Support the Clean Power Plan
Recently, I was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Climate Task Force. As a county commissioner and mother, I made the trip to Washington, D.C., as a guest of Environment Colorado, to lend my voice to the protection of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
The plan places the first-ever federal limits on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that power plants — our greatest source of carbon pollution — are allowed to emit; representing the single largest step America has ever taken to curb climate change.
In addition to testifying, I joined 50 other advocates from across the U.S., assembled to ask their members of Congress to protect the plan from being delayed or gutted by their colleagues, who deny the science and scale of the climate crisis.
Simply put, CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions have significantly increased since the Industrial Revolution, due to the burning of fossil fuels. The trapped gases act like a thickening blanket in the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm.
Increasing temperatures are responsible for rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought, natural disasters, impacts on wildlife and habitat, and more diseases and allergens. These threats are no longer off in the distant future, but affecting economies and communities right now.
In Colorado, the hotter, dryer summers produce more intense wildfires. The 2002 Hayman Fire was the state’s most destructive on record, until it was broken in 2012 — twice, and then again in 2013. Visually, we see evidence in the massive pine beetle outbreak of the last two decades. Winters aren’t cold enough to kill the beetle population, while droughts have weakened the trees. Ski resorts are already experiencing declines in the length and quality of ski seasons, and climate change could threaten their very existence.
I described how we value the great outdoors, a healthy environment and a love of snowsports. I also shared a sobering line from Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz: “If temperatures increase to the point where there isn’t enough snow to maintain a snowsport industry, we will have bigger problems than skiing.”
Snowpack is Mother Nature’s way of apportioning water. Colorado not only depends on it for recreation, agriculture and its 5.36 million population, but it is also the headwaters for rivers that feed 18 other states.
At the hearing, the director of the Montana Wildlife Federation explained how climate change is impacting the state’s $6 billion outdoor industry: increasing stream temperatures, reducing wetlands and animal populations, and threatening endangered species. At this rate, Glacier National Park will disappear within our lifetimes.
An emergency room physician from Maine testified that daily, he performs screenings for tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses never heard of when his practice began 40 years ago, including Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. With warmer temperatures, ticks now inhabit southern Maine year-round.
A craft brewer from New Hampshire said the barley and hops his business depends on are sensitive to temperature and precipitation, influencing both price and availability.
The Clean Power Plan calls for a reduction in CO2 emissions of 32 percent by 2030. The plan presents a tremendous opportunity to increase renewable energy sources like wind and solar, modernize existing power plants, and close inefficient ones. The EPA already sets limits for mercury, arsenic and lead emissions. Carbon dioxide now thankfully joins them.
The plan was developed through a painstaking, but inclusive public process. Senator Bennet, Congressman Polis, Governor Hickenlooper and the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment all say Colorado is well-positioned to meet its goals. Unfortunately, Colorado’s attorney general has stated intent to join a 15-state lawsuit to stop it.
I am proud that Eagle County government is intentional about protecting the climate. Years ago, we upgraded 20 fleet SUVs to hybrids. Lately, we’ve been improving the efficiency of county buildings, increasing recycling rates and investing in solar, including a one megawatt solar farm. The farm, which saves over $200,000 per year, is equivalent to removing 265 cars from the road or 115 homes from the grid.
Individual actions and local government policies are all important in this fight for our future. Still, we need change on an unprecedented level. America should lead on solutions to the climate crisis, and the Clean Power Plan will inspire global action.
Jill Ryan is an Eagle County commissioner.