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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.
On September 16, Governor Hickenlooper announced the release of the finalized 2015 Colorado Climate Plan. The plan is significantly different from the state’s first Climate Action Plan released by Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in 2007, which focused primarily on reduction of heat-trapping gases and included specific goals and strategies targeting emission sources from specific sectors. By contrast, this plan focuses almost exclusively on state agency actions, and has an overall goal of promoting “ . . state policy recommendations and actions that help to improve Colorado’s ability to adapt to future climate change impacts and increase Colorado’s state agencies level of preparedness, while simultaneously identifying opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) at the agency level.”
As the media coverage indicates, the plan was produced by state agencies with only limited engagement with stakeholders. RMCO was one of the few organizations invited in May to review a draft of the plan, and in our comments, we urged the state government to circulate the draft more widely for comment. Instead, the plan says that state agencies will engage in specific stakeholder engagement opportunities over the next year to further the discussion on how Colorado can move forward on implementing the recommendations and strategies listed for the seven sectors covered in the plan.
We at RMCO observe that the plan is a solid indication that Governor Hickenlooper and state agencies are committing to work on reducing heat-trapping pollution and a preparedness agenda. We welcome the personal engagement of the governor in shaping and releasing this new plan, and we hope and believe it will lead to much more climate action by his administration.
The upcoming stakeholder engagement process will provide opportunities to flesh out the specifics of the actions needed to make meaningful progress towards the broad goals the plan lays out. To begin with, the plan does not set targets for emissions reductions either statewide or for each sector, in contrast to the previous state plan and plans adopted by many of the Colorado local governments active in climate action, such as the Fort Collins City Council’s adoption this year of a framework to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 by 2020, 80 percent below 2005 by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. In our view such targets are essential to guide the establishment of specific actions and to track progress on their implementation. We hope that after hearing from stakeholders, the state will follow local governments’ lead by establishing specific sector-by-sector targets for emissions reduction and preparedness actions. We also believe it is essential that the state government do more to partner with local governments and key stakeholders. The upcoming stakeholder engagement process provides opportunities for those and other improvements.
News about RMCO and Partners
News about RMCO Partners
Boulder County, a pacesetter with its adoption of building regulations that require net zero energy consumption in new homes by 2022, slows down the phase-in, which starts with the largest structures. Boulder County staff recommends slower rollout of net-zero goal, Boulder Daily Camera, September 2, 2015.
To prepare for population growth coupled with expected climate-change-driven droughts, Denver Water is drilling test wells to determine the feasibility of storing water in deep aquifers. Denver drills seeking aquifer space to store water for droughts, Denver Post, September 28, 2015.
The City of Aspen signs a wind energy contract with a Nebraska producer to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal. Aspen is third U.S. city to reach 100% renewable energy, Aspen Times, September 1, 2015.
A City of Boulder ordinance if adopted would require building owners to annually rate their building's energy use, report energy metrics to the city, and implement energy efficiency measures. Boulder gives initial approval to commercial energy efficiency requirements, Boulder Daily Camera, September 1, 2015.
News about Climate Disruption
The National Interagency Fire Center reports 9.1 million acres burned so far this year, nearly 50 percent greater than the 2005-14 ten-year average of 6.2 million acres. But the number of fires this year (about 50,000) is down from the ten-year average of 59,000, indicative of the large catastrophic fires that burned this year. The wildfire season has been concentrated in the Northwest, California, and Alaska, where over 5 million acres burned. Media coverage includes:
As fires grow, a new landscape appears in the West, New York Times, September 21, 2015, and Unusual heat and breadth of fires create 'lunar landscape' in Pacific Northwest, ClimateWire, September 9, 2015. The shift from historic fire regimes to major incineration of large landscapes caused by high-severity fires makes for an uncertain future regarding forest succession.
The Forest Service just had to divert another $250 million to fight wildfires, Washington Post, September 15, 2015. The Department of Agriculture has to raid other agency programs for another $250 million, bringing this fiscal year’s emergency spending total to $700 million.
President Obama declares major disaster in deadly California wildfire, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2015. The 76,000-acre Valley Fire in northern California is the third most destructive in the state’s history.
Unpredictable fire behavior marks Montana’s fire season, Great Falls Tribune, September 4, 2015. Drought conditions cause fires to run for miles. August visitation in Glacier Park dipped as wildfires forced closures, Flathead Beacon, September 8, 2015. By 14 percent from last year’s August. See also County plan to map wildfire risk could become regional model, Missoula Independent, September 23, 2015.
As big wildfires become routine, communities face cascading consequences, Idaho Statesman, September 11, 2015. Communities deal with the impacts on infrastructure and the agriculture and tourism economic sectors.
Extreme Weather and Climate Events
Drought and heat waves are much more likely to mix, researchers say, Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2015. A study by University of California, Irvine researchers finds a substantial increase in concurrent droughts and heatwaves in the southern U.S., by comparing conditions between 1990 and 2010 with a baseline period of 1960 through 1980.
Global warming intensified the record floods in Texas and Oklahoma, Guardian, September 2, 2015. A study by Utah State University researchers finds that there is a detectable effect of human-caused climate disruption that can be attributed to the record-setting May 2015 floods in Texas and Oklahoma, by way of hotter Pacific Ocean temperatures intensifying the El Niño tendency to increase late-spring precipitation in the southern Great Plains.
Sierra Nevada snowpack is much worse than thought: a 500-year low, Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2015. Using tree ring analyses, scientists determine this year’s snow drought in California is the lowest in 500 years. Even though winter precipitation was within the bounds of climate variability, winter temperatures among the highest ever recorded meant precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.‘Disastrous’: Low snow, heat eat away at Northwest glaciers, Seattle Times, September 8, 2015. After conducting his annual survey of North Cascades glaciers, a Nichols College glaciologist estimates losses of glacial volume of 5-10 percent this year alone, the largest annual loss in the last 50 years.
Big trees first to die in severe droughts, Scientific American, October 1, 2015. Researchers studying droughts worldwide find that large trees, such as redwoods and giant Sequoias, suffer most because they cannot draw enough water to enable them to effectively absorb carbon, making them vulnerable to insects and diseases.
Growing problem: Drought hits Nevada agriculture hard, Reno Gazette-Journal, September 2015. As part of an ongoing drought series, reporters describe agricultural operations pushed to the edge after four years of drought and how some are adapting through water efficiency improvements.
News about Climate Action
Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies
California Gov. Brown signs climate change bill to spur renewable energy, efficiency standards, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2015. S.B. 350 mandates a 50 percent renewable energy portfolio standard and a doubling of efficiency in existing buildings by 2030, but a requirement to reduce petroleum consumption 50 percent by 2030 was dropped after intense lobbying by oil companies. See also California leads a quiet revolution, New York Times, October 5, 2015, describing the policy trajectory that put the state in position to meet those goals, but also State solar users would lose savings if proposal is OKd; SolarCity describes 'catastrophic' future, Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2015, describing state electric utilities’ push to reduce net-metering rates, now under consideration by the Public Utilities Commission.
Many conservative Republicans believe climate change is a real threat, New York Times, September 28, 2015. Jay Faison, a North Carolina businessman self-described as a conservative Republican, says he intends to spend $10 million to lobby Republicans to embrace the issue of climate change. He has spent $165 million to start a nonprofit foundation, ClearPath, and commissioned a new survey conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters that finds 54 percent of conservative Republicans believe the world’s climate is changing and that mankind plays some role in the change.
Rural Nebraska Poll shows changing attitudes on climate change, Lincoln Journal Star, September 14, 2015. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll of rural residents finds a solid majority think the state should begin preparing for climate change in order to reduce its impact on agriculture, rural communities, forestry, and natural resources.
Number of U.S. coal mines falls to lowest on record, Climate Central, September 23, 2015. The number of new coal mines opening each year has fallen to its lowest point in at least a decade, and the total number of operating coal mines has hit its lowest point on record, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report.
Low 2015 snowpack and river flows studied to provide insight into future droughts, U.S. Geological Survey new release, September 11, 2015. USGS technicians are measuring stream flow and water temperature in hundreds of rivers and streams in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington to document the stresses this year’s drought places on domestic and agricultural water supplies, fish and wildlife, and forests and rangelands.
Federal protection sought for Joshua trees, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2015. Conservationists petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, in line with scientific modeling suggesting Joshua trees could lose 90 percent of their range by the end of the century in and near the national park designated to protect them.
Recreation and Tourism
Utah’s ski industry takes on climate change, Salt Lake Tribune, September 23, 2015. Ski Utah, the marketing arm for the state’s $1.2 billion ski industry, partners with the Protect Our Winters advocacy group to raise awareness of the threats of climate change, and kicks off the effort by urging Gov. Gary Herbert to commit to complying with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.
TransportationHickenlooper promises $100M to make Colorado "the best state for biking”, Denver Post, September 16, 2015. The governor announces a public-private Colorado Pedals Project to work with the Colorado Department of Transportation and communities on a statewide biking and pedestrian network. The plan calls for $60 million from federal funds to develop bike and pedestrian infrastructure, $30 million from the lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado for trail connectivity grants, and $10 million to grow the Safe Routes to School program.
National Climate Policies
EPA tightens limits on smog-causing ozone, citing need to protect public health, Associated Press, October 1, 2015, and Colorado, failing to meet smog standard, faces tougher limit, Denver Post, October 2, 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency announces a final rule setting a new standard of 70 parts per billion, at the high end of a range announced by the EPA last fall. Denver and other Colorado Front Range locations are some of the areas facing compliance challenges. Often downplayed in the debate about ground-level ozone controls are the threats of climate-change-induced heat waves, which elevate ozone levels (see It's not just the heat – it's the ozone: Study highlights hidden dangers, University of York, July 2013), and that the IPCC considers ozone to be the third most important heat-trapping gas after carbon dioxide and methane (see NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information’s Tropospheric Ozone webpage).
EPA faces heat from both sides in push to cut oil and gas pollution, Denver Post, September 23, 2015. In Denver at one of three nationwide public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to regulate emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from new and modified hydraulically fracked oil and gas wells, a primary focus was on the failure to include existing operations in the standards. See also Four Corners methane plume discussed at EPA hearing, Durango Herald, September 23, 2015, a prime example of the need to cover existing facilities.
Resource of the Month
National Adaptation Forum Webinar Series
The National Adaptation Forum webinar series provides an opportunity for the climate preparedness community to exchange ideas, provide moral support, and brainstorm adaptation innovations on a regular basis. Each webinar highlights a practitioner or group of practitioners to share their efforts with the community, and get input from the community where they need help. The latest posting is Climate Adaptation Monitoring and Evaluation. Panelists Rachel M. Gregg (Lead Scientist, EcoAdapt), Anne Carlson (Climate Associate, The Wilderness Society), and Mallory Morgan (Climate Fellow, San Diego Foundation) talk about examples of climate adaptation evaluation and monitoring efforts in the field.
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Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: email@example.com