Basalt takes aim on climate change, lack of national leadership | AspenTimes.com

Basalt takes aim on climate change, lack of national leadership

The science behind climate change is getting a cold shoulder in the White House but a warm embrace in Basalt and Eagle County.

The Eagle County commissioners approved a Climate Action Plan regarded as so well researched and reasoned that the town of Basalt adopted it, as did Vail, Avon, Eagle and Minturn.

After nearly a year of study, community meetings and goal-setting sessions, the county commissioners approved their plan in December, as President Donald Trump was making his views clear via executive orders and cabinet appointments. The timing was coincidental but made for a strong statement anyway.

The county's plan calls for the reduction of county-wide greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025 from the baseline measured in 2014 and by 80 percent by 2050.

“It’s a worthy endeavor because climate is now a clear and present danger to all things Basalt.”Auden SchendlerBasalt councilman

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Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said the plan should matter to all residents of Eagle County because of the sweeping implications of climate change.

"Winters are shorter and warmer and drought threatens our streams," she said. "High energy costs limit our ability to invest in other sectors of the economy."

The Climate Action Plan starts with a section on how mountain communities are at risk. Research shows the central mountains of Colorado already have 23 fewer days with freezing temperatures than prior to the 1980s.

"Scientists predict we'll have 30 more days without freezing temperatures by 2060," the report said.

That means alterations in the landscapes and ecosystems that the mountain resort economics of Eagle and Pitkin counties hinge on.

The Climate Action Plan outlines specific recommendations on action Eagle County can take in education, commercial buildings, residential building, transportation, energy supply and the landfill.

The plan can be seen in its entirety at http://www.walkingmountains.org/wp- content/uploads/2016/12/Climate- Action-Plan-for-the-Eagle-County- Community_FINAL_December- V2-2016_WEB.pdf.

Chandler-Henry credited municipalities for joining the county to take the lead on local action on climate change. Each community can tailor the Eagle County Climate Action Plan to fit their specific goals and preferred actions, she noted.

That's exactly what Basalt did. The Town Council approved the county Climate Action Plan in March. Board members said it was so well done that the town didn't have to reinvent the wheel. It added some specific procedures to achieve greenhouse-gas emissions reduction — and it pointed out some inconvenient truths about the situation.

"Basalt signed on because there is enormous urgency to reduce greenhouse gases, but low likelihood of policy at the national level," Basalt's addendum to the Eagle County plan says. It later adds, "Basalt's approach to the challenge differs from most conventional plans that are technically detailed but realistically unachievable."

The keystones of Basalt's plan are:

Advocate for 100 percent clean energy by 2030. The best way to achieve the goal is to advocate that Holy Cross Energy, the electricity provider, adopt a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2030, the plan says.

Engage in regional, state and national advocacy. The town would reach outside its boundaries on issues such as the controversial debate over capping methane emissions from oil and gas extraction from leases on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.

Enforcement and development of energy-related policy and code.

Boost municipal energy efficiency. The town commits to consider allocating $100,000 annually on energy efficiency audits and retrofits to town buildings, streetlights and on other energy users.

Engage the community through outreach and education.

Conduct and publicize annual progress reports.

If Basalt's approach sounds similar to that taken by Aspen Skiing Co., it is no coincidence. Skico Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler also is a Basalt councilman and a member of the special committee that suggested the town's additions to the county Climate Action Plan.

Schendler said the lighting retrofits undertaken by the town's public works department are "now saving taxpayers money every day."

Basalt will benefit by expanding its efficiency work because it saves money and builds credibility when the town undertakes lobbying efforts and advocacy, he said.

Like Chandler-Henry, he said the Climate Action Plan isn't a "feel good" move. It's critical to Basalt's future.

"It's a worthy endeavor because climate is now a clear and present danger to all things Basalt," he said. "We are threatened by warmer temps, already occurring, that damage fisheries, harm agriculture, destroy forests, create risk of fires and cause water shortages. This is our economy.

"In the absence of federal leadership, communities need to step up first and foremost with public statements about the need for action, and secondarily, through their own actions," Schendler said.

scondon@aspentimes.com