As Trump heads one way, Pitkin County goes the other
Not long after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday dismantling recent U.S. efforts to combat climate change, Pitkin County commissioners headed in the opposite direction.
The five members of the Pitkin County board spent an hour Tuesday afternoon listening to a report detailing the amount of greenhouse gas emitted in the county in 2014 and figuring out how to take a leadership role in reducing those emissions in the future.
“(Trump’s executive order) makes it even more important,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said Wednesday. “What is happening at the federal level is doing nothing to further environmental protection.
“We need to get on it quickly.”
Pitkin County has focused on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions for the past decade by investing in energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy, alternative transportation and minimizing waste, according to the greenhouse-gas emission report done by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. However, the county had not done a greenhouse-gas emissions study before, so it had no baseline to chart its progress, the report states.
“Pitkin County has done a lot (to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions), but we haven’t pulled it all together,” Cindy Houben, the county’s community development director, told commissioners Tuesday. “We want to look at work programs. (For example), what is community development doing to help reduce emissions?”
The gas emissions inventory found that in 2014, Pitkin County “emitted an estimated 551,900 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions, measured in carbon dioxide equivalent,” the report states. Energy used to heat and power buildings in the county emitted 70 percent of that total, while emissions from cars, trucks, buses and airplanes made up another 25 percent, according to the report.
Emissions from decomposing solid waste at the county landfill as well as fuel emissions from vehicles used at the dump contributed the final 5 percent, the report states.
Pitkin County can take the lead in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by focusing on its own facilities, said Ashley Perl, climate action manager for the city of Aspen. The city has done exactly that and documented a 42 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions since 2004, Perl said.
Those reductions came as a result of switching city facilities to 100 percent renewable energy as well as significantly reducing electrical use, Perl said.
The county is developing a “climate action plan” that will take another few months to fully articulate, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. However, county departments have already begun developing strategies that will become part of that plan, he said.
Those efforts include installing solar panels at the county’s public works facility, offsetting costs of snowmelt at the Buttermilk underpass through a solar contract with a Rifle-area facility, converting more fleet vehicles to electric or hybrid and figuring out ways to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible, Peacock said.
Also, the county’s new building on Main Street — scheduled to be completed around summer 2018 — will be 70 percent more energy efficient than the previous building, he said.
The commissioners’ stance on climate change also surfaced last week when Trump’s daughter, two sons and their families paid Aspen a spring break visit. Commissioners paid for a full-page ad in both local daily newspapers, where they presented an open letter to Trump’s family extolling that stance.
“We are anxious about human-caused climate change, the future of our natural environment and the future of skiing in Pitkin County,” the letter stated. “We invite you to consider our concerns, and the opportunity to protect the special places you are enjoying this week as you advise the president on environmental policy in the coming years.”
The letter has reached more than 163,000 people on Facebook and has been shared 1,300 times, said Pat Bingham, Pitkin County spokesperson.
Pitkin County Board Chairman George Newman said the goal of the letter was to send a message that resonated far beyond the borders of Pitkin County.
“And I think we’ve done that,” he said.
On Tuesday, Trump’s executive order — which he signed while flanked by coal miners and company officials — directs the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw from former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. That plan called for the closure of coal-fired power plants, stopped construction of new coal plants and called for wind and solar farms.
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