Colorado coalition of towns, counties seeks to unify voice for climate action
by Allen Best
Mountain town and counties have been among those solicited to join a new organization called the Colorado Climate Future Coalition.
The intent, explains Boulder County’s Mark Ruzzin, who is spearheading the effort, is to create a collective voice for advocacy to advance the climate-action goals of local governments.
Both Boulder, the city, and Boulder County have now committed, as have Eagle County (Vail-Eagle-Basalt) and San Miguel County (Telluride). Aspen also expects to join, and Ruzzin has been talking with Pitkin County (Aspen) and La Plata County (Durango). Fort Collins is also probable member. Ruzzin said he is cautiously optimistic that the coalition will include commitments from 8 to 10 cities and counties by late February.
Jurisdictions solicited to join have been those that Ruzzin calls the low-hanging fruit, most of them who have participated in the Colorado Climate Network. That effort was assembled several years ago by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization to advance resiliency planning.
The new organization would seek to give local jurisdictions both a stronger, unified voice, a more cost-effective approach to that advocacy, and perhaps a broader tool kit. All of this would be designed to advance progress toward their climate-action goals. Very specifically, the coalition would have a lobbyist working at the General Assembly and at the Public Utilities Commission on behalf of the federal Clean Power Plan and to create more aggressive state actions.
“Traditional local government associations, whether the Colorado Municipal League or Colorado Counties, Inc., have very broad focuses. They cover all kinds of issues and advocate on all kinds of issues on behalf of their local government members,” says Ruzzin. “We really believe there needs to be a focus on climate. While we hope CML and CCI will be partners, it’s kind of hard for them to commit resources to this issue any time in the near future. We want to step in and fill that gap.”
Eagle County joined, in part, to gain a greater voice around the Clean Power Plan.
“We want to be advocates of an effective implementation of the Clean Power Plan,” says County Commissioner Jill Ryan. The coalition also aims to have a voice in proceedings of the Public Utilities Commission.
In the last decade, Eagle County has begun to more briskly advance efforts to institute both improved energy efficiency and to increase renewable energy. The county bought into a solar farm at Carbondale to obtain one megawatt of supply and it is now planning on purchasing panels in a new solar garden installation at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle. Together, the two will offset 72 percent of Eagle County’s electricity use.
But Ryan says that Eagle County believes that it has done much of what is possible, given the available tools. The county needs to have a voice at state and federal levels to push for more mechanisms to push along the energy shift. A key selling point for Eagle County, she says, is the participation of Boulder and the probable participation of Fort Collins, two university cities that are, even on a national scale, exemplars of forward-looking action.
Boulder, the city, has taken on Xcel Energy, seeking a divorce from the utility in order to more aggressively decarbonize its power source. That, says Ruzzin, a former mayor of Boulder, is a separate dynamic, but the coalition is designed to give jurisdictions greater ability to effect change.
Just what the coalition would seek will be decided by a steering committee made up of representatives of all members. A flyer distributed by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization said that unanimity among parties will be required for goals.
Dues for jurisdictions will be based on population, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for those of 50,000 or less, and $15,000 to $30,000 for those with more than 100,000 population.