Local youth corps learn leadership and technical skills, while helping Denver Water steward our resources.
From The High Country News (Kate Schimel):
In an upstairs ballroom of downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club, where polar bears and maps of the Arctic decorate the walls, volunteers and activists who campaigned for Washington’s first carbon fee waited cheerfully for election results on Tuesday night. Just after 8 p.m., a first wash of returns that had the initiative on track to pass sent ripples through the room. But as more counties reported in, the likelihood dropped. By 9 p.m., the mood turned, and clusters of supporters retreated to bars across downtown to mourn. On Wednesday morning, 56 percent of Washington voters had rejected the state’s second attempt to tax carbon emissions.
As the U.S. has stepped back from federal commitments to limit carbon pollution, activists have called on states and local governments to fill the void. It’s an approach that could prove effective, according to a report released in September by Data-Driven Yale: Existing state, local and corporate commitments could take the U.S. halfway to meeting its Paris Agreement goals, designed to limit global warming to 2 degrees and avoid the most catastrophic effects.
Tuesday night’s returns offered a mixed message on whether states have the momentum to regulate fossil fuels without federal backing. Candidates who support action on climate change won gubernatorial races in Colorado and Oregon, while in Washington, Democratic incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell, who has backed climate initiatives in the Senate, held her seat by a comfortable margin. But ballot initiatives intended to regulate fossil fuel emissions and boost renewable energy sources fell flat.
The nation’s first carbon fee fails
Initiative 1631, which was crafted by a coalition of labor, social justice and environmental groups and tribal nations, would have taxed every metric ton of carbon produced by most of the state’s largest polluters at a rate of $15; some sectors were exempted, including fuel used in agricultural production and coal plants slated for closure. A prior initiative to tax carbon emissions while lowering other taxes and boosting low-income tax credits failed in 2016. The 2018 initiative, which would have used the funds raised by the tax to pay for climate mitigation and response, drew well-funded opposition from oil and gas interests.
The result: Projected to fail. Only three counties, Seattle’s King County, Port Townsend’s Jefferson County and the San Juan Islands, voted for passage.
Arizona’s push for renewables stalls
Proposition 127 would have required electric utilities to purchase 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It excluded nuclear power as a renewable source, which stoked fears that its passage would lead to the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. A lawsuit from the state’s largest utility muddied Proposition 127’s progress to the ballot, while out-of-state money helped make it the most expensive proposition in state history. A group backed by California-based billionaire Tom Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, poured $23.2 million into efforts to pass the initiative; Arizona utilities, as well as the Navajo Nation, spent nearly $30 million to oppose it.
The result: Failed. As of Wednesday morning, 70 percent of voters had rejected the measure.
Background reading: Dark money is re-shaping Arizona’s energy fights, Elizabeth Shogren
Colorado won’t tighten fracking restrictions
A pair of dueling initiatives, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74, dealt with regulating the state’s fracking boom, which has butted up against sprawling suburbs. Proposition 112 would have required new oil and gas wells and production facilities to be built at least 2,500 feet away from schools, drinking water sources and homes, a significant increase from current set-back requirements. Amendment 74 would have required payments for any lost property values due to government action, including regulations that affect mineral rights – like Proposition 112.
The result: Both initiatives failed, leaving the state where it started on oil and gas regulations.
Background reading: The rising risks of the West’s latest gas boom, Daniel Glick and Jason Plautz
From Inside Climate News (Phil McKenna):
A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked all further work on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision to reverse a prior decision by the Obama administration and to approve the tar sands oil delivery project.
It was a striking victory for environmental advocates who have spent over a decade fighting the project to carry tar sands oil from Canada to markets in the United States and had turned the KXL line into a litmus test for climate action.
Environmental advocates, landowners along the pipeline’s route and indigenous rights groups hailed the ruling. They called it a major setback—if not a permanent defeat—for the long-contested crude oil pipeline. The Obama administration had determined that the pipeline was not in the national interest, and President Barack Obama had cited its potential climate impact in rejecting it.
From American Rivers (Eric Boucher):
Here are the top things you need to know about the new agreement to stop a water crisis in the West.
You’re not alone if you don’t know what the Southwest’s new drought contingency plan is.
Water can be a wonky business — especially in the seven states (Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico) that rely on the Colorado River and its exhausted reservoirs, Lakes Powell and Mead. In its simplest terms, the states agreed on a plan to prevent an immediate water crisis. But it’s so much more complex than that.
We parsed recent news to bring you a roundup of what we think is the best writing about the drought agreement and the issues it addresses — as well as the ones it doesn’t. Here’s what you need to know.
Luke Runyon explores the pressures climate change and drought are placing on the Southwest’s water supply. He also goes into the basic concepts surrounding states’ voluntarily accepting cuts to water allocations.
Southwest states release Colorado River drought plan; SNWA board to vote in November (Nevada Independent)
More interesting than explaining what’s at stake if Lakes Powell and Mead drop even further is this article’s dive into the politics surrounding the agreement and why it’s taken three years of negotiating to reach a deal.
Colorado River Basin states agree on drought contingency plans (Mohave Daily News)
This straight-forward news piece details the math behind the agreement, including the cutbacks Arizona, California and Nevada face if Lake Mead drops too low.
Western states release proposed Colorado River agreements (Arizona Republic)
In addition to laying out the pros of the new agreement, this article steps back into history to explain how the Colorado River became so leveraged in the first place.
There’s still a ways to go. While the states have reached an agreement between themselves, it’s really more of an “agreement in principle.” The hard steps are yet to come. Arizona and Colorado have to settle the complicated and contentious issues of how their cuts will be implemented by local water users. Arizona’s legislature has to sign off on the state’s internal deal, and finally, an Act of Congress is necessary to settle some of the federal issues involved. None of this is by any means certain.
Of course, truly addressing the challenges facing the Colorado River means coming to grips with three realities:
We take more water out of the Colorado River than what nature can supply.
The system of allocating Colorado River water to the seven states was broken from the get-go.
The future of the Southwest is contingent on our ability to use less water and prioritize the health of the river.
Over the past four years, American Rivers has played an important role in efforts to secure Arizona’s water future and protect the Colorado River. Together with a coalition of other state and national organizations, we have brought city and agricultural water leaders together to share ideas and develop common sense solutions. We’ve been a voice for the River and Arizonans in workshops convened by the governor, Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project. We are working to innovate new methods for using water efficiently and sharing water supplies to create flexibility.
The new drought contingency plan is a good step, but it won’t cure Lake Mead’s dwindling water level and bathtub rings. Adapting to a climate-changed future will require significant steps to reduce demand and to manage the Colorado River’s water more efficiently.
From CBS4 Denver (Rick Sallinger):
Highlands Natural Resources announced on Thursday afternoon that it had withdrawn its application from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission relating to Standley Lake.
Many of those who live around Standley Lake were not thrilled with the idea of drilling beneath the lake…
Fant claimed it wasn’t worth the risk of drilling, “Standley Lake provides water for 300,000 in Thornton, Northglenn and Westminster. To me that doesn’t make it worth the risk for small profits for a London based foreign drilling company.”
Highlands Natural Resources CEO, Robert Price, released this statement, “Through the process of communicating with various stakeholders and upon further consideration of its development plans in Jefferson County, Highlands Natural Resources has withdrawn its drilling and spacing unit application, Form 2A, and all Applications for Permit to Drill from the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) relating to Standley Lake.”
While the withdrawal may include the state’s largest dog park, plans for drilling under Rocky Flats, the former nuclear weapons site, are still on.
That has neighbors like Walker worried, “If you are going to disturb it and especially underground I’m worried about the plutonium.”
The battle of Standley Lake may be over, but others may be yet to come.
The City of Westminster issued the following statement, “The City of Westminster is truly appreciative of the level of engagement we saw from our residents as they made their concerns known to the COGCC. We also want to assure them that the city will always work to protect the interests of our citizens, our water supply and our open spaces.”
From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):
Greeley officials plan to end a program at the beginning of 2019 that offers rebates on toilets and high-efficiency clothes washers as a result of dwindling participation and state regulations, according to a news release.
The program, which started in 2006, offers up to $75 in rebates to customers who use high-efficiency residential toilets and $100 for washers.
“Manufacturers have made products much more efficient in the last ten years,” Ruth Quade, Greeley’s Water Conservation Coordinator, said in a news release. “Also, the State of Colorado set higher efficiency standards for toilets in September of 2016. Fewer people are also participating in our programs.”
Quade said the city is working to develop more effective ways to work with the community on water efficiency. Officials said water conservation audits pair well with the rebate program.
From US News and World Report (Alan Neuhauser):
Water districts in Denver and Santa Fe, New Mexico, plus the town of Ashland, Oregon, meanwhile, are helping fund tree-thinning and other fire-prevention measures in crucial watersheds that supply their water systems.
“There’s always that feeling, even at our municipal government, that we pay our taxes, why aren’t you already doing this?” says Alan Hook, manager of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Program. “The community realized how much these fires cost and how much the Forest Service is pouring into [fire] suppression costs. … If we lose this source of supply, we could be in dire straits in the near future.”
Denver Water, for example, owns only 3 percent of the watershed it’s protecting, while the Forest Service holds 54 percent, says Christina Burri, watershed scientist at the utility. But the utility nonetheless agreed to put up $33 million in a 50-50 partnership with the agency, a decision in part prompted by memories of fires in 1996 and 2002 that dumped scorched sediment into water district reservoirs and forced $28 million in repairs and remediation.
“That motivated Denver Water to invest in forest health, to create a healthy forest so we can be proactive against these costs,” Burri says. “It’s important for us to be able to partner to be able to get access to work on these lands and create a healthier condition in these forests, because that’s the source of our water.”
The towns and water districts maintain that the new expenses can easily be absorbed by their budgets. The funds being put forward by Denver Water, for example, account for 1 percent of the utility’s budget overall.