Wildlife overpasses in Colorado yield fewer carcasses

Mule deer and other wildlife in Colorado now have three crossings of Highway 9 between Kremmling and Silverthorne as well as several under-crossings. Photo/Allen Best

Far fewer deer carcasses along Highway 9 after several new crossings

by Allen Best

KREMMLING, Colo. — When Colorado wildlife biologists drove along Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling during the 2015-16 winter, they found far fewer carcasses of mule deer than had normally been the case. In a 5-mile segment where 30 were usually found, there were just 3.

The difference? A lot of tall fences, 8 feet high, strung along the highway through the sagebrush-covered valley between Green Mountain Reservoir and Kremmling. But also this: one overpass and three underpasses had been installed to allow mule deer and other animals to cross the highway without getting hit.

Last summer, a second overpass and two underpasses were completed along a 4.5-mile stretch. Michelle Cowardin, a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says data collection is incomplete but it appears that nearly 90 percent fewer carcasses were found along the highway after this past winter.

The two wildlife overpasses are the first in Colorado. Others, however, have been built elsewhere. The most notable in North American are located on the TransCanada Highway in Banff National Park. In recent years, others have been constructed near Pinedale, Wyo., over Interstate 80 in Nevada, and across Highway 93 just south of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.

The wildlife work, part of a larger highway improvement project, cost about $13.8 million. There were both public and private funders. Notable was the $4 million donated by the owner of a nearby ranch and $3.1 million from Grand County. Another $1.2 million in private donations was also collected. Local governments, including Summit County, Silverthorne and Kremmling, chipped in, as well.

Highway 9 is used daily by commuters driving between Kremmling, a small town along the Colorado River, and the resort communities of Summit County, including Frisco, and Breckenridge.

Through the years, there have been several deer-related fatalities. In November 1985, a local ranch couple, Gene and Mimi Ritschard, was killed when a pickup driver swerved and hit them in their sub-compact car head-on. The driver said she swerved to avoid deer.

Had the project not been completed, Cowardin pointed out, the 7,000 crossings documented in just the first winter had the potential to cause accidents.

In southwest Colorado, large arch underpasses were installed under U.S. 550, a highway used to reach Telluride, with wildlife fencing and escape ramps to allow wildlife safe movement under the highway. Underpasses were also installed along U.S. 160, between Durango and Bayfield. Additional wildlife features are planned near Nathrop, between Buena Vista and Salida.

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How can coal communities cushion the landing?

A coal-fired power plant in Wyoming emits water vapor, but unseen are the carbon dioxide emissions. Photo/Allen Best

Coal is skidding, and more is to come. What can communities do to prepare?

by Allen Best

Coal communities have shed jobs for more than a century. More are certain to be lost as the fuel loses favor because of its rising cost compared to natural gas and renewables. Plus, there are the unsavory environmental impacts.

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy, paints a picture of dramatic decline.

“About 45 percent of all coal generation in the 11 Western grid states will be gone by 2027 to 2028,” he said at a recent conference in Aspen. “Just 10 years from today, 45 percent.”

Many plants are approaching the end of their life expectancies of about 50 years.

“Twenty years from today, 85 to 90 percent of coal generation in the West will be gone,” he added.

This will mean fewer coal jobs. Angela Martinez, regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration in the Denver Regional Office, said a recent study found that Montana will lose 800 to 4,300 jobs during the next decade.

What can coal towns do? Speakers at a recent conference held in Denver geared to help coal-reliant communities said local communities pointed to the importance of broadband and to opportunities with the local food movement. Much was also said about making communities attractive places to live under the theory that the jobs will then arrive.

At the conference, which was sponsored by the National Association of Counties and National Association of Development Organizations.

Do not believing any one solution will solve all problems, said consultant Erik Pages.

“Hit for singles, not home runs,” he said. “Almost all of those major quick reactions that swing for the fences fail miserably. They almost never work. What you want to do instead of creating new jobs at100 at a time is to create jobs, one at a time—and do it for 15 years straight.”

Pages, of  EntreWorks Consulting, grew up in Reading, Pa., cited the  Appalachian coal-mining town of Pottsville, Penn. At least it once was a coal-mining town. In the 1880s, it had more millionaires than anywhere else in the United States, a result of the rich anthracite deposits of coal.

The view of Pottsville, Pa., in 1854. Sources: Wikipedia

At the start of the 20th century, 180,000 people worked the coal fields around Pottsville. Now, there are 365 are working in the coal sector there, and mostly they work in coal waste. This place of millionaires is now a place of 14,000 people, and it is one of the most economically distressed  counties in Pennsylvania, said Pages.

“The people never really came to terms with what to do beyond coal—and they have paid the price for it,” he said.

Another Pennsylvania town did figure out a new trick. They convinced the family of athletic wunderkind Jim Thorpe to have him buried there, in exchange for changing the name of the town in his honor. Today, Jim Thorpe, located 100 miles east of New York City, thrives.

Rather than seek a similar Hail Mary strategy, Pages urged economic diversification through a mix of industries.

“There is a ton of research that those places that are more diverse aren’t as vulnerable to downturns,” he said. “They’re more stable, more steady, better able to survive ups and downs.”

More than coal communities should think about diversification. He reported that Cupertino, Calif., home to Apple, the technology company, is now thinking about what if something happens to Apple.

Retraining the workforce is only a small, small part of community reaction to lack of diversity. But communities should assess their opportunities. “Every community is going to do it differently,” he said, and cited the example of the Appalachian Regional Commission. That agency has found opportunities in the growth sectors of healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and renewable energy.

A sign in the coal town of Craig, Colo., in September 2015 suggests the tension of a town whose livelihood is threatened. Photo/Allen Best

Places that have successfully diversified their economies tend to do their research, honestly appraising their strengths and weaknesses, taking stock of external opportunities and threats, and learning from other places.

“Make planning an on-going process,” he added. “Planning produces intentionality and it builds regional consensus, integrates new leadership, and provides accountability.”

But again, don’t expect one-stop shopping. “The temptation is to get to the next shiny object,” he said.

Is tourism a shiny thing? Not exactly. If grime is absent, income tends to be much lower. In northwest Colorado, for example, the coal-sector jobs—coal mining and power plants—pay an average $108,000 a year, plus benefits, according to a study by Yampa Valley Data Partners. Solar industry jobs in Colorado, in contrast, pay about $35,000 on average. Tourism has lots of low-paying jobs. Tourism jobs often pay even less.

“The problem in many of these places is that tourism jobs don’t pay as well,” Pages said. “I am struggling with this myself.”

 

 

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Chasing ice and chasing climate solutions in Colorado

Is doing good deeds locally enough when Antarctica threats to melt?

by Allen Best

In 2008,  Boulder-based photographer James Balog spoke at Telluride Mountainfilm, the festival held every Memorial Day weekend. Even then, Balog was camping out amid the world’s melting glaciers to produce the 2012 film “Chasing Ice.”

“When do you think we will have our Pearl Harbor moment?” he was asked. In other words, when would the United States—and the world, for that matter—accord the risk of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions the seriousness it deserved.

Balog identified several possible Pearl Harbors but paramount would be melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf. “That will be the major oh-shit moment,” he said.

That oh-shit possibility verging on probability was precisely the point of a recent story in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell, himself a Mountainfilm speaker in the past. In the article, “The Doomsday Glacier,” Goodell focused on fresh evidence of the rapid melting of Thwaites Glacier. It’s one of the largest glaciers on the planet and also key to what happens on the West Antarctic ice shelf.

“When a chunk of ice the size of Pennsylvania falls apart, that’s a big problem,” Goodell explained. “It won’t happen overnight, but if we don’t slow the warming of the planet, it could happen within decades. And its loss will destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice, and that will go too. Seas will rise about 10 feet in many parts of the world; in New York and Boston, because of the way gravity push water around the planet, the waters will rise even higher.”

If global warming won’t push sea shores to Colorado, there’s plenty to worry about amid the mountains and plains. A conference last Friday in Aspen was devoted to what local towns, cities and counties can—and should—do in the absence of more forceful action at the state, federal and international level.

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron hatched the conference, motivated by his participation on several panels at the December 2015 Paris climate talks. His comments had elicited invitations to speak in South Korea, Thailand and Dubai. People had heard of Aspen, and he told them about the things a small —if admittedly exceptional—small town can do.

Returning home, he resolved to use the influence of Aspen to help create a new organization to spur broader action within Colorado. An existing organization, Colorado Communities for Climate Action, consists of what might be called the usual suspects: ski and university towns plus Denver and a few others. It lobbies at the state Capitol for policies that make a difference.

The new organization, called the Compact of Colorado Communities, aims for bottom-up action but within a broader coalition. Think of more conservative suburban cities, and even a farm town or two. The key alliance is with the Association of Climate Change Officers. The approach is to integrate consideration of climate and greenhouse gas reductions deep into the operations of local governments. Climate change, the thinking goes, must extend beyond one or two elected officials and the city’s sustainability officer.

Twenty-seven towns, cities and counties sent representatives to the conference. Under terms of the compact, if the boards, councils and commissions of those jurisdictions confirm the continued participation, that will mean 10 from each entity will participate in on-line training in climate-action work provided by the Association of Climate Change Officers.

“That will mean 300 people in the state of Colorado who understand what climate action looks like and how they can incorporate climate solutions into their days-to-day jobs,” said Ashley Perl, Aspen’s climate action manager, after the conference. It will mean that finance managers, city managers, town engineers, land-use planners and other staff members will benefit from the training.

Even in Aspen, she said, climate action will fall short without proper training integrated deeply throughout the city staff. “It will not be for lack of ideas. It won’t be for lack of funding. It will be lack of staff capacity,” she said.

Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Alliance for Climate Change Officers, Aspen climate action manager Ashley Perl, and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.

Earlier, at the conference, the case was made for what former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter called “upward movement.” Fort Collins, Colorado’s fourth largest city, was a case study. The city has specified the goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century. Mayor Wade Troxell talked about “scaling up practical solutions” and the need to articulate additional benefits of climate action, such as saving money from improved energy efficiency.

“If it’s too top-down, that’s not good,” Troxell advised. “It has to make sense from a lot of different perspectives in your community.”

But were they not all missing the boat? That challenge came from Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones. She cited the evidence of efforts in Boulder County to tame greenhouse gas emissions. They had not really moved the needle, she said. What made a difference were Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard and the federal fuel efficiency standards.

“There are two things not in our local control,” she said. “If we really want to save the planet, in addition to doing all the great stuff at the local level, we really have to band together and work on policy change.”

Advocates of local action stood their ground.

“I think the answer is we need to do both at the same time,” answered Ashley Perl, Aspen’s sustainability manager. “But we can’t speak if we don’t have a soap box to stand on,” she added. “Who will listen to us if we haven’t done this work in our local communities?”

Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute, also pointed out that local jurisdictions have primacy over buildings. Because of the long lifetimes of the built environment, this sector poses the greatest challenge for greenhouse gas reduction.

“It will take a long, concerted effort to work on that, but that is within your wheelhouse,” he said. Local governments also have much control over transportation, Udall said.

Ritter earlier in the day had noted that transportation has overtaken the power-generation sector as the leading source for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. “It’s kind of getting away from us,” he said. And Udall said that was another area where local governments could make a difference.

Aspen’s Perl, who organized the conference for Skadron, said the crowning moment came at the conclusion of the conference, when representative jurisdictions signed the compact. At that point, the day went from being yet another climate conference to one that will produce “something that is meaningful and lasting.”

People lingered for an hour afterward instead of hastening to get on the road.

And she also noted the comments of one of Colorado’s smaller towns—either Minturn or Manitou Springs—who suggested a new welcome. There was, she said, a wider diversity of people that was “as refreshing for those us who are always in the room—but perhaps also refreshing for those who aren’t always invited to be in the room.”

For a video of the conference and some of the PowerPoint presentations as well as other materials, go to: https://accoonline.org/colorado Photos courtesy of the City of Aspen.

 

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The warming Arctic and our weird weather here

A fracturing ice beg in the Arctic Ocean. Photo/Ted Scambos and Rob Bauer, NSIDC IceTrek Web site

How weird, extreme weather here may be caused by the warming Arctic

by Allen Best

The big winter in California—and, before that, four years of not much snow? The big and repeated snows in Boston several years ago?

They, along with many of other extreme weather events, might be joined at the hips with the melting ice in the Arctic Ocean. That’s the emerging evidence described on a webinar by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University.

“There’s a ton of research that has been going on lately in regard to this issue of how the rapid melting and warming may or may not be connected to the extreme weather that has been going on around the globe,” she said in the session sponsored by the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting.

The line of reasoning is that there has been an uptick in the number of extreme events. Some, such as Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado-Boulder, have disputed at least part of this evidence. They argue that more people are living in harm’s way, such as in beach-front locations vulnerable to hurricanes or along rivers, thus bloating the damages when storms do occur.

Jennifer Francis

Francis, in her 30-minute talk, didn’t acknowledge that argument, but instead pointed to something called the “Arctic amplification” beginning in about the mid-1990s. She acknowledged some difficulty with defining extreme weather events. “It’s a very hard to get robust statistics on these changes. The atmosphere is a very noisy place,” she said.

But the extreme events like the drought in the Sierra and the snow in Boston do have something in common: They’re caused by “stuck” weather patterns.

“This I where the Arctic may be playing a role,” she said.

Temperature increases have been well documented. “Globally, we’re on the edge of a 1.5 degree Centigrade increase in year-to-year anomalies compared to the 1881-1981 baseline. “We are in a very disturbing situation here. We are getting warmer and warmer, and we are already bumping up against the 1.5 degrees that the Paris agreement set as a limit.”

This warming has been particularly evident in the Arctic. It has been warming two to three times more rapidly than the rest of the globe. At times, and not just summer, it has had temperatures as warm as those of New York City. In summer, the ice has ebbed at a pace far more rapid than the losses predicted by climate models.

The summer ebb of sea ice is also wildly out of proportion to the ebbs and flows during the last 1,450 years as documented by the study of sediments on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

“There are lots of ups and downs, little wiggles, but it’s been pretty steady up until modern times,” she said.

In late March, scientists with the National Snow & Ice Data Center reported that air temperatures lat autumn and winter had been 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Arctic Ocean. The overall warmth was punctuated by a series of extreme winter heat waves over the Arctic Ocean, continuing the pattern also seen in the winter of 2015. This, they say, contributed to a record minimum winter ice advance.

“I have been looking at Arctic weather patterns for 35 years and have never seen anything close to what we’ve experienced these past two winters,” said Mark Serreze, the NSIDC director, said in a March release. 

“We are clearly in uncharted territory,” said Francis in the webinar this week.

As the ice melts, white is replaced by the dark blue of the open ocean. Instead of solar radiation being reflected, it’s being absorbed. This, in turn, helps heat the atmosphere even more.

But there’s also this confusing fact: as the Arctic warms, there can be unusual cold in the eastern United States and parts of Asia. The mid-latitudes overall have been warming very slowly as compared to the Arctic.

This is explained by the Arctic amplification. It disrupts the fast-moving river of high-altitude air called the jet stream. The jet stream creates our weather as it moves across North America. Instead of a straight line, thought, it tends toward greater meandering or waviness.

Now scientists are starting to use a new word, sinuosity, which is a metric of how wavy the jet stream becomes. The greater the sinuosity, the greater the waviness. This increased waviness, in turn, results in persistence of weather patterns, such as the snow and cold of Boston and the dry ground of December in the Sierra Nevada.

Francis cautioned that not all extreme weather can be directly linked to the warming of the Arctic and the shifting of the jet stream. But there is a link reflected in the number of extreme weather events.

“Weather patterns really are changing, but they are affected by so many things,” she said: storm tracks, the jet stream, planetary waves. “It’s a really very complicated story, but we really are starting to get a handle on some of these mechanisms.”

I’d like to have asked her whether snow in Denver less than two weeks before Memorial Day had anything to do with the disappearing Arctic sea ice, but the webinar ended.

If you want a deeper dive into this subject, I recommend an interview with Francis conducted last December by Yale e360. It’s longer but a very easy read. And here’s 5-plus minute video clip that graphically presents the jet stream component

 

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Remembering but not honoring Confederate war leaders

Wynton Marsalis several years ago began making the case for why the Robert :E. Lee statue in New Orleans should be taken down and the circle renamed. He also made his case at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2015.

How do we remember but not honor leaders of causes like the Confederacy?

by Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. – Two years ago this June, a 21-year-old white supremacist slipped into a church in Charleston, S.C., and after praying with the parishioners, all of whom were black, he shot and killed nine of them.

The shooting re-ignited the long-simmering conversation about symbols. The convicted killer, Dylan Roof, had posed for photos with the flag of the Confederacy. While some argued that the flag represented regional pride, others had said no, that the Confederacy was all about preserving slavery, and in particular the slavery of black people.

That conversation continued in 2015 the month after the massacre in a riveting session at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Walter Isaacson, then the chief executive of the Aspen Institute, interviewed jazz giant Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste, soon to be the band leader for the Stephen Colbert Show. Isaacson is white, the two musicians are black, but all three are natives of New Orleans.

For decades there had been discussion in New Orleans about whether 19th century statues that paid tribute to Confederate leaders should be toppled. The most prominent statue honors Robert E. Lee, the leading Confederate general, while others honored Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and another general, P.G.T. Beauregard.

Marsalis said he believed the Robert E. Lee statue had to go. Lee had never fought for New Orleans, and the statue was erected decades after the Civil War during a time when whites were abolishing the bi-racial government and re-asserting white supremacy.

A statue at a city’s center should celebrate what that city is about, said Marsalis. A statue honoring a general of the Confederacy, which was first and foremost about preserving slavery, should not be what New Orleans is about.

The principle is true in New Orleans, he went on to say, but also more broadly across the United States.

“Our history has both strains, a strain of terrible and ignorant things and the strain of wonderful things,” Marsalis said. “So the question of our symbols is always important because your symbols will determine what aspect of your personality do you choose to embody.”

We need to choose our symbols well, he went on to say.

“When all of our symbols are a celebration of smallness, it will lead us to doing things that are small. When our symbols are big, they will lead us to big things,” he said.

See transcript or watch video of Aspen Ideas Festival session.

Later that year, Marsalis wrote an essay that was published in the New Orleans  Time Picayune. A longer version of that essay was posted on his website. “I am  not a fan of using today’s morality and standards to rename every building and statue of conquerors and people of great achievement because they weren’t also saints. This however, is a different case,” he wrote.

Earlier this month, New Orleans began toppling its statues.

“These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who had been to Aspen for the Ideas Festival in 2015. “I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it.”

First to be removed in the dark of night by workers wearing bullet-proof vests was a statue erected to honor the white supremacist of the late 19th century who had imposed segregation and Jim Crow laws. Landrieu called it the most odious of all the statues. Then the Jefferson Davis statue came down, and by the time you read this, those honoring the two generals may have been removed.

In the Aspen area, a resident took to Facebook to share his conflicted feelings. Ken Neubecker said he had ancestors who had fought on both sides of the Civil War, and he thought they all meant well. But those who died fighting for the Confederacy were “wrong, damn wrong, and deserve no such honor as a monument.”

Robert E Lee, if a brilliant soldier and devoted to the South, was also “wrong. Very wrong. He himself recognized that in his last years.”

Even Aspen has a statue on the grounds of the Pitkin County courthouse. It consists of a male soldier, rifle in hand, dressed in what appears to be the clothing and hat of a Union soldier. The text, however, is neutral, honoring “soldiers of 1861-1865.” Megan Cerise Winn, archive technician at the Aspen Historical Society, says the local cemetery has a Civil War section, with soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

In 1901, the Aspen Democrat observed the dwindling number of Civil War veterans. “As the survivors of the rebellion go down one by one into the grave, the bitterness and rancor of those terrible days dwindle away and the bond of good fellowship binds the veterans of the blue and the gray more closely together. All the spite and venom of the days when Yank and Rebel clashed together have died out, and nothing remains but the spirit of brotherly love.”

Perhaps the newspaper spoke too soon.

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Why Aspen thinks we need another climate change group

A fast-paced conference of Colroado communities interested in forming a new climate action network will be held May 18-19 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.

Why Aspen wants to create another climate change group in Colorado

by Allen Best

In 2005, Aspen’s city council adopted a climate change manifesto. It was called the Canary Initiative, the name a nod to the outsized impact of a warming globe predicted for higher elevations.

Steve Skadron wasn’t on the council then. He got elected in 2007 and then became mayor in 2013. But as mayor, he has vigorously continued the Canary Initiative’s basic tenet of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One upshot of that commitment will be a fast-paced invitation-only conference of local governments in Colorado on May 18-19.

With this conference, Aspen hopes to foster a new network, to be called the Compact of Colorado Communities, that will extend beyond the familiar suspects of mountain towns and university towns like Boulder, where climate change action is baked deep into the institutional DNA. Instead, Aspen seeks to forge a compact among a broader diversity of towns, cities, and counties to advance action on climate change.

Don’t expect calls for 100 percent renewables. The intent here it to nail some singles, not swing for the home run fence. You may have noticed the working title for the group does not even include climate.

Aspen did swing for the fence with its aspiration, embedded in the Canary Initiative, for the city’s municipal electrical utility to attain a 100 percent renewable portfolio. That mark was achieved in August 2015, a decade after the goal was articulated.

That success along with the fact that Aspen is Aspen, a small city with world-wide name recognition, helped get Skadron invited to attend an event held in conjunction with the Paris climate accord in December 2015. Called the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, it was hosted by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the mayor of Paris. Skadron was asked to speak on three panels, talking about what one small mountain town in Colorado had achieved and what it hoped to achieve.

“We were tiny, but we signed on along with the big shots: New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta,” he says.

Skadron returned to Aspen impressed with a trio of big ideas he had picked up: urgency, collaboration, and getting done locally what could not be done at a higher level of government.

“He came back so invigorated about his role as a local leader and his ability to impact change on the local level,” says Ashley Perl, climate action manager for Aspen. “He felt he was part of something, and he had all these relationships, that he was part of a network created to achieve something.”

An existing network, the Colorado Communities for Climate Action, consists of Aspen and 15 other jurisdictions that  have passed the hat to fund lobbying at the state level in Denver. It is administered by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization administers it, and it has a lobbying firm, Frontline Public Affairs.

Nearly all of those same towns, cities and counties are also involved in the new organization, which will seek a less robust voice in policy.

Niche of new organization

“What I am finding is that a lot of communities are not ready to do that, money or no money. They’re not ready to lobby for climate change. That’s a fairly mature thing, taking a stand on climate change,” says Perl.

If shy of talking publicly at the State Capitol, though, many communities seem ready to commit to actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The difference, Perl believes, is partly an absence of articulated values. Only a few jurisdictions, such as Aspen and Boulder, have identified climate action as core values. There’s less commitment—and less to fear—with the new network that Aspen hopes to trigger.

The Colorado Municipal League helped spread the word among its members. “I don’t know what to expect, but I think the goal is laudable,” says CML executive director Sam Mamet.

Mamet may have pressed the flesh in every town and city hall in Colorado. He says he and Skadron have been “friends for a long time,” which is probably a phrase he uses often in talking about mayors in Colorado. Mamet remembers names and details.

Steve Skadron

Skadron, he adds, has talked with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg when Bloomberg visited Aspen to speak at the Aspen Institute. “He clearly is engaged in this,” Mamet says of Skadron’s passion about climate change action.

But Mamet also urged a cautious approach. “He told me, ‘Do you think I am going off the deep end?’ I said no, but you have to keep your expectations in check here.” Mamet also advised Skadron to avoid preaching to the same choir. “You have to broaden this out, and he has done this to some extent.”

Perl says Aspen invited all of Colorado’s 196 incorporated towns and 73 cities, and 64 counties. Denver and Broomfield are consolidated city-county governments. Skadron also gave a 15-minute pitch before the Metro Mayors’ Caucus, a collection of 41 mayors in metropolitan Denver-Boulder.

As of last week, 85 people representing 40 jurisdictions were registered. Most will be from

mountain resort towns, plus Denver and the university towns along the northern Front Range.

But there are others: Alamosa, in the San Luis Valley; the giant suburb of Lakewood on Denver’s western flank; and Pueblo, once a giant steel-mill town whose city council in February embraced a goal of 100 percent renewables.

Larry Atencio, a Pueblo councilman, says he believes renewables is the way of the future. “Whether it’s 50 or 100 years, natural gas, coal and oil are going to be so expensive it will makes sense for solar and wind and other renewables, and now is the time to do it,” says Atencio, whose district consists primarily of minorities, mostly of low to moderate income.

Even a farm town interested

Also sending a representative is Wray, a farming town along the Republican River a dozen miles from the Nebraska border. Yuma County, where it is located, had more than 80 percent of its votes in November for Trump, roughly an inverse from the vote tally in Aspen and adjoining precincts in Pitkin County.

“The current federal administration does not seem to be as embracing of these issues as some people would like to see, so I look at this as an opportunity to say where is the action?” says Mamet. “The answer is in local governments, in counties and cities. That’s where the commitment is being made in a number of different ways.”

Each compact member must commit to assign 5 to 25 employees of its choosing for training. Preferred are senior and mid-level managers.

Compact members must, within two years of joining, also commit to a major action. It could include setting a renewable energy goal, tracking greenhouse gas emissions, creating a local energy project, or partnering with other members of the Compact on a project.

See more at Colorado Compact Vision.

Westminster will have two representatives, City Councilwoman Anita Seitz, and a staff member. “I think it’s a good idea to have staff involved, because they provide checks as to what is feasible,” she says. “I don’t want to overcommit the city,” she adds.

Seitz thinks that sort of training is a good thing for her city of 109,000, located between Denver and Boulder. It has some high-income neighborhoods but also some grittier areas. While Westminster provides money for Colorado Communities for Climate Action, she believes there’s also room for a climate  organization without an express mission of state-wide policy advocacy.

“Environmentalists are often seen as a product of privilege. I have a very different socio-economic base in my community than Boulder. This is an issue that affects everybody. Vulnerable communities can be affected even more by climate change, so I feel that this is an opportunity to talk about how this helps everybody,” she says.

Framework for other states?

The key alliance of the new Colorado Climate Compact is with the National Association of Climate Change Officers. The national group will administer the compact and will contribute $100,000 in in-kind support. Additional in-kind and financial support will come from national funders and Colorado businesses, Perl says.

Skadron says his fondest hope is that the conference yields the framework for a coalition that can be replicated and scaled in other places, in other states.

He concedes there have been grassroots efforts before that have been long on aspirations and shy on good deeds. What makes this different? He doesn’t say, but does believe this: “I just know that nothing happens if you don’t try.”

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At the edge in the Colorado River headwaters

Meadows were greening up in Colorado’s Egeria Park by early May even as snow held on in the Flat Tops. Photo/Allen Best 

The exquisite edge of snow and spring runoff in the Colorado Rockies

by Allen Best

It’s edge season in the Rocky Mountains. It can rain or snow on any given day in May. But on the first Friday, when we drove from Denver west on I-70 to Edwards for a business meeting, the Continental Divide sparkled with sunshine dancing off the residual snow of winter. Everywhere it looked like I feel after a good night’s sleep, stretching my way into a new day.

How very different it was in the spring of 1983. I was working in Winter Park that year and living in Granby. Mid-winter had been relatively mild. Then, after the lifts closed in April, the snow came on in earnest. Andy Miller, until recently a reporter for our newspaper, the Winter Park Manifest, had gone to the Arctic Circle with explorer Will Steger. Returning to Fraser late in the month, he reported that he had seen more sunshine in the Arctic than we had seen in the Fraser Valley.

I recall little melting of snow until the second week of June. Then, there were ponds everywhere. A majority of the water in the Colorado River lies in these mountain headwaters, mostly in Colorado, at an elevation of 9,000 to 11,000 feet, or roughly the same band as where ski areas are found.

A paddle-boarder drifts down the Colorado River near the entrance to Burns Hole. Photo/Allen Best

At Kremmling, where it picks up the Blue, the Colorado River spread widely before thrashing its way down Gore Canyon, which drops more than 300 feet in three miles, the steepest drop of the river’s 1,450-mile journey from Rocky Mountain National Park to its final denouement near Yuma, Arizona, according to a U.S. Geological Survey document I read decades ago. The amount of snow and then runoff took water managers by surprise. The surge of water that summer nearly took out Glen Canyon Dam, just upstream from the Grand Canyon.

This is a very different year. After heavy snows in early winter, March and April were exceptionally mild, even hot. The evidence of heat was all around. The aspen forests on the hillsides above Eagle-Vail, where I used to live, were nearly all leafed out, weeks earlier than I remember. The color of an aspen grove putting on its clothes for summer is sublime. That shade of green upon first leafing is hesitant and delicate, tiptoeing instead of striding, flirtatious rather than a full-on hug. It’s infatuation instead of commitment. In this edge season, aspen groves are the innocence of first love.

We had allocated the afternoon to wandering, but were caught up for awhile in our indecisiveness. We had good cause, including nostalgia, to go in several directions of our earlier lives. “You make a decision,” I told Cathy, but she couldn’t, any more than I could. This indecisiveness can momentarily be maddening, but it’s part of the process, part of the journey. If you know where you’re going, you will only go to where you know. Luckily for me, and perhaps for her, too, Cathy and I dance well when in our vagabond mood. In this way of rambling, unsure of where we want to go, we end up where we want to be.

That proved to be the case on this trip. We drove north with Steamboat vaguely in mind. At McCoy, whimsy led me to leave the paved highway for the graveled River Road. Stopping near Burns, where the great river is joined by Catamount Creek, we watched two stand-up paddle-boarders navigate down the river. At the BLM put-in, two guys were drinking beer at the picnic table, remarking upon the providence of agreeable weather. Three young guys drove up and scrambled down the bridge’s rock rip-rap with their fishing poles.

Egeria Creek flows into the Yampa River. Photo/Allen Best

Dropping my drawers to change from the khaki dress pants of my business meeting into more comfortable blue jeans, I had a sense of being watched. A critter—I think a marmot—was watching me warily from the protection of a plastic discharge tube about 10 feet away. I studied the northern edge of the river, lined by yellow sedges from last year’s growing season and, just a little higher, the red of willows. This is what I had come to see: the mighty Colorado River, not so far from its origins.

Returning to the highway, we followed the route of the explorer John Charles Fremont on one of his four expeditions to the west, topping over a divide to see the broad expanse of Egeria Park.

Egeria Park is a hard place to make a living, hard to get out of your mind once you’ve been bitten. The Yampa River originates here, sandwiched by the Gore Range on the east and the Flat Tops on the west. It’s a place of big ranches, broad meadows, and white-faced cows. From Toponas, I drove a graveled county road through this pastoral heaven, wisps of remnant snow soon appearing along Egeria Creek. I had been on this road once before, 26 years ago, but I wasn’t sure where it would take us. We continued past a few ranch headquarters and then, far up the valley, now getting close to the forested flanks of the Flat Tops, the road veered southwest.

“Shouldn’t we be turning around?” Cathy asked. “It’s 6 o’clock.”

The Yampa River—whose water ultimately flows into the Colorado River—begins in spongy meadows such as were found below this snowdrift. Photo/Cathy Casper

“Just a bit further,” I said, now on a mission.

We stopped just short of a snowbank lingering in the road. Rounded drifts observed the north-facing hillsides. Leaving the car and the road, we picked our way through the gradual slope below the snowbank. The grasses of last year, now brown, were matted down, but between the stalks were glimmers of yellow, marsh marigolds. This is where I had wanted to go, the edge I wanted to see and hear, mountain snow becoming water. I wanted to smell the air at this edge, feel the wet on my feet, maybe even dip my tongue to taste this spring runoff, this edge between winter and summer.

This and a million other places like it are where the river starts, the massive thing we call the Colorado River. Here the land is merely wet underfoot, but below it becomes a rivulet, and then a stream and, below us, Egeria Creek. Egeria Creek flows into the Yampa River, which takes a sharp left at Steamboat Springs before splashing past the yellow canyon walls of Dinosaur National Park for its rendezvous with the Green River. The Green flows through more canyons and hundreds of miles more before joining the Colorado River downstream from Moab in Canyonlands National Park. That’s where this water underfoot was going.

Unless it got diverted to irrigate a hay meadow. Or maybe cool the boilers in a coal plant.

What we didn’t hear was the sound of motorcycles, their mufflers removed, ostensibly in the interest of safety but more truthfully to satisfy the Narcissistic ego’s drive for affirmation of importance. No planes droned overhead, their passengers oblivious to the wonders below, focused instead on getting to a place. True, we had made noise in our journey to find this place. Our existences are compromises.

In a further compromise, we continued up the road, unobstructed except for the lingering partial snowbank, to the divide. From there we could see across three or four river valleys—the Colorado, the Eagle, the Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork—to Sopris, at the west end of the Elk Range. To the north were mountains of the Park Range near the Wyoming border. The water from this divide flowing southward had the more direct route to Canyonlands National Park. The water flowing north into the Yampa had the longer journey.

Then we turned around and returned down the gravel road, past the white-faced cows and their calves, prancing in the hay meadows, and then onto the highway. We were about three hours from the city, a world away.

Post script: After I posted this, Ken Neubecker of Glenwood Springs—who knows far more about rivers than I will ever know—wrote to tell me that  Egeria Creek does not flow into the Yampa River, but instead flows into Rock Creek and hence the Colorado River at McCoy.

My mistake was  common, a reflection of how much our understanding is directed by highways. Driving north from the Colordo River,, the incline is steep to King Mountain before crossing into Egeria Park. The gradient between Toponas and Yampa is almost imperceptible, especially if you’re driving> Maybe the divide would be readily apparent if walking or riding a bicycle, although I suspect not.

What this does illustrate is that I’m a visitor, not a local to that area. But it also brings up for me an interesting perplexity: I thought I KNEW the geography of that area. I wonder how many things that I fervently believe I KNOW that are in fact not correct.

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Why no tutus in Jackson Hole’s Million Dollar Cowboy Bar?

What will it take to get guys in Jackson Hole to put on tutus?

JACKSON, Wyo. – The guys in Jackson Hole missed an opportunity to have a little fun last week. Maybe they were camping in the desert, biding their time until the snow has melted or at least transformed into the fine corn best harvested by spring skiing.

Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi told high school students that a man who wears a tutu to a bar “kind of asks for” a fight. Although he quickly apologized, his remark soon had men of a certain political persuasion in Wyoming showing up to classes, work, and all else in – well, you guessed it – tutus, the costume worn by ballerinas.

If Wyoming is known for its conservative politics, it has its libertarian and non-conformist bent, as well as a few precincts that vote liberal. One photo showed up of a man dressed in a purple tie, dark suit—and purple tutu standing next to the Michael B. Enzi Stem Facility on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.

In Lander, home to the National Outdoor Leadership School, there was a full of line of people in tutus on the city’s main street outside a bar. “A tutu rebellion has erupted across communities in Wyoming, including Lander,” reported the County 10 website.

Where was Jackson Hole in all this? A no-show, it seems. Halloween is a big, big deal there, and in years past the Jackson Hole News&Guide has showed men glammed up in short dresses and what not.

But although the News&Guide was waiting for news to happen in its backyard, it did not. Nothing at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar or any other watering hole in Jackson.

“Nothing to report. We had our ears and eyes perked, and no tutus turned up,” reported editor Johanna Love.

But here’s another idea. Maybe the guys in Jackson Hole are too fashion conscious just to throw on any old tutu. Is North Face or Patagonia preparing to issue a line of tutus?

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Apartment developer aims for new, energy-smart way

Elliot Flats consists of 40 units in Denver. Developer Brice Leconte says he aims to revolutionize how apartments are made in the United States. Photo/Allen Best

How apartments of the future may be built differently with energy in mind

by Allen Best

The simple math of energy explains why we need to focus on buildings. Nearly half of all energy gets used for building operations, compared to 28 percent for transportation and 24 percent for industry.

Those statistics come from Brice Leconte, the founder of a company called iUnit. It’s a Denver-based company that is starting to do significant real estate projects. He has one three-story project called Eliot Flats located west of downtown Denver, at 32nd and Eliot. Another residential project, to be 13 stories, is planned just north of downtown Denver, on Champa Street just off Park Avenue West.

In these projects, both of them small apartments, Leconte is trying to recreate how residential building units are created in the United States and how they are operated. He wants to drive energy consumption down.

This matters because roughly 38 million people in the United States live in buildings that contain five or more units.

Leconte spoke at an event at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory sponsored by the Colorado CleanTech Industries Association. NREL was originally created in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute then scrapped by President Ronald Reagan. In 1991, it was recreated, this time as NREL. It has the world’s largest net-zero building, where 1,300 people work.

Several years ago, NREL also opened the Energy Systems Integration Facility. Here, NREL engineers are trying to put it all together: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and new ways of meshing them to reduce carbon emissions

Leconte’s units are part of the lab’s giant science experiment. A 380-square-foot studio apartment produced for him is currently being tested. It’s plain and small. But NREL engineers don’t pass judgment on the aesthetics. Instead, they are conducting tests such as to determine how well the units will withstand temperature extremes.

One such test will produce heat of 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the interior. “Hopefully we won’t crack any windows or anything,” said Ron Judkoff, NREL’s principal program manager for buildings research and development.

The iUnits are built in factories, instead of on-site, as there’s far greater efficiency in a factory setting and attention to quality control, said Leconte. The goal is to maximize energy efficiency of the building envelope and the mechanical system, but to integrate the technologies into a microgrid of the building. The buildings are to have solar but also battery storage.

The units will have what Leconte describes as a dashboard, a way for residents to compare their energy use against that of their neighbors. He said the “gamification” of utility consumption results in less use.

One goal is to maximize use of renewable energy. The United States now has 80,000 megawatts of wind capacity and 40,000 megawatts of solar. As the saying goes, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine. One challenge is to flatten demand to best take advantage of the renewable generation. While technical issues remain to be solved, once this is accomplished, there’s no real argument for not putting renewables on the grid, said Shanti Pless, section supervisor for the Whole Buildings Integration.

Another challenge is to capture heat from hot water that goes down the drain. This means capturing the heat from a shower, instead of allowing it to be mixed with the water from a toilet, for example. One installation in Vancouver is already doing that, but it’s among the tasks the must be done to allow buildings to become net-zero in their energy use.

We want to change the industry,” said Leconte. “We want to showcase what is possible.”

Chuck Kutscher, center director for buildings and thermal systems at NREL, said he has been working in renewable energy for 40 years—and now, what had seemed impossible has finally arrived. Renewable energy has become relatively inexpensive, costing less than retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency.

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The fracture lines over Colorado’s coal plant retirement bill

Xcel Energy operates Comanche station, a trio of coal-fired power plants at Pueblo. The newest, at left, began operations in 2010. Photo/Christmas 2014, Allen Best

Environmentalists differ on bill to speed closing of coal plants

Originally published on May 03, 2017, in the Colorado Independent

by Allen Best

A bill that seeks to give Colorado communities with coal-powered plants a soft landing if the plants are retired early got panned last week at a legislative committee hearing by some of the communities in northwest Colorado that it seeks to help.

Representatives from communities with coal-fired power plants said they feared the measure might provide an incentive for utilities to prematurely close their plants, accelerating the harm to local tax bases and economies.

The bill, the Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act, also drew rebukes from one of Colorado’s most vigilant anti-coal activists, Leslie Glustrom.

The measure would apply mainly to Xcel Energy and would allow investor-owned utilities closing aging coal-fired plants to add special fees to the bills of customers to refinance the closed plants at lower costs. The fees would kick in when a closing plant still has “stranded” assets on its books that ratepayers must pay back. It would give the utility the authority to use the fees to back low-cost bonds.

“Utilities can reinvest these dollars in much more productive new investments, like (Xcel Energy’s new) Rush Creek wind farm. Consumers pay back the bonds at much lower interest rates, so they save a lot,” explained Ron Lehr, a former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman and a proponent of the bill in an e-mail after the hearing.

Lehr, a former regional director of the American Wind Energy Association, teamed with Ron Binz, also a former PUC chairman also active in renewable energy, and several others to push the bill.

Xcel has at least a minority stake in a large fleet of aging coal-fired power plants in Colorado: two units at Hayden, three at Craig, three at Comanche in Pueblo, Pawnee at Brush, plus units at both Valmont in Boulder and Cherokee north of downtown Denver. Valmont exhausted its coal earlier this year, and the final unit at Cherokee is transitioning to natural gas, a process expected to be completed by the end of 2017. All except for Comanche 3, which was completed in 2010, were built between the late 1950s and early 1980s.

The bill could, in theory, also apply to Colorado’s other investor-owned utility, Black Hills Energy, but Black Hills does not have aging power plants in Colorado.

A co-sponsor in the House, Rep. Chris Hansen, assured members of the House Transportation and Energy Committee last week that the bill was neutral about plant closings and technologies.

“It is not a statement about whether they should or should not,” said Hansen, a Democrat who represents Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood. “It’s not picking winners and losers.”

The bill would also set aside 15 percent of the savings achieved by refinancing to assist communities that lose their coal-fired power plants. Half of the property taxes collected for the Moffat County School District, in northwest Colorado, come from the three coal-fired power plants at Craig and the associated coal mines. One of the three plants is scheduled to close in 2025 to help Colorado improve air quality currently out of compliance with federal laws governing regional haze.

Testimony at the hearing suggested a traditional coal vs. renewables fracture line. It was echoed in the party-line split, Democrats with yeahs and Republicans with nays both in the committee hearing and later in the House vote. It is now before the Colorado Senate, where Republicans are in a majority. As such, the proposal is expected to die.

At the committee hearing, Diana Orf, representing the Colorado Mining Association, said the bill didn’t deserve forward movement.

Her son, Richard Orf, representing the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado where several major coal-fired power plants are located at Hayden and Craig, did acknowledge the intent of the bill to provide a portion of the money to towns impacted by closing of plants through provisions to retain workers and help provide money lost to local schools and other districts. But he said the local governments he represents fear the bill will lead to premature retirement of coal-fired power plants and loss of jobs.

Colorado had 1,086 coal miners as of December, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety. The bill, however, only addresses power plants, not mining. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, 6,603 employees in power generation and supply in 2015. That would also include natural gas plants as well as wind farms.

While emphasizing that the solar industry now employs more than 6,000 people in Colorado, Rebecca Cantwell, of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, described the bill as seeking to provide flexibility in the transition of energy sources.

Union representatives, including individuals who had worked at power plants, offered support for the bill—and implicitly the energy transition to renewables.

Environmental groups endorsed the bill. Theresa Conley, advocacy director of Conservation Colorado, said the bonding capacity would move Colorado toward a “clean, renewable energy future in a smart and well-planned way.” Ron Larson from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society credited the proposal for its effort to train workers for new jobs with good wages.

But Glustrom and two others from Boulder vigorously panned the bill. Glustrom explained that she has intervened in cases before the Public Utilities Commission for 15 years. In 2004, she was an outspoken dissident as main-line environmental groups in Colorado were fashioning compromises with Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest power provider, that allowed Xcel to build the Comanche 3 power plant.

Glustrom charged that the bill “shifts all the responsibilities of the investor-owned utility to the ratepayers.” She also said urged distrust of the bill’s proposal to give the Colorado PUC purview of the process. She charged that the state agency has allowed utility “profits to soar” even while authorizing the utility—obviously a reference to Xcel Energy—to build excess capacity.

“Any parent knows you don’t let a child get away with making bad decisions,” she said.

She described the bill as fish bait. “Please don’t take this worm off the hook,” she told the committee members.

They did anyway, at least the eight Democrats. But Rep. Terri Carver said she would oppose it unless she could be assured that the state government wouldn’t be the ultimate financial backstop. A Republican from Colorado Springs, she apparently wasn’t satisfied with the explanation Hansen gave, as she went along with the four other Republicans in opposing it.

That same partisan dividing line was apparent on Monday when the full House gave its approval. The bill is being heard this afternoon in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, where it is expected to die.

 

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