Eagle County OKs funding for climate fight | VailDaily.com

Eagle County OKs funding for climate fight

The Eagle River Center at the Eagle County Fairgrounds is topped with solar panels. The county gets about 70 percent of its electricity from alternative energy sources. The county commissioners voted to spend $52,000 on a climate action plan.
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What’s the plan?

In their agenda package, the Eagle County commissioners and John Gitchell, the county’s environmental sustainability coordinator, described the climate action plan:

“The science of climate change is complicated, but the basic physics are well understood — increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere result in higher temperatures on land. Warmer global temperatures are melting ice shelves and permafrost, raising sea levels, flooding coastal areas, and causing drought and wildfires in mountain regions. The problem is so large and immediate it can only be addressed through collaboration...

“The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study ... warns of increasing impacts to all sectors of our economy, as well as risk of floods, fires, drought and storms. Ski areas and the $2 billion winter tourism industry are already experiencing declines in the length of their seasons.

“Large cities including Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, and small communities like New Castle and Carbondale are all adopting their own climate action plans to engage residents in strategies and actions that cut carbon pollution. Plans generally include an inventory of current emissions by sector (i.e. transportation, residential, solid waste), reduction goals, and strategies to achieve.”

EAGLE — The Eagle County commissioners say climate change is a “slow moving catastrophe” and are investing $52,000 in a plan to do what they can.

“This is important, and what we can impact, we should impact,” said County Commissioner Jill Ryan.

Walking Mountains Science Center will create the climate action plan, based on input and data from Eagle County residents and organizations. It’s scheduled to be completed in November. Kim Langmaid, the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center, will pull together people from the community who can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create goals toward that end.

“Other communities in the state and country have come together in similar ways to put together plans and goals like this,” Langmaid said.

They’ll start with some hard data about how much greenhouse gas we’re spewing into the world. From there, they’ll figure what we might do to reduce it, Langmaid said.

‘No. 1 issue’

Climate protection is one of the goals in the county’s strategic plan, Ryan said.

“What we saw in Paris (at an international climate conference in late 2015) is that nations are probably not going to act. If they’re not, it’s up to local entities to act,” she said.

The climate action plan will be designed to get the community involved by helping enable residents to figure out what their greenhouse gas emissions are, and how to reduce them, Ryan said.

Ryan, a Democrat running for re-election this fall, was one of dozens of people from around the country who traveled to Washington to testify before the Senate’s Climate Action Task Force. Witnesses talked about the impact of climate change and temperature increases on everything from wildlife and snowpack to the ski industry and disease.

“Even (President) Barack Obama said he believes climate change is the No. 1 issue we’re facing,” Ryan said.

Eagle County purchased space in solar farms and is offsetting 70 percent of its energy through alternative sources, while getting a 6.5 percent return on that investment. Because interest rates remain very low, investing that money would earn the county 1 percent, Ryan said.

State lawmakers in the act

State lawmakers are also creating their own climate change plan.

A bill by Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, would add measurable goals to the state climate action plan. It passed the Colorado House of Representatives on Tuesday morning on a 34-31 party-line vote. Their bill, HB16-1004, would require the state’s climate action plan to include goals to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions or increase ability to respond to the effects of climate change.

Nonprofit Funding Cuts

While approving $52,000 for a climate plan, county officials cut $1.5 million this year from funding for nonprofit groups. But comparing spending $52,000 on its climate action plan to $1.5 million in funding cuts to local and regional non-profits is like comparing apples and oranges, the commissioners said. The board is still looking at increasing costs over at least the next five years, especially in health care costs, while tax revenue is projected to remain relatively flat.

The commissioners said they have maintained their strategic partnerships with local nonprofits, but won’t be doing as much direct funding. They’re still sending $100,000 to the local United Way, which is sending that money along to local nonprofits.

“We’re hoping this will work instead of the ups and downs of the community grant process,” said County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “In rich years we try to help the nonprofits; in poor years, all of a sudden they don’t have any. It’s not a sustainable model.”

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