Aspen sticks to global warming program
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” The Aspen City Council has agreed to renew its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange. Membership means the city is legally bound to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by set amounts each year ” if not, it pays a fine.
The financial consequences aren’t overwhelming. Since joining the exchange a year ago, the city has paid a penalty of $1,200, plus the initial $5,000 to join, said Dan Richardson, Aspen’s global warming project manager.
But Richardson said it’s a small price to pay for the longterm benefits, particularly because it means the city is accountable if it slacks on the goals.
“The fact that it’s a legally binding commitment gives it more weight,” Richardson said. “It holds our feet to the fire.”
By signing on in the first phase, which ran from 1999 through 2006, the city avoided paying an additional $5,000 to renew its membership in the second phase, which runs from 2007 through 2010.
Aspen officials knew the city wouldn’t meet the goals of the first phase when they decided to join the exchange last year, Richardson said.
Those goals included reducing city government’s emissions by one percent a year over the course of the first phase, which actually covered 1999 to 2006. The reductions are based on a baseline that was calculated over 1999 to 2001.
Despite the fact the city government was able to reduce its emissions by 10.5 percent last year, by Richardson’s calculations, it is still playing catch-up, so it still pays the penalty.
But Richardson is optimistic that will change in the next phase. Over the next four years, the reduction goals are lower, averaging about one-half a percent each year.
The main tool to achieve those goals is a “cap and trade” program, whereby each city department has an emissions cap. But not all departments are created equal. Some departments will have trouble meeting those goals, while others should undercut them with ease. So departments are allowed to “trade” emissions to balance out the city’s overall emissions rate.
Richardson said “any successful program [for reducing emissions] includes a cap and trade program like the Chicago Climate Exchange.”
Of equal importance, he said, it sends an important message to other communities and to both state and federal legislators.
It may seem far-fetched to think the tiny mountain town can influence the nation’s leaders. But Richardson says events like the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival bring major policy makers to town, and if Aspen is taking significant, visible strides toward reducing its emissions, it makes a strong statement that that’s an important goal.
“I think it’s very reasonable to think that what Aspen does as a community does hit the ear of the president,” he said.
The current administration might not be very responsive, but “they have in the past,” he said.
Ultimately, Aspen is really only committing to something it would eventually have to do anyway.
“Something like this is going to be mandatory at some point, and we’re in on the ground floor,” he said. “Participation in this is reducing the learning curve.”
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