicted for the future as a result of global warming.

Ski towns and a carbon tax  Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County voters will decide whether to enact a tax on electric bills that one county commissioner describes as being somewhat close to a carbon tax. A thought leader in Jackson Hole also is talking about something that smells like a carbon tax. But throughout the United States, such taxes are nearly existent.

Whistler, global warming, and the balloon payment Peak to Peak gondola copyWarming temperatures have benefited Whistler Blackcomb, producing more snow since the 1990s. The ski area has added resilience through addition of its popular Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Meanwhile, the ski company has grown revenues while decreasing its carbon footprint. But there’s a balloon payment due, and Arthur De Jong fully realizes it.

A new generation of Rosa Parks Climate change activist Auden Schendler has sifted through the arguments and strategies for change needed to confront the magnitude  of the challenge with our continued polluting of the atmosphere. But this challenge, he says, is even more difficult than the civil rights movement of which Parks, by refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, was an icon.

Objection is part of Christo’s art The artist Christo was in Colorado several times Over the River croppedrecently to explain his controversial Over the River project on the Arkansas River. Although insisting he’s no masochist, he said he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, considered controversy to be part of the art, and as such art that is publicly and broadly accessible.

Want to make a meteorologist squirm? Ask for hard numbers immediately after a flood or big rainfall, such as drenched large parts of northern Colorado in September. But weird weather is nothing new.

McKibben in Tellruide 2Redefining what is radical Bill McKibben came through Denver this week, signing copies of his new book, “Oil and Money” and laying out his argument for why universities should divest from holdings in fossil fuel industries.  His goal: to create power to force carbon dioxide-emitting sectors to agree to a carbon tax that starts creating meaningful change.

The link between thin air and longevity Mountain counties in West rank among highest in country for longevity, physical activity and absence of obesity. Still, there’s some uncertainty about how much is causation and how much is mere To bike trailscorrelation. A study from the University of Washington helps pose some of these questions.

Dallas at noon, skiing at dusk? Probably not the best idea, according to new study from the Alps that found that those who moderated their travel to higher altitudes suffered fewer heart attacks when engaging in strenuous activity

St. Vrain Creek fenceGleaning lessons from the floods What did the Colorado floods of 2013 teach us? We have a hard time looking back, let alone looking into a future that probably doesn’t resemble the past.

Weather at the edges Is the effect of global warming evident in our weather? Most of the time no, say climate scientists. But some say it can be detected in the extremes, as storms gain more punch.

Rethinking our buildings In 2005, the U.S. government Denver 20090001projected a sharply increasing demand for energy that would be met by as many as 1,900 new power plants, most of them burning coal. Ed Mazria formed Architecture 2030 and issued a challenge to architects, designers and engineers to figure out how to create buildings that use less energy. In a speech in Denver, he reported great success and even greater opportunity as the world rapidly expands and renovates its built environment during the next 20 years.

Car in St. Vrain CreekColorado’s 2013 floods in context  This year’s floods may have been the result of a 1,000-year rain event, and in terms of sheer damage, this may be the most expensive flooding ever. But by other measuring sticks, the Big Thompson flood of 1976 was far worse. I was there.

Dillion Dam and shouts of the past The 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillion Dam was celebrated on Sunday with various splish-splash recreational activities. But the reservoir is a vital storage vessel for 1.3 million people in metropolitan Denver. And it didn’t occur without a lot of legal shouting.

New laws make small hydro easier Ouray overviewThe federal permitting process governing conversion of existing dams, irrigation dams and even city water mains  to hydroelectric production was painfully slow and expensive. Thanks to two new laws, the process will become much simpler for places like Ouray, Colo., and Basalt, Colo. By some estimates, there could be hundreds and perhaps thousands of megawatts of clean energy to be had. And Basalt, Colo., retrofitted its water system to produce electricity, but the federal permitting process wasn’t easy.

Another rig on dark nightT. Boone Pickens and natural gas The energy billionaire was in Aspen recently for the American Renewable Energy day conference. “You’ll have to put up with natural gas for 100 years,” he said. This, he says, is a very, very good thing.

Razor’s edge on the Colorado River A new report by the Lake MeadBureau of Reclamation about reduced releases from  Lake Powell only reinforces traditional themes for the Colorado River. Patricia Mulroy of Las Vegas, the bull’s eye for this narrowing gap, calls for more cooperation, not competition. But Stanford’s Buzz Thompson suggests it’s also time to reconsider policies governing population growth in the Southwest.

Aspen wooden flume downsizedAspen’s troubled hydroelectric project With a bold vision contained in 2005′s Canary Initiative and a seeming mandate from voters, Aspen city leaders plunged ahead with efforts to shrink the city’s carbon footprint by recreating the hydroelectric system that had delivered nearly all the electricity between 1893 and1958. Now, the turbines sit in storage.

Why electric cars deserve subsidies In Colorado, electric cars remain relatively scarce, little more than 1,5000 as of April, although that does not include hybrids. But federal, state and local governments believe that  electrified vehicles will play a much bigger role in reducing ground-level ozone and greenhouse gas emissions.

Waldo Canyon hillsideHot summers, forest fires, and discerning climate change from natural variability We crave simple lines of cause and effect, black and white, winners and losers. This story has nuance. It’s difficult to distill these uncertainties of giant risk in the distant future in a story about today’s weather or this summer’s corn crop.

Randy Udall and the energy that made us all gods Randy Udall offered a dark view of civilization’s future, but didn’t scowl; he smiled. He was fun, even sparkling in a rough-hewn sort of way, and always, always interesting.

Elephants in the Rockies mastodon tibiaEarthquakes, people no longer considered prime suspects in deaths of mastodons and mammoths at Snowmass, but scientists continue to think it’s a superlative window into Ice Age climate changes.

Going forward in Aspen while looking back Aspen has a tendency to look over its shoulder. How could it not? Several locals recently grappled with how to move forward and what about the past deserves to be kept.

Tim DeChrist0001_2Telluride’s lesser-of-evils energy discussion Before he went to federal prison, Tim DeChristopher wanted to argue that disrupting federal mineral auction in Utah was the lesser of evils. At Mountainfilm this year,  there were several lesser-of-two evils arguments.