The Suncor shutdown hasn’t led to big spikes in #Colorado fuel prices or air pollution — yet — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Sam Brasch). Here’a an excerpt:

It’s been more than two weeks since Suncor Energy announced it was suspending operations at Colorado’s only oil refinery in Commerce City. The company took the plant offline after cold weather apparently triggered malfunctions and a pair of fires, one of which hospitalized two employees. The Canadian oil and gas company now says it won’t be fully operational until late March.

Initial news of the temporary shutdown was a relief for Olga Gonzalez, who leads Cultivando, a local community group. While many industry organizations raised concerns about the shuttered refinery’s potential effect on gasoline and jet fuel shortages, Gonzalez hoped the shutdown might give the largely Latino neighborhoods near the refinery a brief reprieve from long-standing air quality problems. Her excitement has faded. On a recent afternoon in January, steam rose from smokestacks at the sprawling facility. Flames danced atop others, evidence the company was burning or “flaring” gases from the refinery…

Detlev Helmig, an atmospheric chemist who owns Boulder A.I.R and operates the monitor, said levels of the carcinogen benzene appeared to trend higher over the last month, but that could be due to a common wintertime weather phenomenon called “inversion,” which traps emissions close to the ground. He also hasn’t noticed a rapid drop in air pollution levels since Suncor announced the shutdown…

Leah Schleifer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, said regulators reviewed data from community and state air monitors. While it hasn’t found any potential risk to the public, the agency will continue monitoring incoming data as it investigates potential air pollution violations. Schleifer said the company told regulators that emissions have stabilized below limits set in its state air quality permit. At the same time, she added that it’s “unlikely that there will be a total elimination of all emissions from Suncor over the next few months.” The state is deploying its own mobile air monitor — known as the CAMML — to Lorraine Granado Park near the refinery this week to watch for future health risks, Schleifer said.

Changes are emerging across the #climate system. Everywhere we look, the climate is changing rapidly — @Ed_Hawkins #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rate of recent changes is unprecedented in at least 2000 years for many climate metrics. These changes are not natural; they are primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

New report downplays economic impact of #Colorado’s oil and gas industry: As energy transition continues, oil and gas jobs account for less than 1 percent of total state employment — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #COleg

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff);

Monthly oil production in Colorado rebounded to over 80% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, putting it on track to produce more oil than all but four other states.

But with employment and wages in the industry still down from 2019 highs, a new report seeks to challenge what has long been an article of faith among Colorado policymakers — arguing that rather than being a major engine of growth for the state, the oil and gas sector has only a “modest” impact on its economy overall.

The analysis from the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute “shows Colorado’s oil and gas industry is in fact merely a fraction of Colorado’s diverse economy,” CFI senior economist Chris Stiffler, a co-author of the report, said in a statement.

“As of March of last year, the industry represented less than 1% of total employment and less than 2% of total wages,” Stiffler said.

The release of the report comes as Colorado lawmakers convene in Denver to begin another four-month session of the General Assembly, and debate a new slate of legislation that could impact the state’s energy industry and its ambitious goals for combating climate change.

“One the biggest barriers to these goals is the perception that Colorado is so economically reliant on the oil and gas industry that our state’s economy will prohibitively suffer if production declines,” CFI’s report says.

Past analyses published by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association have claimed that the industry accounts for as many as 89,000 local jobs. A 2021 report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute put the figure even higher, at 340,000 jobs in Colorado alone — 1 out of every 8 jobs in the state.

CFI’s report, however, faults those figures for their reliance on imprecise estimates of “indirect” and “induced” economic effects, which, the authors argue, lead to exaggerated perceptions of the potential impacts of a “gradual, managed transition” to clean energy.

Federal data show that direct employment in Colorado’s oil and gas sector declined from roughly 32,700 workers in March 2019 to about 20,500 in March 2022, or seven-tenths of one percent of total state employment. 

“If the oil and gas industry in Colorado gradually declines due to market forces, regulation, or a combination of these, we can expect the economy to evolve and develop to accommodate these changes,” wrote Stiffler and report co-author Pegah Jalali. (Jalali has contributed commentaries to Newsline.)

Among the largest benefits attributable to the industry are the local property taxes paid by the owners of oil and gas assets in the handful of Colorado counties where significant production occurs. In 2021, over 43% of the property taxes collected by Weld County, home to the vast majority of Colorado’s oil production, came from oil and gas. Other counties on the gas-rich Western Slope boast similar figures — though the value of the assets can fluctuate wildly from year to year, depending on global commodity prices.

“Some counties would be disproportionately affected by (the energy transition), and Colorado will need to come together to find a solution that will support these communities,” the authors conclude.

Clean-energy goals

Advocates with 350 Colorado, a progressive climate-action group, said Friday that CFI’s report shows that “a gradual phaseout of new oil and gas permits is feasible.”

For years, environmental activists have urged Gov. Jared Polis and other Colorado policymakers to begin phasing out oil and gas production in the name of climate change — and for years Polis and other top Democrats have rejected those calls. A 2019 law increased health and safety protections for drilling but has done little to hinder production, which state officials have projected will continue to increase until at least 2030.

biannual report released last week by the Polis administration touted progress on its “roadmap” for reducing emissions in line with targets set by a 2019 state law. Through a wide variety of voluntary measures and incentive-based regulations, the state aims to achieve a 26% overall emissions cut by 2025, and a 50% cut by 2030, though administration officials have acknowledged it’s falling behind on the 2025 goal, especially in the transportation sector.

“With momentum and progress on the initial Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, we look forward to updating our plans and working closely with our local, in-state, and federal partners to make progress towards our climate goals and continue to lead the nation,” Polis said in a statement.

Photo: DNR Director Dan Gibbs, Gov. Polis, CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller at Elkhead Reservoir. Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

Proposals expected to be taken up by the Legislature this session include Polis’ request for an additional $120 million in state incentives for electric vehicles, e-bikes and electric lawn and garden equipment, as well as additional measures aimed at tackling Colorado’s ozone pollution problem. State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, told journalist Allen Best this week that he will introduce a bill to set an interim emissions-cutting target of 65% by 2035.

The potential of long-term declines in oil and gas property taxes could also loom over discussions about updating Colorado’s school funding formula. Advocates continue to press for a “just transition” that protects workers and residents in fossil-fuel-dependent communities as the energy transition accelerates.

“Unfortunately, we’re already seeing the incredible cost of delaying a transition away from pollution-causing fuels to clean energy,” Jalali said in a statement. “This report will give lawmakers a clearer picture of which communities — especially which school districts — will need the most attention in the years to come.”

CRES history Part 7: Next steps? #Colorado is briskly decarbonizing electricity, but huge challenges remain. What is the role for a grassroots group like CRES? — @BigPivots

Click the link to read the article on the the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

In Colorado’s energy transition, some work has advanced at a remarkable pace in the last 15 years. Other aspects are as perplexing now as in 2011 when Dave Bowden interviewed Matt Baker, then a Colorado public utilities commissioner, for a documentary film commemorating CRES’s accomplishments on its 15th anniversary.

Baker described a two-fold challenge. One was to achieve the legislative mandate of getting 30% of electricity from renewables while keeping the cost increase below 2%.

Check that box. In 2021, renewables provided 35% of Colorado’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, even as costs of wind, solar and batteries continue to decline. And utilities now say they can achieve at least 70% by 2030 (and some aim for 100%).

With its sunny days and its windy prairies, Colorado has resources many states would envy. Plus, it’s nice to have NREL in your midst.

Clean energy technologies can and must ramp up even faster. At one time, the atmospheric pollution could be dismissed as unpleasant but worth the tradeoff. That debate has ended. The science of climate change is clear about the rising risks and unsavory outcomes of continuing this 200-year devotion to burning fossil fuels.

Big, big questions remain, though. Some are no more near resolution than they were in 2011 when Baker, who now directs the public advocates office at the California Public Utilities, identified the “desperate need to modernize the grid,” including the imperative for demand-side management.

Leave that box unchecked. Work is underway, but oh so much remains to be figured out.

For example, how much transmission do we need if we emphasize more dispersed renewable generation? Can we figure out the storage mechanisms to supplement them? Might we need fewer giant power lines from distant wind and solar farms? This debate is simmering, on the verge of boiling.

In buildings, the work is only beginning. Colorado has started, in part nudged by the host of laws adopted in 2021, among them the bill that Meillon had worked on for a decade.

John Avenson took a house with strong fundamentals, most prominently southern exposure, and tweaked it until he was confident that he could stub the natural gas line. Photo/Allen Best

Others had been working on the same issue in a different way. Consider John Avenson. Now retired, he was still working as an engineer at Bell Labs when he began retrofitting his house in Westminster to reduce its use of fossil fuels.

The house had a good foundation. It was built in the early 1980s in a program using designs created in partnership with SERI, the NREL precursor. It was part of a Passive Solar Parade of Homes in 1981. And unlike about 80% of houses in metro Denver according to the calculations of Steve Andrews, it faces south, allowing it to harvest sunshine as needed and minimizing the need for imported energy.

Avenson then tweaked and fussed over how to save energy here and then there. Finally, in 2017, he convinced himself that he no longer needed natural gas. He ordered the line stubbed.

To those who want to follow the same path, Avenson has been generous with his time. He can commonly be seen pitching in on other, mostly behind-the-scene roles, for CRES and affiliated events.

CRES’s membership is full of such individuals, people committed to taking action, whether in their own lives or in making the case why change must occur in our policies.

Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

But what about the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere? Can it be mopped up just a bit? Certainly, it’s better to not emit emissions. But we’re cornered now. Focus is growing on ways to return carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. Revised and rewarded agricultural practices may be one way. That will be a component of a major bill in the 2023 Colorado General Assembly climate change docket.

This is also a topic that Larson, since his time in Africa after the Reagan administration short-sheeted the solar laboratory in Golden, has avidly promoted. In 2007, the idea got a name: biochar. It is one technique for restoring carbon to soils. Today, it remains an obtuse idea to most people. It may be useful to remember that a renewables-powered economy sounded weird to many people in 1996, if they thought about it at all.

CRES has been regaining its financial health. “Through disciplined and lean operations, we have been able to slowly grow our annual income to nearly $40,000 a year,” said Eberle, the board president at a 25th anniversary celebration in October. “We have a solid financial base to not only maintain our current programs but consider new opportunities.”

The question lingers for those deeply engaged in CRES about what exactly its role can be and should be.

Always, there are opportunities for informed citizens such as those who are the lifeblood of CRES. Mike Kruger made this point clear in a CRES presentation in October 2022. As the executive director of COSSA, he routinely contacts elected officials and their staff in Washington D.C.

“The same thing happens at the State Capitol,” he said. Two or three phone calls to a state legislator has been enough to bring to their attention a particular issue or even change their vote.

And that takes us to the big, big question: What exactly has CRES achieved in its 26 years?

In this history you have read about a few salient elements:

  • the shove of Xcel into accepting Colorado Green;
  • the passing of Amendment 37, which raised Colorado’s profile nationally and set the stage for the election of Bill Ritter on a platform of stepped-up integration of renewables;
  • the work in recent years to revamp the calculations used in evaluating alternatives to methane.

Teasing out accomplishments, connecting lines directly can be a difficult task. Perhaps instructive might be a sideways glance to other major societal changes. Much has been written about the civil rights movement after World War II that culminated in the landmark federal legislation of the mid-1960s.

There were individuals, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and, in some contexts, his key lieutenants, John Lewis and Jessie Jackson.

But there were others. Consider the march from Selma to Montgomery. There were strong-willed individuals such as Amelia Boynton Robinson and, at one point in the Selma story, the school children themselves who took up the cause as their parents and other elders hesitated.

Civil rights and the energy transition have differences. The former had a deep moral component that was not yet clearly evident in energy when CRES was founded in 1996. The seriousness of climate change was not at the same level then, although arguably it is now.

Now Colorado has emerged as a national leader in this energy transition. For that, CRES deserves recognition. It’s not a singular success. CRES has had teammates in this. But it can rightfully take credit.

Other installments in this series about the history of CRES:

Part 1: A coming together of minds in Colorado.

Part 2: Why note wind?

Part 3: Why note wind?

Part 4: The path to the governor’s mansion

And also: How Bill Ritter rode wind

Part 5: Growth, a stumble, then new chapters

Part 6: Influence in the Polis years

Or download the whole series in one e-magazine of Big Pivots 64.

Suncor has shut down #Colorado’s only refinery. That’s raising concerns about air quality and higher gas prices — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Sam Brasch). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s only oil and gas refinery is offline and might not resume full operations until March, raising concerns about gas prices and local air quality after a series of recent incidents.  In a press release issued yesterday, Suncor Energy announced it closed its Commerce City refinery last Saturday — Christmas Eve — due to “extreme and record-setting weather.” The statement did not mention a pair of recent fires, one of which injured two workers on Christmas Eve.  It did acknowledge extensive damage at the facility. 

“The inspection and repair of the damaged equipment [are] ongoing. Based on our current assessment, we anticipate a progressive restart of the facility with a return to full operations expected to be completed by late Q1 2023,” the company wrote. 

The shutdown will disrupt local gas and diesel resources. Grier Bailey, the executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said Suncor supplies between 35 to 40 percent of all gasoline sold in Colorado. A company website notes the facility is also a primary source of asphalt and produces about a third of the jet fuel for Denver International Airport.

“I think you’ll see drastic wholesale price increases in the next few weeks. And then depending on how other suppliers in the market can compensate, you’re going to see abnormally high gasoline and diesel prices,” Bailey said. 

Bailey added many gas stations could close pumps to conserve supplies for fire departments, hospitals and other essential services.

Lawmakers will begin the 2023 session next week with Democrats holding historic majorities — The #Denver Post #COleg

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Nick Coltrain and Seth Klamann). Here’s an excerpt:

Clean air and eyes on water

[Steve] Fenberg said members are working on several bills to reduce ozone emissions and aiming to boost air quality in the state . First, officials need to separate out what is in state control and what isn’t, while also balancing that regulations come with economic and personal costs. Fenberg cited the temporary closure of the Suncor refinery specifically: It may lead to cleaner air for a few months, but it may also mean people already under the thumb of inflation may pay more for energy. Lawmakers will also continue to look at the oil and gas industry, though Fenberg said those details aren’t yet finished. He mentioned incentivizing the electrification of drill rigs to tamp down on pre-production drilling emissions as one likely effort. Regulators have also been working on new rules for energy production, a product of 2019’s Senate Bill 181, and lawmakers will be watching to see if it accomplishes what they wanted, he said.

“I want to be careful and make sure the appropriate things are at the regulatory side so that we’re not over-prescribing at the legislative level,” Fenberg said.

Water remains a defining aspect of life in the West, and Colorado’s water crisis remains as acute as ever. Fenberg called it “a bit of an existential threat” to the state’s economy and its communities. Conservation, drought resilience and infrastructure efforts will be big aims, though the legislative leaders did not have specific policies yet.

“One of the biggest frustrations when we talk about water quantity is certainly the diverse interests that come to the table,” McCluskie said. “This isn’t a Republican and Democrat issue, this is a Western Slope and eastern slope issue. It is an ag economy, a tourist economy and outdoor recreation economy interest.”

Right now, the goal is to convene stakeholders to find common ground across those sometimes disparate interests, she said. And the bevy of new lawmakers also need time to brush up on the dissertation-worthy topic of western water law. McCluskie said state Rep. Karen McCormick, who will chair the Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee, has been putting together a “water boot camp” for her members.

Growth, a stumble, then new chapters: CRES history Part 5 — @BigPivots

Patty Limerick. Photo credit Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado.

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

The organization grew and then decided to spread its wings. It didn’t work out, raising questions of how a group like CRES should operate. What it did do was expand with two new chapters in Colorado.

CRES has had its ups and downs, its time of growth and expanding influence and then times of retraction.

Annual conferences have been held but with some lengthy gaps. The first, held in 1998 at Snow Mountain Ranch, between Granby and Fraser, was regarded as a splendid retreat. However, CRES leaders decided it would be better to hold conferences in places more accessible to the broader public and with greater geographic diversity. Accordingly, the 2002 conference was held in Colorado Springs with Amory Lovins as the featured speaker. The next was in Montrose, followed by the University of Denver, with still others in Fort Collins, Pueblo, and then again in Montrose.

Remarks made by speakers at the conference in Steamboat Springs in June 2007 reveal the rapid change during the last 15 years.

Organizers had recruited Stan Lewandowski, then general manager of Intermountain Rural Electric Association (now called CORE Electric Cooperative) to explain himself. He was known for his embrace of coal and for his financial contribution to Pat Michaels, a climate scientist who argued global warming will cause relatively minor and even beneficial charges. Renewables, said Lewandowski, were expensive, and he refused to socialize their cost to the detriment of elderly people on fixed income.

Now, that same cooperative—under new leadership—is hurrying to get out of its ownership in what will likely be Colorado’s last operating coal plant, Comanche 3.

Chuck Kutscher, then an engineer at NREL (and now a member of the CRES policy committee), also spoke, stressing the importance of the “beef” of energy efficiency to the “sizzle” of renewables. Paul Bony, who was then with Delta-Montrose Electric Association, told about the 100 ground-source heat pumps whose installation he had overseen.

Keynote speaker at the 2007 conference in Steamboat Springs was Patty Limerick, a historian from the University of Colorado-Boulder, who talked about energy conversions of the past 200 years. She warned against expecting immediate change. Even adoption of fossil fuels, if “astonishing in its scale and scope of change,” did not arrive as “one, coherent sequential change.” Fossil fuels, she noted, had lifted women out of household drudgery.

Amory Lovins has harvested bananas 61 times from his solar-passive house near Aspen since the early 1980s. Amory Lovins spoke at the 2002 CRES annual conference held at Colorado College in Colordo Springs. He also spoke at the annual gathering in 2010 held in Montrose Photo used with permission, ©Judy Hill Lovins via The Mountain Town News.

And she left listeners to ponder this thought: “The most consequential question of the early 21st century is who controls the definition of progress.”

Membership in CRES grew from 200 to 2,000 during the 21st century’s first decade. Sheila Townsend, executive director from 2001 to 2011, deftly managed all of CRES’s events, including fundraising, the group’s annual conference, Tour of Solar Homes, and annual party, supported by well-staffed teams of volunteer members over the years.

The Tour of Solar Homes has been an annual event since the beginning of CRES—and an important money raiser, too. Starting in 1996, the tour was focused on Golden but then expanded to the Denver metro area under the umbrella of New Energy Colorado. The tours are part of ASES’s national network, conducted over many years, to showcase green-built and sustainable homes.

From its roots in Golden, driven largely by SERI/NREL employees who sought a greater public impact for renewables, CRES also added new chapters elsewhere in Colorado. Some had lasting power, others not so much. For example, chapters had been created in Durango and Montrose in the early 2000’s. They didn’t survive. The populations were relatively small, and the distances to other population centers too great.

The chapter founded in Pueblo in 2003 had greater success. Tom Corlett and Judy Fosdick founded SECRES (for South East) with the hope of advancing distributed generation and helping develop support for Amendment 37. In time, the chapter gravitated to Colorado Springs, where its current organizer Jim Riggins points with pride to outreach efforts with youngsters in local schools as well as some collaborations with the local military institutions. “Our goal is to inform and educate in a fashion as unbiased as we can and let people make their own decisions based on facts,” he says.

NCRES (for Northern) has cut a notable swath in Larimer County. Jim Manuel had been active in CRES in Jefferson County and other precursor groups in Denver, including the Energy Network, before moving to Loveland. There and in Fort Collins he found kindred spirits who would sometimes meet at restaurants, other times at Colorado State University.

Manuel says he began thinking that it would make sense to be formally affiliated with CRES in an organizational structure similar to that of the Colorado Mountain Club. That latter group has its largest membership in Denver but has chapters at various locations around Colorado. One advantage was avoiding the necessity of duplicating non-profit status by forming a different 501(c)(3).

Alex Blackmer was asked if his off-the-grid solar home in Redstone Canyon, west of Fort Collins, could be included in the 1998 solar tour. His friends who organized that event then started attending NCRES gatherings at the Odell Brewery.

“The meetings were always great networking events and gave me a range of valuable business contacts that have served me to this day,” says Blackmer, who later became a state board member. “In fact, I met my two current business partners through my NCRES interactions. We now a run a nation-wide solar financing company (Solaris Energy) that has been a player in the exponential growth of the solar industry in the last 10 years,” he says.

“I think that my work with NCRES and CRES added greatly to my ability to grow Solaris by making the personal connections and contacts necessary to put all the pieces together.”

Blackmer says that without CRES, he’s not sure Solaris would ever have grown into the successful business that it is. “And it would not have had the national impact that it is now having,” he adds.

Broad influences of NCRES and other chapters can be hard to document. Peter Eberle, the current chair of the state board of directors as well as the leader of NCRES, believes that NCRES, working in concert with other groups, has nudged Fort Collins toward its ambitions to redefine energy. The community’s energy deliberations have drawn national attention, sometimes eclipsing Colorado’s better-known university town.

Blackmer concurs, citing the “steady pressure from the bottom to move the city in the direction of more renewable energy.”

Wade Troxel, a mechanical engineering professor at Colorado State University who has been personally and professionally involved in pushing that transition, confirms being influenced by CRES programming. He sometimes attended NCRES meetings, occasionally asking questions. “I was very aware of NCRES,” says Troxell, who was mayor from 2015 to 2021.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit status for CRES is formally based in Fort Collins in conjunction with Colorado State University’s Powerhouse Energy Campus. That’s where postal mail goes.

A stumble, then a rebirth

Still sensitive more than a decade later is the 2010 decision to spread the organization’s wings by hiring a full-time director. In the eyes of at least some of its members, the organization tended to be “clubby.” Everybody knew everybody else, and the atmosphere was collegial.

But in terms of impact? Well, board members believed CRES could step up its game.

Carol Tombari was among the board members who voted to hire Tony Frank, the clear favorite because of his experience at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

She describes the times around 2010 as difficult. Yes, there had been substantial wins: Colorado Green in 2001, Amendment 37 in 2004, and the 57 bills passed during the Ritter Administration. But public policy was a slog. Advocates were finding it difficult to make their case.

“We did not want to hire somebody who was like us, because we clearly had not succeeded,” says Tombari, now retired from NREL and living in Texas. “We needed somebody who had much more of an entrepreneurial approach than we did. Some of us were academics, some of us were scientists. We weren’t entrepreneurial.”

Tony Frank emerged as the clear favorite. He wanted an office, so a lease was negotiated for space at a cost of $3,000 per year in a former school in North Denver repurposed for non-profit office space. A salary of $55,000 per year was negotiated along with modest insurance and other benefits. The bill, including office space, for the new director came to $68,590 for his first year.

The director was to raise the profile of CRES in the Legislature and elsewhere. CRES was to become the go-to organization for renewable energy in Colorado.

CRES became a partner in creating what was then called the Denver Sustainability Park in the Five Points neighborhood. From his previous experiences with non-profit organizations, Frank was able to introduce CRES volunteers to key state legislators.

But the executive director—this is crucial—was required to figure out how to pay his or her salary. This happened, but not enough. Possibly a factor was that Frank was hired even as the effects of the 2009-2010 recession lingered. When he resigned in February 2012 after nearly two years at the helm, the treasury had drawn down to $59,000. He was replaced by a part-time executive director.

‘We all knew it was risky,” says Tombari. “We felt it was a risk worth taking. It just didn’t work out.”

What lessons can be drawn from this? The simplest takeaway is that CRES over-reached.

The deeper question, though, is what does it take to create an organization with impact? The education that has always been front-and-center of CRES has impact, and grassroots activism has impact. But volunteerism usually needs to be anchored by staff to achieve deeper leverage.

Michael Haughey arrived on the board in 2010 after the decision had largely been made to hire a full-time director. He says he counseled fellow members against the hiring without first creating a better plan to raise money.

“The expectation was that the new director would raise the profile of CRES and money will come. That was the hope, but it didn’t work.”

In a recent interview, he cited the Colorado chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, which created a book of instruction on LEED certification. It sold nationally and continues to sell—creating the revenue to pay the salary of full-time director. With its arsenal of videos, CRES might now have something similar, he says.

Larry Christiansen, another board member at the time, applauds the effort to professionalize CRES and to add muscle to its mission. To be taken seriously, he says, an organization needs full-time staff working from offices.

While CRES temporarily elevated, it didn’t get far enough along to make a legitimate “ask” for funding. Neither the executive director nor board members felt comfortable in making that ask.

“We did not have a board that was able to go out and ask for money or bring money to the table,” he says. “To get an organization off the ground, you need some fundraisers on the board.”

Here’s a question to ponder:

So, why do some organizations immediately spread their wings and others do not? The comparison that may be most relevant is Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project [SWEEP]. It was founded in 2001, five years after CRES. It now has a staff of 18 spread out across Colorado as well as other Southwestern states. SWEEP definitely gets invited to the table for policy discussions.

The difference?

Howard Geller, its founder, had previously been in Washington D.C., where he had established a reputation. That likely made fundraising easier.

Two new chapters

Distributed energy has been one theme for the transition to renewables. That has also been the model for CRES. From three chapters, CRES has grown to five strong chapters during the last decade

Boulder’s chapter, called BCRES, was organized in Boulder in 2014. Kirsten Frysinger, one of the three co-founders, had graduated in 2013 from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a masters’ degree in environmental studies. When Roger Alexander, then the board chair, asked for volunteers from the Boulder area to start the chapter, she enthusiastically raised her hand. She had a strong motivation.

“I needed to find work,’ says Frysinger. “I needed to network with people.”

It took a few years, but she succeeded. Having coffee with CRES member Leslie Glustrom, she learned of a job opening at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project for an operations manager. She applied for the job at SWEEP and was hired.

The BCRES meetings, which were commonly attended by 50 to 100 people before covid, always begin with an invitation to job-seekers to announce themselves, their qualifications, and hopes. Job providers were then given time. At a September 2022 meeting, the first in-person gathering since covid, half of attendees were seeking jobs.

In Denver, MDCRES (for metro Denver) has become a significant player. A prominent figure there—and in the CRES policy and other groups—has been Jonathan Rogers. He arrived in Colorado in 2018 as an energy consultant. In that capacity he began seeking out professional groups. CRES emerged on that landscape. What he found was a refreshing change from Washington DC.

“It was all talk,” says Rogers of his time in Washington. “It was decades-long research and development, everybody was a consultant, and the only real buyer was the government. So we had the same conversations over and over again.”

Somewhat around the same time as Rogers joined CRES he took a job as the City of Denver’s representative in regulatory affairs. It was his job to build relationships with legislators and get immersed in affairs of the PUC, which operates in mostly arcane ways that can test the patience even of lawyers.

It’s one thing to pass a bill, he observes, but another yet to execute it. That, as the cliché goes, is where the rubber meets the road.

The covid pandemic caused MDCRES to shift its programming to online. Attendance jumped to 70 attendees, but then slackened in 2022 as other activities resumed. If convenient, online sessions deprive attendees the pleasure of face-to-face networking. CRES chapters altogether have been trying to strike the right balance.

Bill McKibben, right, conferring with Land Institute founder Wes Jackson at the 2019 Prairie Festival, has strongly motivated many, including some CRES members. Photo/Allen Best

In Jefferson County, Martin Voelker arrived to continue the thread of prior meetings at the Jefferson Unitarian Church. A native of Germany, Voelker had been a journalist before emigrating to the United States in 1997 with his wife, a college professor. In Boston, while his wife taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Voelker interviewed progressive speakers.

In 2004, the Voelker family moved to Golden where his wife had secured a professorship at the Colorado School of Mines. With the lower-priced real estate of Golden compared to that of Boston, there was enough financial comfort that Martin decided he did not need to chase a paycheck. Beginning in 2015, he began pouring his energy into assembling monthly programs for JCRES.

Voelker traces his epiphany, his desire to get more active, to the appearance in Boulder by Bill McKibben. Voelker had actually interviewed McKibben when in Boston, but he was galvanized by McKibben’s speech in Boulder during McKibben’s national tour following his compelling 2012 essay in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

“Knowing stuff is fine and dandy, and if you don’t do anything about it, what is it really worth?” says Voelker.

Securing speakers has never been a problem for Voelker, given the proximity of NREL to other institutions in the Denver-Boulder area. He has filmed and edited dozens of the group’s events, building up a large on-line library of CRES and other presentations.

Other installments in this series:

Part 1: A coming together of minds in Colorado.

Part 2: Why note wind?

Part 3: Why note wind?

Part 4: The path to the governor’s mansion

And also: How Bill Ritter rode wind

Or download the whole series in one e-magazine of Big Pivots 64.

If you want to start 2023 with eyes wide open then I recommend this packed & pithy paper by @NJHagens on economics for the future — @KateRaworth #ActOnClimate

Humanity + energy + debt + growth addiction + planetary boundaries: guess what’s coming. Can we learn to bend not break? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800919310067

Here’s the abstract:

Our environment and economy are at a crossroads. This paper attempts a cohesive narrative on how human evolved behavior, money, energy, economy and the environment fit together. Humans strive for the same emotional state of our successful ancestors. In a resource rich environment, we coordinate in groups, corporations and nations, to maximize financial surplus, tethered to energy, tethered to carbon. At global scales, the emergent result of this combination is a mindless, energy hungry, CO2 emitting Superorganism. Under this dynamic we are now behaviorally ‘growth constrained’ and will use any means possible to avoid facing this reality. The farther we kick the can, the larger the disconnect between our financial and physical reality becomes. The moment of this recalibration will be a watershed time for our culture, but could also be the birth of a new ‘systems economics’. and resultant different ways of living. The next 30 years are the time to apply all we’ve learned during the past 30 years. We’ve arrived at a species level conversation.

“Ecological Economics addresses the relationships between ecosystems and economic systems in the broadest sense.” – Robert Costanza, (the first sentence in the first article in the first issue of Ecological Economics)

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.”– E.O. Wilson

“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” –Jean Baudrillard

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

The classic image of the Doughnut; the extent to which boundaries are transgressed and social foundations are met are not visible on this diagram. Graphic via Wikipedia.com: https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/

November’s global average atmospheric #carbondioxide (CO₂) was about 420 parts per million — NASA: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/ #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

This is a roughly 50% increase since 1750 due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and land-use change

The end: City says San Juan Generating Station retrofit project no longer feasible: #Farmington cites arbitration loss as a ‘catastrophic blow’ to the #CarbonCapture project with Enchant Energy — The Farmington Daily Times #ActOnClimate #KeepItTheGround

The San Juan Generating Station in mid-June of 2022 The two middle units (#2 and #3) were shut down in 2017 to help the plant comply with air pollution limits. Unit #1 shut down mid-June 2022 and #4 was shut down on September 30, 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Farmington Daily Times website (John R. Moses). Here’s an excerpt:

The City of Farmington announced it has ended the plan it began years ago to acquire the San Juan Generating Station and run it with a partner.

The announcement Dec. 20 followed a loss during arbitration hearings Dec. 14 that the city called a “catastrophic blow” to the partnership between it and Enchant Energy.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett said a strategy employed by Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and other plant owners to dismantle key parts of the facility during decommissioning work got the go-ahead from a panel of arbitrators – a panel the city had hoped would instead put a hold on equipment auctions.

“Given PNM’s and the other co-owners’ actions to quickly dismantle SJGS, and the panel’s recent decision to allow them to do so, we have arrived at a point where those actions directly undermine the viability of successful implementation of the Carbon Capture Project,” Duckett said in the press release issued by the city Tuesday afternoon.

Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

The real causes for our dying planet — Jeffrey Levin #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Dealing with #methane escaping from Coal Basin’s shuttered mines sparks debate: A community meeting revealed tension over the project’s global #climate benefits and local environmental impacts — @AspenJournalism #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The biggest hurdle proponents of the Coal Basin methane project might face may not be the layers of bureaucracy they will have to navigate, but convincing Redstone residents that doing something is better than doing nothing. CREDIT: WILL SARDINSKY/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Sarah Tory):

On a dark evening in early October, about 20 people gathered in a dimly lit room on the bottom floor of the Redstone Church. Many of the chairs were empty, but a smattering of locals from around the small, tightknit hamlet of Redstone had come to learn more about a project that could transform Coal Basin, a mountain valley just west of town. 

For more than a century, invisible clouds of methane gas have been leaking out of several former coal mines that once operated in the basin. Although methane occurs naturally in coal deposits, ripping a hole in the mountain in the form of a coal mine releases the methane much faster. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year time period. (Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more powerful.) 

Standing in front of the audience, Chris Caskey, a Paonia-based scientist and architect of a proposal to deal with the methane leaks, pulled up a picture of one of the mine portals on a projector screen. The image was taken with an infrared camera, which made visible the methane billowing out from around the concrete header on the mine portal. 

“These mines are doing $12 million of damage a year on society,” said Caskey, referring to the social cost of methane, a calculation that seeks to put a dollar figure on the total damages to society as a whole by emitting 1 ton of methane into the atmosphere. This includes, for instance, contributing to climate change, damaging public health and reducing the yield of agricultural ecosystems. 

Not everyone was convinced. For many locals, the methane leaking out of the mine was less problematic than the potential changes to what they consider a treasured backyard wilderness, encompassing 6,000 mountainous acres of aspen groves, waterfalls and a new mountain-bike trail system. 

The meeting was supposed to inform locals about the project — and ultimately win their support — but it also offered a window into a much deeper debate in the fight against climate change: How can the global benefits of a project that would reduce heat-trapping emissions be reconciled with the impacts the project would inevitably have on the local environment? For Caskey and the other proponents of the Coal Basin methane project, their biggest hurdle might not be the layers of bureaucracy they will have to navigate, but convincing Redstone residents that doing something is better than doing nothing. 

Redstone residents Chuck Downey and Gentrye Houghton on Coal Basin Road on Dec. 8, 2022. The scenic valley just west of Redstone, once home to industrial coal mining, is a favorite local recreation destination. Both have expressed concern about the impact of a potential project to capture methane leaking form the shuttered mines. CREDIT: WILL SARDINSKY/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Identify and authorize

The Coal Basin mines are among thousands of shuttered coal mines across the country currently leaking methane long after they have closed. So far, Caskey has identified 12 major leaks in Coal Basin, but there are probably more, which he hopes to find with a drone or by helicopter. Using a portable methane sensor, Caskey has measured methane from two of those leaks (the only two that are easy to measure) at a combined rate of 100 to 200 tons per year. Extrapolating that number using Environmental Protection Agency data, he believes the Coal Basin mines are, in total, emitting roughly 10,000 tons, or the equivalent of 248,040 tons of carbon dioxide, which is roughly half of Pitkin County’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. 

That situation is untenable to Caskey, a self-described “climate guy” who learned about the problem a few years ago and began thinking of solutions. Backed by almost $900,000 in funding from private companies such as Atlantic Aviation, nonprofits such as Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) and Pitkin County, Caskey hopes he can find a way to deal with the methane leaks. He has proposed capturing the methane and either using it or destroying it, depending on which option proves most viable. The purpose of the meeting was to outline the next steps in the process to identify a project and get it authorized — and hopefully, gain more support from the Redstone community, which appears skeptical based on the sentiment expressed at the October meeting and in subsequent interviews. 

Early this month, Caskey submitted clarifications for his proposal to the U.S. Forest Service asking for permission to run a “flow test” this spring or summer at the mines in Coal Basin. The test would deliver more precise information about the methane and other gases coming out of the mines, revealing the exact quantity and quality of the methane — and the best option for dealing with it. If the test reveals that the gas contains a minimum of 18% methane, the most viable project would be destroying the methane through flaring, or burning, it. If the test shows the emissions have more than 30% methane, then it would be possible to capture the methane and convert it to electricity — a much costlier and more environmentally invasive project, involving pumping stations and building a pipe (either above ground or below) to bring the gas down. 

Doing nothing is also an option, Caskey said, but, given the urgency of the climate crisis, it was not one he favored. 

Chris Caskey stands for a portrait during a hike to shuttered mines in Coal Basin, near Redstone, Colo., in September 2021. Caskey is leading an effort to investigate potential strategies to capture methane leaking from the shuttered mines. CREDIT: LUNA ANNA ARCHEY/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Reading the room

As the meeting progressed, tensions in the room rose as Caskey described what the flow test would entail. The test requires having to haul up a large, heavy measuring device to the mine portals in Coal Basin. To do that, they would have to reopen the old road, building culverts over the stream crossings so that a truck could get through. 

A woman in the audience asked, “Any other way to do this without dragging equipment up there?” 

“Will this project kill our dwindling elk herd?” asked Gentrye Houghton, a Redstoneresident.

Caskey assured her that a project to deal with the methane would not kill the elk herd. Still, his affirmations that any project proposal would first undergo environmental impact studies under the National Environmental Policy Act seemed not to have much sway. 

“That’s not what the residents want to see up there,” a man said. Another person asked how many diesel generators a methane electrification project would require.

Caskey tried to acknowledge the sentiments diplomatically: “I’m hearing that people have noise concerns,” he said.

Redstone residents Chuck Downey and Gentrye Houghton, pictured here on Dec. 8, 2022, are skeptical that the methane leaking from shuttered mines in Coal Basin, just west of town, is a big enough problem to justify the impacts of a potential project to capture the potent greenhouse gas. CREDIT: WILL SARDINSKY/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Cost versus benefit

A month after the meeting, I met with Houghton at the Redstone General Store. Thirty-seven years old with short pink hair, Houghton is publisher and editor-in-chief of the Crystal Valley Echo, a local paper, and works as a massage therapist on the side. She moved to Redstone almost 10 years ago, after an internship with Rock and Ice, a now-defunct Carbondale magazine. In 2018, she bought a house — formerly the town laundromat and, at 430 square feet, “literally the smallest home in Redstone,” she said. Coal Basin is where Houghton taught herself to backcountry ski — on a hillside she later found out was not a natural slope but, rather, a mound of old coal tailings. These days, she estimates that she is up in the basin at least once a day to recreate, depending on the season. 

Houghton first heard about Caskey’s methane project proposal while scrolling through the minutes from a Pitkin County commissioners meeting. The commissioners had allocated $200,000 to the project, which Houghton said helps illuminate some of her and other Redstone residents’ broader frustrations about the project. “The big sentiment is: Is this big money bulldozing us over?” she said. “Is this just a pet project for billionaires who don’t have to look at it in their backyard?”

Many residents, she said, remember Coal Basin’s reclamation process, a $4 million restoration effort that lasted until 2002 to clean up the environmental disaster left over from the mining operations. They fear that a methane project could undo those decades of progress. Houghton pushed back at the notion that Redstone residents were prioritizing their own interests over addressing climate change. The 10,000 tons produced annually by the Coal Basin mines are just a small fraction of the 570 million tons of methane emissions that occur globally. According to Houghton, many locals are unconvinced that the environmental impacts of the project are worth the benefits.

Chuck Downey, 84, another longtime Redstone resident, echoed those feelings. Growing up in the Fryingpan Valley, he saw how the Ruedi Dam construction in the 1960s forever changed the valley. Afterward, he vowed to fight if another project that would negatively affect his local ecosystem ever arose. Of particular concern to Downey was the electricity-generation option. Initially, Caskey had hoped that the flow-test results would support his idea to convert the methane leaking from the coal mines into electricity. However, based on the lessons learned from the nearby methane-to-electricity power plant at a mine in Somerset (one of only two such facilities in the country), Caskey said he now questions whether electricity generation from the Coal Basin methane will be viable. Downey would be more amenable to Caskey’s other proposal — flaring the methane — but he said he would still not endorse the plan, believing that the amount of methane leaking from the mines is too small to warrant the impacts to national forest land. “The way I see it,” he said, “what’s being proposed is indeed a really good idea, but it’s in the wrong place.” 

Coal Creek flows into the Crystal River in Redstone. CREDIT: WILL SARDINSKY/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Local responsibility 

Caskey isn’t surprised that locals are wary of the project. “I run a for-profit company. Anytime one shows up in your town, you should be suspicious,” he said. Overall, he added, the reception to his proposal has been overwhelmingly positive, but the closer you get physically to where the  project would occur, the more concerns there are. 

At the meeting, proponents expressed how Coal Basin’s mining history and already-disturbed status make it an ideal location for a methane project. “It’s not a pristine mountain area,” a man said. “It’s not even fully restored.”

A lady in a puffy pink jacket objected to his assessment, saying that she hikes in Coal Basin regularly. “I know what I’m talking about,” she said tartly. 

For Caskey, the local impacts aren’t the only questions relevant to the methane project. Wealthy Coloradans have benefited from resource exploitation, he said. “The more pertinent question is: ‘What responsibility do we have to clean up the mess related to that exploitation given that it hurts other people?’”

Another proponent reminded the room that Coal Basin’s minerals are owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages resources for all Americans, not just the few who live in Redstone. “What if this project could contribute to good?” the person added. “It could be a model for the rest of the world — opportunity for Redstone to rally around in a time when so much is wrong.”

“We need more studies,” said a man in a blue fleece.

“Oh, there will definitely be more studies,” said Caskey, flipping the projector to the next slide.

Sarah Tory is a freelance journalist based in Carbondale. This story appeared in the The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is supported by the Catena Foundation, which is affiliated with the owner of the parcel home to the mountain-bike trail network referenced in the story. We are also supported by Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund. Aspen Journalism is solely responsible for its editorial coverage.

Map of the Eagle River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69310517

Uinta Basin Railway opposition unites Colorado towns, Utah backcountry residents: Railroad through a roadless area subject to recent legal challenge, community protest — @AspenJournalism #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver 

Darrell Fordham points toward a tunnel entrance for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway that would run near a mountain retreat property he owns in Argyle Canyon, Utah. U.S. Highway 191 is on the left in the photo. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Amy Hadden Marsh):

Darrell Fordham is heartbroken. It took years for the resident of Lehi, Utah, to purchase 20 acres above Utah’s Argyle Canyon and build a cabin for family retreats. “I’ve sunk about $150,000 into that property,” he told Aspen Journalism. “We bought it back in 2006 just as a place to raise our kids. Get ’em out of the city, get ’em unplugged and off the cellphones.” 

The cabin is at about 6,000 feet at the edge of the Ashley National Forest on the West Tavaputs Plateau, surrounded by aspens and conifers in a small, tightknit, off-the-grid community known as Argyle Canyon Estates. “Being off-grid and about 3 1/2 miles off the pavement, the quiet is the whole appeal of that property,“ said Fordham. But that quiet is in jeopardy due to the proposed Uinta Basin Railway (UBR). 

The UBR is not yet under construction but received necessary approvals from the Federal Surface Transportation Board (FSTB) in December 2021 and the U.S. Forest Service in July 2022. The 88-mile-long railroad would connect the fracked-oil fields in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin to the national rail network. The crude would then be transported in heated tanker cars through Colorado on its way to Gulf Coast refineries. 

Fordham began organizing his neighbors against the UBR in 2019 when it looked like two potential alignments — the Indian Canyon route and the Wells Draw route — would run through local properties and uncomfortably close to his community. As the Argyle Wilderness Preservation Alliance, the community wrote letters against the UBR in July 2020, shortly after the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC), a quasi-governmental board created in 2014, applied for approval from the FTSB. Fordham said the group hired a lawyer that year and filed lawsuits in Utah district court but to no avail. 

In 2014-15, 26 potential UBR routes were identified in Utah Department of Transportation feasibility studies, but none passed the initial screening process. Five years later, the SCIC added the Indian Canyon, Wells Draw and Craig routes as alternatives. The Craig and Wells Draw routes were eventually scrapped. The Indian Canyon route morphed into the preferred 88-mile Whitmore Park route, named for a large valley south of the Tavaputs Plateau. 

According to maps provided by Fordham, the Whitmore Park route would still pass 2,550 feet from his property line. He said it feels as if his concerns have fallen upon deaf ears. “I think it’s communities like ours that are impacted by things like this because we’re just common people,” he said. “We don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the government and the big oil companies, so they know they can just run it right over the top of us and there’s really nothing we can do about it.” 

Overview of Argyle Canyon area that would be impacted by the proposed Uinta Basin Railway. CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY OF ECOFLIGHT

FSTB legal appeals in the works

In February, environmental groups and Eagle County filed separate appeals in response to the FSTB’s decision last December to approve the UBR. (The two cases have since been consolidated.) At issue are the approval decision and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2021 biological assessment, upon which the FSTB relied to make its decision.

Most Uinta Basin oil is trucked to refineries in Salt Lake City, but production is capped at 80,000 to 90,000 barrels per day due to air pollution restrictions on the Wasatch Front. By connecting the Uinta Basin fracked-oil fields to the national rail line at Kyune, Utah, the UBR promises to quadruple production by bringing Uinta Basin crude — which must be heated for transportation purposes so that it doesn’t solidify — to the global market.

But increased oil production means increased air pollution in the Uinta Basin. Ted Zukoski, CBD attorney, told Aspen Journalism that air pollution in the basin is already listed as marginal. “This means it’s on the edge of becoming a nonattainment area because of wind inversions that trap pollution from drilling in the basin and lead to very unhealthy air quality.” 

A 2013 study by state and federal agencies revealed federal ground-level ozone standards violations in the basin due to oil and gas production. In 2016, the state of Utah recommended nonattainment designations for National Ambient Air Quality Standards in five Utah counties, including Duchesne and Uintah, both in the Uinta Basin. A lag in oil and natural gas production lowered methane levels from 2015 to 2020. But methane leaks in production infrastructure effectively canceled out those gains. As of October, the Uinta Basin remains in nonattainment status.

Zukoski said the FSTB ignored the air pollution impacts and the downstream impacts of greenhouse gases released from consumers burning gasoline refined from Uinta Basin crude. “It could lead to as much as 53 million tons of additional CO2 going into the atmosphere,” he said. “The Forest Service knows how bad climate change is, so it’s hypocritical for this agency to support this project.”

Eagle County argues that the FSTB failed to look at the cumulative impacts of increased rail traffic on the Union Pacific line, which passes through the county, and possible impacts should Colorado’s Tennessee Pass railway be reactivated. County officials added that the scope of the FSTB’s environmental analysis was too narrow, focusing only on the 88 miles of the UBR in Utah. 

A man holds a picket sign that reads “Stop the Uinta Oil Train Wreck” in Glenwood Springs on Saturday, Dec. 10. CREDIT: RAY K. ERKU/GLENWOOD SPRINGS POST INDEPENDENT

Colorado officials join the legal fray 

In late October, the city of Glenwood Springs and the towns of Minturn, Avon, Red Cliff and Vail filed an amicus brief in support of Eagle County and the FSTB appeal. Karl Hanlon is an attorney with Karp, Neu, Hanlon, a Colorado firm that works with the cities of Glenwood Springs, Minturn and Red Cliff. 

“What’s being proposed is 18 miles a day of train cars on the main [Union Pacific] line going through the city of Glenwood Springs and passing alongside the Colorado River through Garfield, Eagle and Grand counties,” he told Aspen Journalism. “The risks are tremendous with regard to the potential for an accident, the socio-economic impacts and the environment.”

Hanlon added that the FSTB did not consider whether running up to 185,000 heated tanker cars full of waxy crude alongside Interstate 70 is a good idea, particularly through Glenwood Canyon. The 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire shut down I-70 through the canyon for two weeks. Rockslides and mudslides from heavy rains the following summer closed the canyon again, resulting in lengthy detours for commercial trucks and other traffic, and decimating the Glenwood Springs economy at the height of tourist season.

“One major incident in Glenwood Canyon ends the livelihood of Glenwood Springs,” said Hanlon. “Not only is it a huge environmental disaster that is almost impossible to clean up, it will be the death knell for the community.” 

He said the FSTB’s decision ignored Coloradans. “Frankly, the board just kind of thumbed their nose at all these communities,” he said. “FSTB focused on the 88 miles of new line in Utah and did their entire analysis there.” 

Routt, Boulder, Chaffee, Lake and Pitkin counties, near the Union Pacific line, also signed on to the amicus brief. Routt County Manager Jay Harrington told Aspen Journalism that U.S. Highway 40 is the main northern traffic detour when I-70 is closed. “A rail accident does not have to occur close to Routt County to cause problems,” he said. “Every time I-70 [in the Glenwood Canyon ] is closed, traffic is rerouted right through here.” 

The amicus brief references climate change impacts, wildfire risks from heated train cars, and the domino effect of an oil spill on downstream Colorado River users. Hanlon said the FSTB should start over and revisit the indirect impacts, including communities outside Colorado. “That waxy crude has to go a long way to get to a refinery,” he said. “There are communities all across the [country] going down towards the Gulf Coast that are facing similar impacts from this.”   

Dirt track to the right leads to a borehole site for a tunnel under the Ashley National Forest roadless area, part of the Uinta Basin Railway proposal which U.S. Forest Service officials approved in July. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

USFS: A railroad is not a road

The Forest Service greenlighted a 12-mile stretch of the Whitmore Park route in July that would cut through an inventoried roadless area (IRA) in the Ashley National Forest. Prior to the approval, CBD and other conservation groups sent a letter to national Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, urging him to reject the Ashley National Forest’s application. But Moore refused, stating in a November 2021 response letter, “By definition, a railway does not constitute a road under the Roadless Rule.” 

Then, in July, Ashley National Forest Supervisor Susan Eickhoff approved that 12-mile portion of the UBR. Two months later, CBD, Living Rivers, Sierra Club and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed suit. Zukoski said the argument is more than whether a railroad is a road; it’s also about the UBR’s effect on the general intent and purpose of a roadless area. “We raised many issues, including a failure of the Forest Service to consider the impact on roadless values,” he said.

The 2001 Roadless Rule established wilderness attributes and values to define an IRA, such as remoteness, quiet and solitude within the natural world. But, Zukowski said, roadless areas offer more than solace for humans. “The Forest Service understood that these areas had a particular and special value because of their protection of storehouses of biodiversity,” he said. 

This map, included in U.S. Forest Service documents evaluating the Uinta Basin Railway proposal, shows the 88-mile length of the route. Tunnels are shown in yellow. CREDIT: COURTESY IMAGE

The UBR track, with a right-of-way between 100 and 200 feet wide, would run mostly parallel to U.S. Highway 191, cutting through private property and agricultural fields in Indian Canyon before slicing through the Ashley National Forest. The railroad’s footprint would alter an estimated 167 acres within the IRA, with an additional 235 acres affected in the construction process but planned for reclamation. Three tunnels on Forest Service land, including two spiral tunnels and a portion of a 3-mile-long straight tunnel, would have a total length of 2.6 miles.

In a January interview for ChannelV6.com, a local broadcaster in northeast Utah, Kyle Robe, deputy project manager for Rio Grand Pacific, discussed the spiral tunnels planned for Indian Canyon and the 3-mile-long straight tunnel. “[We will] drill holes into the face of the rock and high-pressure grout those holes,” he said. Then come massive machines called “roadheaders.” “They’ve got a big arm and big rotors on the end with teeth on them [that] chip away at that rock,” said Robe. “We’ll get about 25 feet a day on each end of rock that we’ll tear out of the mountain.” Robe did not respond to interview requests from Aspen Journalism. A spokesperson for the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition also declined to comment, citing pending litigation. 

Track construction also means carving out miles of cuts, siding track and embankment fill, and placing culverts and other infrastructure, including five bridges. Temporary work areas, including camps to house workers, could be up to 1,000 feet wide. Once completed, up to 10 trains per day would rumble through the IRA, each hauling up to 100 tanker cars of crude.    

Darrell Fordham stands near a tunnel entrance for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, which would pass near his family’s mountain retreat in Argyle Canyon, Utah. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

CBD attorney Wendy Park pointed to a bigger, overarching issue. Under [President Joe] Biden’s 2021 executive order, combating climate change is something that all federal agencies should be doing everything in their power to address,” she told Aspen Journalism. In his 2021 letter to CBD, Moore cherry-picked components of the executive order to support the touted economic benefits of the project, stating that the UBR would support Biden’s policy to build a sustainable economy. But Biden’s order states that the United States will develop a finance plan to promote “the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.” 

Eickhoff, of the Ashley National Forest, also amended the 1986 Ashley National Forest Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP) to allow for the UBR corridor through the IRA. The LRMP calls for maintaining the area’s scenic values. But Eickhoff’s amendment exempts the UBR right of way. 

The SCIC must meet conditions of the Forest Service approval, including federal and LRMP mitigation measures, before track construction can begin. But despite approving the UBR last summer, the Forest Service has yet to issue the actual permit. 

The agency could still change course, which is what activists in Utah, Colorado and points east are hoping for. Protests last week in Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake City and Glenwood Springs called on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to revoke the permit. “It’s worthwhile to continue to put pressure on the Biden administration and Secretary Vilsack because this project is a carbon bomb,” said CBD campaigner Deeda Seed. “This is a poster child for the harm from climate change.”

This story ran in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Dec. 13.

Carbon Removal Is Coming to #FossilFuel Country. Can It Bring Jobs and #Climate Action? — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Lou Ann Varley looks out across the pond that holds water for the cooling towers at the Jim Bridger coal plant, where she worked for 37 years before retiring in 2020. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz

Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Nicholas Kusnetz):

In early fall, residents of this desolate corner of southwestern Wyoming opened their mailboxes to find a glossy flyer. On the front, a truck barreled down a four-lane desert highway with a solar farm on one side and what looked like rows of shipping containers on the other. On the back was an invitation.

“CarbonCapture Inc. is launching Project Bison,” it read, announcing a “direct air capture facility” set to begin operations here next year. “Join us at our town hall event to learn more.”

Few had heard about the proposal before receiving the flyer, let alone had any idea what a direct air capture facility was. So the following week, about 150 people packed into a large classroom at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs to find out.

“We are a company that takes CO2 out of the air and stores it underground,” said Patricia Loria, CarbonCapture’s vice president of business development, in opening the meeting.

Loria described a plan to deploy a series of units—the shipping container-like boxes pictured on the flyer—that would filter carbon dioxide from the air and then compress the greenhouse gas for injection underground, where it would remain permanently.

As carbon dioxide levels continue to climb, scientists, entrepreneurs and governments are increasingly determining that cutting emissions is no longer enough. In addition, they say, people will need to pull the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere, and an emerging field of carbon removal, also called carbon dioxide removal or CDR, is attempting to do just that. 

There are companies like Loria’s looking to use machines and others trying to accelerate natural carbon cycles by altering the chemistry of seawater, for example, or mixing crushed minerals into agricultural soils. These efforts remain wildly speculative and have removed hardly any of the greenhouse gas so far.

Some environmental advocates warn that carbon removal will be too expensive or too difficult and is a dangerous diversion of money and attention from the more urgent task of eliminating fossil fuels. Perhaps more troubling, they say, the various approaches could carry profound environmental impacts of their own, disrupting fragile ocean ecosystems or swallowing vast swaths of agricultural fields and open lands for the energy production needed to power the operations.

Yet even as those potential impacts remain poorly understood, the Biden administration is making a multi-billion dollar bet on carbon removal. The administration’s long-term climate strategy assumes that such approaches will account for 6 to 8 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, equal to hundreds of millions of tons per year, and it has pushed through a series of laws to subsidize the technology.

The first investments will come from the Energy Department, which is expected to open applications within weeks for $3.5 billion in federal grants to help build “direct air capture hubs” around the country, with a particular focus on fossil fuel-dependent communities like Rock Springs, where mineral extraction is by far the largest private employer. The goal is to pair climate action with job creation.

The money has prompted a rush of carbon-removal-focused companies to fossil fuel communities, from Rock Springs to West Texas to California’s San Joaquin Valley, seeding hope from supporters that a concept long relegated to pilot plants and academic literature is on the cusp of arriving as an industry.

As Loria made her pitch, Lou Ann Varley was listening intently. Varley sits on a local labor union council and spent a 37-year career working at the Jim Bridger coal plant outside town before retiring in 2020. She knows that young workers starting at the plant today won’t be able to match her longevity there, with its four units slated to close over the next 15 years, and hoped Project Bison might offer some of them a new opportunity.

Others weren’t having it. Throughout the presentation, residents listened quietly, sitting in pairs at folding tables in the classroom. Some munched on sandwiches and cookies the company had provided. Others leaned back, arms crossed. But when it came time for questions, they launched a volley of concerns about the potential risks and unknowns.

Who was going to pay for this? Would it use hazardous chemicals? What about earthquakes from the underground injections of carbon dioxide? What would happen if the company went bankrupt, and who would be liable in the event of an accident? Wyomingites are deeply protective of their open landscapes, and many wondered about the impacts of all of the renewable energy that would be required for power.

Direct air capture machines consume tremendous amounts of energy. Project Bison, according to CarbonCapture’s figures, could eventually require anywhere from 5 to 15 terawatt hours of power per year, equal to 30 percent to 90 percent of Wyoming’s current electricity consumption, depending on whether the company can increase its efficiency.

Laura Pearson, a sheep rancher who wore heavy work clothes, was sitting in the back row that night feeling deeply skeptical of the entire premise. Pearson’s family has worked the same land for generations, and she sees the wind farms and solar panels that have started covering parts of her state as a threat to its open range.

“If you don’t think those affect wildlife and livestock grazing and everything else in this state,” she told Loria from across the room, “you’re crazy.”

Loria said the company was working with wildlife scientists and officials to minimize impacts, but Pearson was unswayed.

“I love Wyoming and I don’t want to see it change,” Pearson said after the meeting ended. She said she doubted the company’s intentions, didn’t think carbon dioxide posed such a threat to the planet and didn’t like seeing out-of-state interests, whose demands for cleaner energy have sent Wyoming’s coal sector into decline and are threatening to do the same for its oil and gas, coming to peddle something new. “It’s all about the money,” she said. 

A Town With a Storied Coal History

Rock Springs was built on coal. In 1850, an Army expedition found coal seams cropping out of the valley bluffs. Less than 20 years later the Union Pacific Railroad routed the nation’s first transcontinental line through here so its locomotives could refuel as they crossed the Rockies. The mines soon snaked right under the center of town, where the outlaw Butch Cassidy once worked at a butcher shop and earned his nickname.

The rail line still bisects the town, although the old station has been converted into the Coal Train Coffee Depot cafe. A large sign arcs above the tracks outside: “Home of Rock Springs Coal, Welcome.” A stone monument next to the depot lists everyone who died in the mines each year, coming by the dozen in the early 1900s, with names like Fogliatti, Mihajlovic and Papas reflecting all the countries from which men flocked to find work.

The Jim Bridger coal plant, one of the nation’s largest, has faced forced retirement and is slated for closure within 15 years. The impending loss of jobs has brought anxiety to the coal-reliant community of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz

Varley started at Jim Bridger, one of the country’s largest coal plants, in 1983 after getting laid off from mining trona, a mineral used in the manufacturing of glass, detergents, chemicals and other products. All but one of the eight largest private employers in Sweetwater County either mine or use the minerals and fossil fuels that underlie this part of Wyoming. As oil, gas and coal operations have shed jobs in recent years, the trona mines have absorbed many of the losses.

Varley began as a laborer, sweeping and shoveling coal or ash, before working her way up through operations and maintenance. Eventually, she helped operate the computer systems that ran the plant. “I loved the job,” she said.

Two years after retiring, Varley still refers to Bridger as “my plant.”

Until recently, her plant was facing the forced shutdown of some of its units for failing to meet federal pollution rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But in February, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon struck a deal to forestall any retirements by converting two of Bridger’s four units to burn natural gas instead. Still, all of its units are expected to close within 15 years.

Coal trains await loading in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Photo/Allen Best

Wyoming produces about 40 percent of the nation’s coal, so the fuel’s plummeting share in the nation’s electricity—from half in 2005 to about 20 percent this year—has brought acute anxiety to towns like Rock Springs.

“It makes it kind of tough when you know that they’re talking towards phasing out coal,” Varley said. Many people who work at the plant, which employs more than 300, get angry about the prospect, she said. “Especially some of the younger ones, because they hired in believing like me that they would be able to retire from that facility.”

Wyoming officials have spent years trying everything to promote carbon capture technology, which removes carbon dioxide from power plant or industrial emissions, in the hope it could save coal. The state university has mapped its geology for places to store CO2. Regulators won federal approval to oversee the underground injection of carbon dioxide, one of only two states to do so, along with North Dakota. (The EPA oversees the practice everywhere else.) In 2020, Wyoming lawmakers passed a law that tried to force utilities to install carbon capture equipment at their coal plants.

These efforts have not yielded a single commercial carbon capture operation at a power plant, but they do seem to have attracted CarbonCapture Inc., to the delight of state economic development officials.

A California-based start-up, CarbonCapture said it has secured enough private investment to begin work next year on the Wyoming plant, although it still needs to receive state and local permits. Rather than attaching to a coal plant, this project would pull carbon dioxide out of ambient air by passing it through giant fans fitted with a chemical sorbent, which traps the CO2. The sorbent is then heated to release the gas for compression before being reused.

Project Bison would initially capture 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, but the company said it plans to expand to reach a capacity of 5 million metric tons by 2030. That higher figure would be orders of magnitude above what any company has achieved so far, yet roughly equal to the emissions of one coal power plant, or less than 0.1 percent of total U.S. emissions of nearly 6 billion metric tons in 2020. 

The operations would be financed by selling carbon credits to corporations seeking to offset their own emissions. The company said it has already sold credits at $800 per ton to Cloverly, a carbon-offset marketer, and to CO2.com, a new carbon offset venture of TIME, the magazine owned by the billionaire Marc Benioff.

Varley had gone into the town hall meeting feeling optimistic that the project could potentially provide high-quality jobs while also helping the environment. While she wants the coal plant to continue operating for as long as possible, she knows its days are numbered, and when it closes, it could take more than 300 jobs with it.

Southwest Wyoming is hard country to live in: Varley has spent her entire life here and said “it grows on you like a fungus.” The state has the highest suicide rate in the country, and the decline of fossil fuels, it feels to many, will only make life harder.

“People are looking for ways to maintain our ability to live here,” Varley said.

Birth of the Carbon-Removal Dream 

The summer of 2022 was yet another season of climate extremes. Drought and severe heat covered large parts of ChinaEuropeAfrica and North America. The United Kingdom recorded its hottest temperature ever. In Pakistan, heavy rains submerged up to one-third of the country, killing more than 1,000, destroying crops and spreading vector-borne diseases like dengue fever.

These disasters have driven many people toward desperate acts of civil disobedience, like a scientist who chained himself to the doors of a private jet terminal. They’ve also pushed many to conclude that carbon removal technologies, however unlikely their deployment, will now be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of warming.

When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report this year on how to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, it determined that at least some degree of carbon removal was needed but that the amount could vary drastically, depending on how quickly fossil fuel consumption declined and whether nations adopt more sustainable practices. 

A future of carbon removal? Credit: Inside Climate News

The only scenarios that did not include meaningful levels of carbon removal generally required global energy use to decline, which seemed unlikely, especially if there was any hope of supplying electricity to the nearly 800 million people who currently lack it. 

“It’s critical to have this tool,” said Jennifer Wilcox, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management at the Department of Energy, “and we need to have it on the order of gigatons,” or billions of tons.

The last year has brought an explosion of funding to try to make that happen. In addition to the $3.5 billion that Congress allocated to the Energy Department for direct air capture hubs, lawmakers earmarked another $1 billion for research and development this year and, as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, more than tripled the value of a federal tax credit for direct air capture.

United Airlines, Airbus, Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta, Stripe and other corporations have collectively pledged billions more. The billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has funded a $100 million prize for carbon removal startups. The field is also one of the fastest growing areas of climate philanthropy.

So far, however, hardly any carbon dioxide has been pulled from the atmosphere. The largest direct air capture plant in operation, opened by a company called Climeworks in Iceland, pulls in about 4,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. By contrast, the Jim Bridger plant outside Rock Springs spewed out 10.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 alone.

Skeptics have noted how far carbon removal is from making a dent in global emissions. Supporters, however, argue that the rates of growth the industry must achieve to make a difference, while high, are comparable to what solar energy generation has seen since the 1990s.

The rush of funding and attention has prompted a new set of questions about carbon removal technologies. The concerns of many skeptics have moved beyond whether carbon removal can possibly work, to wondering what it would look like if it somehow did. 

Displacing Herds of Native Pronghorn

Pearson’s route to town takes her past Wyoming’s first utility-scale solar farm, which was built in 2018. The 700-acre site was cleared of vegetation before the panels were installed and surrounded with a chain-link fence. Now it marks a shiny, incongruous break in the high desert, though it is hardly the only disturbance around, with trona mines in each direction.

The sight of it was bad enough for Pearson and other residents, but soon after the project’s completion, residents noticed herds of pronghorn, a fleet-footed antelope-like animal indigenous to the region, tramping onto the highway. The area that the solar farm had enclosed, it turned out, had been used by resident pronghorn, and the fences shut them out. The companies behind the project sponsored a study, published last spring in a scientific journal, that determined that the animals lost nearly a square mile of high-use habitat, about 10 percent of their core range. Today, the pronghorn’s trails and droppings line the perimeter of the fence that locked the animals out of lands they once called home.

A carbon dioxide pipeline runs from an ExxonMobil gas processing plant under Wyoming’s first utility-scale solar farm. The state has tried to attract carbon capture operations to help its ailing coal industry, as well as renewable energy development. The solar farm upstate many locals after it displaced wildlife. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz

CarbonCapture plans to build its new facility about 20 miles west of the solar farm, a rough and barren landscape of greasewood and sagebrush, and it could eventually need much more solar development to run its operations.

The company has said it will try to minimize the impacts, by choosing lands already disturbed by oil development, for example. But some will be unavoidable. State maps show that the sage grouse, a protected game bird, has core habitats surrounding the area where the plant would be built. Closer to the site, cattle roam on rangeland that is dotted with oil wells and a creek trickles south on its way to the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado.

CarbonCapture said it would initially use natural gas to power its operations while capturing the resulting carbon dioxide emissions, but aims to eventually rely on renewable energy. At full scale, that would require 1,000 acres to house the energy supply, and 100 acres more for the project itself.

The World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, has estimated that if direct air capture technology reaches the scale envisioned by the Biden administration, about 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by mid-century, the industry would consume more than 4 percent of the nation’s current total energy supply. If all that energy were generated by wind and solar power, that could mean covering an area equal to a small state with turbines and panels.

The prospect alarms Pearson, who said her family has been offered money to allow solar panels on their land, but that they declined. “We would have been set for life, and we said no way. Because we knew what it would do to the wildlife, to our way of life, to Wyoming’s way of life.”

Adrian Corless, CarbonCapture’s chief executive, said that because the project will connect to the electric grid, the new renewable energy development could be located in other parts of the state, or even out of state.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to find the right situations for land use that are aligned with community expectations and needs,” Corless said.

Justin Loyka, energy program manager in the Wyoming office of the Nature Conservancy, said CarbonCapture asked his organization for help in reducing its impacts, and that there were opportunities to do so. But he added that as renewable energy development spreads, some impacts are inevitable.

“The vast majority of Wyoming is some of the most intact ecosystem in the lower 48,” Loyka said. “Wyoming has these wildlife migration corridors that are hundreds of miles long, and that really doesn’t exist in many other places.”

After COP27, all signs point to world blowing past the 1.5C degrees #GlobalWarming limit – here’s what we can still do about it — The Conversation #ActOnClimate

Young activists have been pushing to keep a 1.5-Celsius limit, knowing their future is at stake. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

Peter Schlosser, Arizona State University

The world could still, theoretically, meet its goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level many scientists consider a dangerous threshold. Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen.

Part of the problem was evident at COP27, the United Nations climate conference in Egypt.

While nations’ climate negotiators were successfully fighting to “keep 1.5 alive” as the global goal in the official agreement, reached Nov. 20, 2022, some of their countries were negotiating new fossil fuel deals, driven in part by the global energy crisis. Any expansion of fossil fuels – the primary driver of climate change – makes keeping warming under 1.5 C (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times much harder.

Attempts at the climate talks to get all countries to agree to phase out coal, oil, natural gas and all fossil fuel subsidies failed. And countries have done little to strengthen their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the past year.

There have been positive moves, including advances in technology, falling prices for renewable energy and countries committing to cut their methane emissions.

But all signs now point toward a scenario in which the world will overshoot the 1.5 C limit, likely by a large amount. The World Meteorological Organization estimates global temperatures have a 50-50 chance of reaching 1.5C of warming, at least temporarily, in the next five years.

That doesn’t mean humanity can just give up.

Why 1.5 degrees?

During the last quarter of the 20th century, climate change due to human activities became an issue of survival for the future of life on the planet. Since at least the 1980s, scientific evidence for global warming has been increasingly firm , and scientists have established limits of global warming that cannot be exceeded to avoid moving from a global climate crisis to a planetary-scale climate catastrophe.

There is consensus among climate scientists, myself included, that 1.5 C of global warming is a threshold beyond which humankind would dangerously interfere with the climate system. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/temperature-anomaly?time=earliest..latest

We know from the reconstruction of historical climate records that, over the past 12,000 years, life was able to thrive on Earth at a global annual average temperature of around 14 C (57 F). As one would expect from the behavior of a complex system, the temperatures varied, but they never warmed by more than about 1.5 C during this relatively stable climate regime.

Today, with the world 1.2 C warmer than pre-industrial times, people are already experiencing the effects of climate change in more locations, more forms and at higher frequencies and amplitudes.

Climate model projections clearly show that warming beyond 1.5 C will dramatically increase the risk of extreme weather events, more frequent wildfires with higher intensity, sea level rise, and changes in flood and drought patterns with implications for food systems collapse, among other adverse impacts. And there can be abrupt transitions, the impacts of which will result in major challenges on local to global scales. https://www.youtube.com/embed/MR6-sgRqW0k?wmode=transparent&start=0 Tipping points: Warmer ocean water is contributing to the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier, a major contributor to sea level rise with global consequences.

Steep reductions and negative emissions

Meeting the 1.5 goal at this point will require steep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but that alone isn’t enough. It will also require “negative emissions” to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide that human activities have already put into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries, so just stopping emissions doesn’t stop its warming effect. Technology exists that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it away. It’s still only operating at a very small scale, but corporate agreements like Microsoft’s 10-year commitment to pay for carbon removed could help scale it up.

A report in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that meeting the 1.5 C goal would require cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 50% globally by 2030 – plus significant negative emissions from both technology and natural sources by 2050 up to about half of present-day emissions.

A direct air capture project in Iceland stores captured carbon dioxide underground in basalt formations, where chemical reactions mineralize it. Climeworks

Can we still hold warming to 1.5 C?

Since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, countries have made some progress in their pledges to reduce emissions, but at a pace that is way too slow to keep warming below 1.5 C. Carbon dioxide emissions are still rising, as are carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program highlights the shortfalls. The world is on track to produce 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 – more than twice where it should be for the path to 1.5 C. The result would be an average global temperature increase of 2.7 C (4.9 F) in this century, nearly double the 1.5 C target.

Given the gap between countries’ actual commitments and the emissions cuts required to keep temperatures to 1.5 C, it appears practically impossible to stay within the 1.5 C goal.

Global emissions aren’t close to plateauing, and with the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, it is very likely that the world will reach the 1.5 C warming level within the next five to 10 years.

With current policies and pledges, the world will far exceed the 1.5 C goal. Climate Action Tracker

How large the overshoot will be and for how long it will exist critically hinges on accelerating emissions cuts and scaling up negative emissions solutions, including carbon capture technology.

At this point, nothing short of an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to cut emissions will save the 1.5 C goal. We know what can be done – the question is whether people are ready for a radical and immediate change of the actions that lead to climate change, primarily a transformation away from a fossil fuel-based energy system.

Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why fixing methane leaks from the oil and gas industry can be a climate game-changer – one that pays for itself — The Conversation

Methane can leak from pipelines, oil and gas wells, even burners on your stove. Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Jim Krane, Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University

What’s the cheapest, quickest way to reduce climate change without roiling the economy? In the United States, it may be by reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it can leak anywhere along the supply chain, from the wellhead and processing plant, through pipelines and distribution lines, all the way to the burner of your home’s stove or furnace.

Once it reaches the atmosphere, methane’s super heat-trapping properties render it a major agent of warming. Over 20 years, methane causes 85 times more warming than the same amount of carbon dioxide. But methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for long, so stopping methane leaks today can have a fast impact on lowering global temperatures.

That’s one reason governments at the COP27, the 2022 United Nations climate change conference in Egypt, have focused on methane as an easy win in the climate battle.

So far, 130 countries, including the United States and most of the big oil producers other than Russia, have pledged to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by at least 30%. China has not signed but has agreed to reduce emissions. If those pledges are met, the result would be equivalent to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from all of the world’s cars, trucks, buses and all two- and three-wheeled vehicles, according to the International Energy Agency.

There’s also another reason for the methane focus, and it makes this strategy more likely to succeed: Stopping methane leaks from the oil and gas industry can largely pay for itself and boost the amount of fuel available.

Capturing methane can pay off

Methane is produced by decaying organic material. Natural sources, such as wetlands, account for roughly 40% of today’s global methane emissions. But the majority comes from human activities, such as farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants – and fuel production. Oil, gas and coal together make up about a third of global methane emissions.

In all, methane is responsible for almost a third of the 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) that global temperatures have risen since the industrial era.

Unfortunately, methane emissions are still rising. In 2021, atmospheric levels increased to 1,908 parts per billion, the highest levels in at least 800,000 years. Last year’s increase of 18 parts per billion was the biggest on record.

Among the sources, the oil and gas sector is best equipped to stop emitting because it is already configured to sell any methane it can prevent from leaking.

Methane leaks and “venting” in the oil and gas sector have numerous causes. Unintentional leaks can flow from pneumatic devices, valves, compressors and storage tanks, which often are designed to vent methane when pressures build.

Unlit or inefficient flares are another big source. Some companies routinely burn off excess gas that they can’t easily capture or don’t have the pipeline capacity to transport, but that still releases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Nearly all of these emissions can be stopped with new components or regulations that prohibit routine flaring.

Making those repairs can pay off. Global oil and gas operations emitted more methane in 2021 than Canada consumed that entire year, according to IEA estimates. If that gas were captured, at current U.S. prices – $4 per million British thermal unit – that wasted methane would fetch around $17 billion. The IEA determined that a one-time investment of $11 billion would eliminate roughly 75% of methane leaks worldwide, along with an even larger amount of gas that is wasted by “flaring” or burning it off at the wellhead.

The repairs and infrastructure investments would not only reduce warming, but they would also generate profits for producers and provide direly needed natural gas to markets undergoing drastic shortages due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Getting companies to cut methane emissions

Motivating U.S. producers to act has been the big hurdle.

The Biden administration is aiming for an 87% reduction in methane emissions below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. To get there, it has reimposed and strengthened U.S. methane rules that were dropped by the Trump administration. These include requiring drillers to find and repair leaks at more than 1 million U.S. well sites.

The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 further incentivizes methane mitigation, including by levying an emissions tax on large oil and gas producers starting at $900 per ton in 2024, increasing to $1,500 in 2026. That fee, which can be waived by the Environmental Protection Agency and doesn’t affect small producers or leaks below 0.2% of gas produced, is based on the social cost to society from methane’s contribution to climate damage.

Customers are also putting pressure on the industry. Regulatory indifference by the Trump administration to U.S. methane flaring and venting led to cancellation of some European plans to import U.S. liquefied natural gas.

Reducing methane isn’t always straightforward, though, particularly in the U.S., where thousands of oil companies operate with minimal oversight.

A company’s methane emissions aren’t necessarily proportional to its oil and gas production, either. For example, a 2021 study using data from the EPA found Texas-based Hilcorp Energy reporting nearly 50% more methane emissions than ExxonMobil, despite producing less oil and gas. Hilcorp, which specializes in acquiring “late life” assets, says it is working to reduce emissions. Other little-known producers have also reported large emissions.

Investor pressure has pushed several publicly traded companies to reduce their methane emissions, but in practice this sometimes leads them to sell off “dirty” assets to smaller operators with less oversight.

In such a situation, the easiest way to encourage companies to clean up is via a tax. Done right, companies would act before they had to pay.

Using technology to keep emissions in check

Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for a century or more, methane only sticks around for about a dozen years. So, if humans stop replenishing methane stocks in the atmosphere, those levels will decline.

A review of methane leaks in the Permian Basin shows the big impact that some regions can have.

Researchers found that gas and oil operations in the Permian, in west Texas and New Mexico, had a leakage rate estimated at 3.7% in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic. A 2012 study found that leakage rates above 3.2% make climate damage from using natural gas worse than that from burning coal, which is normally considered the biggest climate threat.

Map showing largest emissions in Russia, the Middle East and the US
Map of methane emissions from oil, gas and coal globally, 2016. Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

Methane leaks used to escape detection because the gas is invisible. Now, the proliferation of satellite-based sensors and infrared cameras makes detection easy.

Companies such as GTI Energy’s Veritas, Project Canary and MiQ have also launched to assist natural gas producers in reducing emissions and then verifying the reductions. At that point, if leaks are less than 0.2%, producers can avoid the federal fee and also market their output as “responsibly sourced” gas.

Jim Krane, Fellow for Energy Studies, Baker Institute for Public Policy; Lecturer, Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Colorado’s Suncor Refinery is Fighting a Plan to Monitor its Toxic Pollution — Earth Justice #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor refinery Commerce City. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Earth Justice website (Rebecca Curry):

Suncor filed a suit against the state to block fenceline monitoring requirements for its refinery, but community and environmental groups quickly moved to intervene and ensure they remain in place

Communities have a right to know about exposures to toxic pollution that could affect their health. That’s why Earthjustice and our partners are fighting to protect critical steps the state of Colorado has taken to ensure transparency around toxic emissions. Beginning in 2023, the Suncor refinery in North Denver will be required to operate a new fenceline monitoring system to provide better data about toxic air emissions in real-time. In September, Suncor filed suit against the state to block these requirements, but community and environmental groups quickly moved to intervene and ensure they remain in place.

Suncor is an immense refinery located less than a half mile from residential homes, yet it routinely spews hazardous pollution into the air. After an operational issue in 2019, a yellow dust blanketed the surrounding region and schools were forced to shelter in place. The refinery has repeatedly failed to comply with clean air laws, including by exceeding emissions limits in its permit for harmful air toxics.

Those most affected by Suncor’s toxic emissions include low-income families and people of color who—because of historic environmental racism—have disproportionately faced the cumulative impacts of living in a pollution hot spot. Residents living in Commerce City and the neighboring Globeville and Elyria-Swansea communities, in particular, experience disproportionate rates of cancer, diabetes, and asthma as well as reduced life expectancy.  

Suncor’s new monitoring system is a result of the work of Earthjustice, our partner organizations, and community members to draft and support the passage of HB21-1189 last year. The legislation directs the Suncor refinery to install continuous air monitors along the facility’s perimeter or “fenceline”—where pollution leaves the refinery’s property and spreads into neighboring communities where people live, work and play.

Continuous fenceline monitoring of toxic emissions at facilities like Suncor provides numerous benefits to surrounding communities. It helps to differentiate between the facility’s emissions and other pollution sources, enables rapid detection of hazardous emission spikes that may pose a risk to health, and can spur prompt notification to neighboring residents. Fenceline monitoring is also a critical tool to enable facility operators to quickly identify and address leaks.

Processing crude oil at refineries causes emissions of many air toxics that put communities living over the fence at risk. The Suncor refinery emits a range of hazardous pollutants like hydrogen cyanide; benzene; toluene; xylene; ethylene; hydrogen sulfide; 1,3 butadiene; and ammonia.

The EPA has designated 188 different pollutants as air toxics known to cause cancer or other serious health impacts. However, federal regulations currently require that refineries conduct fenceline monitoring of just one air toxic: benzene. This benzene fenceline monitoring requirement relies on monitoring methods that estimate an average concentration by collecting air over a two-week span of time, which can hide short-term spikes in toxic pollution and delay data delivery.

Building on this federal requirement and following the lead of air regulators in California, HB21-1189 required that the refinery be fully enclosed by a more protective type of monitoring technology known as optical remote sensing, which uses a beam of light to continuously measure concentrations of air toxics along the path of the beam. This monitoring technology provides greater coverage to detect high-concentration plumes, can release data in quick 5-minute increments, and can measure a wide range of pollutants simultaneously.

Critically, Suncor’s new fenceline monitoring system will also enable early notification whenever the refinery’s emissions pose potential health risks to nearby communities. As required by the legislation, Suncor must provide emergency notification to surrounding residents via call or text alert whenever the refinery’s toxic emissions reach levels that pose a risk to health. The refinery must also increase transparency by making monitoring data available on a public website as soon as possible.

HB 21-1189 also required many opportunities for community engagement throughout the development of Suncor’s real time fenceline monitoring plan. Earlier this year, the refinery submitted an initial draft of its plan, which did not meet the requirements of the law. The plan proposed to monitor intermittently instead of continuously, proposed high community notification thresholds that were not protective of public health and aimed to monitor only three air toxics.

In response to community engagement and public comments calling for a stronger plan, Colorado air regulators used their authority to require significant improvements to Suncor’s plan—including lowering the levels of pollution necessary to trigger emergency notifications, ensuring that the monitors operate continuously, and requiring monitoring and reporting of eleven additional air toxics emitted by the refinery. Now, rather than increasing transparency and protections for the surrounding community, Suncor has sued the state of Colorado to defend its profits and ability to pollute.

GreenLatinos, the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Association, Healthy Air and Water Colorado, Womxn from the Mountain, Conservation Colorado, and Sierra Club are intervening to defend the Air Pollution Control Division’s (APCD) fenceline monitoring order and will be represented by Earthjustice. The intervention seeks to protect both the strengthened monitoring plan for Suncor and the Fenceline Monitoring Law itself. Suncor’s suit hopes to eliminate improvements made by APCD to the monitoring plan and substantially narrow APCD’s authority under the Fenceline Monitoring Law.

While Colorado has taken significant strides to address monitoring and transparency around Suncor’s air pollution, ultimately additional action is required to protect the communities most vulnerable to air toxics. Monitoring is a critical piece of the puzzle, but Suncor should not be able to repeatedly put public health at risk with its pollution. In the refinery’s air permit renewals, APCD must take the strongest possible actions to protect surrounding communities.

Energy was a boon for Weld County before the pandemic. Is it now a drag on the area’s economy?: At just 57% recovery, #Greeley the only metro area in #Colorado still below pre-pandemic economic levels — The #FortMorgan Times #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Click the link to read the article on The Fort Morgan Times website (Judith Kohler). Here’s an excerpt:

Overall, Colorado’s employment has rebounded and then some, reaching 117% of pre-pandemic levels in September and surpassing the U.S. recovery rate of 102%. But Greeley and the rest of Weld County has recovered just 57% of their pre-pandemic job levels. Employment in the other six metro areas is higher than before the pandemic broke out in March 2020. Colorado Springs’ recovery rate is 123%, the state’s best.

“They have been slower to recover from the pandemic in terms of economic activity, in terms of jobs. I think that the impact of oil and gas as a major industry in northern Colorado is a contributing factor in their lagging recovery,” said Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Weld County is the epicenter of Colorado’s oil and gas production, and the industry’s build-back has been slower than other sectors. Factors range from global economic forces to the industry’s current business model to new state regulations. The bottom line is that Colorado has thousands fewer oil and gas jobs than it did before COVID-19 spread across the world and halted or greatly constrained activity…Colorado Department of Labor and Employment statistics show 6,300 fewer mining and logging jobs than in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Roughly 80% of the jobs in the state’s mining and logging category are in oil and gas, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the state labor department.

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

What’s going on with the oil industry? #FossilFuel companies offload wells and liabilities rather than drill new ones — @Land_Desk

Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson/The Land Desk

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

The oil and gas industry is behaving, well, abnormally these days.

As you probably are aware if you’ve filled up your car or paid a utility bill lately, oil and natural gas prices are sky high. And every time that oil or natural gas prices have shot up for a sustained period of time in the past, oil companies in the U.S. have responded by stepping up drilling so they can have more goods to sell at a higher profit. Rig counts—the most accurate, real-time measure of drilling activity—follow the price.

This time things appear to be different. Oil companies are raking in the cash, but instead of investing it in new drilling projects, they are buying back stocks and lining the investors’ and executives’ pockets with the profits. Not only that, but many of them are bailing on entire oilfields altogether.

Let’s look at the data, but first, my apologies on the graphs below. They cover the same time span, which means they should align with one another. They don’t, however, because in Oct. 2014 I began to track rig counts monthly. So that means the bottom graph is kind of funked up in that it starts out as average yearly counts then jumps into monthly (or so) counts. My retired-statistics professor father-in-law is probably gritting his teeth at that one. Sorry.

West Texas Intermediate oil prices—the benchmark for domestic crude—started rising in the early 2000s, peaked briefly in about 2008, crashed (as a result of the financial crisis), then rebounded quite healthily. The biggest crash came in 2014, when OPEC decided to flood the market with oil, bringing down the prices and driving many a smaller U.S. operator out of business. Prices kind of recovered, but not enough to make drilling profitable in some places. Then came the short-lived pandemic crash, followed by a steep climb to where we are now, in the $100/barrel range. Source: Energy Information Administration
At first glance, I mean, after you figure out how to align these two graphs, it appears as if the rigs are following the price. But look more closely and you’ll see that today’s rig count is still lower than in early 2019, when prices were consistently below $70/barrel, which is barely the break-even price for most drilling. Source: Baker Hughes.

We’re not seeing a total decoupling of prices and rig counts: It’s still true that as prices climb, so does the rig count. However, the count is climbing much slower in relation to prices than in the past. It would be easy to blame the drilling slowdown on Biden’s purportedly restrictive energy polices. But that doesn’t mean it would be accurate, mainly because Biden’s policies aren’t restrictive. Yes, he put a moratorium on leasing, for a while. But that doesn’t have any short-term impact on drilling. And besides, the moratorium was lifted, leasing has resumed, and Biden has even upheld contested Trump-era leases on 45,000 acres in the Greater Chaco Region, prompting a lawsuit from Diné and environmental groups.

A better gauge of Biden’s policies would be to look at the number of drilling permits issued. Here it is:

At first glance, I mean, after you figure out how to align these two graphs, it appears as if the rigs are following the price. But look more closely and you’ll see that today’s rig count is still lower than in early 2019, when prices were consistently below $70/barrel, which is barely the break-even price for most drilling. Source: Baker Hughes.

From these data we can deduce that oil companies are sitting on a bunch of un-drilled leases and a pile of unused drilling permits. And not only are the companies refraining from drilling, but they’re also ditching their wells left and right, even though they are cash cows right now.

Mark Olalde reports for the Los Angeles Times that Shell and ExxonMobil recently sold 23,000 California oil and gas wells to a German asset management company. This transaction mirrors similar ones in the San Juan Basin in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico in recent years, in which corporate publicly traded majors sell out to smaller, often private companies. BP sold all of its extensive assets and abandoned its sleek Rocky Mountain Region headquarters near the Durango airport; it remains empty to this day. ConocoPhillips sold out to Hilcorp. WPX sold its San Juan Basin natural gas assets to Logos. The list goes on.

Of course, they’re not just offloading wells and infrastructure, but also the responsibility to clean up all those wells, which in the California case could cost $1.1 billion, according to Olalde. And since they’re selling them to less financially flush companies, the potential that the wells end up as orphans, with cleanup costs hoisted on the taxpayers, is now exponentially higher.

Actually, this is a great time to sell, because with oil prices high, potential buyers have a great reason to acquire some new wells, bleed them dry, and so forth. Here’s a great explainer:

Or maybe we’re being too cynical. Maybe Shell and ExxonMobil are short on cash so they figured they’d sell a few assets to help them pay the bills. Yeah, right.

Shell just reported a $9.45 billion profit for the third quarter of 2022. It was the second-highest ever for the company. The highest? The second quarter of this year, when the company walked away with $11.5 billion. And ExxonMobil made a measly $19.7 billion. Yes, that’s profit. In one quarter. A big chunk of ExxonMobil’s revenues came from their Permian Basin operations, which produced 560,000 barrels of oil—per day.

So, if you’re wondering why it costs so much to fill up the tank these days, that partially explains it. Oil companies know that their industry’s days are limited and they’re plundering the place on their way out the door. I guess now we know what’s going on with the oil industry.

Pitkin County petitions to join fight over oil trains — The #Aspen Daily News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rockslides in Glenwood Canyon are one reason Eagle County is concerned about the potential for 10 additional train trips daily hauling crude oil. Pitkin County is trying to lend a voice to Eagle County’s objection to the additional rail traffic.. Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River. Photo credit: CDOT via Roads & Bridges

Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Daily News website (Scott Condon). Here’s an excerpt:

Pitkin County government has joined a legal challenge to try to prevent crude oil from being shipped by rail from Utah to Denver in an effort to support neighboring Eagle County. Pitkin County doesn’t have a dog directly in the fight, but the county commissioners on Oct. 26 approved attempting to hop in because of concerns over what a train derailment could mean to Colorado’s environment.

“You can only imagine the catastrophe if we had an incident in Glenwood Canyon, for instance, or anywhere on the river corridor on the Upper Colorado,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman. “It would affect 40 million people downstream, so I think it’s a risky thing to do, and I think they can find another way to transport their oil.”

[…]

Pitkin County is one of several counties and municipalities that entered an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, asking for permission to join the legal fight headed by Eagle County and a coalition of conservation groups. Eagle County and conservation groups headed by the Center for Biological Diversity appealed a decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that would allow construction of an 88-mile rail line from the Uinta Basin in Utah to carry crude oil from a production field and tie into the existing 457-mile Union Pacific rail line for delivery to a refinery in Denver. The crude oil would be hauled along the Interstate 70 corridor into Eagle County and then into Grand County, through the Moffat Tunnel and down the East Slope to Denver.

Thompson Divide protections are just as significant as Camp Hale designation: New oil and gas leases would be blocked in a region that constitutes one of the largest expanses of roadless forests in #Colorado — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

An aerial view of Assignation Ridge in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Sammy Herdman):

On Oct. 12, Coloradans were given a reason to celebrate: President Joe Biden designated the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado. That same morning, before Air Force One touched down in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Department of the Interior received a proposal for a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal for the Thompson Divide area. If approved, the withdrawal would conserve nearly 225,000 acres in Western Colorado for 20 years by prohibiting new mining and oil and gas drilling projects.

The Thompson Divide is a mid-elevation landscape of old growth spruce-fir forests, massive aspen groves and pristine habitat. Combined with the surrounding public lands, the Thompson Divide constitutes one of the largest expanses of unfragmented, roadless forests in Colorado. The area is a reservoir for large mammals, such as black bears, mule deer and elk, which thrive in expansive habitats. The streams and rivers of the Thompson Divide sustain world-class trout fisheries.

Named a “crown jewel” by U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and “great, wild country” by former President Theodore Roosevelt, the Thompson Divide is more than just wildlife habitat. Anglers come to fish and outdoor enthusiasts come to bike, hike and cross country ski. Each year, Colorado Parks and Wilderness sells 20,000 regional big game licenses to hunters. These visitors stay in hotels and patronize bait shops, grocery stores and restaurants in the nearby towns of Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Ranchers, some of whom descended from the area’s namesake, Myron Thompson, graze their cattle in the Thompson Divide’s abundant grasses and shrubs, then sell high quality, grass-fed beef throughout the Western Slope and Front Range.

The Thompson Divide is the economic, recreational and ecological soul of the region. Yet, in the 2000s, the Thompson Divide was riddled with new leases for oil and gas extraction. Locals feared a future in which short-term extraction would strip the landscape of large forests, big game and clean streams. One study found that a community near an oil and gas development north of the Thompson Divide had elevated levels of toxic chemicals in the air and benzene (a known carcinogen) leaks in residential water wells.

An enormous amount of effort and infrastructure is required to develop land leased for oil and gas extraction: tearing down forests to build roads, importing heavy machinery and initiating a steady stream of trucks to carry in millions of gallons of water and fracking fluid. All of these activities present an existential threat to the natural characteristics that make the Thompson Divide special.

To protect the Thompson Divide from oil and gas, ranchers, farmers, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists, businesspeople and community leaders banded together. This grassroots coalition succeeded in drawing attention to the threats oil and gas extraction posed to the area. Lease after lease was revoked after the Bureau of Land Management revealed that it hadn’t done the requisite environmental impact analyses.

By 2017, the Thompson Divide was no longer in imminent peril. However, because the Thompson Divide sits atop pockets of natural gas it has retained the attention of oil and gas proponents — including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association — who are resistant to prohibiting drilling there. That’s one of the reasons this region hasn’t received permanent protection.

State leaders, such as Democrats U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, have attempted to permanently protect the area by passing the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which was later incorporated into the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy — or CORE — Act. Unfortunately, the CORE Act has not yet passed, leaving the Thompson Divide vulnerable to future oil and gas extraction.

That is, until the CORE Act’s champions, including Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis, urged the Biden administration to advance needed protections for some areas included in the bill. The designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument is monumental. The proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal from the Thompson Divide is no less significant.

The proposal doesn’t have the permanence that passing the CORE Act would, but it does offer a temporary solution. Through a public comment period and an upcoming environmental impact analysis, the Biden administration will determine whether the 20-year mineral withdrawal proposal should be accepted. At the end of the day, the future of the Thompson Divide should be determined by local communities that rely on it for their livelihoods — not the bottom line of oil and gas companies.

More bad news for the planet: greenhouse gas levels hit new highs: WMO records biggest increase in #methane concentrations since start of measurements — World Meteorological Organization #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Click the link to read the article on the World Meteorological Organization website:

In yet another ominous climate change warning, atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide all reached new record highs in 2021, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reported the biggest year-on-year jump in methane concentrations in 2021 since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago. The reason for this exceptional increase is not clear, but seems to be a result of both biological and human-induced processes.

The increase in carbon dioxide levels from 2020 to 2021 was larger than the average annual growth rate over the last decade. Measurements from WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network stations show that these levels continues to rise in 2022 over the whole globe.

Between 1990 and 2021, the warming effect on our climate (known as radiative forcing) by long-lived greenhouse gases rose by nearly 50%, with carbon dioxide accounting for about 80% of this increase.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in 2021 were 415.7 parts per million (ppm), methane at 1908 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide at 334.5 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 149%, 262% and 124% of pre-industrial levels before human activities started disrupting natural equilibrium of these gases in the atmosphere.

“WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin has underlined, once again, the enormous challenge – and the vital necessity – of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures rising even further in the future,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

Credit: World Meteorological Organization

“The continuing rise in concentrations of the main heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction,” he said. 

“There are cost-effective strategies available to tackle methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel sector, and we should implement these without delay. However, methane has a relatively short lifetime of less than 10 years and so its impact on climate is reversible. As the top and most urgent priority, we have to slash carbon dioxide emissions which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather, and which will affect climate for thousands of years through polar ice loss, ocean warming and sea level rise,” said Prof. Taalas.

“We need to transform our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life.  The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. Time is running out,” said Prof. Taalas.

WMO UN Climate Change conference, COP27, in Egypt from 7-18 November. On the eve of the conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh it will present its provisional State of the Global Climate 2022 report, which will show how greenhouse gases continue to drive climate change and extreme weather.  The years from 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest on record.

The WMO reports seek to galvanize COP27 negotiators into more ambitious action decision makers to achieve the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The average global temperature is now more than 1.1°C above the 1850–1900 pre-industrial average.

Given the need to strengthen the greenhouse gas information basis for decisions on climate mitigation efforts, WMO is working with the broader greenhouse gas community to develop a framework for sustained, internationally coordinated global greenhouse gas monitoring, including observing network design and international exchange and use of the resulting observations. It will engage with the broader scientific and international community, in particular regarding land surface and ocean observation and modelling.

WMO measures atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases – what remains in the atmosphere after gases are absorbed by sinks like the ocean and biosphere. This is not the same as emissions.

A separate and complementary Emissions Gap Report by UN Environment will be released on 27 October. The Emissions Gap report assesses the latest scientific studies on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions. This difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” is known as the emissions gap.

As long as emissions continue, global temperature will continue to rise.  Given the long life of CO2, the temperature level already observed will persist for decades even if emissions are rapidly reduced to net zero.

Highlights of the Bulletin

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 149% of the pre-industrial level in 2021, primarily because of emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and cement production. Global emissions have rebounded since the COVID-related lockdowns in 2020. Of the total emissions from human activities during the 2011–2020 period, about 48% accumulated in the atmosphere, 26% in the ocean and 29% on land.

There is concern that the ability of land ecosystems and oceans to act as “sinks” may become less effective in future, thus reducing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and act as a buffer against larger temperature increase. In some parts of the world the transition of the land sink into CO2 source is already happening.

Credit: WMO
Credit: WMO

Methane (CH4)

Atmospheric methane is the second largest contributor to climate change and consists of a diverse mix of overlapping sources and sinks, so it is difficult to quantify emissions by source type.

Since 2007, globally-averaged atmospheric methane concentration has been increasing at an accelerating rate. The annual increases in 2020 and 2021 (15 and 18 ppb respectively) are the largest since systematic record began in 1983.

Causes are still being investigated by the global greenhouse gas science community. Analysis indicates that the largest contribution to the renewed increase in methane since 2007 comes from biogenic sources, such as wetlands or rice paddies. It is not yet possible to say if the extreme increases in 2020 an 2021 represent a climate feedback – if it gets warmer, the organic material decomposes faster. If it decomposes in the water (without oxygen) this leads to methane emissions. Thus, if tropical wetlands become wetter and warmer, more emissions are possible.

The dramatic increase might also be because of natural interannual variability. The years 2020 and 2021 saw La Niña events which are associated with increased precipitation in tropics.

Credit: WMO
Credit: WMO

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas. It is emitted into the atmosphere from both natural sources (approximately 57%) and anthropogenic sources (approximately 43%), including oceans, soils, biomass burning, fertilizer use, and various industrial processes. The increase from 2020 to 2021 was slightly higher than that observed from 2019 to 2020 and higher than the average annual growth rate over the past 10 years.

Credit: WMO
Credit: WMO

#FortCollins moves toward oil and gas regulations that would prevent new drilling in city — The Fort Collins Coloradoan #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Downtown “Old Town” Fort Collins. By Citycommunications at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50283010

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Molly Bohannon). Here’s an excerpt:

In April 2018, Colorado adopted a law that changed the way oil and gas development is regulated, required updates to state regulations and allowed local government authorities to adopt tighter regulations than those established by the state. Following that, Larimer County adopted “comprehensive regulations along with resources for regulatory compliance programs,” according to city documents.  Meanwhile, some in the Fort Collins community have expressed concerns about new oil and gas developments within city limits or city natural areas, largely because of traffic, leaks and spills, regional air quality and climate change impacts…

So in response to the changing regulations locally and community feedback, staff developed its own set of regulations for existing and new oil and gas facilities in Fort Collins. Those regulations were presented to City Council at a work session Tuesday night. All in all, council members broadly showed support for the regulations and no concrete changes were suggested. Mayor Jeni Arndt told staff she felt they had “really thought it out well” and appreciated that their updates weren’t adding a high amount of regulations but adjusting and expanding what is in place…

Current oil and gas regulations around setbacks and where wells could be built have left about 3% of city land and open space available for development, but the proposed changes for new facilities decrease that to about 0% availability.

Proposed changes to new well regulations include 2,000-foot setbacks from occupiable buildings, parks, trails or natural areas and would limit developments to industrial zone districts, which are intended to house “a variety of work processes and work places such as manufacturing, warehousing and distributing, indoor and outdoor storage, and a wide range of commercial and industrial operations,” according to the city’s land use code. Very few, if any, land in city limits meets all these requirements, so the regulations would essentially prohibit new drilling. Cassie Archuleta, the city’s air quality program manager who presented to council, said this isn’t “a ban” on drilling in the city but uses zoning to make available surface area “highly restrictive.” Adding to the severity of the regulations, the 2,000-foot standard would leave no room for exceptions, differing from the state’s standard, which allows exemptions.

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

#Climate groups urge #Colorado to ‘correct course’ on emissions progress: State officials developing ‘roadmap 2.0’ as projections show state at risk of missing 2025 target — Colorado Newsline

A layer of smog covers the skyline of Denver. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff):

Environmental groups on Thursday [October 20, 2022] reiterated their longstanding calls for Colorado to “go further, faster” to combat climate change, as state officials promised to develop an updated plan for emissions reductions.

In a letter to members of the Air Quality Control Commission, representatives of a dozen major conservation and climate-action groups wrote that time is running out for the state to “correct course on our emission reduction goals.”

“All analyses performed both by the state and third parties come to the same conclusion: policies currently in place and regulations on-the-books are failing to drive down climate pollution at the pace and scale required by Colorado law,” said the letter, signed by advocates from the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Colorado, 350 Colorado and other organizations.

The letter followed a progress report presented to the AQCC last month that showed Colorado isn’t on pace to meet a 2025 deadline to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% below 2005 levels. The target was set by House Bill 19-1261, a landmark climate-action bill passed by the state Legislature in 2019.

Two of Colorado’s top climate officials returned to the commission Thursday to lay out the next steps as the state tries to get back on track. Clay Clarke, head of the climate change unit in the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, acknowledged the state is falling short of its goals, especially when it comes to transportation.

“Emissions from the transportation sector, based on actual fuel sales last year, were higher than initially projected, indicating additional strategies necessary to achieve the sector’s 2025 emissions targets,” Clarke said.

In the long run, state officials remain confident that the wide-ranging, flexible approach they laid out in a 2021 emissions “roadmap” will result in the necessary reductions, including a 50% statewide cut by 2030. That’s especially the case following the passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the billions in clean-energy funding the state is expected to reap from the new law over the next decade.

“We’re going to have significantly more resources to further lean in on climate action,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office.

Toor’s office has begun development of what it calls “roadmap 2.0,” which will incorporate the projected impacts of the new funding and other changes. The updated roadmap is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

“None of this means our work is done,” Toor said. “We need to keep going and go faster. But we’re going to need to carry forward in a thoughtful, holistic way.”

Officials will give another update on the new roadmap’s development to the AQCC in January.

That’s unlikely to assuage environmental advocates, who are urging the commission to use the next three months to identify near-term regulatory actions that could close the “glaring gap” between projected emissions and the 2025 goal.

“With Colorado’s 2025 climate goal less than two and a half years away, the commission has limited time to enact regulations to close the emissions gap,” advocates wrote.

But Elise Jones, an AQCC commissioner and director of the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said the roadmap update was a positive step.

“I think we have a process to get to a plan,” Jones said. “I am sympathetic to the fact that the 2025 target is still quite in question, and unlikely to be met.”

Leaf charging in Frisco September 30, 2021.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland action launches public comment period for Thompson Divide mineral withdrawal — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, left, and Sen Joe Manchin participated in a roundtable event hosted by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, on March 18, 2022. (Interior Department via Flickr/Public domain)

Click the link to read the article on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has moved forward with proposing that nearly 225,000 acres stretching from the Glenwood Springs area south to Crested Butte and east of Crawford be withdrawn from new federal oil and gas leasing and mining claims for 20 years. Haaland acted on a petition announced by the Biden administration last week as President Biden also created the new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument during a visit to the Camp Hale World War II training grounds outside Leadville. Haaland approved a petition by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to file the withdrawal application…

Her approval, announced in a Federal Register notice Monday [October 17, 2022], automatically kicks off a two-year period when new mining claims and new federal mineral leases will be prohibited on parts of the White River National Forest, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, and BLM lands, while the agencies consider moving forward with the 20-year withdrawal in those same areas. Private lands and existing rights, including current oil and gas leases, aren’t affected by the two-year action, and the 20-year withdrawal likewise wouldn’t apply to them. Haaland’s action also kicks off a 90-day public comment period on the proposed withdrawal.

The mining land rush is on: Lithium and uranium claims are staded en masse in southeastern Utah — @Land_Desk

Sign in the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

In the spring of 1951, a 31-year-old Texan geologist by the name of Charlie Steen staked 11 mining claims in the Lisbon Valley in southeastern Utah. He was guided to the spot not by a Geiger counter’s reading—he couldn’t afford one of those—but by intuition and his geological knowledge. He was convinced that the Valley, which follows a salt anticline between Moab and Monticello, contained rich uranium ore some 200 feet below the surface.

Steen finally was able to rustle up the funds to explore the claims in July of the following year. And as he drilled into the earth on his Mi Vida claim, he hit a dark gray rock: It turned out to be pitchblende, or high grade uranium ore.

Steen would ultimately become a millionaire, his find would lure prospectors from all over the nation to the Colorado Plateau, and Moab would be transformed from a sleepy Mormon town with a touch of tourism to a boisterous uranium boom town where, according to one account, millionaires were sleeping in Cadillacs and offering hundreds of dollars for lodging in the county jail.

Credit: The Land Desk

As demand for the minerals used in electric vehicles and other clean energy application soars and federal efforts to bolster domestic supply chains intensify, prospectors are again converging on the Western U.S. in search of the next big find. Some are sampling subterranean brines for lithium, others are reviving old copper mines, and still others—banking on geopolitical tensions driving up the price of uranium—are going after their own Mi Vida-like strike.

Passage from a story in the Moab Times-Independent, July 1956, referring to the way the Steen-inspired prospecting frenzy died off within a few years because making millions off uranium mining proved more difficult than it appeared from afar.

To get a sense of if and how this rush might be playing out in the Four Corners region, the Land Desk delved into a year’s worth of new mining claims staked in southeastern Utah and western Colorado. I limited the geographical scope so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of claims, which turned out to be a wise choice: More than 1,200 mining claims were filed with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah’s San Juan and Grand Counties alone over the past 12 months.

My research led me to two conclusions. One is that in a sort of rerun of the 1950s, the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah will be a focal point for this 21st century land rush. The other is that Bears Ears National Monument were restored just in the nick of time, as many of the new claims push right up against its boundaries.

While a few individual mining claims were staked, most of the filings were in bulk, where a single claimant located as many as 500 claims at one time. I focused on those for this report. Let’s get into the biggest ones filed between Oct. 13, 2021 and Oct. 13, 2022:

URANIUM

Recoupment Exploration Co. LLC—a wholly owned subsidiary of Atomic Minerals Corporation—filed 324 claims totaling 6,500 acres on Harts Point, which borders Indian Creek outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The tribal nations that originally proposed the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument wanted Harts Point to be included. But the Obama administration ultimately left it out, most likely as a concession to uranium and oil and gas interests. Now it forms a sort of peninsula of un-protected land reaching into the national monument where mining claims and oil and gas leasing can continue. In an Atomic Minerals press release, CEO Clive Massey remarked: “The Harts Point area is an excellent exploration target. We staked the ground based on historical drill data indicating Chinle Formation sandstones with significant gamma ray kicks in three holes … ”

White Canyon Uranium LLC filed 33 lode claims of 20.66 acres each on Wingate Mesa in San Juan County, Utah, just southwest of Fry Canyon. These claims lie just outside Bears Ears National Monument. This is another area that was proposed for national monument protection but did not receive it.

While White Canyon Uranium lists a Salt Lake City law firm’s address on its claim filings, it appears to be a branch of Consolidated Uranium (which in August 2021 registered CUR White Canyon Uranium, LLC with the state of Utah). Canada-based Consolidated Uranium, according to its website, recently “completed a transformational strategic acquisition and alliance with Energy Fuels Inc. … and acquired a portfolio of permitted, past-producing conventional uranium and vanadium mines in Utah and Colorado.”

That acquisition included the Daneros Mine, which is in the same area as the new claims. Energy Fuels runs the White Mesa Mill and lobbied both the Obama and Trump administrations to move or shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

Consolidated Uranium Sage Plain LLC filed 84 lode claims at 20.66 acres each in San Juan County. These are mostly on a mesa between Monticello and the Lisbon Valley and seem to be aimed at adding acreage to an existing Sage Plain and Rim Mine projects. Consolidated Uranium, which is allied with Energy Fuels, also owns the Tony M Mine at the foot of the Henry Mountains and the Daneros Mine in the White Canyon area. 

Clean Nuclear Energy Corp stakes 300 lode claims, each 20.66 acres, in San Juan County, for a total of 6,219 acres. The claims are on Wray Mesa, which is on the southern toe of the La Sal Mountains near the community of La Sal. A few months after the claims were filed, Basin Uranium entered into a letter of intent to acquire 100% interest in the Wray Mesa project. In its news release, Basin noted: “The Property is contiguous to and adjoins Energy Fuel’s fully-permitted and production-ready La Sal projects which includes a number of past-producing uranium and vanadium mines.” Energy Fuels owns the White Mesa Mill. The Vancouver-based company announced in September they received permits to begin exploratory drilling at the project.

Kimmerle Mining LLC out of Moab, which gained notoriety for staking uranium mining claims within Bears Ears National Monument after Trump shrunk the boundaries, filed 47 claims in San Juan and Grand Counties. The claims are scattered about, and some seem to be following or anticipating some of the big bulk claims noted here. At least one is on the northeast slope of the La Sal Mountains, others are west of the town of La Sal, and still others are in the Lisbon Valley. Kimmerle has claims all over the area and has leased some out and worked others in the past.

LITHIUM

Boxscore Brands of Las Vegas, Nevada, file 102 placer claims, at 20 acres each (2,040 acres total) in the Lisbon Valley in San Juan County, Utah. Boxscore Brands is “An American Lithium and New Energy Company” that is looking to extract lithium—used in EV and grid-scale batteries—from ancient subterranean brine deposits. They say their method is “environmentally friendly.” They are probably referring to a form of direct lithium extraction, which pulls geothermal brine from deep underground, filters out the lithium, then re-injects the water. The method requires no strip-mining or evaporation ponds.

The claims were staked for its Lisbon Valley Project, which is in the pre-exploration stages. The company’s website notes: “This asset provides access to the targeted brine deposits. Historical data show a substantial commercially viable concentration of lithium brine.” Read the technical report for the project.

The oil and gas industry is also active in the Lisbon Valley and a copper mine is being revived there, too.

Blackstone Resources Corp. of Midvale, Utah, filed 294 lode claims, at 20.66 acres each, between Moab and Green River south of Dead Horse Point in Grand County. We weren’t able to find much reliable information on Blackstone, in part because it’s a very common name for companies. But it shares a Las Vegas address with A1 Lithium, which is the same as Anson Resources, which recently embarked on a lithium exploration project in the same area. These claims appear to add to existing claims owned by A1/Anson that are part of its Paradox Basin Lithium Project. Anson’s plan can be found here. The odd thing is that these lithium projects typically file placer claims, not lode claims.

OTHER/UNKNOWN

American Potash LLC (based in Vancouver BC) filed128 placer claims in Grand County, Utah, between Moab and Green River. These claims are an extension of the company’s Green River Project.

Potash evaporation ponds in the red rock outside Moab, Utah. Source: Google Earth.

Geobrines International filed 18 claims in Grand County, Utah, near the town of Thompson Springs (which is right off of I-70). Geobrines is a Colorado-based company that says it specializes in providing geothermally sourced brines for use for minerals extraction and geothermal energy applications. Plus, they do something with carbon capture and sequestration. I’m guessing they’re looking to do some lithium extraction on these claims.

TAKEAWAYS

By my estimates, this adds up to more than 20,000 acres of public land that has been “claimed” by corporations for potential mining. But it’s not a reason to panic. At least not yet. It’s so easy and cheap ($165 maintenance fee) to stake a mining claim, thanks to the 1872 Mining Law that still applies, that companies or individuals can literally do so just for the heck of it. And they can’t do much without getting permits first.

That said, this apparent land rush on lithium- and uranium-bearing lands is an indicator in where the industry may be headed (more mining) and which regions it may be targeting (the West). It’s a wake-up call, in other words.

But it’s also incomplete. I found very few new claims in western Colorado, even in the Uravan Mineral Belt. That’s not due to a lack of interest. To the contrary, much of the prime mining land there has already been claimed and even patented, so it can’t be claimed again (only bought or sold, which is something that wouldn’t appear in BLM records). Also, uranium-bearing lands have been withdrawn from the public domain and put under the Department of Energy’s leasing program—those lands can’t be “claimed” under the 1872 Mining Law.

The most emphatic conclusion here is that the 1872 Mining Law should be scrapped and replaced with modern regulations. It’s unconscionable that an individual or corporation can simply claim public land without any advance notice, opportunity for public comment, or tribal consultation and that it can be done for a measly $165. It’s illogical and unfair that companies can rip open the land, extract and profit off Americans’ minerals, and not pay a cent in royalties. Even the inadequate 122-year-old Mineral Leasing Act, which governs oil and gas and coal development on public lands, is an improvement.

A modern mining upsurge is already underway. Isn’t it time to bring mining regulations into the 21st century?

The front sign of the White Mesa Mill located south of Blanding, Utah. It is a uranium ore processing facility operated by Energy Fuels Resources. Photograph taken on 2019-01-22T19:36:57Z. Steven Baltakatei Sandoval – Own work

#Colorado Issues Suncor Permit But Also Demands Tougher Monitoring — The North #Denver News

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The North Denver News website (James Python). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado air pollution regulators have issued one of the Suncor refinery’s two long-delayed permit renewals, while also strengthening rules on how the company must carry out a new air monitoring law to protect neighbors. The EPA also signaled it no longer objects to the Plant 2 permit for Suncor after the state made some revisions. But clean air advocates who have long fought Suncor’s high-pollution presence in Commerce City just north of Denver said they will renew efforts to block the permit…

Suncor has two permits from the Air Pollution Control Division. Suncor submitted a renewal application for Plants 1 and 3 in 2008, and that is still under review by the division. Many Colorado polluters are allowed to continue operating under the conditions of expired permits while the state works through a backlog of dozens of applications and renewals. Suncor, which primarily refines gasoline and asphalt from petroleum at the Commerce City complex, is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Colorado. The state-issued permit also has specific limits on individual pollutants such as nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide. The state on Aug. 18 said after incorporating public comments and staff reviews, it was sending the required air monitoring plan back to Suncor with additional requirements. Colorado is demanding Suncor report data on 14 different compounds emitted beyond the borders of the plant, in addition to the three required in the 2021 law that targeted Suncor and a handful of other emitters of toxic substances. The three chemicals originally targeted by the law were benzene, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide.

Other changes Colorado wants from Suncor to stiffen the air monitoring include:

– Additional monitoring resources to fully encompass the refinery complex, and to make air monitoring continuous. The new requirement includes an additional monitor along Brighton Boulevard, and more advanced equipment to detect hydrogen sulfide at lower levels.

– Updating online emissions data every five minutes.

– Using lower thresholds of emissions that would prompt public emergency notifications.

– Add more nonemergency notifications that are for “informational purposes.”

– There will be two tiers of notifications under the state’s demands for Suncor: An emergency level, which will go out to all citizens with cellphones, though the public can choose to turn off those notifications; and an optional level, with much lower thresholds well below those with health impacts, where residents can opt in for the alerts. Suncor has until Nov. 1 to address the state’s demands for the additional monitoring provisions.

@GretaThunberg on the #climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’ — The Guardian

Greta Thunberg via her Twitter Feed

Click the link to read the guest column on The Guardian website (Greta Thunberg). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments may say they’re doing all they can to halt the climate crisis. Don’t fall for it – then we might still have time to turn things around

Maybe it is the name that is the problem. Climate change. It doesn’t sound that bad. The word “change” resonates quite pleasantly in our restless world. No matter how fortunate we are, there is always room for the appealing possibility of improvement. Then there is the “climate” part. Again, it does not sound so bad. If you live in many of the high-emitting nations of the global north, the idea of a “changing climate” could well be interpreted as the very opposite of scary and dangerous. A changing world. A warming planet. What’s not to like?

Perhaps that is partly why so many people still think of climate change as a slow, linear and even rather harmless process. But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilising. It is breaking down. The delicately balanced natural patterns and cycles that are a vital part of the systems that sustain life on Earth are being disrupted, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Because there are negative tipping points, points of no return. And we do not know exactly when we might cross them. What we do know, however, is that they are getting awfully close, even the really big ones. Transformation often starts slowly, but then it begins to accelerate.

The German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf writes: “We have enough ice on Earth to raise sea levels by 65 metres – about the height of a 20-storey building – and, at the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose by 120 metres as a result of about 5C of warming.” Taken together, these figures give us a perspective on the powers we are dealing with. Sea-level rise will not remain a question of centimetres for very long.

The Greenland ice sheet is melting, as are the “doomsday glaciers” of west Antarctica. Recent reports have stated that the tipping points for these two events have already been passed. Other reports say they are imminent. That means we might already have inflicted so much built-in warming that the melting process can no longer be stopped, or that we are very close to that point. Either way, we must do everything in our power to stop the process because, once that invisible line has been crossed, there might be no going back. We can slow it down, but once the snowball has been set in motion it will just keep going…

“This is the new normal” is a phrase we often hear when the rapid changes in our daily weather patterns – wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, storms, droughts and so on – are being discussed. These weather events aren’t just increasing in frequency, they are becoming more and more extreme. The weather seems to be on steroids, and natural disasters increasingly appear less and less natural. But this is not the “new normal”. What we are seeing now is only the very beginning of a changing climate, caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Until now, Earth’s natural systems have been acting as a shock absorber, smoothing out the dramatic transformations that are taking place. But the planetary resilience that has been so vital to us will not last for ever, and the evidence seems to suggest more and more clearly that we are entering a new era of more dramatic change.

Climate change has become a crisis sooner than expected. So many of the researchers I’ve spoken to have said that they were shocked to witness how quickly it is escalating.

Clean Heat Plan Emissions Calculation Guidance and Calculation Workbook — #Colorado #AirPollution Control Division #ActOnClimate

From email from the Colorado AirPollution Control Division:

The Air Pollution Control Division has published the Clean Heat Plan Emissions Calculation Guidance and CHP Calculation Workbook. The published documents can be found HERE. The Division has created these documents through a technical stakeholder process to develop a consistent approach to evaluating the emissions reduction projections from Clean Heat Plans required by Senate Bill 21-264.

Background: To address climate change and meet requirements from Senate Bill 21-264, the Air Pollution Control Division has consulted with the Public Utilities Commission related to the calculation methodology for evaluating clean heat plans for gas utilities. Starting in 2023, gas utilities are required to submit clean heat plans to the Public Utilities Commission or the Division to verify that they are designed to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The Four Corners methane hotspot is yet another environmental climate and public health disaster served to our community by industry. But now that we’ve identified the sources we can begin to hold those responsible accountable for cleaning up after themselves. The BLM methane rule and EPA methane rule are more clearly essential than ever. Photo credit: San Juan Citizens Alliance (2018)

Opinion: #Colorado is failing on #climate goals. What did you expect? The transportation sector is the state’s biggest greenhouse gas emissions source. And it’s the area in which the state is most falling short — Colorado Newsline

Smoke from the massive Hayman Fire could be seen and smelled across the state. Photo credit to Nathan Bobbin, Flickr Creative Commons.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Quentin Young):

A new progress report on Colorado’s greenhouse gas emission reductions shows the state is not on track to meet key goals. And anyone could have seen it coming.

The goals are set by statute, yet state officials haven’t taken climate action with sufficient seriousness to do right by the law, let alone public health and the planet. One hopes the new report inspires urgent action, though state officials have approached the climate emergency with a maddening combination of strong rhetoric and weak action for years.

Colorado residents will pay the price.

State lawmakers three years ago enacted House Bill 19-1261, a landmark achievement that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution compared to 2005 levels by goals of 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. As part of the effort to meet those targets, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in 2020 established a regime to track and ensure progress on emission reductions. It set targets for a handful of sectors that are to blame for the most emissions, including electricity generation, oil and gas production, transportation, and residential and commercial building energy use.

The state has since made some notable strides toward hitting the targets. State law now requires electric utilities to file clean energy plans and work to reduce emissions. While renewable energy is becoming much cheaper to produce, and market forces rather than state action has much to do with the green transition, Colorado’s last coal plant is expected to close by the beginning of 2031, and utilities in the state are expected to see a roughly 80% reduction in emissions by 2030.

In 2019, the state adopted a zero-emission vehicle standard that requires an increased percentage of cars available for sale in Colorado to be electric-powered. The modest measure, which does not require drivers to actually buy electric cars, is expected to boost from 2.6% three years ago to 6.2% in 2030 the proportion of zero-emission vehicles sold in Colorado.

Officials recently enacted standards that require state and local transportation planners to meet a series of greenhouse gas reduction targets. And during the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly enacted a package of climate-friendly measures, the largest climate investment being a $65 million grant program to help school districts buy electric buses.

But for every climate advance in Colorado there’s often a planet-threatening failure.

As Newsline’s Chase Woodruff reported last year, the administration of Gov. Jared Polis abandoned one of its own top climate-action priorities, an initiative called the Employee Traffic Reduction Program, which would have required big Denver-area businesses to reduce the number of their employees commuting in single-occupant vehicles. The initiative was dropped following “intense opposition from business groups and conservatives, many of whom spread misinformation and conspiracy theories,” Woodruff reported.

Earlier this year the administration frustrated environmentalists again when it delayed adoption of an Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which would impose emissions standards on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

This is all aligns with the governor’s insistence on a “market-driven transition” to renewable energy and a preference for voluntary industry action.

Is it any surprise then that the transportation sector accounts for Colorado’s most grievous instance of greenhouse gas negligence? What makes this especially troubling is that, with all those internal combustion engines buzzing around Colorado roads, transportation is the state’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Additional strategies for reducing emissions from the transportation sector will be needed” to meet state targets, the recent progress report concludes.

Emissions from transportation in Colorado have in fact grown in recent years, contributing greatly to the state’s overall off-track status.

The average temperature in Colorado keeps trending up. Denver this year experienced its third-hottest summer on record. The city’s four hottest summers have occurred in the last 10 years, and 3 of 4 of its hottest summers have occurred in the last three years.

Climate change is contributing to the aridification of the Southwest, it’s depleting water resources and it’s fueling more frequent and ferocious wildfires. It’s killing people, and it’s getting worse.

Polis, a Democrat, sits in the governor’s chair, so he shoulders the most responsibility, but Republicans would no doubt exacerbate the crisis were they in his position. Heidi Ganahl, the Republican nominee for Colorado governor, recently released her proposed transportation policy, which is almost entirely about investing in highways and almost exhaustively dismissive of climate change.

State officials, to safeguard the wellbeing of present and future generations of Coloradans, must take urgent steps to meet the 2025 emissions reduction targets. The progress report shows they’re failing to do so.

Credit: Colorado Climate Center

Legal agreement results in EPA taking action on deadly smog pollution in #Denver, other cities — Wild Earth Guardians

Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

Click the link to read the release on the Wild Earth Guardians website (Jeremy Nichols):

Affected areas in Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, and New York are home to nearly 40 million people

As a result of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency downgraded four areas across the country from a “serious” to a “severe” rating for their smog pollution. This downgrade in the ratings triggers more protective measures to reduce smog pollution.

The four areas, including the Denver Metro area, have some of the nation’s worst air quality. EPA downgraded the areas because their ground-level ozone pollution—commonly called smog—continues to exceed the levels that are safe for human health, wildlife, and plants.

“Recognizing that these areas have a severe smog problem marks an important step forward in reducing this pollution,” said Ryan Maher, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now it’s time for concrete plans to fix it.”

Smog pollution is linked to human health problems like asthma attacks, cardiovascular problems, and even premature death. Those most at risk include older adults, children and people who work outdoors. The harm smog does to plants can damage entire ecosystems and reduce biodiversity.

“For the more than 3.5 million people living in the Denver Metro and North Front Range region of Colorado, today’s finding gives new hope for clean air,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.  “Now it’s up to Governor Polis and his administration to do the right thing and finally clean up this smoggy mess and restore healthy skies along Colorado’s Front Range.”

The four environmental groups sued the EPA in March 2022 after the agency missed its deadline to reclassify these areas from a serious to a severe rating for smog. The agreement resulting from this lawsuit required EPA to finalize the ratings for these four areas by today: the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria areas in Texas; the New York City metro areas of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey; and the Denver-Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins-Loveland area in Colorado.

“The 37 million people who live in these areas with unsafe levels of toxic pollution deserve clean air and immediate federal action,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of the Center for Environmental Health’s illegal toxic threats program. “Today’s victory will help protect these communities from the dangers of this pollution.”

Under this agreement, EPA must also determine whether the smog ratings for Ventura County and western Nevada County in California need to be downgraded by December 16, 2022.

The downgraded ratings finalized today are part of the environmental groups’ ongoing effort to compel the EPA to protect human health and the environment from smog pollution in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Smoggy day in Denver, August 11, 2022.

Other Contact

Ryan Maher, Center for Biological Diversity, (781) 325-6303, rmaher@biologicaldiversity.org , Kaya Allan Sugerman, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 740-9384, kaya@ceh.org , Ilan Levin, Environmental Integrity Project, (512) 637-9479, ilevin@environmentalintegrity.org

Intense heat waves and flooding are battering electricity and water systems, as America’s aging infrastructure sags under the pressure of climate change

Volunteers distributed bottled water after Jackson, Mississippi’s water treatment plant failed during flooding in August 2022. Brad Vest/Getty Images

Paul Chinowsky, University of Colorado Boulder

The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age of infrastructure development in the U.S., with the expansion of the interstate system and widespread construction of new water treatment, wastewater and flood control systems reflecting national priorities in public health and national defense. But infrastructure requires maintenance, and, eventually, it has to be replaced.

That hasn’t been happening in many parts of the country. Increasingly, extreme heat and storms are putting roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure under stress.

Two recent examples – an intense heat wave that pushed California’s power grid to its limits in September 2022, and the failure of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, amid flooding in August – show how a growing maintenance backlog and increasing climate change are turning the 2020s and 2030s into a golden age of infrastructure failure.

I am a civil engineer whose work focuses on the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. Often, low-income communities and communities of color like Jackson see the least investment in infrastructure replacements and repairs.

Crumbling bridge and water systems

The United States is consistently falling short on funding infrastructure maintenance. A report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker’s Volcker Alliance in 2019 estimated the U.S. has a US$1 trillion backlog of needed repairs.

Over 220,000 bridges across the country – about 33% of the total – require rehabilitation or replacement.

A water main break now occurs somewhere in the U.S. every two minutes, and an estimated 6 million gallons of treated water are lost each day. This is happening at the same time the western United States is implementing water restrictions amid the driest 20-year span in 1,200 years. Similarly, drinking water distribution in the United States relies on over 2 million miles of pipes that have limited life spans.

The underlying issue for infrastructure failure is age, resulting in the failure of critical parts such as pumps and motors.

Aging systems have been blamed for failures of the water system in Jackson, wastewater treatment plants in Baltimore that leaked dangerous amounts of sewage into the Chesapeake Bay and dam failures in Michigan that have resulted in widespread damage and evacuations.

Inequality in investment

Compounding the problem of age is the lack of funds to modernize critical systems and perform essential maintenance. Fixing that will require systemic change.

Infrastructure is primarily a city and county responsibility financed through local taxes. However, these entities are also dependent on state and federal funds. As populations increase and development expands, local governments have cumulatively had to double their infrastructure spending since the 1950s, while federal sources remained mostly flat.

Congressional Budget Office

Inequity often underlies the growing need for investment in low-income U.S. communities.

Over 2 million people in the United States lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The greatest predictor of those who lack this access is race: 5.8% of Native American households lack access, while only 0.3% of white households lack access. In terms of sanitation, studies in predominantly African American counties have found disproportionate impacts from nonworking sewage systems.

Jackson, a majority-Black state capital, has dealt with water system breakdowns for years and has repeatedly requested infrastructure funding from the state to upgrade its struggling water treatment plants.

Climate change exacerbates the risk

The consequences of inadequate maintenance are compounded by climate change, which is accelerating infrastructure failure with increased flooding, extreme heat and growing storm intensity.

Much of the world’s infrastructure was designed for an environment that no longer exists. The historic precipitation levels, temperature profiles, extreme weather events and storm surge levels those systems were designed and built to handle are now exceeded on a regular basis.

Unprecedented rainfall in the California desert in 2015 tore apart a bridge over Interstate 10, one of the state’s most important east-west routes. Temperatures near 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C) forced the Phoenix airport to cancel flights in 2017 out of concern the planes might not be able to safely take off.

A heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in 2020 buckled roads and melted streetcar cables in Portland. Amtrak slowed its train speeds in the Northeast in July 2022 out of concern that a heat wave would cause the overhead wires to expand and sag and rails to potentially buckle.

Washed out road in Yellowstone National Park
Fast-moving floodwater obliterated sections of major roads through Yellowstone National Park in June 2022. Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service

Power outages during California’s September 2022 heat wave are another potentially life-threatening infrastructure problem.

The rising costs of delayed repairs

My research with colleagues shows that the vulnerability of the national transportation system, energy distribution system, water treatment facilities and coastal infrastructure will significantly increase over the next decade due to climate change.

We estimate that rail infrastructure faces additional repair costs of $5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2050, while road repairs due to temperature increases could reach a cumulative $200 billion to $300 billion by the end of the century. Similarly, water utilities are facing the possibility of a trillion-dollar price tag by 2050.

A city bus was caught and several people were injured when a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh in January 2022. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

After studying the issue of climate change impacts on infrastructure for two decades, with climate projections getting worse, not better, I believe addressing the multiple challenges to the nation’s infrastructure requires systemic change.

Two items are at the top of the list: national prioritization and funding.

Prioritizing the infrastructure challenge is essential to bring government responsibilities into the national conversation. Most local jurisdictions simply can’t afford to absorb the cost of needed infrastructure. The recent infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act are starting points, but they still fall short of fixing the long-term issue.

Without systemic change, Jackson, Mississippi, will be just the start of an escalating trend.

Paul Chinowsky, Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

World Meteorological Organization #AirQuality and #Climate Bulletin highlights impact of #wildfire #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo credit: World Meteorological Organization

Click the link to read the bulletin on the WMO website:

Increasing risk of “climate penalty” from pollution and climate change

An anticipated rise in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves and an associated increase in wildfires this century is likely to worsen air quality, harming human health and ecosystems. The interaction between pollution and climate change will impose an additional “climate penalty” for hundreds of millions of people, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The annual WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin reports on the state of air quality and its close interlinkages with climate change. The bulletin explores a range of possible air quality outcomes under high and low greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

The WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin 2022 focuses in particular on the impact of wildfire smoke in 2021. As in 2020, hot and dry conditions exacerbated the spread of wildfires across western North America and Siberia, producing widespread increases in particulate small matter ( PM2.5) levels harmful to health.

“As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase, even under a low emissions scenario. In addition to human health impacts, this will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants settle from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface,” says WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

“We have seen this in the heatwaves in Europe and China this year when stable high atmospheric conditions, sunlight and low wind speeds were conducive to high pollution levels,” said Prof. Taalas.

“This is a foretaste of the future because we expect a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves, which could lead to even worse air quality, a phenomenon known as the “climate penalty,” he said.

The “climate penalty” refers specifically to the climate change amplification effect on ground-level ozone production, which negatively impacts the air people breathe. The regions with the strongest projected climate penalty – mainly in Asia – are home to roughly one quarter of the world’s population. Climate change could exacerbate surface ozone pollution episodes, leading to detrimental health impacts for hundreds of millions of people.

The Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, the second in an annual series, and an accompanying animation on atmospheric deposition was published ahead of International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on 7 September. The theme of this year’s event, spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme, is The Air We Share, focusing on the transboundary nature of air pollution and stressing the need for collective action.

The bulletin is based on input from experts in WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network which monitors air quality and greenhouse gas concentrations and so can quantify the efficacy of the policies designed to limit climate change and improve air quality.

Air quality and climate are interconnected because the chemical species that lead to a degradation in air quality are normally co-emitted with greenhouse gases. Thus, changes in one inevitably cause changes in the other. The combustion of fossil fuels (a major source of carbon dioxide (CO2)) also emits nitrogen oxide (NO), which can react with sunlight to lead to the formation of ozone and nitrate aerosols.

Air quality in turn affects ecosystem health via atmospheric deposition (as air pollutants settle from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface).  Deposition of nitrogen, sulfur and ozone can negatively affect the services provided by natural ecosystems such as clean water, biodiversity, and carbon storage, and can impact crop yields in agricultural systems.

Wildfires in 2021

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service measures global particulate matter. PM2.5 (i.e. particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller) is a severe health hazard if inhaled over long periods of time. Sources include emissions from fossil fuel combustion, wildfires and wind-blown desert dust.

Intense wildfires generated anomalously high PM2.5 concentrations in Siberia and Canada and the western USA in July and August 2021. PM2.5 concentrations in eastern Siberia reached levels not observed before, driven mainly by increasing high temperatures and dry soil conditions.

The annual total estimated emissions in Western North America ranked amongst the top five years of the period 2003 to 2021, with PM2.5 concentrations well above limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

At the global scale, observations of the annual total burned area show a downward trend over the last two decades as a result of decreasing numbers of fires in savannas and grasslands (2021 WMO Aerosol Bulletin ). However, at continental scales, some regions are experiencing increasing trends, including parts of western North America, the Amazon and Australia.

Future scenarios

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) includes scenarios on the evolution of air quality as temperatures increase in the 21st century. It has assessed that the probability of catastrophic wildfire events –like those observed over central Chile in 2017, Australia 2019 or the western United States in 2020 and 2021– is likely to increase by 40-60% by the end of this century under a high emission scenario, and by 30-50% under a low emission scenario.

If greenhouse gas emissions remain high, such that global temperatures rise by 3° C from preindustrial levels by the second half of the 21st century, surface ozone levels are expected to increase across heavily polluted areas, particularly in Asia. This includes a 20% increase  across Pakistan, northern India and Bangladesh, and 10% across eastern China.  Most of the ozone increase will be due to an increase in emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but roughly a fifth of this increase will be due to climate change, most likely realized through increased heatwaves, which amplify air pollution episodes. Therefore heatwaves, which are becoming increasingly common due to climate change, are likely to continue leading to a degradation in air quality.

Projected changes in surface ozone levels due to climate change alone in the late part of the 21st Century (2055-2081), if average global surface temperature rises by 3.0 °C above the average temperature of the late 19th Century (1850-1900).  Credit: WMO

A worldwide carbon neutrality emissions scenario would limit the future occurrence of extreme ozone air pollution episodes.  This is because efforts to mitigate climate change by eliminating the burning of fossil fuels (carbon-based) will also eliminate most human-caused emissions of ozone precursor gases (particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds and methane). 

Particulate matter, commonly referred to as aerosols, have complex characteristics which can either cool or warm the atmosphere. High aerosol amounts – and thus poor air quality – can cool the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight back to space, or by absorbing sunlight in the atmosphere so that it never reaches the ground.

The IPCC suggests that the low-carbon scenario will be associated with a small, short-term warming prior to temperature decreases. This is because the effects of reducing aerosol particles, i.e. less sunlight reflected into space, will be felt first, while the temperature stabilization in response to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions will take longer.  However, natural aerosol emissions (e.g., dust, wildfire smoke) are likely to increase in a warmer, drier environment due to desertification and drought conditions, and may cancel out some of the effects of the reductions in aerosols related to human activities.

A future world that follows a low-carbon emissions scenario would also benefit from reduced deposition of nitrogen and sulfur compounds from the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface, where they can damage ecosystems.  The response of air quality and ecosystem health to proposed future emissions reductions will be monitored by WMO stations around the world, which can quantify the efficacy of the policies designed to limit climate change and improve air quality. WMO will therefore continue to work with a wide range of partners including the World Health Organization and the EU’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service to monitor and mitigate the impacts.

The World Meteorological Organization is the United Nations System’s authoritative voice on Weather, Climate and Water

For further information contact: Clare Nullis, WMO media officer, cnullis@wmo.int. Tel 41-79-7091397

The Way to Slow #ClimateChange Is as Close as Your City Hall or School Board — The New York Times #ActOnClimate

May to July 2022 County Average Temperature Ranks

Click the link to read the guest column on The New York Times website (Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey). Here’s an excerpt:

The big climate law that Congress just enacted will go a long way toward meeting Mr. Biden’s goal [of cutting GHG emissions]. Coupled with other policies and with trends in the marketplace, it is expected to cut emissions by something like 40 percent. But the law — even assuming it survives Republican attacks and defunding attempts over the coming years — does not fully redeem Mr. Biden’s pledge. How can America get the rest of the way toward meeting his 50 percent goal?

The answer is in all of our hands. Many of us are already trying to help as best we can, perhaps by nudging the thermostat a degree or two, by driving or flying less or by eating differently. These actions are useful, but they are not enough. The public must make the transition from green consumers to green citizens and devote greater political energy to pushing America forward in its transition to a clean economy. How? The answers may be as close as your city hall or county commission. Your local school board — yes, the school board — has some critical decisions to make in the next few years. Opportunities to make a difference abound in your state Capitol.

The reason the public needs to speak up is simple. What Congress just did was, in a nutshell, to change the economics of clean energy and clean cars, using the tax code to make them more affordable. But it did not remove many of the other barriers to the adoption of these technologies, and a lot of those hurdles are under the control of state and local governments.

Consider this: Every school day, millions of Americans put their children on dirty diesel buses. Not only are the emissions from those buses helping to wreck the planet on which the children will have to live, but the fumes are blowing into their faces, too, contributing to America’s growing problem with childhood asthma. It is now possible to replace those diesel buses with clean, electric buses. Has your school board made a plan to do so? Why isn’t every parent in America marching down to school district headquarters to demand it? Electric buses are more expensive right now, but the operating costs are so much lower that the gap can be bridged with creative financing. A school board that is not thinking hard about this and making plans for the transition is simply not doing its job.

Here is another example. The power grid in your state is under the control of a political body known as a public utilities commission or public service commission. It has the legal authority to tell electric companies what power plants they are allowed to build and what rates they can charge. By law, these boards are supposed to listen to citizens and make decisions in the public interest, but the public rarely weighs in. We once needed special state laws to push utilities toward renewable energy, but Congress just changed the ground rules. With wind and solar farms becoming far more affordable, every utility in America now needs to re-examine its spreadsheet on how it will acquire power in the future. The public utility commissions supervise this process, and they are supposed to ensure that the utilities build the most affordable systems they reasonably can. But too many utilities, heavily invested in dirty energy, still see clean energy as a threat. They are going to drag their feet, and they will ply their influence with state government to try to get away with it. Citizens need to get in the faces of these commission members with a simple demand: Do your jobs. Make the utilities study all options and go for clean power wherever possible.

One more example: The conversion to electric cars has begun, but as everyone knows, we still don’t have enough places to charge them, especially for people on long trips. State governments can play a major role in alleviating this bottleneck. Under Gov. Jared Polis in Colorado, the state is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build charging stations, with poor neighborhoods included. Other states can do the same, and citizens need to speak up to demand it.

If you live in a sizable city or county, your local government is probably slowing down the automotive transition, too. These governments buy fleets of vehicles for their workers, and this year most of them will once again order gasoline-powered cars. Why? Because that’s what they’re used to doing. Citizens need to confront the people making these decisions and jolt them from their lethargy.

A big step for a small mountain town — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

Crested Butte

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

“There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way. Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.” — Mayor Ian Billick

Crested Butte, that most lovely of Colorado mountain towns, now vibrant in summer flowers and always in the bold colors of Victorian storefronts, has now entered into the fractious national debate about natural gas.

The municipality decided Aug. 3 that it will no longer allow natural gas in new buildings. Major remodels will be required to be electric-ready. It’s the first jurisdiction in Colorado to take this action.

Others may soon follow, posing the question of whether Colorado will soon get more rambunctious in its debate about how to effectively achieve the reduction in emissions identified in a 2019 law. That law specified economy-wide emission reductions of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Buildings must necessarily be part of this drawdown, and that puts the focus on natural gas, which provides space and hot-water heating for more than half of Colorado buildings. Cars last 15 years or longer, but upgrades of buildings often don’t occur for decades.

The Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Roadmap adopted in January 2021 identified emissions from buildings as a relatively small but vital sector. “Even though the emissions reductions from these actions will be relatively modest in the near term,” the roadmap says, “they will grow to become very significant in the period after 2030.”

Berkeley in November 2019 became the first municipality in the United States to ban natural gas in new construction. Since then 80 other towns, cities, and other jurisdictions have followed, first in California but then in other states, too.

In response, 23 states—including five of the seven states bordering Colorado—have adopted laws that prohibit such local regulations. That’s a ban on bans, if you will. An effort was underway in 2020 by oil-and-gas interests in Colorado to put a similar ballot measure, called preemption, before voters. The effort was withdrawn after negotiations with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Colorado legislators in 2021 instead passed several bills that collectively start squeezing natural gas from buildings without blanket bans. The most important of these bills, SB21-264, requires the four regulated utilities that sell natural gas in Colorado to submit clean-heat plans beginning in 2023.

This clean-heat requirement along with other laws adopted in 2021 nudge Colorado’s four regulated utilities that deliver natural gas toward helping their customers convert their homes and businesses from natural gas to electricity. Xcel Energy, the largest, sells both gas and electricity, so the loss of gas sales will be offset by increased electricity sales. Atmos, the supplier of natural gas to Crested Butte, does not sell electricity, so it will have to cut its emissions in other ways.

Crested Butte might seem an unlikely trailblazer. It’s smallish, with 1,334 full-time residents. The conventional wisdom holds that the big liberal bastions wade into changes first, which then get gradually introduced into the more rural outposts. But neither Denver nor Boulder, though they have started squeezing emissions from buildings in significant ways, have gone quite as far.

Denver, for example, requires heat pumps for space heating and heat-pump water heaters for existing buildings — but not homes — at the time of system replacement, starting in 2024 to 2027. That’s not an explicit ban on natural gas, although it may come close,

The most important aspect of Crested Butte’s example may be its colder climate. It sits at 8,909 feet. Other places that are actually lower in elevation lay claim to the dubious distinction of record cold, but Crested Butte knows chill, an average low of 6 below during January, its coldest month. Town officials, after examining the available technology, including air-source heat pumps, concluded that nobody will suffer in this transition to building electrification.

If it can work in Crested Butte, surely it should work in Castle Rock or Colorado Springs or any number of other places.

Mark Reaman, the editor of the Crested Butte News, called the measure “largely symbolic in the sense it will not save the world. Not even close,” he wrote in a column titled “Symbolism Matters.” “But it could send a message and set an example to those living and visiting here. It is tangible action applicable at the local level.”

Crested Butte, he added, “is one of those towns that punches above its weight given the people it draws and the attitude that doing something locally matters.” His offered the metaphor of a seed now planted “that might grow beyond our little garden.”

To get an understanding of how Crested Butte got to where it is and how it fits with the bigger picture now evolving in Colorado, Big Pivots conducted an e-mail interview with three people:

Ian Billick is the mayor of Crested Butte. He ran on a platform of climate change action and housing. He is also a biologist who manages the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, where scientists from across the country gather during summers to study climate change and other topics at an elevation of 9,000-plus-feet.

Christine Brinker is the senior buildings policy manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. She has been deeply involved with helping draft the state legislation and local policies that seek to pivot Colorado’s buildings to fewer emissions.

Mike Foote is a public-interest environmental attorney from Boulder County who served in the Colorado Legislature from 2013 to 2021. As a Democratic legislator, he co-sponsored legislation in 2019 that set Colorado on its march to realize deep, deep decarbonization of its economy – buildings being a particularly knotty problem to solve.

Big Pivots: As mayor of Crested Butte, Ian, can you identify a precise moment when the vision began to take place of eliminating natural gas in new buildings and those with major remodels?

Ian Billick: Several years ago, and before I joined the council, Crested Butte adopted an aggressive climate action plan. New building codes are issued every three years and given how much buildings contribute to carbon emissions, it made quite a bit of sense to consider electrification in adopting the new code.

Pivots: Let’s talk about that aggressive climate action plan. Crested Butte in around 2007 joined a great many towns and cities in adopting a resolution favoring renewable energy. It was my impression that nothing much then happened, perhaps because nobody knew where to start. What explains the more muscular approach?

Billick: A combination of an experienced town staff that has identified meaningful leverage points and a Town Council that has collectively made climate action a top priority. Also, improvements in building technology, including air source heat pumps, along with increases in natural gas prices, make electrification more cost effective, independent of climate impacts.

Pivots: Striking to me was the relative lack of discussion about the adequacy of alternative technologies to natural gas. Was there concern that air-source heat pumps would be unable to perform satisfactorily in Crested Butte’s relatively cold climate?

Billick: The efficiency of air-source heat pump technology declines significantly with colder temperatures. However, the technology works much better in very cold temperatures than it did even a few years ago and can be effectively combined with supplemental heat systems. It’s an example of how recent improvements in technology have made this move possible.

Pivots: The adequacy of the technology was not a major talking point? And do I understand that you had the support of local building contractors?

Billick: We did not spend a lot of time talking about the adequacy of the technology. We had a consultant, August Hasz, with the Resource Engineering Group, which has substantial experience building fully electrified housing in similar, high-altitude, cold environments. We also had local builders who have built successfully here without natural gas express their support. For me, that was very compelling.

Pivots: Let’s explore both of these. What other high-altitude, colder environments? And your local builders – if they are comfortable with the new technology, what do you think that says about places like Vail or Summit County?

Billick: Resource Engineering Group cited projects in Basalt Valley and Telluride. An affordable housing project recently opened in Gunnison that is all electric.

Pivots: You have cited analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute that electrification will usually reduce costs. Is that comparison of gas vs. electric in the completed building? Or is that in cost savings over time?

Billick: One thing we learned is that the cost-benefit analysis of electrification versus natural gas is complicated; you can’t say that one technology will always be cheaper. But RMI has found that in many circumstances both up-front costs as well as lifetime costs will be cheaper with electrification. For example, there are costs to hooking a home up to natural gas that are avoided with full electrification.

Pivots: How many unbuilt lots? Any potential annexations? What application might you see in remodels? Would this have been a harder decision had there been more real estate involved?

Billick: We have about 60 unbuilt lots. Additionally, we have an affordable housing project involving 60-80 units coming online, which will be built to the new code. We have no annexations in the pipeline. Major renovations will trigger a requirement that buildings be electric ready. For me, the decision was not influenced by the number of units involved. There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way. Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.

Pivots: Your law allows an exemption. Please explain.

Billick: We allow commercial kitchens to use natural gas for cooking.

Pivots: The Crested Butte News reported the major pushback was from those who urged a go-slower approach. For other towns considering following in the footsteps of Crested Butte, how would you describe that pushback? And why did the council reject that go-slower approach?

Billick: We had a working group analyzing this option through the spring, including holding a question and answer session for the public. The CB Town Council had a work session, as well as two public hearings. By the final public hearing while some disagreed with the policy, no new information was emerging, nor did council feel that it was missing any information. We had the information we needed to make a decision, so we moved forward.

Pivots: I was struck by the fact that the council was unanimous. Can you explain the unity on this? Does it extend to other decisions?

Billick: The council works very well together, but we don’t always agree. The council has been very clear, however, that climate action is a priority that is shared across the board.

Pivots: What repercussions beyond Crested Butte do you hope your town’s actions will have?

Billick: If we can make it work in an environment as extreme as Crested Butte, it is possible to make it work across the country.

Pivots: Christine, when do you think we will hear about the next local government in Colorado to limit or ban natural gas in homes and buildings?

Christine Brinker: Most likely in the next few months. While they may not outright prohibit natural gas, they will likely take steps to either gradually move away from it or at least reduce some of the negative impacts. For example, some local governments in the northwestern metro area are working together on a policy that would give builders a choice between either all-electric or, on the other hand, natural gas with extra energy efficiency.

Having said that, Crested Butte’s example will surely give these and other local governments the courage to take stronger climate action and take bolder steps toward all-electric new construction.

Pivots: Colorado has adopted several laws in the last two years that seek to reduce emissions from buildings. How would you describe the general approach?

Brinker: The approach has been to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis while at the same time trying to orchestrate the transition in a way that protects our workers and families. Recent bills had extensive negotiations and “stakeholdering” with builders, building owners, labor, local leaders, equity groups, and more, because ultimately, the policies need to be workable, practical, and impactful for as many Coloradans as possible.

From a policy standpoint, the original 2019 law set an overall emissions reduction goal 90% by 2050, and individual bills since then are going sector-by-sector to help reach those goals. That’s where these bills governing buildings fit.

Pivots: How does the law passed in May, HB22-1362, titled “Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” define the paths forward for local jurisdictions? Do you see various paths for different communities?

Brinker: That law sets the floor, the minimum, for resilient and energy-efficient construction when local governments update any other building codes. This is in recognition that many homebuyers and renters don’t have the ability to choose efficient and healthy homes – they have to “take what’s out there.” Better energy codes make sure homes and buildings are built right at the outset.

Notably, the law still allows natural gas — but requires that new construction at least include the wiring for future all-electric appliances like heat pumps. And it allows local governments like Crested Butte to go above the minimum if they want.

Pivots: Air-source heat pumps remain fairly expensive. Do you see this changing?

Brinker: The costs of the technology have fallen significantly in recent years while performance improved. The next stage of cost reduction will partly come from contractors here getting more familiar with the latest heat-pump technology, something being helped along by trainings from Xcel Energy and others.

Also, heat pumps have a new batch of incentives available because of how much they help our air quality and climate – including rebates from Xcel Energy and other utilities, a 10% tax credit from the state, and tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act.

Pivots: As a former state senator, Mike, I would like your read on the political implications of this ban adopted by Crested Butte. Colorado’s policy so far has been a firm but still gentle squeeze of emissions, both methane and carbon dioxide, from buildings. The clean heat law, for example, stipulates that consumers will always retain choice.

Does the mandate by Crested Butte put the Polis administration into a place it would prefer not to be? Or are the numbers in Crested Butte just too small to be consequential?

Mike Foote: Local governments in Colorado have significant autonomy when it comes to their building codes. Crested Butte’s actions are consistent with that tradition of local control. Certainly some state actors and the oil-and-gas industry will take notice of it.

It is highly unlikely, even after this fall’s elections, that there will be a successful effort in the legislature to limit the ability of local governments to do what Crested Butte did. Some gas proponents have advocated for a statewide “energy choice” ballot measure that would prohibit localities from requiring non-fossil energy in their codes. This is sometimes called a “ban on bans.” At some point that effort could get more traction if the industry decides to fund a statewide campaign. The threat of the industry going to the ballot is always there, but it shouldn’t dissuade local governments from taking climate action in my opinion.

Pivots: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to pass a statewide law that would ban natural gas by 2027. Assuming Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is reelected this fall, can you envision him attempting to do the same? Why or why not?

Foote: We haven’t seen Governor Polis propose a policy like that during his first four years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the General Assembly were thinking about it. The fact of the matter is new gas usage must be substantially curtailed within this decade for us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. There are not too many easy options left to achieve that, at least in Colorado.

Pushback on building emissions: A law passed by #Colorado legislators in 2021 requires natural gas utilities to start squeezing emissions from buildings. This could get very interesting — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #COleg

The downtown Denver skyline from Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

To be very clear, this is the biggest energy story of the year in Colorado, in my read.

State legislators in 2021 adopted several laws that will, in various ways, begin squeezing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.

Now comes the implementation as the three commissioners from the Public Utilities Commission do their required public engagement in meetings held in various locations in Colorado. All available evidence suggests to me that this will come close to fist-swinging before it’s all done, at least of the wordy type. From what I hear, it already has.

I attended the second of the six meetings, the one at Montbello Community Center in Denver. It was a bilingual meeting structure designed for consumption by people who had mostly never heard of the PUC much less clean heat plans.

In Montrose a week later, people had heard of the clean heat plans – or least that an effort was underway to remove natural gas from buildings. According to a report in the Montrose Press, many were not in the least bit happy. “Public Utilities Commission gets an earful over Clean Heat Plans,” was the headline.

SB 21-264, which we’ll call the clean-heat law, requires Colorado’s four privately owned natural gas utilities – Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos and Colorado Natural Gas – to reduce greenhouse gases 4% by 2025 and then 22% by 2030. This is compared to emissions of 2015.

How can they do this? The law provides four ways for the utilities to do so in the heat-clean plans they must submit:

1) Demand-side management programs, especially including improved energy efficiency.

2) Beneficial electrification, meaning that gas use in buildings for space and hot water heating is replaced by electricity. One way of doing that is through addition of air-source heat pumps or, in original construction, ground-source heat pumps.

3) Improved efforts to reduce methane leaks from the natural gas infrastructure.

3) Recovered methane, such as from landfills, to supplement the methane extracted from wells;

4) Green hydrogen, which means made from renewable resources and after (but not natural gas);

5) Pyrolysis of tires, the recycling of tires to extract heat and energy, as is being considered at Fort Morgan.

The latter two are likely more difficult than the first three.

The PUC commissioners have until December to draw up the rules governing the review of these clean-heat plans.

I see four very, very big issues here:

First, this is a lot of work in a short time. “A heavy lift for utilities,” John Gavan, the PUC commissioner who presided at the Montrose meeting, said.

A Black Hills representative at the Montrose meeting said that the required reduction coming on top of demand growth means that instead of a 4% reduction it’s more like a 25% reduction. Nigh on to impossible, said Mike Harrigan, the Black Hills rep.

Second, the gas utilities are being required to radically change their business models and, in the case of three of them, to essentially make themselves less relevant. Xcel Energy will sell more electricity as it sells less gas. For Black Hills, which sells both gas and electricity, the trade-off is not as easy. It sells gas in Aspen, for example, but not electricity.

One of the attendees at Montrose summarized it in this way: “Let me get this straight,” said David Combs, speaking to the Black Hills Energy representatives. “The products you sell, you make money on, you’re trying to reduce and you’re giving people money to use less of it?”

There always has been a strange tradeoff between regulated utilities. They enjoy monopolies in their service territory in return for regulation. This was once reliable money. Utilities are now being required to be far more inventive.

Third, builders and real estate developers have been enjoying a subsidy as they build new subdivisions, the gas lines that are laid being subsidized by existing natural gas customers. At the end of the day, this may be the defining issue. High-spirited filings with the PUC began in December 2021.

Fourth, there are equity issues here as we squeeze out natural gas, replacing it with electricity. Who will pay for the aging natural gas systems? Like so many things, it’s likely to be those who can least afford to pay.

The meeting in the Denver neighborhood of Montbello was conducted in both Spanish and English. Photo/Allen Best

I mentioned the Montbello meeting. It was designed to reach out to an area that met the definition of a disproportionately impacted community. I can’t disagree, but I must say that I felt very marginalized. I struggle to hear well normally, and the choice of room configuration left me with my back to the speakers and trying — and almost entirely failing — to hear the English translation of what was being said in Spanish. My impression was that the meeting was designed with the intent of honoring the law, and it did achieve that. But one meeting alone will not achieve the real purpose with this particular group.

A meeting in Grand Junction was somewhat boisterous, I heard, which did not surprise me. The first filings of opposition to clean-heat plans in the PUC docket in this case were submitted by real-estate agents and others from the Grand Valley and Montrose. Weeks later they started arriving from places like Aurora.

Again, as Gavan identified in the Montrose meeting, the key issue here is the subsidy for gas lines to homebuilders. Nobody likes to lose their subsidy.

Sandy Head, executive of the Montrose County Economic Development Corp. told the Press that the cost of extending a gas line to a new house was previously $250 to $300 but will now cost $800.

This led to charges that it would become too expensive to live in a place like Delta County – which, with the exception of now pricey Paonia, remains one of Colorado’s least expensive places to live west of I-25.

Also balled up into this issue is the high cost of natural gas and the failure of Xcel Energy to adequately prepare itself for what happened in February 2021. Xcel ended up paying $600 million extra for high-priced natural gas. But there’s also the issue of Texans going without power – which some people, apparently, still think can be blamed on the dependency on wind turbines. (It was a part of the problem, but only a small part).

“We’re not going to shut off fossil fuel generation in the form of gas overnight,” Gavan replied, as per the Montrose Press account. “No, our plan is to add another gigawatt of combustion technology to back up renewables. It’s a balancing mix. As we transition, the resource mix will change. It will become very different, more intelligent.”

An investment to rival those of I-70 and #Denver International Airport — @BigPivots

I-70 on Vail Pass. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Most of the $9-$10 billion that Xcel Energy will spend in the next few years will be spent on Colorado’s eastern plains. Why is this such a big deal for Colorado?

Click the image to go to Xcel’s project page and the interactive map.

Colorado will soon embark on a change with few rivals in the last 100 years. Think of the dismantling of geography by construction of Interstate 70 through the tunnels, over Vail Pass, and through Glenwood Canyon. Think of Denver International Airport. Think of the arrival of electricity to farms and small towns in the 1930s and 1940s.

Within a decade, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electrical utility, will retire all its coal plants, convert one to burn natural gas, and add massive amounts of wind on Colorado’s eastern plains and solar generation, some of it in the Western Slope’s Grand Valley, along with batteries nad perhaps other storage, as it pursues a mid-century goal of net-zero carbon. Combined with potentially 740 miles of new transmission lines looping around eastern Colorado, this investment in new generation could hit $9 billion to $10 billion. Xcel will likely get its final green light from state regulators in the next month, maybe two.

This has repercussions beyond Xcel Energy, which sells more than half the electricity in Colorado. It also delivers wholesale sales to some municipalities and cooperatives, including Holy Cross Energy, Yampa Valley Electric, and Grand Valley Power.

Is this money well spent? If you’re a climate hawk, as I am, convinced we must dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, this represents a giant step forward. We must immediately reduce emissions from electrical generation and also displace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings.

True, China’s emissions keep growing. But Colorado can lead the United States by example, and the United States can lead the world.

Some people, even champions of this transition, disagree with the precise pathway. For example, if demand were shaved through energy efficiency and other programs, will less investment in new generating resources be needed, says Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group.

From Colorado eastern plains, already dotted with wind turbines, come other complaints about cluttered skylines. This is not universal. Other plainsmen (and women) welcome the property taxes local governments will realize and the lease payments to land owners.

Nuclear power represents another question. Colorado’s lone experiment with nuclear power, at the St. Vrain plant near Greeley, went seriously awry. But now come efforts with presumably smaller and hence lower-risk modular reactors, such as are being planned in Idaho and also Wyoming. Cost, more than safety, is the fulcrum for the debate. Nuclear has had exorbitant cost overruns. Will this new technology be better?

Comanche 3, a coal plant in Pueblo, has become the symbol for this energy transition. It was approved 18 years ago by Colorado regulators, a $1 billion investment (in today’s dollars). Utilities had been building ever-bigger coal-fired coal plants, abetted by natural gas plants to meet peak demands, for a half-century. Few were willing to give credence to the vision of renewable energy. I remember in about 2008, a geologist in Meeker who still hoped for the dream of milking hydrocarbons from the oil shale of northwestern Colorado. “We can’t run a civilization on windmills,” he fumed.

We still can’t. And as somebody pointed out to me, even wind turbines need oil and grease and so forth. But we can do far, far more than Xcel or most others thought just 18 years ago.

Cheyenne Ridge, located between Burlington and Cheyenne Wells, near the Kansas border, is one of many wind projects on Colorado’s eastern plains. Soon, new transmission will enable far more wind and solar projects. Photos/Allen Best Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

This has come in increments. Almost simultaneous with approval of Comanche 3 came Colorado’s first renewable energy mandate. Xcel fought it. Then it set out to comply. Costs of wind tumbled dramatically, and then so did solar. Something of the same thing is now happening with lithium-ion batteries.

It’s not yet possible on a large scale to affordably eliminate all emissions. But also note this. In 2005, when Xcel began building Comanche 3, about two-thirds of its electricity came from coal plants. Within a decade, it will be close to zero. We’re moving fast, because we can and because we must.

Will there be adverse consequences beyond altered prairie vistas on the Great Plains? Quite possibly. With I-70, what once was close to a full-day journey from Grand Junction to Denver was shortened to a long morning. But the highway has made mountain valleys a little less lovely and far more noisy.

This course correction in our energy foundation may also prove to have flaws that may require further altering. And in 18 years we may look back and wonder if we should have held off just a little longer for a technological breakthrough instead of making Colorado’s eastern plains look like Paul Bunyan’s playground for Erector Set creations.

What we cannot afford is to do nothing. Given what we know today, about the cost of energy and the cost of climate change, this massive investment soon to happen looks to be the wisest path forward.

2021 #COleg: Walking the legislative talk of environmental justice — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Colorado legislators in 2021 passed a suite of laws that in various ways give state agencies new marching orders that this energy transition will reconcile past wrongs and put people on an equal footing. But there’s a lot to sort through in this.

Now comes the part where the rhetoric about a just transition of the energy economy — paying special attention to disproportionately impacted communities and rectifying past wrongs with the word “equity” in mind — gets tested in the field.

In late July and early August, the three members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will take turns hosting six meetings from Lamar to Grand Junction, places selectively chosen because of evidence of disproportionate impacts from energy.

The meetings serve a dual purpose. The commissioners are gathering thoughts about how the state’s four regulated gas-distribution utilities will start changing how we heat buildings and water in order to reduce emissions. They are required to submit what are called clean-heat plans.

The four gas utilities —Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas — must show how they will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 4% by 2025 and 22% by 2030, based on a 2015 baseline.

But the commissioners are also very deliberately meeting in cities that have been identified by mapping tools as having, or being proximate to, disproportionately impacted communities.

Get accustomed to hearing that phrase, now used so often it has been reduced to an acronym in many documents: DIC. Among other things, the commissioners want to better understand how to define equity (as distinct from equality) and what constitutes a DIC community.

It’s an early milestone in Colorado’s difficult and still new process, one parallel to others underway in several states around the country.

Pushing their investigation are five laws passed by Colorado legislators in 2021 that collectively seek to put the hands of those communities on the steering wheel in ways that they have not before.

SB 21-272, “Modernize the Public Utilities Commission,” tells the PUC that it must adopt rules that “consider how best to provide equity, minimize impacts, and prioritize benefits to disproportionately impacted communities and address historical inequalities.”

What are disproportionately impacted communities? This law provides a glimpse:

“Certain communities, both in Colorado and internationally, have historically been forced to bear a disproportionate burden of adverse human health or environmental effects, as documented in numerous studies, while also facing systemic exclusion from environmental decision-making processes and enjoying fewer environmental benefits,” says SB21-272.

The law cites a 2021 report from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. The project, called Mapping for Environmental Justice, attempted to paint a holistic picture of intersecting environmental, social, and health impacts in individual states, including Colorado.

The study found that “communities of color breathe nearly twice as much diesel pollution and are 1.5 times more likely to live near a Superfund site than white communities. The disparity holds across an array of environmental hazards: from wastewater releases to air toxins, Coloradoans of color are consistently exposed to more pollution.”

This same law, SB 21-272, instructs the PUC to “identify disproportionately impacted communities” and host meetings and in other ways invite input from them to ensure that they will have at least proportionate access to the benefits of retail customer programs, incentives and investments.”

The PUC must go through a rule-making process that governs how the PUC reviews plans by utilities —including not just energy utilities, but also transportation and other sectors it regulates.

The goal is to deliver equity – which will be defined later – in programs and incentives that serve low-income customers and disproportionately impacted communities.

Clean Heat

The second law of relevance, SB 21-264, the “Clean Heat Bill,” requires Colorado’s four natural gas utilities to start figuring out how to reduce fossil fuel combustion from buildings. It gives the largest gas utilities, including Xcel, various ways to achieve a 22% reduction in emissions by 2030. They can, for example, help customers convert to electricity through use of air-source heat pumps. Utilities are required to submit clean-heat plans.

This clean-heat bill also has an environmental justice component. That law also calls out the “historic injustices that impact lower-income Coloradans and black, indigenous, and other people of color who have borne a disproportionate share of environmental risks while also enjoying fewer environmental benefits.”

As the PUC goes about creating the rules for evaluating clean-heat plans, it must hold at least two meetings in disproportionately impacted communities.

In planning six meetings, not just two, the PUC obviously aims for a robust compliance with the letter of the law. The PUC has gone a step beyond, and we’ll explain that later in this article.

Yet a third law, HB 21-1266, called the “Environmental Justice Act,” takes direct aim and, unlike the others, delivers more explicit instructions for the Air Quality Control Commission – an agency within the state’s health department – to engage with disproportionately impacted communities.

The law incorporates demographic factors but delegated to a new Environmental Justice Action Task Force the work of defining what exactly constitutes a disproportionately impacted community. The law also added transition to a more equitable clean energy economy to the mission of the Colorado Energy Office.

Two more laws deserve mention.

SB 21-246, Promote Beneficial Electrification, requires investor-owned utilities to file plans with the PUC that must include “programs targeted to low-income housing or disproportionately impacted communities with at least 20% of the total beneficial electrification program funding” directed to those communities and income levels.

HB21-1105 modified the eligibility standards for low-income programs.

The trajectory

Why did all of this come together in 2021?

Ean Tafoya, of GreenLatinos, who is co-chair of the new task force, says the thinking had been growing for years of the need to “redress” inequities.

In 2019, the first year that Democrats gained a majority in both chambers, as well as the governor’s mansion, the legislators who might have carried the bills were too new to the General Assembly to be effective.

Then came the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, spurring national protests, including in Denver. This was just months after the covid pandemic descended, hitting minority populations harder.

Those things “helped to galvanize the creation of a more formidable environmental justice coalition,” says Tafoya. This pressure seems to have created “more political room for the politicians to move forward.”

Tafoya also says that this powerful new environmental justice coalition wouldn’t settle for legislation that in early drafts didn’t initially include equity provisions.

In this, he refers to major bills driven by Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver and two Boulder County legislators, Sen. Steve Fenberg and Rep. Tracey Bernett, as well as Rep. Alex Valdez and Rep. Meg Froehlich.

A bill that started out as SB 200 was recreated in SB 1266 with Faith Winter as a primary author. She did not respond to several requests for an interview.

The Environmental Justice Act is sweeping. It requires the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations. It also requires that commission to adopt rules to reduce emissions from the industrial and manufacturing sector in Colorado by at least 20% by 2030 relative to 2015 levels.

This is from Big Pivots 59 (July 17, 2022). Please consider subscribing.

Environmental justice, though, is front and center in the law. It requires the Air Quality Control Commission to promote outreach to disproportionately impacted communities by creating new ways to gather input from communities across Colorado, using multiple languages and multiple formats.

The law also created the task force of which Tafoya is a member with the responsibility to make recommendations to legislators of “practical means to address environmental justice inequities” by Nov. 14.

That task force has met four times beginning in December, and it also has five subcommittees that meet monthly.

Pueblo’s Jamie Valdez, who is also on the task force, describes it as a “very difficult process.” But the goal is to avoid compromising as has occurred in the past.

Members have received much testimony “that there has not been enough consideration or responsiveness to community and too much to industry,” he says.

The table has been tilted heavily to a discussion between industry and regulators, to the exclusion of others, says Valdez, who is paid staff and a community organizer for southern Colorado on behalf of Mothers Outfront, a mothers-funded environmental justice organization whose mission is to work for a livable climate for all children.

Equity and equitable

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has also been moving along. The commission held a workshop in February to get insights from participants about how to implement the environmental justice component of HB21-264, the law that requires the meetings in disproportionately impacted communities. In March, the PUC asked the states’ four natural gas utilities – Xcel, Black Hills Energy, Atmos, and Colorado Natural Gas – to identify three ideas for meeting locations.

Xcel identified Grand Junction, metro Denver, and Pueblo. Black Hills identified Montrose, Rocky Ford, and Yuma. Atmos Energy identified Greeley, Lamar, and Craig.

The utilities were advised to consult a data-rich mapping tool created by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment called EnviroScreen. This was a result of the Environmental Justice Bill. When I first looked at this a year ago, I found it primitive. It showed the Wildridge neighborhood north of Avon and the Singletree neighborhood of Edwards to be in an environmentally impacted tract. (That all of us should be so unfortunate as to live in such areas.)

A review for this article shows a sophisticated tool, if still not complete. A tutorial explains it was created “to help identify the relative health burdens and environmental risks facing different communities across Colorado.”

On June 1, the PUC hosted a session on equity initiatives. Kelly Crandell, of the PUC staff, explained the SB 21-272 requirement to promulgate rules that seek to “provide equity and minimize impacts and prioritizes benefits to disproportionately impacted communities that have experienced historical inequalities.”

During the next few months, she said, the PUC commissioners and staff will be focusing on learning things that can be used to shape these new rules, the ones being drawn up to govern how the PUC evaluates plans by utilities.

Crandell carefully distinguished between equality and equity. With the equality, the idea is to provide something to everyone equally. So, your residential rates for electricity will be the same as your neighbors’.

Equity as Crandell explained it has a historical dimension. It recognizes that things may need to change so that others can participate, that actions of the past such as redlining must be acknowledged to properly rectify going forward.

“It’s challenging to an agency such as ours because conversations more traditionally operated in the vein of equality,” she said.

The legislation, she explained, had three dimensions: 1) recognize why certain communities have suffered, such as because of redlining practices; 2) procedural inequalities. How can the PUC make its process more accessible to the public; and 3) broadly prioritizing the benefits of new energy programs to disproportionately impacted communities.

Different sorts of meetings

Most interesting of these meetings may be at Montbello, located in northeastern Denver on the north side of I-70. It will use a new format of outreach.

There, community members will be paid to attend and share their thoughts. The meeting will be led by the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. That municipal agency has been hosting community meetings. In this case two community-based organizations have been enlisted to put it together.

“The event will include a listening session on energy priorities within these neighborhoods in addition to a discussion about clean heat plans,” the decision notice issued by the PUC on July 6 says. The event will be presented in both English and Spanish.

Ah yes – the clean heat plans. The natural gas utilities must figure out how to reduce emissions from buildings. A small bit of this can be accomplished by augmenting supplies of methane distributed to homes for heating and cooking with what is called renewable natural gas, such as that harvested from landfills. But there are many other tools – including beneficial electrification, including the use of air source heat pumps to displace or at least augment natural gas furnaces. They’re still relatively expensive, though, with a payback that in most cases will take at least several years.

Tafoya observes that focus groups have already found that tax credits won’t work for lower-income residents. “It’s clear that people want down-payment assistance, not just tax credits.”

Colorado is far from alone in trying to look at utility decisions through the new lenses of equity. A report called “Advancing Equity in Utility Regulation” issued in November 2021 by Berkeley National Laboratory notes an effort in California in 2020 requiring “environmental justice” to be part of the state’s mission. New York and Washington also adopted legislation in 2019, the latter state charging the utilities commission with “ensuring that all customers are benefiting from the transition to clean energy.”

In 2021, Massachusetts, Oregon, Illinois, and Maine all passed somewhat parallel legislation along with Colorado.

Also worth checking out:

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Environmental Justice page

Colorado Public Utilities Commission Equity Initiatives page

Meetings

July 21: Greeley, Greeley Recreation Center, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

July 21: Denver, Montebello Recreation Center, 5-7:30 p.m.

July 27: Grand Junction, Colorado Mesa University Center, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

July 28: Montrose, Montrose Event Center, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 4: Pueblo, Bessemer Community Room at Steelworks Center for the West, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 4: Lamar Cultural Events Center, 4:30-6 p.m.

The 5 bills:
SB21-272 “Measures to Modernize the Public Utilities Commission.” Requires PUC to identify disproportionately impacted communities (DICs) and to reach out to let them help create new rules.

SB 21-264, “Clean Heat Bill.” Requires natural gas utilities to begin decarbonizing gas distributed to buildings. Requires PUC to hold at least two meetings in DICs.

HB 21-1266 “Environmental Justice Act.” Instructions specifically to Air Quality Control Commission.

SB 21-246, “Promote Beneficial Electrification.” Requires 20% of program funds be used for low-income households or disproportionately impacted communities.

HB21-1105, modifies eligibility standards for low-income programs.

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

June’s global average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (#CO₂) was about 419 parts per million (ppm), a roughly 50% increase since 1750 due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and land-use changes — NASA #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

PROXY (INDIRECT) MEASUREMENTS
Data source: Reconstruction from ice cores.
Credit: NOAA

Click the link to go to the NASA website for all the inside skinny and to use the interactive map:

Carbon Dioxide

LATEST MEASUREMENT: June 2022

419 ppm

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping gas, or greenhouse gas, that comes from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and natural gas), from wildfires, and from natural processes like volcanic eruptions. The first graph shows atmospheric CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, in recent years, with natural, seasonal changes removed. The second graph shows CO2 levels during Earth’s last three glacial cycles, as captured by air bubbles trapped in ice sheets and glaciers.

Since the beginning of industrial times (in the 18th century), human activities have raised atmospheric CO2 by 50% – meaning the amount of CO2 is now 150% of its value in 1750. This is greater than what naturally happened at the end of the last ice age 20,000 years ago.

The animated map shows how global carbon dioxide has changed over time. Note how the map changes colors as the amount of CO2 rises from 365 parts per million (ppm) in 2002 to over 400 ppm currently. (“Parts per million” refers to the number of carbon dioxide molecules per million molecules of dry air.) These measurements are from the mid-troposphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is 8 to 12 kilometers (about 5 to 7 miles) above the ground.

Guest essay: What Joe Manchin Cost Us: “Mr. Manchin’s grandchildren will grow up knowing that his legacy is #climate destruction” — The New York Times (Lean C. Stokes) #ActOnClimate

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

Click the link to read the essay on The New York Times website (Leah C. Stokes):

Over the last year and a half, I’ve dissected every remark I could find in the press from Senator Joe Manchin on climate change. With the fate of our planet hanging in the balance, his every utterance was of global significance. But his statements have been like a weather vane, blowing in every direction. It’s now clear that Mr. Manchin has wasted what little time this Congress had left to make real progress on the climate crisis.

Since early 2021, congressional Democrats and President Biden have worked relentlessly to negotiate a climate policy package. When Build Back Better passed the House last fall, it included $555 billion in clean energy and climate investments. After four decades of gridlock in Congress, the Democrats were poised to finally pass a major climate bill, with agreement from 49 senators. But yesterday, one man torched the deal, and with it the climate: Mr. Manchin.

By stringing his colleagues along, Mr. Manchin didn’t just waste legislators’ time. He also delayed crucial regulations that would cut carbon pollution. Wary of upsetting the delicate negotiations, the Biden administration has held back on using the full force of its executive authority on climate over the past 18 months, likely in hopes of securing legislation first.

The stakes of delay could not be higher. Last summer, while the climate negotiations dragged on, record-breaking heat waves killed hundreds of Americans. Hurricanes, wildfires and floods pummeled the country from coast to coast. Over the last 10 years, the largest climate and weather disasters have cost Americans more than a trillion dollars — far more than the Democrats had hoped to spend to stop the climate crisis. With each year we delay, the climate impacts keep growing. We do not have another month, let alone another year or decade, to wait for Mr. Manchin to negotiate in good faith.

The climate investments in the bill ranged from incentives for clean power like wind and solar, to support for electric vehicles. They were essential to meeting President Biden’s goal of cutting carbon pollution in half from its 2005 levels by 2030 — the United States’ contribution to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Congress’s failure to act means that, under the best case scenario with the policies we already have in place, we will only get 70 percent of the way there.

After months of stop-and-start discussions, with Mr. Manchin repeatedly walking away from the negotiations, Congress has largely run out of time. Democrats need to pass their reconciliation package this summer, and despite weeks of round-the-clock effort from Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and his team, Mr. Manchin has now refused to agree to vote for spending on climate. While he claimed on a West Virginia talk show on Friday that it wasn’t over, that “we’ve had good conversations, we’ve had good negotiations,” this is doublespeak; he simply doesn’t want to be held accountable for his actions. He has consistently said one thing and done another.

Mr. Manchin’s refusal to agree to climate investments will hurt the economy he claims he wants to protect. The package would have built domestic manufacturing, supporting more than 750,000 climate jobs annually. It would have also fought inflation, helping to make energy bills more affordable for everyday Americans. This is particularly ironic since Mr. Manchin said inflation was the chief reason he was uncomfortable with supporting tax incentives for clean energy right now.

Over the past year, Mr. Manchin has taken more money from the oil and gas industry than any other member of Congress — including every Republican — according to federal filings. A Times investigation found that he also personally profited from coal, making roughly $5 million between 2010 and 2020 — about three times his Senate salary. Coal has made Mr. Manchin a millionaire, even as it has poisoned the air his own constituents in West Virginia breathe.

As Upton Sinclair put it: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But one thing I have never understood about Mr. Manchin is how he looks his grandchildren in the eye. While he may leave his descendants plenty of money, they will also inherit a broken planet. Like other young people, Mr. Manchin’s grandchildren will grow up knowing that his legacy is climate destruction.