RMCO's Recent Statements and News Releases
Further Comments on Colorado's Water Plan
In December, 2014, the Colorado Water Conservation Board released its first draft of Colorado's Water Plan. On May 1, RMCO followed up on previous comments to the board (see October 28, 2014 posting below) with new comments on the draft with specific suggestions on how to improve the plan, including a better description of the risks of climate change on Colorado's water resources and its impacts on water supply and demand, its treatment of possible curtailments under instate compacts due to climate change, the inclusion of a plan of action, and a proposal to create a task force to advise the state government on climate-related water matters.
RMCO Comments on Colorado's Water Plan
On October 16, RMCO submitted comments to the Colorado state government suggesting how the first draft of a first-ever state water plan can be revised to better identify and address projected impacts of climate change on the state's water resources. A revised draft is due to be released in December, with the plan to be finalized a year later.
Colorado Regulation of Methane Emissions
On February 23, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) passed regulations that make Colorado the first state to directly regulate emissions of the potent heat-trapping gas methane from oil and natural gas production facilities. The AQCC voted 8-1 to adopt leak detection and repair requirements specifying capture of 95 percent of the smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as of methane, that escape from oil and natural gas facilities “upstream” of oil refineries and natural gas processing plants. The industry is now the principal source of VOCs in Colorado, and the state must find ways to strengthen VOC controls to meet federal ozone standards. But there is no federal requirement that methane be controlled, nor does EPA regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Since methane leaks largely occur in the same points in the production process as VOCs, and methane is an especially potent climate-changing pollutant, it makes good sense to regulate them concurrently.
At the urging of Governor Hickenlooper, the rules were hammered out by three of the largest producers (Encana, Noble Energy, and Anadarko), conservationists led by the Environmental Defense Fund, and the state’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD). But the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the Colorado Petroleum Association, and smaller producers opposed the regulations as written, with some challenging the state’s authority to regulate methane emissions. But conservationists, local governments, clean energy advocates, and citizen groups prevailed in the end, after generating over 15,000 comments urging adoption of strong rules.
In testimony for RMCO, I urged that quantification of the rules’ effect on reducing methane emissions in CO2 equivalent be done, so that the contribution to meeting the state’s targets for reducing heat-trapping gases could be calculated. He pointed out that one of the recommendations of the Climate Action Panel convened by RMCO in 2006-07 called for a 35 percent reduction in methane emissions from oil and gas facilities and that the estimated reduction of annual reduction of 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 (MMtCO2e) by 2020 was the panel’s sixth most effective in projected emissions reductions. During the proceedings, APCD staff offered an estimate of at least 63,000 tons in methane emission reductions, while EDF projected reductions of about 110,000 tons. According to an EDF scientist , the IPCC in its upcoming fifth assessment report (AR5) has upped its 20-year Global Warming Potential (GWP) for methane with feedbacks to 86 times the potency of CO2, and the 100-year GWP to 34 times more potent than CO2. Using the APCD and EDF estimates, this means that the new regulations would in a 20-year timeframe reduce emissions by 5.4–9.5 MMtCO2e annually and in a 100-year timeframe by 2.1–3.7 MMtCO2e annually.
An additional important step taken by the AQCC during the proceedings was direction to APCD staff to begin working on two additional sources of emissions from the industry: emissions from the large transmission and storage compressors downstream of processing plants that are used to get the natural gas into distribution lines and intermittent bleed pneumatic controllers.
For media coverage, see Colorado panel passes tighter air pollution rules for oil and gas operations , Denver Business Journal, and Colorado adopts tougher air rules for oil, gas industry , Denver Post.
RMCO report on extreme heat in Fort Collins
RMCO and the City of Fort Collins released today a RMCO report documenting increases in hot days and heat waves in Fort Collins since 1961. Annual rates of 95 degree days and of three straight days of 90 degrees or hotter, for example, have tripled so far this century, compared to 1961-1999 rates. New climate projections prepared for the report also show large increases in these frequencies in the future, especially if future levels of heat-trapping pollution grows at about the current rate.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report Details the Choices We Face
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the approved Summary for Policy Makers from the first of its three forthcoming reports that will constitute the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report on the state of scientific knowledge on climate change.
The report shows how much it matters whether we limit future emissions or let them keep going up. For late in the century, the average projection with very low emissions is that the interior West would be one to three degrees hotter. With very high emissions, we would be seven to nine degrees hotter. (See Figure SPM.8 on page 34 of the Summary for Policy Makers.) That’s a huge difference, and the difference in extreme weather events likely would be even larger.
We have a clear choice to make, between a better future and a bleaker one. The scientists have done their job, and now it's up to the rest of us.
Climate Change Means More Extreme Storms
Beginning on September 12, Colorado's Front Range urban corridor was hit by deadly and devastating flooding brought about by an extreme storm, capping three days of very heavy rainfall. At Boulder's longest-standing weather station, dating back to October 1893 and run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the one day rainfall total for September 12 was 9.1 inches. (The way records are kept at this station, that is measured from 6:00 p.m. the previous day. In this case, that record-keeping day coincided with the 24 hours with the heaviest rainfall.) That 9.1 inches of rainfall not only obliterated the station's previous daily rainfall record of 4.8 inches, it was not far short of the three highest monthly totals ever, of 9.6, 9.3, and 9.2 inches. And the September 12 rainfall total was nearly half of the weather station's average annual rainfall, which going back to 1893 is 18.9 inches. (See more here.) A few other Colorado spots have been hammered by even more rain, and many others were hit nearly as hard, as reported by a blog posting at the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network here and shown on a map here.
One manifestation of human alteration of the climate is an increased frequency of extreme storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the parent organization of the National Weather Service) and many scientific reports. The simple fact of physics is that warmer air can hold more water. For us in Colorado, this means there could be more events in which copious amounts of atmospheric moisture are brought here from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California.
We are not asserting a demonstrated individual link between the factors causing this particular storm and human-caused climate change. It takes a lot of statistical work to tease that out. But whether there is such an individual link is, as noted scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (in Boulder) has previously written, actually "is the wrong question. The answer is that all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be."
Increases in extreme storms are not just a projection -- although they are projected to get much more frequent with further climate change. More extreme storms are a current reality. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has analyzed this reality in the Midwest, where extreme storms and major flooding are especially common. In a report we released last year in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, RMCO documented a half-century trend in the Midwest of extreme storms -- those with three inches or more of precipitation in a day -- doubling. To be precise, the statistical trend was a 103 percent increase over 50 years. As I said when we released our report, "A threshold may already have been crossed, so that major floods in the Midwest perhaps now should no longer be considered purely natural disasters but instead mixed natural/unnatural disasters."
Another way in which our report presents the changes in precipitation patterns is in the figure below, which shows the pattern by decade of the frequency of storms of different sizes in the Midwest from 1961 through 2010. For each size of storm, measured in the amount of precipitation per day, the columns show the changes in the average annual frequency of those storms by decade, from 1961-1970 on the left to 2001-2010 on the right, compared to the average frequency in 1961-1990. Small storms are unchanged, moderate storms increased, large storms increased even more, and extreme storms went up the most. The most recent decade averaged 52 percent more extreme storms than the baseline period. The increase in extreme storms has meant more destructive flooding.
This extreme weather is one of the most serious risks of climate change. This risk, like many others, can be reduced both by controlling emissions and so dialing back climate change, and by preparing for the greater changes we may still face in the future. Read more here.
Climate Change Impacts on Colorado Water
Stephen Saunders, RMCO's president, commented in a news release on a report released by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs, "Colorado Water Supply and Climate Change: A Business Perspective." RMCO provided the information for the report synthesizing climate change impacts on Colorado's water resources--both the impacts that are already occurring and the greater impacts projected as human emissions of heat-trapping pollution continue to change the climate.
“This report pulls together for the first time in one easily readable document all the ways in which climate change is already affecting Colorado’s water supplies and likely will disrupt them more in the future," Saunders said. It lays out the facts, from lower supplies of water to higher demands for water, and how that combination could trigger statewide water restrictions under interstate compacts,” said Stephen Saunders, the president of RMCO. “This is what every Coloradan should know about possible future water shortages from the combined effects of climate disruption and interstate compacts.”
Bob Berwyn: New RMCO Communications Director
RMCO is pleased to announce that we have a new Director of Communications, Bob Berwyn, known to many as a freelance environmental journalist who is the source of some of the Internet’s best independent journalism on climate change at the Summit County Citizens Voice. Bob is now with us part-time – and continues to publish the Voice – but we aspire to get enough funding so that down the road we can lure him into joining us full-time. In the mean time, one of Bob’s missions here will be to bring us into the 21st century by giving us a social media capability. And Bob will increase our ability to communicate about climate change impacts in this region, as part of our new role in a national Climate Impacts Collaborative (which we announced in our August newsletter).
New Climate Impacts Collaborative
RMCO has entered into a strategic partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, and others undertaking a new national climate impacts collaborative. Its purpose is to reframe the national climate debate by focusing on the local impacts of climate change. One of its key methods will be using local voices to make the case for action. And one of its two initial geographic targets is the Rocky Mountain region. (The Atlantic coast, with a focus on sea level rise, is the other.)
RMCO is a perfect match for this collaborative, and we are delighted to have been approached to play a major role in it. We are the only organization in the region with an exclusive focus on climate change and a mission that includes public education and advocacy. We have a proven track record of documenting local climate impacts. Our Colorado Climate Network and our partner organizations gives us a unique ability to marshal local voices.
We have always seen local climate impacts as the key to changing attitudes. Much of our recent work, though, has been on impacts in other regions, as we prepared reports in partnership with other organizations on such consequences of climate change as impacts on national parks across the country and extreme storms in the Midwest. (See below). With the new national collaborative's focus on the Rocky Mountain region, we now have a new opportunity to refocus our impacts work primarily within our own region. We have a broad new agenda that outlines what we will do as we begin working with this new focus.
One initial effort of the collaborative will be a joint RMCO-Union of Concerned Scientists report on how climate change is disrupting the forests of the Rocky Mountains. More wildfires. More beetle-killed trees. Losses of key species, from whitebark pines on mountain tops to pinyon pines in arid lowlands, and aspens and lodgepole pines between. Increased mortality of trees of all kinds, even without fires or insects. Our forests are changing, and human disruption of the climate is the common thread.
Another initial priority will be working to achieve maximum press and public attention to a new Colorado statewide climate impacts assessment (see the next item), when, as we expect, one is completed in a few months.
More details on our new climate impacts work and its role in the national collaborative will be posted here soon.
Colorado Climate Action Scorecard
RMCO released its updated Colorado Climate Scorecard summarizing the implementation status of the the Colorado Climate Action Plan announced by Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in November 2007 and the 70 recommendations made in October 2007 by the blue-ribbon Climate Action Panel convened by RMCO in its Colorado Climate Project.
State Government Climate Change Action
Tom Easley, RMCO's director of programs, testified before a committee of the Colorado General Assembly in support of a bill creating a lead state government official on climate change and requring an update of the state's Climate Action Plan and annual reports to the legislature on climate protection and preparedness actions and on the state's vulnerabilities to climate change impacts.
Report: Climate Change Impacts on Atlantic National Seashores
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report on how climate change is already affecting the seven national seashores on the Atlantic Coast: Cape Cod (in Massachusetts) , Fire Island (New York), Assateague Island (Maryland and Virginia), Cape Hatteras (North Carolina), Cape Lookout (North Carolina), Cumberland Island (Georgia), and Canaveral (Florida) national seashores.
Report: Extreme Storms in the Midwest
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, Doubled Trouble: More Midwestern Extreme Storms, which starkly documents how much heavy precipitation has increased in the Midwest and sheds new light on the devastating and costly floods that have hammered the region, especially in recent years. New RMCO analysis of a half century of precipitation data across the Midwest, defined as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, indicates the region has had an increasing number of large storms since 1961. The largest of storms—those of three inches or more of precipitation in a single day—have increased the most, with their annual frequency more than doubling over the past 51 years.
Climate Change Impacts on Colorado Water
RMCO released a fact sheet, Projected Climate-Change Impacts on Colorado Water, which summarizes in graphic form the results of two recent studies, the Colorado River Water Availability Study Final Report and the Joint Front Range Climate Change Vulnerability Study. Together, they provide the best information yet on how climate change may affect Colorado water supplies in 2040, representing projections for 2025-2054. The studies present the results from five climate models used for both reports.
Comments on Colorado River Basin Study
RMCO submitted joint comments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study that it is in the process of compiling, on behalf of RMCO and some of the participants in our Water Adaptation Steering Committee -- representatives of the National Wildlife Federation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, and the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado.
Climate Change Impacts on Yellowstone
RMCO and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition released a report, Greater Yellowstone in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption. The report highlights the particular threats that a changed climate poses to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, parts of six national forests, and more. New climate projections obtained for the report indicate that, under a medium-high emissions rate of heat-trapping gases, summers in Yellowstone NP on average could become slightly hotter than recent summers in Culver City in the Los Angeles area.
Climate Change Impacts on Great Lakes National Parks
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, Great Lakes National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption. The report documents the vulnerabilities to human-caused climate change of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana; Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Isle Royale National Park, Michigan; and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin. New climate projections done for the report show that summers in Indiana Dunes could become as hot as those of Gainesville, Florida, have been, if future emissions of heat-trapping pollution are at medium-high levels.
Colorado Legislative Session Wrap-Up
RMCO released a wrap-up of the the 2011 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, which concluded May 11. Some important gains were made on new laws that could benefit climate action, and several bills were defeated that would have set back gains made in previous sessions.
Climate Change Impacts on Acadia National Park RMCO report, Nov. 10, 2010
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, Acadia National Park in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption. The report details how a climate altered by human activities may affect the first national park east of the Mississippi River. New climate projections done for the report show that before the end of the century Acadia could become as hot as Atlantic City, New Jersey, historically has been.
Climate Change Impacts on California National Parks
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, California's National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption. The report details how climate disruption could affect ten national parks in California. If we do not limit emissions of heat-trapping gases, before the end of the century Yosemite National Park would become hotter than Sacramento historically has been. Temperature increases of this magnitude would have far-reaching impacts on Yosemite, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Redwood national parks, and more of California's most special places.
Xcel Emissions of Heat-trapping Pollution
RMCO submitted testimony to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission asking it to work out with Xcel Energy and key stakeholders the details needed to achieve at least the reductions in heat-trapping gases identified in Xcel's proposed plan to comply with a new state law requiring the replacement with cleaner power of a certain amount of power now generated by older coal-fired powerplants.
Climate Change Impacts on Virginia Special Places
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, Virginia Special Places in Peril: Jamestown, Chincoteague, and Shenandoah Threatened by Climate Disruption. The report details how Jamestown, the site of the first permanent European settlement in what became the American colonies and the United States, may be lost to rising waters of the James River, pushed higher by rising seas and tidal waters. Likely climate-change Impacts to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Shenandoah National Park are documented, too. The news release announcing the report.
Climate Change Impacts on Colorado River
RMCO submitted joint comments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on its draft Colorado River Water Availability Study Phase I, on behalf of RMCO and some of the participants in our Water Adaptation Steering Committee -- representatives of Aurora Water, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, and the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. RMCO also submitted our own separate comments.
Report: Threats from Gulf Oil Blowout
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), released a report, Special Places at Risk in the Gulf: Impacts of the BP Oil Catastrophe. The report lists the 15 top national and state parks and wildlife areas, and their key resources, threatened by oil contamination from the BP oil blowout. The news release announcing the report.
Report: Climate Change and Glacier National Park
RMCO and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report on climate change effects on Glacier National Park. Glacier is one of the 25 national parks identified as most vulnerable to the effects of a changed climate in our October 2009 report, National Parks in Peril. This new profile details and documents the particular ways in which Glacier is vulnerable.The RMCO news release.
Support for Funding Climate Change/Water Programs
On behalf of ourselves and others including the Colorado State Climatologist, officials of Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, we submitted testimony to congressional appropriations committees in support of increased funding for key climate/water data collection systems. See the separate testimony to the House Apppropriations Committee's Interior and Agriculture subcommittees.
Strengthening of Colorado Clean Energy Law
RMCO applauded the final passage by the Colorado General Assembly of a bill strenthening the state's requirement for how much clean energy investor-owned utilities must use to generate the electricity they sell -- carrying out a portion of a key recommendation of the Climate Action Panel RMCO convened. The RMCO news release.
Strengthening of Colorado Clean Energy Law
Report: Climate Change and National Parks
Testimony: Climate Change and National Parks
RMCO president Stephen Saunders testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Parks about climate disruption in national parks and management options. The RMCO testimony.
Climate Change/Water Programs
RMCO director of programs Tom Easley testified in the Colorado General Assembly in support of a bill to fund Colorado Water Conservation Board water adaptation programs, many of which were included in Governor Ritter's Colorado Climate Action Agenda and also in RMCO's Climate Action Panel recommendations. The RMCO testimony.
RMCO director of programs Tom Easley testified in the Colorado General Assembly in support of a bill to clarify that rural electric cooperatives can set graduated rates based on a consumer's level of electricity consumption, as recommended by RMCO's Climate Action Panel. The RMCO testimony.
Climate Change/Water Programs
RMCO recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strengthen its draft strategy for dealing with the water quality effects of climate change by focusing more on the impacts likely to occur in the West. The RMCO letter to EPA.
Reducing Emissions from Electricity Sector
RMCO recommended that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission require Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest electric utility, to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping gases by 20% by 2020. This would be the the first major action of the administration of Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., to achieve the kind of reductions in heat-trapping gases that will be needed to meet the state climate-protection goals the governor established (when he adopted the goals recommended by RMCO's Climate Action Panel). The RMCO comments to the PUC.
Climate Change and Wildlife
RMCO commented on a draft plan by a task force of the Western Governors' Association to promote the establishment of wildlife corridors in the West to help wildlife deal with changes in habitat resulting from climate change. The RMCO letter to WGA.
Climate Change and Forests
RMCO issued a news release on the prediction by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forester that, because of warmer temperatures and drought, mountain pine beetles have spread so much that all of Colorado's mature lodgepole pine forests would be "killed" within three to five years. "Without global warming, we would not be losing our lodgepole forests," said RMCO president Stephen Saunders. The RMCO news release.
Reducing Emissions from Vehicles
The Rocky Mountain News published an opinion-editorial column by RMCO president Stephen Saunders supporting the decision by Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., to have Colorado consider adopting California's standards require new cars and trucks to emit fewer heat-trapping gases. The RMCO op-ed column.
RMCO's Climate Action Panel Recommendations
Mayors John Hickenlooper of Denver, Doug Hutchinson of Fort Collins, and Steve Burkholder of Lakewood announce that the Project Directors of the Colorado Climate Project have approved the recommenations of the Climate Action Panel which they appointed. The RMCO news release.
RMCO's Climate Action Panel Recommendations
RMCO's Climate Action Panel approves its recommendations for actions to reduce Colorado's contribution and vulnerability to climate change. The RMCO news release.