Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

July 2014

Featured Item
Colorado Local Resilience Project

Prompted by the devastating wildfires and floods of the recent past and the state’s vulnerabilities to health-threatening heat waves, the Colorado Climate Network and the Colorado Municipal League are convening a statewide Local Resilience Project to help Colorado local governments prepare for such impacts. The project will bring together representatives of local governments in Colorado, other governmental entities active at the local level (such as local health departments and school districts), and related organizations to identify ways local governments and others can work together to prepare for and address climate change impacts, and what they need from the state and federal governments and other sources to do so.

The project was announced on June 26 through a news release featuring statements by Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat, Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Sam Mamet, and Stephen Saunders, the president of RMCO, which administers the Colorado Climate Network. “Climate change is not an issue that can be addressed successfully by a jurisdiction acting alone and focusing solely within its own boundaries," Saunders said. “We will have participants from big metro areas to rural areas, defining ways they can work together to prepare our state to meet these challenges.”

The outcome of the first phase of the project will be a report, expected by December 2014 or January 2015, identifying those possible actions by local governments and others and what they need to make them possible. Work groups will focus on five areas: wildfire emergency response and recovery; infrastructure (including flooding impacts, transportation, energy, public buildings); natural resources and outdoor recreation; public health; and cross-cutting issues.

Exemplary of the types of resources the project will be identifying is the June 14 White House announcement of a National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will make available $1 billion to communities that have experienced natural disasters to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters.

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO Partners

The City and County of Denver steps up its climate action planning with the release of its first Climate Adaptation Plan, an impressive and comprehensive blueprint. News release, June 26, 2014. (See also our Resource of the Month below.) In addition, the city is updating its 2007 Climate Action Plan, among the first in the nation, and is inviting public input to guide efforts for reducing climate altering emissions.

The City of Boulder files a motion in district to dismiss an Xcel Energy lawsuit filed following the city council’s August vote to allow the formation of a municipal power utility. Boulder seeks to dismiss Xcel lawsuit, Boulder Daily Camera, June 26, 2014.

Western Resource Advocates releases its 2013 Annual Report, highlighting recent work in strengthening renewable energy standards in Colorado and Utah, energy efficiency investments by utilities in New Mexico, and water efficiency and conservation.

News about Climate Action 

National Climate Policies

As expected, the EPA’s June release of its proposed Clean Power Plan for emissions reductions from existing power plants is drawing widespread attention. The bottom line is a 30 percent national reduction in power plant emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, with states given the flexibility to determine how they will meet the sliding scale of state targets that is based on current instate power production sources. A sampling of media coverage:

EPA promotes global warming proposal to Western governors, Associated Press, June 10, 2014. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy pitches the proposed rule at a Western Governors’ Association meeting, framing the plan as a way to deal with destructive wildfires and floods.

In some states, emissions cuts defy skeptics, New York Times, June 7, 2014. States that have led the way on emissions reduction strategies are proving that meeting such standards does not mean economic calamity.

Colorado well-positioned for pollution standards, Associated Press, June 2, 2014. The state’s progressive renewable energy standards and fuel-switching laws give it a head start in meeting the federal standards, but they also have the effect of raising the bar to 35 percent emissions reductions in EPA’s sliding scale for state targets.

EPA says Idaho must cut carbon emissions by 33 percent, Idaho Statesman, June 3, 2014. Idaho’s reliance on hydropower also translates into a higher bar than other states face.

Wyoming will have to reduce its CO2 emissions less than other states and Wyoming politicians blast new EPA coal plant carbon rules, Casper Star-Tribune, June 8 and 2, 2014. The Wyoming emissions reduction target proposed by the EPA is a comparatively low 19 percent, but the state’s top office-holders say no way can they meet the “heavy-handed” standards.

Public Opinion

Americans by 2 to 1 would pay more to curb climate change, Bloomberg News, June 10, 2014. A Bloomberg National Poll finds that by 62 percent to 33 percent, respondents say they would pay more for energy if it would reduce carbon emissions, and more than half of all Americans and majorities of female, young, and independent respondents who plan to vote in the midterm elections say candidates who support measures to curb climate change are more likely to win their backing.

Clean Energy

Meeting renewable energy targets turns out to be inexpensive, Denver Post, June 23, 2014. According to studies by two national laboratories, among 24 states with renewable portfolio standards, the cost of complying between 2010 and 2012 was equal on average to roughly one percent of retail electricity rates.

Buying into solar power, no roof access needed, New York Times, June 20, 2014. Solar gardens, a concept pioneered in Colorado, are taking root in other states. Property owners for whom solar arrays are not feasible can collectively buy into a solar array constructed elsewhere and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power produced.

The big switch: utilities' conversion from coal to natural gas, Casper Star-Tribune, May 31, 2014, and Xcel Energy seeks $138 million electric rate increase, Denver Post, June 17, 2014. While there may be one-time capital costs to recover from closing coal-fired power plants or converting plants to natural gas, such as in Colorado as the result of 2010 legislation, the long-term cost benefits are evident nationwide, as seen in the widespread closure of coal plants and in half of new 2013 generation built coming from natural gas plants.

Fossil Fuels

Colorado coal mine mulls appeal after federal court climate ruling, Denver Post, July 1, 2014. A U.S. District Court judge rules against Arch Coal’s application to expand a western Colorado underground mine because government land managers failed to consider the impact on climate change from additional releases of methane and CO2.

Transportation

For first time over 50 percent of current year models get more than 23 mpg; over 11 percent get 30 mpg!, Consumer Federation of America news release, April 29, 2014. The federation reports that federal laws and CAFE standards are having their intended effect: over half of the 25 top-selling vehicles are this year getting over 23 mpg (an important benchmark), compared to 19 percent five years ago, and carmakers appear to be on track to meet the 2025 standard of 54.5 mpg.

Preparedness

To protect public health, many major cities confront urban heat island effect, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) news release, June 17, 2014. An ACEEE survey of 26 North American cities, including eight in the West, includes case studies on how cities are responding to urban heat, demonstrating the variety of strategies employed.

News about Climate Disruption

Drought

The 2013 Southwest Climate Assessment’s Summary for Decision Makers states with high confidence, “Droughts in parts of the Southwest will become hotter, more severe, and more frequent.” The ongoing drought in California and the Southwest paints a picture of what to expect from such a future:

In dry California, water fetching record prices in private sales, Associated Press, July 2, 2014. Private sector water market transactions and water prices are skyrocketing.

Drought has drillers running after shrinking California water supply and Fields and farm jobs dry up with California's worsening drought, National Public Radio, June 30 and April 22, 2014. In a state where groundwater withdrawals are unregulated, drought is driving a frantic pace of well-drilling that is risking aquifer depletion. This year groundwater withdrawals are projected to rise to 65 percent of state water supplies, up from the normal 40 percent. Some agricultural operations sit atop aquifers too polluted by nitrates to withdraw water, forcing fallowing of fields.

Arizona cities could face cutbacks in water from Colorado River, New York Times, June 17, 2014. Lake Mead is approaching the lowest levels since it first filled in 1938, and unless demand can be reduced, Central Arizona Project deliveries to Tucson and Phoenix could be cut back as early as 2019.

Grazing on federal land under threat because of drought, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014. In Idaho and Nevada, grazing allotments on public lands are being cut back, and could get much more drastic if in addition sage grouse are granted endangered species status due to shrinking habitats.

California drought: Voluntary cutback falls short in Bay Area, San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 2014. Governor Brown’s plea for a voluntary 20 percent cutback in water use doesn’t appear to be as effective as needed.

National Heritage

Glacier’s glaciers melting slowly, for now, Flathead Beacon, June 6, 2014. U.S. Geological Survey scientists say that the rate of deterioration of Glacier National Park’s glaciers has declined over the past four years dues to cooler winters and heavier snowpacks, but forecasts for El Niño-induced warmer temperatures this year would mean resumption of high melt rates.

Resource of the Month

Denver’s Climate Adaptation Plan

The City and County of Denver in June released its first Climate Adaptation Plan, an exemplary effort keyed on meeting its “long-term vision to be one of the most innovative and resilient cities in the face of climate change.” To prepare, mitigate, and plan for three primary risks (increased temperature and heat island effect, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt), the plan lays out short-term, mid-term, and long-term actions focused on six sectors: buildings and energy, health and human services, land use and transportation, urban natural resources, water consumption, and food and agriculture.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Bob Berwyn, RMCO director of communications: berwyn@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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