On environmental protection, @JoeBiden’s election will mean a 180-degree turn from [the current administration’s] policies — The Conversation


President-elect Joe Biden opposes proposals to allow uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, which the Trump administration supports.
Michael Quinn, NPS/Flickr, CC BY

Janet McCabe, Indiana University

The Trump administration has waged what I and many other legal experts view as an all-out assault on the nation’s environmental laws for the past four years. Decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and other agencies have weakened the guardrails that protect our nation’s air, water and public lands, and have sided with industry rather than advocating for public health and the environment.

Senior officials such as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler assert that the Trump administration has balanced environmental regulation with economic growth and made the regulatory process less bureaucratic. But former EPA leaders from both Democratic and Republican administrations have called this administration’s actions disastrous for the environment.

Rolling back laws and hollowing out agencies

The Trump administration has used many tools to weaken environmental protection. For example, Trump issued an executive order in June 2020 to waive environmental review for infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways.

The EPA has revised regulations that implement the Clean Water Act to drastically scale back protection for wetlands, streams and marshes. And the administration has revoked California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own standards for air pollution emissions from cars, although California is pressing ahead.

The Trump administration has also changed agency procedures to limit the use of science and upended a longstanding approach to valuing the costs and benefits of environmental rules. It has cut funding for key agency functions such as research and overseen an exodus of experienced career staff.

Worker at Iowa wind turbine plant
A worker installs components at the base of a wind turbine blade at the Siemens plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. President-elect Joe Biden views renewable energy as a major source of high-wage manufacturing jobs.
Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images)

A quick about-face

I expect that the Biden administration will quickly signal to the nation that effectively applying the nation’s environmental laws matters to everyone – especially to communities that bear an unfair share of the public health burden of pollution.

With a closely divided Senate, Biden will need to rely primarily on executive actions and must-pass legislative measures like the federal budget and the Farm Bill to further his environmental agenda. Policies that require big investments, such as Biden’s pledge to invest US$400 billion over 10 years in clean energy research and innovation, can make a big difference, but may be challenging to advance. Coupling clean technology with infrastructure and jobs programs to build back better is likely to have broad appeal.

I expect that officials will move quickly to restore the role of science in agency decision-making and withdraw Trump-era policies that make it harder to adopt protective regulations. A Biden EPA will end efforts to impede states like California that are moving ahead under their own authority to protect their residents, and will make clear to career staff that their expertise is valued.

The agency is likely to withdraw or closely scrutinize pending Trump proposals, such as the ongoing review of the current standard for fine-particle air pollution. Officials also will review pending litigation, much of which involves challenges to Trump administration rule revisions and policies, and decide whether to defend any of them. There likely won’t be many.

In their final campaign debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered sharply contrasting views of how environmental protection affects the economy.

One area where EPA can quickly change course is enforcement. Biden’s climate and energy plan pledges to hold polluters accountable, and his administration reportedly plans to create a new division at the Justice Department focused on environmental and climate justice. Biden has promised greater attention to environmental justice communities, where neighborhoods are heavily affected by concentrations of highly polluting sources such as refineries and hazardous waste sites.

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Many of these actions can be done quickly through new executive orders or policy changes. Regulatory changes will take longer. In my view, Biden’s biggest challenge will be deciding what to prioritize. His administration will not be able to do (or undo) everything. Even with a revitalized career workforce and political staff all rowing in the same direction, there won’t be enough bandwidth to address all the bad policies enacted in the past four years, let alone move forward with a proactive agenda focused on public health protection and environmental justice.The Conversation

Janet McCabe, Professor of Practice of Law, Indiana University

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

“The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history” — Will Toor

Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The state officials overseeing efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural landscapes and beat rising heat in Colorado anticipate better opportunities for federal help under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

And they’re preparing for teamwork with the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the departments of energy, transportation and agriculture, among other federal agencies, to move beyond planning to aggressive action on challenges from saving dying forests to cutting vehicle emissions.

“It’s going to be a 180-degree shift,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said in a video call with state agency chiefs. “The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history. Certainly when it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change, they’ve done a surgical attack on virtually every federal policy that would support climate action… making it harder to act at the state level…

Biden’s pledge to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and an expected push to contain warming sync with efforts under Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to reduce heat-trapping pollution within Colorado by closing coal-fired power plants and increasing regulation of the fossil fuel industry.

Colorado ranks among the leading oil-and-gas producer states, exporting fossil fuels that when burned elsewhere accelerate climate warming. Biden has called for a $2 trillion stimulus investment to hasten a shift to clean energy and create jobs — funds that Colorado officials planned to tap.

Biden also has promised reversals of Trump rollbacks of environmental regulations for protecting air, land and water. If Congress doesn’t collaborate, Biden has indicated he’ll wield executive power where possible to act unilaterally, which may reduce oil and gas drilling on western public lands.

And Biden transition team officials are reviewing proposals that would advance climate action Colorado officials have begun to consider. For example, they’re mulling creation of a “carbon bank” run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would pay farmers who adopt no-till methods and store more carbon in soil — helping a draw-down of heat-trapping air pollution that causes climate warming…

At the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, state efforts dealing with air pollution, emerging water contaminants such as PFAS “forever” chemicals and degradation of waterways traditionally have hinged on cooperative support from federal agencies.

John Putnam, director of the state public health department’s environmental programs, anticipated a reinvigoration of agencies for better enforcement of national clean air and clean water regulations that under Trump were weakened…

State officials cited examples where they felt the Trump administration stymied Colorado environmental efforts, including legal action against California’s stricter fuel-efficiency standards, which Colorado recently decided to follow. Trump officials also pressed Colorado to take the lead on toxic mine cleanups, and assume liability if things went wrong. And the weakening of Clean Water Act protections removed safeguards for many streams across Colorado.

The increasing costs of dealing with climate change are falling largely on local communities where extreme weather and wildfires linked to warming hit home. In Boulder County, commissioners recently allocated $1.5 million to help deal with erosion and destruction of homes caused by the Calwood and Lefthand Canyon fires. A consultant hired by the county estimated costs for building resilience to climate warming will top $150 million a year for non-disaster impacts on infrastructure such as roads.

The shift from Trump to Biden “means the world — the future of our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, who also serves on Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission.

“We have to get on track on climate change in the next decade,” Jones said. “If we spent four more years under a climate change denier, we might have dug ourselves into a hole bigger than we can get out of.”

“Apparently, they’ve [the administration] already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands” — Senator Michael Bennet

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

Funding details promised by the Great American Outdoors Act were due Nov. 2, but state and federal land managers are still waiting for specifics of what is supposed to be a record amount of money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and deferred maintenance projects.

The Great American Outdoors Act — brokered in part by Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and trumpeted by President Donald Trump as they both ran for re-election — directed the full $900 million a year to the LWCF, which uses royalties paid by energy companies to buy federal land for protection. And the legislation spread $9.5 billion over five years toward catching up on an estimated $21.6 billion in delayed upkeep on public lands. It also promised to more than double federal funding to several Western states that rely on LWCF support to acquire and protect public lands and access.

But fear is growing that the promises of the Great American Outdoors Act — which had bipartisan support this election year — were more about politics than public lands.

The deadline for the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to submit its project lists for deferred maintenance and LWCF projects was last week. The agencies submitted lists for maintenance projects on time. But the LWCF lists arrived a week after the Nov. 2 deadline, following a Nov. 9 memo from the Trump Administration that delegated authority to the Interior and Agriculture departments to release the LWCF funding lists.

The broad-stroke lists have left state and federal land managers scratching their heads.

The lists included no details on specific projects or costs, even though those details — like $116 million for 61 ready-to-go BLM, Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service projects — were circulated by federal land agencies earlier this year when lawmakers were studying the Great American Outdoors Act. (The act requires “a detailed description of each project, including the estimated expenditures from the fund for the project for applicable fiscal years.”)

And perhaps most troubling is the Interior Department’s Nov. 9 plan for spending the LWCF’s $900 million. The note from Interior Sec. David Bernhardt to the U.S. Senate allocated only $2.5 million to the Bureau of Land Management for land acquisition. The Forest Service’s list of 36 LWCF projects totaling $100 million included a note that one project was in Colorado’s White River National Forest. The White River National Forest’s only request for LWCF funding for Fiscal 2021 was for $8.5 million to acquire and protect Garfield County’s 488-acre Sweetwater Lake property.

Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

Calls and emails to state BLM and Park Service officials were directed to the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., which did not respond. White River officials said they had not received any information about LWCF funding for Sweetwater Lake, which was acquired by conservation groups this spring with a plan to transfer the property over to the Forest Service.

“The monumental nature of the Great American Outdoors Act deserves more information so the private sector can engage and we know where these investments will be made,” said Jessica Turner with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of 33 outdoor organizations representing more than 110,000 businesses…

“Apparently they’ve already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands,” Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in an emailed statement. “Coloradans worked for years to secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fact that the Trump Administration is failing to follow through and meet LWCF deadlines, while not surprising, demonstrates a serious lack of commitment to conservation.”

A spokeswoman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the agency is waiting for information on project lists, official funding, timelines and whether the state grants the agency applied for have been approved…

The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Nov. 10 released funding recommendations for the Interior Department and Forest Service that provides specific details. The committee plan directs $54.1 million to the BLM and $120 million to the Forest Service for land acquisition. The committee’s list for LWCF acquisition projects includes $8.5 million for the Forest Service for Sweetwater Lake, $20.5 million for “recreational access” on BLM lands, $1 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s San Luis Valley Conservation Area and $850,000 for Dinosaur National Monument.

The committee, in its allocation recommendations said it was “disappointed by the lack of specific bureau- and project-level information” offered by the Interior and Agriculture department secretaries and dismissed Bernhardt’s issues with precise price tags for repairs as “insufficient reason to withhold more specific costs by project.”

The committee directed the two departments “to provide specific project information, including estimated costs by project, as soon as possible,” noting that it intended to fund LWCF through final appropriations — without or without the department lists.

@JoeBiden Can Leverage Larger Trends to Make #Climate Progress — The Revelator

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

From The Revalator (Dan Farber):

Even if Republicans hang onto the Senate, Biden can use these three strategies to make major progress on climate issues.

With the next president of the United States finally decided, we can now begin moving on to the work at hand.

Joe Biden’s election creates an exciting opportunity for climate action. But there’s one clear hurdle: Unless the January runoff elections in Georgia for two Senate seats deliver surprising success to the Democrats, President-elect Biden will face a Senate led again by Mitch McConnell. That narrows the range of available policy instruments, but Biden should still be able to make real progress.

He has the advantage of the tide moving in the direction of clean energy. Market forces are shifting strongly away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and energy storage. State governments are moving in the same direction. And public opinion has shifted, with more people recognizing the importance of climate change and the benefits of clean energy. The trick will be to leverage these trends into faster and larger changes.

I’d advocate a three-pronged approach to take advantage of these trends: (1) aggressive use of established regulatory tools; (2) funding to improve and deploy new technologies; and (3) government support for state and private sector climate efforts.

The first prong was utilized heavily by the Obama administration.

Like Obama Biden needs to make aggressive use of existing law. Given a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court, it would be best to avoid anything that looks legally innovative and instead push as hard as possible on legally established channels.

That would mean strictly regulating conventional pollution from fossil fuels, using the Clean Air Act as well as other environmental statutes. Additional avenues include ramping up standards for methane emissions, cutting back on leasing public lands for fossil fuels, and higher fuel-efficiency standards.

There will be industry resistance to these efforts, but economic trends may help dampen that.

Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

The second prong is legislative.

Although a GOP or 50-50 Senate will be a challenge, some kinds of legislation may have a chance of sneaking through.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has an energy bill she has been trying to get to the floor that seems to have bipartisan support. The bill focuses on spending for research and demonstration projects. Even when the GOP controlled Congress during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Congress voted to increase funding for renewable energy for the Defense Department and to increase funding for research into innovative new energy technologies.

If Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins can be brought on board, it may also be possible to adopt energy-related amendments to must-pass bills.

Finally, increased funding for adaptation-related spending by FEMA, the Defense Department and the Army Corps of Engineers may also be feasible.

The third prong involves climate efforts outside the federal government.

During the Trump administration, many states increased their use of renewable energy and a smaller group have adopted serious carbon reduction targets. The federal government can defend these efforts in court; can provide states technical resources; and can use its regulatory powers over energy markets to reinforce state climate programs.

We’ve also seen a serious movement by investors away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. The federal government can support these trends through its regulation of financial markets.

And the power of presidential jawboning should not be underestimated. Presidential appeals to business leaders can carry considerable clout, as can public praise or shaming.

Even if Biden is handicapped by the lack of Senate control, a lot can still be done. And the climate crisis is too urgent for us to pass up any available tool for addressing it.

The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

600,000 new #environmental voters — Heated #ActOnClimate

From Heated (Emily Atkin):

The Environmental Voter Project, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group, tells HEATED it spent $2.05 million this year targeting 1.8 million self-identified environmentalists who had never voted before in 12 states, including the critical battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Of those 1.8 million environmentalists targeted by Environmental Voter Project, more than 600,000—or about 33 percent—voted early. It’s “a truly astounding number when you consider that these are almost all first-time voters,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, EVP’s president.

It’s also astounding when you consider that, in many cases, those voters outnumber the margin between Trump and Biden in key battleground states.

For example:

  • 54,976 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Pennsylvania, where Biden is leading by about 45,400 votes
  • 56,990 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Arizona, where Biden is leading by 16,730 votes;
  • 69,332 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Georgia, where Biden is leading by 11,596 votes; and
  • 20,705 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Nevada, where Biden is leading by 36,186 votes.
  • Of course, these aren’t necessarily votes for Biden. EVP only encourages environmentalists to vote; it doesn’t say who they should vote for. But given the environmental hellscape of Trump’s presidency, it’s safe to assume many, if not most of those votes did not go in his direction.

    In addition, these are only early vote numbers, and therefore only show part of EVP’s impact. The group will know its full impact in February or March when states release their final voter lists.

    Above all, EVP’s results only constitute one part of the climate movement’s broader impact on voter turnout and fundraising in the 2020 election.

    How #Indigenous voters swung the #2020election — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Anna V. Smith) [November 6, 2020]:

    In Arizona and Wisconsin, Native turnout — which often leans liberal — made the difference in Biden’s slim but winning margin.

    Biden/Harris supporter Cindy Honani stands outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber while holding a sign above her head to protect herself from the snow in Window Rock in late October. Sharon Chischilly/Navajo Times via The High Country News

    Note: This article has been updated with voter data as of Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. mountain standard time.

    This year’s presidential election has been a close race in a handful of states, including Arizona. On Wednesday, for just the second time in 70 years, the Associated Press called the race for a Democratic presidential candidate, in part due to the Native vote.

    Indigenous people in Arizona comprise nearly 6% of the population — 424,955 people as of 2018 — and eligible voters on the Navajo Nation alone number around 67,000. Currently, the margin between Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who has released a robust policy plan for Indian Country — and incumbent President Donald Trump is 17,131 as of Monday. (Votes continue to be counted, so numbers may change)

    Precinct-level data shows that outside of heavily blue metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson, which also have high numbers of Indigenous voters, much of the rural blue islands that have voted for Biden and Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, are on tribal lands. On some Tohono O’odham Nation precincts, Biden and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris won 98% of the vote. As of Nov. 9, the three counties that overlap with the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation went for Biden at a rate of 57%, as opposed to 51% statewide. Voter precincts on the Navajo Nation ranged from 60-90% for Biden.

    That pattern is consistent with 2016, when the rest of the state went for Trump. “Partisan groups have long ignored Native voters, including in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana,” says Jordan James Harvill (Cherokee), chief of staff of the nonpartisan group VoteAmerica, which worked directly with Navajo Nation and community partners to get out the vote. “We view these voters as some of the highest-potential voters in the electorate and we’ll continue to invest in voters in Indian Country for years to come.”

    Indigenous people in Arizona were hit hard by the pandemic, which was exacerbated by Republican state officials who did little to limit the spread of COVID-19 through public safety measures like required mask wearing, business closures, or adequate translations for COVID-19 resources. All this was compounded by an inadequate federal response that delayed financial relief to tribal governments.

    At one point in May, the Navajo Nation had the highest ratio of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., surpassing New York City. President Jonathan Nez has criticized the Trump administration for its botched response, and the Navajo Nation has joined other tribal nations in a lawsuit over the dispersal of the funds. Recent exit polls showing how Indigenous voters favored Biden overall in Arizona also showed the pandemic response to be the most important issue on their minds.

    In the weeks before the election, several Navajo citizens filed suit against the state of Arizona over the deadline for mail-in ballots. Pointing to the myriad challenges Indigenous communities face with vote-by-mail, they asked the court to allow ballots to be postmarked — instead of received — by 7 p.m. on Election Day. They lost the case, but because of efforts by groups like VoteAmerica, Four Directions, Rural Utah Project and the Nez administration, counties like Apache County, which overlaps the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, saw 116% voter turnout compared to the 2016 election. (Votes are still being counted, so total numbers and percentages are likely to change.)

    On the Tohono O’odham Nation, which spans Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties, most precincts were above 90% for Biden, according to a statewide map pulled together by ABC15 Arizona. Throughout the Trump administration, O’odham citizens and the tribal government have been vocal in their opposition to the border wall, which Trump has forced through without tribal consultation, even as it severs the landscape and destroys ancestral O’odham sites. Those high numbers were repeated throughout precincts covering the lands of the Hualapai, Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Gila River, San Carlos Apache, Pascua Yaqui, Cocopah and Colorado River tribes, generally within the range of 70-90% for Biden.

    Indigenous voters are by no means a monolith, and the majority of Indigenous people live in urban areas, which makes it likely that many more voted in metro areas and therefore don’t appear in voting data from tribal lands. (In fact, a survey done by a coalition of Indigenous organizations called Building Indigenous Power showed that Indigenous voters on reservations were less likely to vote compared to those in the city or small towns.) Still, clear voting patterns can be seen across Indian Country:

  • In Montana, though the state went for Trump overall, counties overlapping with the reservations of the Blackfeet Nation, Fort Belknap Tribes, the Crow Tribe and Northern Cheyenne Tribe went blue. The divides were often stark; Glacier County, encompassed by the Blackfeet Nation, went for Biden by 64%, the highest in the entire state, while the neighboring county voted for Trump by 75%. The Native vote in Montana has made the difference before, when Indigenous voters helped Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who has advocated for Indian Country in legislation regarding water settlements, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and tribal recognition, get elected the last three terms in often-close races.
  • Wisconsin, a closely watched swing state, went narrowly for Biden by around 20,500 votes. There, the Indigenous population is 90,189 people as of 2018. Wisconsin counties overlapping the lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans show that voters there helped tip the count to a Democratic majority. Menominee County, which overlaps the Menominee Tribe’s reservation, voted for Biden 82%, compared to the state as a whole at 49.4%.
  • South Dakota went for Trump by 61% — except on tribal lands. Counties overlapping the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and Crow Creek tribes went for Biden. In Oglala Lakota County, which overlaps with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge reservation, Biden won with 88%. In Todd County, which overlaps the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Biden won 77% of the vote.
  • Additionally, Indigenous candidates did well: A historic six Native candidates will be heading to the U.S. Congress next term, New Mexico has made history by becoming the second state after Hawaii whose delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives will now be made up entirely of women of color, two of whom are Native. That’s in addition to dozens of Indigenous candidates elected to state and local offices, 11 of which were elected to state office in Arizona.

    As the 2020 election comes to a close, James Harvill says this election illuminates the importance of the Native vote, which is likely to only grow because of an increasing young population aging into the electorate and a strong level of community support. “When we’re looking on to the next several years, we’re going to see that Native American voters become one of the defining members of the electorate, much like we’re seeing of Latinx and Black voters.”

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email us at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on November 6, 2020..

    The #Colorado #Climate Voter’s Guide To The #2020Election Results — Colorado Public Radio

    Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

    From Colorado Public Radio (Joe Wertz, Michael Elizabeth Sakas, and Sam Brasch):

    After days of uncertainty and delayed counting, Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday — a historic vote that will likely have profound effects on federal environment and energy policy, and the country’s response and adaptation to the hazards of climate change…

    In Colorado, voters broke 52.3 percent for Biden and 42.1 percent for Trump, preliminary data shows.

    Throughout the campaign, Biden pledged to restore environmental regulations reversed or weakened during the Trump administration, including the Endangered Species Act and rollbacks of methane and mercury rules. Biden also talked up a more-progressive environmental agenda that would see the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement, ban new oil and gas drilling on public lands and promote renewable energy.

    Climate change is an increasingly critical motivating issue for a segment of the Colorado electorate. Recent polling finds that well over half of Coloradans think the U.S. government should do more than its doing now to address it.

    Here’s a quick review of some key climate change and environmental outcomes from Colorado’s 2020 election.

    John Hickenlooper

    U.S. Senate

    Winner: John Hickenlooper

    Background: Colorado’s former two-term Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, defeated Republican incumbent Cory Gardner in the race for the Senate by nearly 10 percentage points. Both candidates touted their environmental records, but only Hickenlooper highlighted climate change as a major platform issue, calling it “the defining challenge of our time.”

    In his acceptance speech, Hickenlooper said that, “Regardless of which party ends up controlling the Senate, I want you to know that I will work with anyone and everyone to help Coloradans… to protect our planet, and address the nightmare of these endless wildfires by tackling climate change.”

    If Biden wins the presidency, he would need support from both the House and the Senate to pass major pieces of his $2 trillion climate plan…

    Gardner has often refused to acknowledge human-caused climate change, and focused instead on his public lands and conservation record, including the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. But conservationist saw Gardner’s record as problematic, for things like not stopping the Trump administration from rolling back clean air and water rules.

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    Denver Climate Tax

    Result: Ballot Measure 2A passes

    Background: Denverites signed off on 2A, a measure that increases sales and use taxes levied on most goods by .25 percent, according to unofficial election results. The proposal should generate about $36 million a year to fund programs to combat and adapt to climate change, including cleaner transportation, upgrades to infrastructure and improving the energy-efficiency of streets and local homes and buildings.

    Other cities have adopted more direct taxes on carbon emissions, but the Denver climate tax is unique. Opponents worried about the disproportionate impact of hiking the sales tax, which many consider “regressive” because they’re paid equally by people with different income levels.

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Wolf Reintroduction

    Result: Proposition 114 passes

    Background: Coloradoans approved Proposition 114, which clears a path for state wildlife authorities to bring wolves back to the Western Slope by 2024.

    The Associated Press had not officially called a winner in the campaign by the time this story was published, but proponents of the measure declared victory, opponents conceded defeat and state wildlife officials expect the measure to pass.

    Supporters said reintroducing wolves will positively affect other animals’ evolution and support biodiversity in an ecosystem that was long shaped by the predators.

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    Boulder: 2C and 2D

    Result: Ballot Measure 2C and 2D likely to pass

    Background: Ten years ago, Boulder voters rejected a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy and decided instead to pursue a city-run electric utility, which proponents said would give residents more control over the source of the county’s electricity and pollution that fuels climate change.

    In approving 2C, Boulder voters agreed to pause the municipalization effort and re-enter a 20-year franchise arrangement with Xcel, part of a settlement agreement in which the utility said it will slash carbon emissions from Boulder operations at least 80 percent by 2030.

    Boulder voters also appear to have voted to pass 2D, which extends a city utility tax originally enacted to pay for municipalization expenses. The measure repurposes the tax to fund to-be-determined green energy projects.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Colorado River Water Conservation District: Ballot Measure 7A

    Result: Approved, according to preliminary count — 163,384 votes in favor; 61,689 opposed

    Background: Western Slope voters approved a property tax increase to fund various projects designed to improve and secure water supplies for the 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District, preliminary results show

    Ballot Measure 7A will raise property taxes by a half-mill in 2021 and is expected to bring in $4.9 million, most of which will fund projects that improve the quality and availability of water throughout the Colorado River watershed, which is threatened by climate change.

    @KamalaHarris becomes first Black woman, South Asian elected vice president — The #Colorado Sun

    Kamala Harris. By United States Senate – This file has been extracted from another file: Kamala Harris official photo.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64332043

    From The Associated Press via The Colorado Sun:

    Kamala Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades

    Kamala Harris made history Saturday as the first Black woman elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

    The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington’s power centers. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago.

    Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, serving as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After Harris ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice president on Jan. 20.

    Biden’s running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn’t committed to seeking a second term in 2024.

    Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy — often undervalued — of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.

    “We’re not often taught their stories,” Harris said in August as she accepted her party’s vice presidential nomination. “But as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders.”

    […]

    Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution “more accessible to more people” and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

    Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life…

    “British 19th Century, East Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), late 19th century, gouache on oriental paper, overall: 42.2 x 33.4 cm (16 5/8 x 13 1/8 in.), Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.19.1”. By British 19th Century – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the National Gallery of Art. Please see the Gallery's Open Access Policy., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81415124

    Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower,” and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

    The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

    Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Harris’ power comes not just from her life experience but also from the people she already represents. California is the nation’s most populous and one of its most diverse states; nearly 40% of people are Latino and 15% are Asian. In Congress, Harris and Jayapal have teamed up on bills to ensure legal representation for Muslims targeted by Trump’s 2017 travel ban and to extend rights to domestic workers…

    “That’s the kind of policy that also happens when you have voices like ours at the table,” said Jayapal, who in 2016 was the first South Asian woman elected to the U.S. House. Harris won election to the Senate that same year.

    Harris’ mother raised her daughters with the understanding the world would see them as Black women, Harris has said, and that is how she describes herself today.

    She attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women. She campaigned regularly at HBCUs and tried to address the concerns of young Black men and women eager for strong efforts to dismantle systemic racism.

    Her victory could usher more Black women and people of color into politics.

    Voters overwhelmingly pass #ColoradoRiver District tax hike — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    A boater paddles the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale May 16, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Western Slope voters have overwhelmingly passed a proposal by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to raise property taxes across its 15-county region.

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    The River District announced that the measure had received voter approval in a news release at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, saying the organization is ready to get to work implementing water projects across the district.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado.

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups.

    Eagle County Commissioner and River District board member Kathy Chandler-Henry, who also served as vice-chair of the political action committee Yes on 7A, said it would have been nearly impossible for the River District to protect Western Slope water without the tax increase.

    “I’m glad people throughout the district saw the value in that, even though it’s a tough time to be asking for a tax increase,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win and a huge vote of confidence in the work the River District’s been doing.”

    The River District, based in Glenwood Springs and created by the state legislature in 1937 to develop and protect water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    This story ran in The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Summit Daily News, the Vail Daily, the Steamboat Pilot and Today and the Sky-Hi News.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Millions in new taxes approved for #WestSlope, #FrontRange #water districts — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Water won big in Colorado on Election Day as voters in two multi-county districts approved property tax increases to fund water projects and programs.

    Voters in two local water districts — the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the West Slope and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District on the Front Range — said yes to ballot measures that will generate millions of dollars in new money for conservation, water education, stream health, storage and agriculture.

    Based on vote totals as of 4:30 a.m. this morning, 72 percent of voters in the Colorado River District approved ballot issue 7A, with nearly 28 percent voting against the measure.

    Meanwhile, 69 percent of voters in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District approved a separate ballot issue 7A, with 31 percent voting against.

    Though statewide funding for water projects has historically been a tough sell for Colorado voters, local initiatives with a more direct connection to residents are finding more success at the polls in recent years. These 2020 water funding ballot measures come on the heels of similar successes in 2018, when voters in Denver, Eagle, Chaffee and Park counties approved tax increases, new taxes, and tax extensions for water and land-focused initiatives.

    “Passing any type of fiscal measures statewide in Colorado is going to continue to be an extreme challenge but it’s a much different story on the local level and the regional level,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers, which supported the Colorado River District measure. “People in Colorado like to make their own decisions locally about fiscal issues, but also about how we manage and protect and restore our rivers for the environment, for agriculture and for local economies.”

    In deciding to ask voters for more money this year, the two districts’ leaders cited factors like growing demand for water, drought, higher temperatures, population growth, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

    Those reasons resonated with voters on both sides of the political spectrum across the state. On the West Slope, for example, voters in right-leaning counties like Mesa and Montrose and left-leaning counties like Pitkin and Summit approved the ballot measure. (Of note: Nearly 80 percent of voters in Pitkin County approved the ballot measure, despite opposition by three county commissioners and the county’s representative on the district’s board.)

    “It’s really a testament to what can happen if people put aside partisan differences on water issues,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Voters in Colorado are seeing the effects of rising temperatures, changing climate and the impact it’s having on water resources, and they know that we need to adapt and mitigate and that it’s going to cost money to do that.”

    An angler casts a line on the Roaring Fork River upstream of Basalt in Pitkin County. West Slope voters said yes to millions in new taxes for the Colorado River District. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    West Slope says yes

    In the large Colorado River District, which includes 15 counties and some 500,000 residents, voters approved a mill levy increase that will double the district’s budget by generating an additional $4.9 million every year starting in 2021.

    The district spans an area that covers 28 percent of the state and encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, which include the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

    With the passage of the ballot measure, West Slope voters approved a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents of Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties. The increase represents an additional $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of home value.

    The district, which has 22 employees, will use the new funding for projects related to agriculture, infrastructure, water quality, conservation, efficiency, and other key priority areas determined by local communities and river basin roundtables.

    District leaders say they will also stretch the extra money further by using it to solicit matching funds from state, federal and private sources.

    Water funding on the Front Range

    It was also a historic night for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, where voters approved a property tax increase for the next 10 years. This is the first time in nearly 50 years — since its founding in 1971 — that the district has asked voters for more funding.

    The district’s board thought long and hard about how best to approach voters — and whether this was the right year to do it. But in the end, their approach paid off.

    “The discussions were good and essentially resulted in consensus and agreement with the board,” said Chris Smith, board vice president representing district 3, which encompasses northwest Longmont and parts of unincorporated Boulder County. “It was all done in a very thoughtful manner, which speaks a lot to having a board that represents, geographically, the entire watershed.”

    Smith said he was happy to see the West Slope ballot measure pass, too.

    “The people of Colorado have really keyed in on the importance of water,” he said. “There are so many new people moving to Colorado, it’s good to see that they’re carrying on that mantle of protecting our most important resource.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand district encompasses some 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties. Voters agreed to a mill levy increase from 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills through 2030.

    The tax increase will generate an additional $3.3 million per year for the district starting in 2021, up from the $421,000 generated annually by the current mill levy. On a $350,000 home, the tax increase represents an additional $2.61 per month; on a $500,000 commercial building, it’s an extra $15.10 per month.

    District leaders say they will use the extra money for projects related to water quality, river and creek health, water education, agriculture, storage and conservation, among others.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Water for #Colorado Coalition Applauds the Passage of $8 Million to Protect Colorado’s Rivers — Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

    Today, the Water for Colorado coalition celebrates the passage of two key local ballot measures that will increase investment in Colorado’s rivers and streams. Together these measures will generate nearly $8 million annually to support critical water-related needs.

    Voters approved a property tax increase for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which will provide $3.3 million a year to protect water quality, safeguard drinking water, maintain healthy forests, rivers and creeks, plan ahead for dry years and grow food locally. The funds will be allocated using the District’s recently developed 5-Point Water Action Plan that will protect rivers, forests, and local water quality.

    On the West Slope, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will bring in nearly $5 million a year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health, and water quality in the 15 counties that make up the district. According to its Fiscal Implementation Plan, the District will allocate these funds through partnerships with water users and communities for priority projects identified by local communities and Basin Roundtables.

    Local funding from both measures will support the types of solutions and water management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    “Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value protecting our rivers and streams, and that’s why an incredibly diverse group of Coloradans unified in support of the two funding measures,” said Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers Program Director. “The passage of these two ballot measures will mean communities will have $8 million more a year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife. But while we’re justifiably celebrating today, the wildfires that have been burning across the state this fall are a destructive reminder that climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and we all need to keep working for full funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    “Both measures provide an essential blueprint to these river districts to better manage water supplies and, in turn, support the communities and economies that rely on them,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers. “Voters have clearly rallied around water as a shared priority and recognized the urgent need to safeguard our drinking water, protect forests that are critical to water supplies, and maintain healthy rivers and creeks.”

    “Our economy depends on a healthy, reliable Colorado River System, and Colorado voters realized that in the passage of two ballot issues on water yesterday. Billions of dollars are generated every year in Colorado by river-related recreation, and we know that healthy rivers mean a thriving economy across our communities. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District can now implement their five-point plan to protect that area’s rivers and water sources, and the Colorado River District can continue its important, locally driven work throughout the 15 counties they serve,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship.

    “The passage of these measures comes as Colorado continues to grapple with extreme wildfires and ongoing drought conditions across the state. The water Coloradans use to drink, irrigate crops, recreate, and sustain our communities is water that we share with wildlife that depend on our rivers, streams, and lakes. In the face of a historic drought and the ongoing threat of climate change, these kinds of forward-looking investments in how we care for and sustain our water supplies are critical to ensuring the collective future of the people and wildlife of Colorado,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies .

    “I want to applaud Coloradans who voted to keep our rivers healthy and flowing. The wise investment they approved will protect clean drinking water and iconic waterways now and for future generations,” said Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.

    Coloradans continue to prioritize water by voting to approve ballot measures that use tax revenues to invest in healthy rivers, clean drinking water, resilient agriculture, and a thriving recreation economy. This year’s double win marks another voter-approved effort to fund work that supports the Water Plan. In November 2019, voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to help fund Colorado’s Water Plan.

    However, the Water for Colorado Coalition will continue its efforts to fully fund the Water Plan. This is essential, because even though these local ballot measures will generate significant funding for water in Colorado, a larger funding gap for implementing Colorado’s Water Plan remains. The Water Plan estimates that $100 million dollars per year is needed to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages in the state.

    About the Water for Colorado Coalition
    The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.

    The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

    #ColoradoRiver District Issue 7A: Voters overwhelmingly pass River District tax hike — The #Aspen Times #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups…

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

    Vote Yes on 7A for Our Water #VOTE

    Here’s the release from the campaign:

    Today, the Yes on 7A For Our Water Campaign launches in support of ballot Question 7A, a measure to ensure funding for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District to protect our clean water and healthy forests, rivers, and creeks.

    “Nothing is more important than clean water. We need to step up and ensure our communities have clean water to drink,” said Christopher Smith, General Manager at Left Hand Water District and St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District Board Member. “By protecting our forests, rivers and creeks we can ensure we have safe, clean reliable water. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District is our advocate for protecting our water. Please join me in voting Yes on 7A.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District serves communities in the counties of Boulder, Weld and Larimer, from the mountains to the plains including residents in Lyons, Longmont, Mead and Firestone and the surrounding area draining into St. Vrain and Left Hand Creeks. The District works to protect local water quality and ensure we have water supplies for generations to come.

    “When we started Left Hand Brewing, we wanted to establish our brewery in a community with a long history of clean, reliable water,” said Eric Wallace, President of Left Hand Brewing. “Longmont was a clear winner, and it is no coincidence that our brewery is located right on the “Mighty St. Vrain”. I am voting yes on 7A because it is a great investment in clean water, which is essential for our business, community, and the next generation.”

    “A yes on 7A Vote means we will preserve our spectacular creeks that feed our natural and human environment,” said Barbara Luneau, President of the St. Vrain Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited. Seeing trout in a river indicates clean, high-quality water. Since the September 2013 flood, trout and native fish habitat has increased because of post-flood stream restoration. There is more work to be done to restore our creeks with limited funding available. Voting yes on 7A will bring desperately needed funding to improve our creeks and maintain our high- quality water.”

    For nearly 50 years, the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District has successfully protected our water by facilitating conservation programs, protecting water quality, educating the public and developing and managing water projects. The District has never once asked voters for additional funds. Voting Yes on 7A will ensure the District can continue supporting local agriculture, healthy rivers, and a secure water future. Cost to homeowners will be approximately $9.00 per $100,000 of assessed value, similar to the cost of a cup of coffee per month. For businesses the cost is $36.24 per $100,000 of assessed value. 7A will automatically end or sunset after 10 years.

    “As a representative for the nation’s oldest Cattlemen’s Association, I know how important water is for the ranching and farming community. Grazing lands within the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District are high quality – in part because of the water used to irrigate fields,” said Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “Not only are these fields important for farming and ranching but they also provide food and habitat for wildlife. Voting yes on 7A is good for your local food, water and wildlife. Vote Yes on 7A.”

    For more information about 7A, please visit: http://www.svlhfriend.org.

    @InsideClimate News: In Final Debate, [the President] and @JoeBiden Display Vastly Divergent Views—and Levels of Knowledge—On #Climate #ClimateChange #ActOnClimate

    Boulder County Solar Contractor Residential Commerical. Photo credit: Flatiron Solar

    From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

    The candidates’ discussion on climate change Thursday revealed, again, the significant gulf between a president who has spent the last four years rolling back climate regulations, placating the fossil fuel industry and mocking the climate threat, and a candidate who has called climate change “an existential crisis” and developed a plan to tackle the problem—though one that climate progressives say still falls short.

    “This debate was historic: the first-ever general election Presidential debate with climate change as a pre-defined topic and the first debate where climate change was framed out of the gate by the moderator in terms of jobs, the economy, and what the candidates’ plans were—not if the existential crisis even exists,” said Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

    In the debate, the last before Election Day, Trump and Biden fielded questions about a range of topics, most prominently the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, though the biggest question lingering in viewers’ minds may have been whether Trump would adhere to the debate rules and focus on issues and policy.

    Late into the hour-and-a-half debate, Welker asked the candidates how they would tackle climate change, while also supporting job growth.

    Trump began by reprising what has been his stock response to questions about climate change, citing the “Trillion Trees Program”—in the previous debate he erroneously referred to the program as a plan to plant a “billion” trees—and adding, “I do love the environment.”

    He went on to say,”We have the lowest number in carbon emissions,” an apparent reference to emissions falling during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seemed pleased with his mastery of the term, taunting Biden about whether he was familiar with the concept.

    “I’m not sure he knows what it means,” Trump said.

    The Trillion Trees Program has been broadly embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, but scientists have said the plan is inadequate for addressing climate change, that it will only put a tiny dent in emissions and is a distraction from a necessary shift away from fossil fuels.

    Emissions dropped during the pandemic, but are now on the rise again, continuing an upward trend that has continued since the beginning of the Trump presidency. The most recent full-year figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, for 2018, show that fossil fuel emissions drove a 3 percent rise in overall greenhouse gas emissions in that time period.

    As he has throughout his bid for the presidency, Biden emphasized a shift to renewable energy, saying his $2 trillion clean economy jobs program would create more than 18 million jobs.

    “The oil industry pollutes,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time…. I’d stop giving federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry.”

    Trump, sensing an opportunity to appeal to voters in battleground states with strong fossil fuels ties, pounced on the comment.

    “That’s the biggest statement,” Trump said, turning to look directly into the camera. “Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”

    Trump also reiterated a trope of the fossil fuel industry, calling a shift to renewables a “pipe dream” and saying that wind turbines kill “all the birds.” In a muddled response, he misleadingly suggested that the construction of wind turbines “is more than anything that we are talking about with natural gas.”

    Biden responded, “Find me a scientist who says that.”

    Trump also attacked Biden’s climate plan, falsely saying it would cost $100 trillion.

    “They want to take buildings down because they want to take bigger windows and make them smaller windows,” Trump said, referring to the proposal. “Little tiny windows and many other things.”

    The proposal says nothing about shrinking windows.

    Trump also attacked Biden on his statements on fracking and natural gas, falsely accusing the Democratic candidate of supporting a ban on fracking and changing his position to court voters in Pennsylvania, a natural gas-intensive and critical swing state, won narrowly by Trump in 2016.

    Biden corrected Trump, saying he would only ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands, but supports fracking elsewhere as necessary while the country transitions to a clean energy economy—a position that has been criticized by some climate advocates in the progressive wing of the party.

    Biden framed addressing climate change as an ethical matter and part of a broader shift to rejoining global peers

    “We have a moral obligation to deal with it,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”

    “We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear,” Biden said, saying that he’d advance an economy “motivated” by clean energy. “We can grow this economy,” Biden said. “What’s on the ballot here is the character of our country.”

    Environmental activists largely applauded Biden’s performance, even as many vowed to push him to take bolder steps.

    “We are committed to holding a Biden administration accountable to stop fracking and protect our communities,” said 350 Action North America Director Tamara Toles O’Laughlin Black. “Indigenous, and communities of color continue to bear the brunt of Donald Trump and his fossil fuel lies. It’s time for a just transition for workers across the industry. The planet can’t take four more years of Trump’s deadly mismanagement and plain incompetence.”

    #Denver’s unique sales tax to fight #ClimateChange could be a blueprint for future action nationwide — The #Colorado Sun

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    From The Colorado Sun (Evan Oschner):

    Denver voters this year could give the city a unique tool for fighting climate change that is unlike strategies pursued by other U.S. cities. Across the nation, local authorities are taking on responsibility for fighting the warming planet amid gridlock at the federal level.

    Denver’s idea is different because ballot measure 2A would use the proceeds from a dedicated sales tax increase to raise roughly $40 million a year to invest in renewable energy, clean transportation, energy efficiency and more.

    If voters approve the tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, it could serve as a model for policy options in other cities. “We truly are pioneering this,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, who sponsored the measure to get the issue on the ballot. Clark said two other municipalities have reached out to Denver to talk about implementing a similar proposal themselves.

    As fires torch the West and hurricanes slam the East, the threat of a changing climate has become more pressing, and cities are more urgently taking action. The situation is so dire that local governments are more likely to try to tackle this intractable problem, said Cooper Martin, an expert in sustainability policy at the National League of Cities…

    Denver’s idea is inspired by action in some other cities, Clark said, pointing to Boulder. And action by cities, regardless of the strategy, is generally driven by the lack of federal action to address the climate crisis. President Barack Obama joined the Paris climate accords and put in place emissions cutting measures through executive action, but President Donald Trump has waged a yearslong campaign to repeal many of his predecessor’s environmental policies.

    The inaction at one level has led to action at another. “Local effort is really what we’ve had for the last 10 years, and I think that it’s been valuable,” said Mark Smith, an economics professor who studies environmental policy at Colorado College.

    For Denver, that means raising the sales tax to 8.56% from 8.31% to support green projects in the city. If approved, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The money raised would be divided among six categories covering a range of environmental issues.

    The categories prioritize environmental justice and include training programs to empower people to work in clean energy as well as investment in renewable energy.

    Other funds will be dedicated to making the city’s infrastructure cleaner by reducing reliance on cars and improving mass transit. According to the city, transportation is responsible for 30% of the city’s emissions. Another 50% of the city’s emissions are attributed to new and existing buildings, and the tax funds would be used to upgrade the energy efficiency of office and residential spaces.

    Proponents say many of the elements of the bill are intended to offset a reality of the proposal: It is fundamentally a regressive tax. That’s because sales taxes are regressive, meaning they require lower income individuals to pay a higher proportion of taxes.

    The bill that put the measure on the ballot says city officials must try to invest half of the funds it raises directly into the community and prioritize efforts to steer funds toward under-resourced communities.

    Clark says these stipulations are designed to ensure lower income and marginalized communities receive more benefits from the tax than they pay into it.

    Hick on Western Slope water: ‘Don’t divert … unless it’s absolutely necessary’ — Real Vail #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

    RealVail.com also checked in with Hickenlooper — a Democrat who’s leading incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in most polls in the Nov. 3 election – on the topic of transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope drainages of the dwindling Colorado River Basin to the Front Range cities where most of the state’s people live.

    The former Denver mayor, brew pub owner and oil and gas geologist said that, as much as possible, Western Slope water should stay on the Western Slope.

    “When we created the Colorado Water Plan, one of the real focuses there was to make sure that we don’t divert water from one basin to another unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the things we set up in the water plan is the process by which we debate that and when people get crosswise over water, you don’t just go to a fight.”

    The context of the question was a proposal by Homestake Partners, comprised of the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, to conduct test drilling in the Homestake Creek drainage near Red Cliff to determine the best site for a new dam for the proposed Whitney Reservoir, which would provide the cities up to 20,000 acre-feet in average annual yield.

    Local towns, politicians and statewide conservation groups oppose even the test drilling, which was delayed in the U.S. Forest Service permitting process by the record wildfire season…

    Climate Change Amplifies Colorado’s Water Diversion Debate

    Nearly 5 million people live on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, along what’s known as Colorado’s “Front Range,” where communities established on semi-arid prairie land need more water to keep expanding.

    Now a water battle is brewing over whether the booming population centers of Aurora and Colorado Springs, with nearly 900,000 residents combined, can claim water from a remote valley on the other side of the Rockies, collect it in a new reservoir and pump it across the Continental Divide.

    For many residents of bucolic Eagle County on the “Western Slope,” where Homestake Creek meanders through mountain meadows, lush wetlands and ancient fens on its way to the endangered Colorado River, it’s time to end transmountain diversions once and for all as the climate warms and drought intensifies.

    But officials in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Colorado Springs, argue they can collect the water in a new reservoir and make use of it without drastically disturbing the surrounding wilderness. More to the point: they’ve owned the rights to 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield since 1952 and say it’s time to start exploring if they can use it—for drinking water and on suburban lawns.

    “Because water is the lifeblood and it’s so important, we have been doing a relatively good job of having collaborative conversations that are getting us to a point, but the issue is growth and climate change are both happening now so fast and historically these collaborative conversations take a really long time,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

    “Are we going to be able to address that at the scale and speed that the problem is moving?” Scherr added. “So, you hate to see this end up being essentially a war for water, but if we don’t figure out how to do it in a holistic way, that could be our future.”

    Proposition 117 explained — The #Colorado Sun #VOTE

    From The Colorado Sun (Brian Eason):

    It’s the rare point of bipartisan agreement in Colorado politics where public spending is concerned: Since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took effect in 1992, state lawmakers have increasingly turned to fees to fund government operations.

    But how you feel about that development, depends on your politics. To the left, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the state’s strict restrictions on taxation. To the right, it’s a sign that TABOR, the state’s landmark constitutional amendment governing public spending, didn’t go far enough to restrain government growth.

    This November, that debate goes to voters, as it so often does in Colorado, in the form of a complicated ballot measure that demands an up-or-down vote on the future of the state’s fiscal policy.

    Proposition 117, supported by conservative anti-tax groups, would require voter approval for the creation of certain fee-funded state government programs known as “enterprises.” Traditionally, these are public entities, like water utilities, parks or toll roads, that operate like a business because they are funded primarily by user fees rather than taxes.

    Existing enterprise programs would be exempt from the new requirements, and the referendum would apply only to new fees that generate $100 million over their first five years, or an average of $20 million annually. And unlike the voter-consent requirements found in TABOR, local governments would be exempt from additional requirements.

    Nonetheless, if the proposition passes, it would represent a major expansion of voter control over Colorado fiscal policy that would reshape future budget fights and further limit the ability of state lawmakers to create government programs.

    A nonpartisan legislative analysis found that had Proposition 117 been in effect previously, it would have triggered elections on seven of the 16 government-run state enterprises Colorado had in place in 2019, affecting as much as $7.6 billion in annual public spending by universities, state parks and prisons. It also would have required voter approval for a reinsurance program pushed by Gov. Jared Polis that imposed new fees on health insurance plans and hospitals.

    Here’s an overview of what you should know about Proposition 117 and enterprise funds.

    What are state enterprises, and why do they matter in Colorado?

    State and local governments all over the country rely on so-called enterprise funds to pay for essential services. These are effectively government-run businesses that mostly operate with the fees they charge to users. In Colorado, state and local taxes can’t make up any more than 10% of an enterprise fund’s revenue.

    Common examples include public water utilities, municipal airports and the entities that operate toll roads. But enterprises take on a special significance in Colorado because of the state’s unique restraints on taxation.

    TABOR, added to the state constitution in 1992, does two key things that have contributed to the proliferation of enterprises.

    One, TABOR requires voter approval for all new taxes — but not fees, which are legally distinct from taxes in that they can’t be used for general government services. Instead, courts have said they have to fund something that’s reasonably connected to the fee itself. For instance, toll fees can pay for road maintenance, and park fees can pay for parks upkeep, but neither could be used to pay for health care or courts. And because voters have rejected most new statewide taxes in the TABOR era, lawmakers tend to view fees as a more politically feasible way to boost spending on public services. Not all government fees are tied to enterprise funds, but that’s the purpose for many of them.

    Two, TABOR prevents general government spending from increasing faster than a revenue cap, which limits the growth of the state budget to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Historically, this limit has not allowed the state to keep up with the growth in expenses such as Medicaid caseloads or schools. So to pay for new initiatives without cutting funding to other areas of the budget or asking for new taxes, lawmakers effectively have to set up programs as an enterprise, which TABOR explicitly exempts from its spending limit.

    A legislative analysis published in the Blue Book ballot information guide shows examples of recent enterprise fees in Colorado that would need voter approval if Proposition 117 wins approval in November 2020. (Screenshot)

    State lawmakers also have used this mechanism to prevent existing programs from crowding out other services. College tuition and student fees, for instance, were reclassified in 2004 and now make up the state’s largest enterprise, generating $5.1 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. More recently, lawmakers converted a hospital-bed fee that helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to an enterprise fund; it now generates around $1 billion a year.

    The case against Proposition 117

    Opponents view Proposition 117 as an unnecessary restraint that will make it that much harder for lawmakers to fund public services. And they balk at the notion that lawmakers have turned to fees to circumvent TABOR. The constitutional provision explicitly allows lawmakers to create fee-funded enterprises without the same restraints it imposes on taxes.

    Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, blames TABOR’s restrictions for the chronic underfunding of K-12 education, higher education and transportation — all in a state where, before the pandemic, the economy had consistently been rated among the nation’s strongest. He fears that placing new restrictions on enterprises will make matters worse.

    And, he says, it’s simply not good government to continually put esoteric fiscal policy questions — like the $34 million petroleum storage tank enterprise, which charges fees to fund environmental clean-ups — on the ballot.

    “Why do we want to make these very specific, technical, user-based issues politicized fights, where big money can come in and really distort the issue?” Wasserman said during the debate.

    “This is why we send people to the state Capitol who are trying to operate government on our behalf,” he added.

    State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, also urged voters to reject it, saying that Proposition 117 would limit the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing financial crisis created by the coronavirus.

    “Our teachers, doctors and nurses can’t afford more cuts and cannot be shut out of this recovery,” Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said in a statement. Proposition 117 and the Proposition 116 measure to cut income taxes “would stall our recovery and permanently harm our ability to provide critical state services.”

    Notably, unlike TABOR and some of Colorado’s other constitutional fiscal constraints, Proposition 117 is a statutory change, meaning that lawmakers could override it by passing legislation. But there would be political risks in doing so if voters approved it on the ballot.

    The case in favor of Proposition 117

    To supporters, Proposition 117 is a natural extension of the voter protections provided by TABOR — protections that they argue lawmakers have undermined by leaning so heavily on enterprises.

    There’s no doubt that the growth of enterprising has been staggering. Just after TABOR took effect in the 1993-94 fiscal year, enterprise funds generated $742 million, which was just a fraction of the state’s total budget. In 2017-18, according to an analysis by Colorado Legislative Council, they generated nearly $18 billion. But not all of the total comes from fees. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to a separate legislative analysis, fee revenue collected by state enterprises only made up around 20% of the state’s roughly $29 billion budget.

    A graphic from a December 2018 state report from the Joint Budget CommitteeColorado Legislative Council shows how state revenue has shifted to sources outside TABOR in recent years. (Screenshot)

    Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, said during a recent debate that enterprise funds were “used for good things in the beginning,” such as college tuition, the state lottery and state parks.

    “What we’re concerned about is the things that it’s moving towards,” he said in the forum moderated by PBS12 and The Colorado Sun. “If you’re going to create a new program, you need buy-in from the people.”

    One enterprise that Fields suggests goes too far and should have received voter approval is the state’s new reinsurance program, which lawmakers decided to fund through health insurance fees after the coronavirus pummeled the state’s coffers. Legislative analysts expect it to generate $94 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year and more than $100 million annually after that.

    Colorado is more reliant on government fees than the average state, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, ranking 9th nationally in the percent of its budget that comes from service charges. Still, comparing fees and taxes across states is tricky. For one thing, Pew’s analysis excludes insurance funds, like Colorado’s unemployment trust fund, which is among the state’s largest enterprises. For another, Colorado’s “hospital provider fee” is considered a “bed tax” in many states, illustrating the degree to which TABOR has shaped even the words lawmakers use in creating policy.

    “The legislature has been going around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Fields said. “If they label something a fee, they don’t have to go to voters for approval.”

    Anxiety Mounts Abroad About #Climate Leadership and the Volatile U.S. #Election2020 — Inside Climate News #VOTE

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

    “The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate.”

    Whenever artist Michael Aschauer returns home after an extended stay in the United States, people here pepper him with questions about the direction America is heading.

    With gallows humor typical of the city, they often ask, “Will it fall apart slowly, or very fast?” he said, adding that Vienna has plenty of experience with how rising and falling empires can destabilize global systems.

    Aschauer is married to an American and keenly watches climate and energy politics on both sides of the Atlantic while trying to imagine a post-carbon future. In an informal social media art project, he documents gas stations that have been abandoned or converted to other uses.

    He said it’s hard to imagine that Americans would re-elect the incumbent president, but that it can’t be ruled out, either, given the current volatility of U.S. politics. “The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate,” he added.

    Carbon budgets detailed in recent climate reports show that four more years of pro-fossil fuel policies in the U.S.would make it much harder for the world to reach the Paris climate agreement goal of preventing catastrophic global warming, he said. On the other hand, Biden’s decarbonization plan would accelerate demand for renewable energy in the world’s biggest consumer economy and speed the global shift to a zero-carbon economy.

    He also said he’s noticed a brain drain away from the U.S. in fields like the arts and technology, and expects that to continue if Trump is reelected. Vienna, Berlin and other European cities are already full of American political refugees, he added.

    In terms of climate policy, four more years of Trump would be damaging indeed, said Austrian-born Gernot Wagner, a climate economics professor at New York University. “We don’t have another presidential term to waste,” he said. “A Trump win would be devastating, especially since it’s not about emissions in any given year, but about the trajectory.”

    And what happens in the U.S. affects China, Europe, India, Nigeria and elsewhere, he added. “A lot around climate policy is about momentum: ‘If you do something, then I will, too.’ A race to the top, rather than the bottom,” he said. “That’s what Paris was all about and still is. It’s also where a Biden victory can have the biggest impact.”

    But China’s recently announced carbon neutrality goal could be a game-changer for global climate policy, he wrote in a recent commentary.

    Political commentators in Europe say people care deeply about the American election because they understand it affects them, and not just because of climate policy. Some fear Trump, in a second term, could be prone to rogue actions that would trigger widespread economic and political instability.

    There are also concerns about malignant U.S. influence in spheres like social media, trade and energy policy. Iran sanctions and differences over a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany are potential flashpoints. Recent polling shows America’s reputation has sagged under Trump.

    Debate Debacle

    But it’s not all fear and loathing—people here say they feel a cultural, social and economic affinity with the U.S. And the interest is even more intense this year, after extensive international media coverage of the escalating cycle of police violence and destructive protests, as well as wildfires, hurricanes, the botched pandemic response and potential election chaos all painted a picture of a country in turmoil.

    Last week’s presidential debate reinforced global concerns about the direction of the U.S., said Reimund Schwarze, an environmental economist with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Trump’s recent statements questioning the legitimacy of the election process raise the specter of widespread unrest, he said.

    “It’s much deeper than environmental concerns. The motherland of democracy is stumbling, and this is a scary time,” said Schwarze, who has collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years, and whose daughter is currently a student at the University of Washington.

    During the recent civil uprisings in Seattle, he said his daughter described scenes of arbitrary law enforcement actions that reminded him of the totalitarian regime in East Germany back in the 1980s. Through his contacts with the EPA he’s also seen how Trump is undermining government institutions at the deepest level, another warning sign of incipient authoritarianism, he said.

    To explain why Germans perhaps are especially interested in the American election, he described the shared sense of elation in both countries at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as well as the intense alliance that formed in the preceding Cold War decades.

    “We felt this would bring a period of prosperity, of freedom to the world, at least our part of the world,” he said, adding that the direction of the U.S. under Trump puts that security and stability at risk, just as his abandonment of international commitments, like withdrawal from the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement, threaten international order.

    Global Governance

    Those worries were underlined by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in a Sept. 22 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, warning that the withdrawal of the U.S. and other countries into national shells does not bode well for pressing international policy questions.

    Addressing climate and other environmental challenges requires more, not less, international cooperation, he said. The builders of the U.N. 75 years ago had lived through a global depression, a pandemic, genocide and world war, and “knew the cost of discord and the value of unity.”

    In terms of climate, the future course of the U.S. is important because the country has emitted more total greenhouse gases than any other nation—29 percent, as much as the next four nations—China, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

    If the U.S. is not a big part of the push to limit the global temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, that goal seems even farther away than it is already, regardless what the rest of the world does.

    The world needs a U.S. president “who will value the lives of people across the world more than fossil fuels,” Ugandan youth climate activist Vanessa Nakate posted on Twitter recently.

    Equally important, European analysts note that American technology and science are critical parts of the global push to limit global warming. But the past four years of anti-science rhetoric and efforts to suppress climate science by the Trump administration suggest that the U.S. at the national level has abandoned that goal, they say, making it easier for other countries to do the same.

    Climate Finger-Pointing

    “The number-one question I get asked is, why should we do something if the U.S. isn’t doing anything,” said climate scientist Cara Aisling-Augustenborg, a lecturer at University College Dublin who has also been a climate activist and climate adviser to the Irish government.

    “Global climate policy is eking out an existence, barely, as it is,” she said. The lack of U.S. commitment and leadership may have encouraged other countries that already have motives to delay climate action. Australia wants to mine and export coal, and Brazil wants to slash forests so it can sell palm oil and cattle feed to Europe. “You can see why they would have an agenda,” she said.

    The American withdrawal from the Paris agreement garnered a lot of media attention in Ireland and helped build climate consciousness in a way that may have been perversely beneficial. No politicians wanted to be associated with Trump’s outright climate denial, which led to more climate action from the Irish government, she said.

    But if Trump is re-elected, the pendulum could swing further toward gloom, with an attitude of “we’re all going to hell anyway,” she said. “When you hear about how fast the ice is melting, and birds falling from the sky, it might be hard for me to continue advocating for climate action,” she said.

    New Zealander Kevin Trenberth, a long-time climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, is gloomy about U.S. prospects if Trump is re-elected. Climate policy is one thing, but he thinks survival of U.S. democracy is at stake in the election, he said.

    “I don’t think the U.S. can survive four more years of Trump and there could be a civil war of sorts,” he said. “Democracy in the U.S. does not work, dark money dominates, the whole system is corrupt, and major changes are needed. Science priorities are wrong, and that is why I am in New Zealand.”

    Global climate policy can’t take another four years of Trump, he added.

    “No. After Paris in 2015, there was hope but it has been downhill ever since and no countries are meeting their goals,” he said. ” Real leadership is required from the U.S. and China. There are no penalties in the Paris agreement and so it is only peer pressure that matters.”

    Trenberth said the “utter failure of the President and administration” in response to the pandemic was astounding, and a clear sign that the rest of the world can’t look to the U.S. for leadership as it once did.

    American climate scientist Jason Box, a Greenland ice expert working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, considers himself part of the brain drain from the U.S. He moved to Europe in 2013, partly spurred by a tax break that is part of Denmark’s “brain gain” policy, he said.

    He wouldn’t move back to the U.S. if Trump is reelected, he said. “But that’s not the only reason. Others would include too many guns in the U.S.,” as well as general security and environmental concerns. “I mean, there was looting around where my folks live after the fire evacuations. I think too many folks are desperate,” he said.

    Public interest in U.S. affairs is high, and the general reaction in the scientific community is a mixture of “shock and pity,” he said.

    Cavalry No More?

    The effect of the U.S. election on global climate policy can’t be separated from other policy areas, especially economic and energy policy, said Susanne Dröge, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

    U.S. policies the past four years have rattled transatlantic relations more than any time since the post-World War II realignments, including the end of the Soviet Union, and interest in U.S. affairs in Germany remains high “due to the general interest in the little world order we still have,” Dröge said.

    Even before Trump, the U.S. was signaling that Europe should take on more of a global leadership role, she added. “But even with that, there was a strong reliance that the U.S. will always be the cavalry that comes in when things go bad.”

    Obama helped lead the charge for the Paris climate agreement, she said, in what turned out to be a “very short, exceptional period” for cooperative climate policy. She fears that with four more years of Trump, it could be very hard to find a way to return to a cooperative path forward.

    In climate policy, Trump’s “u-turn in all dimensions” was not unexpected, but stunning nonetheless. And in spite of all that, to add complexity, U.S. emissions have generally declined the last few years, she added.

    U.S. antipathy to global climate policy, in any event, is like an ill wind that spreads mistrust and triggers disengagement by other countries.

    “Russia, China, Turkey, the Saudis are all saying, if the U.S. is not participating, why should we,” said Dröge, who closely monitors and analyzes global climate policy. “The bad example from the U.S. is more critical because it has such high leverage,” with the country still being a major economic power. If U.S. markets were to turn strongly to clean energy, it would help propel the rest of the world in the same direction.

    Climate Blues

    The U.S. has, for many years, determined war and peace at the global level. At the moment, the country’s policies are “moving the world towards climate disaster and possibly nuclear war,” said Helga Kromp-Kolb, director of the Global Center for Change and Sustainability at the University of Vienna.

    “No wonder Europeans have a deep interest in the results of the U.S. elections, as do the people the world over. I believe a significant part of the scientific community sees the threats clearly and is deeply concerned, not only regarding what the U.S. does, but also who will take over if, or when, U.S. leadership is lost,” she said.

    Trump’s emergence magnified an anti-science undercurrent that has always been part of U.S. culture, she said, adding that the real problem is that science has been misused, not only in the U.S., to support commercial products, like fossil fuels.

    “Of course climate science is hit especially hard by the denialism of the present U.S. government at the time when the world needs all the data and the expertise it can get,” she said.

    But a Biden win wouldn’t be a panacea for global climate policy, she cautioned.

    “With the U.S. back as part of the effort, the world would no doubt be on a better path in the climate issue,” she said. “But to reach the climate goals takes more than Mr. Biden has so far committed to.”

    Other Europeans also see a stormy political horizon for the U.S.

    “The U.S. system is struggling right now, and it’s not too big a frame to ask if democracy itself is at stake,” said Austrian political scientist Paul Schuierer-Aigner, who became interested in U.S. politics when Barack Obama became president. Trump’s tilt toward authoritarianism is all the more frightening because the U.S., for whatever its other failings, used to be a bulwark against such political tendencies, at least in Europe, he said.

    Now, just a few hundred miles east of Austria, Trump’s example has emboldened authoritarian leaders in Hungary and Poland, he said. “There are a lot of mini-Trumps in Europe, and we can learn a lot from those who are trying to defend democracy in the U.S. right now,” he added.

    For Schuierer-Aigner, Trump is more a symptom of the root problem, which he says is growing existential stress caused by late-stage neoliberal capitalism, including wealth disparity and economic insecurity. He’s encouraged by strengthening backlash led by young people in the Sunrise Movement and the leadership and policy alternatives presented by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat.

    “From what I see in the Democratic Party, there is a lot of movement, a lot of mobilization from the other side.” Even with time running short for meaningful climate action, he said, there is a hopeful scenario that a generational shift in politics in the U.S. could upend the political landscape for many years to come, leading to fundamental changes in U.S. policy.

    All over the world, people are waiting in suspense to see if Nov. 3 marks the start of that shift.

    “I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone,” Austrian ecologist Sarah Höfler posted on Twitter recently, “but the American election will, in my opinion, decide whether humanity has still a chance in the #ClimateCrisis. It is as simple as that.”

    Energy dominance or climate action: Trump, Biden and the fate of public lands — @HighCountryNews #VOTE #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Book Cliffs and Mt. Garfield (on right, approximate altitude 6,600′) in Mesa County, Colorado. By User Skez on en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here03:31, 2 March 2006 Skez 992×708 (137,232 bytes) (Near Grand Junction, CO Taken by Sean Davis http://flickr.com/photos/skez/32161524/), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=835434

    From The High Country News [This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) October 1, 2020] (Paige Blankenbuehler):

    In Grand Junction, Colorado, the presidential election is a choice between two distinct energy futures.

    On July 13, in Grand Junction, Colorado, a day after the coronavirus pandemic hit a local three-month peak, 45 elderly women flouted the state’s “safer-at-home” directive and withstood temperatures that reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit to meet at the Grand Vista Hotel for the Mesa County Republican Women’s Luncheon.

    Officially, the event was meant to spotlight an issue on this year’s ballot in Colorado, a contentious measure on wolf reintroduction in the state. But as the women milled about the hotel’s conference room, discarding their masks and embracing each other, the scene looked more like a reunion. Although the group, which was founded in 1944, typically gathers monthly in Grand Junction, Mesa County’s largest city, the meetings had been on forced hiatus since March, and the women were excited to be together, excited by their shared disobedience.

    The featured speaker was Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, but the true star of the day was Lauren Boebert, a feisty MAGA Republican who had just beaten a longtime incumbent, Rep. Scott Tipton, in the Republican primary. Boebert moved from table to table for introductions, handshakes and hugs, a sidearm holstered at her hip. At 33, she was the youngest there by decades. In Rifle, Colorado, where she has lived since the early 2000s, Boebert owns the Shooters Grill, where waitresses in tight flannel shirts and denim serve burgers and steaks with loaded handguns strapped to their hips or thighs. The Grill was shut down in May for repeatedly violating public health orders restricting in-person dining, but the publicity Boebert received from the conflict — and a GoFundMe petition for the Grill that raised thousands of dollars — assisted her bid for Congress.

    After a lunch of barbecued chicken, potato salad and corn muffins, the group’s president officially began the meeting. She recited a prayer, quoted Abraham Lincoln, and led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then she introduced key people in the room: candidates for the county commission, a representative from President Donald Trump’s Mesa County campaign office, and Boebert.

    Speaking to the room, Boebert described a conversation she had had with Trump, who called her after she won. “President Trump said that he was watching this from the very beginning,” Boebert said. “He said, ‘I knew that something big was going to happen with you, and now I get to call and congratulate you.’ He said, ‘Every day I’m fighting these maniacs, but now I have you to fight them with me.’”

    Her audience laughed and applauded. Boebert smiled brightly. “We are going to win this fight against the liberal socialist agenda and restore the potential for our community to develop our rich natural resources right here in the ground in Mesa County,” she said.

    Boebert is partly right; this election could mean a change in how much fossil fuels are extracted from public lands. Currently, a quarter of the crude oil produced in the United States comes from federal lands, and almost three-quarters of Mesa County is federally owned. Public land also accounts for 20% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making it key to any national energy (or climate) policy.

    If he wins in November, Trump promises to further his agenda of “energy dominance,” which has already opened millions of acres of federal land across the Western U.S. to energy extraction. But if his opponent, Joseph Biden, wins the presidency, he’ll bring with him the most progressive environmental platform ever proposed by a major party candidate. And, as with so many issues in this election, the stakes are high for communities that rely on public lands — and nowhere are these themes more amplified than in Grand Junction, the home of the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters.

    The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    THERE ARE 1,260 OIL WELL SITES scattered throughout Mesa County. The scene is not apocalyptic; the sites don’t dominate the landscape, and the machinery is tucked away from highways and out of view from the city center. In the rural communities that orbit Grand Junction, pumpjacks, compressors and pipes sit amid a mosaic of farms and ranchland, orchards and winery towns, and numerous biking and hiking trails.

    Some 63,000 people live in Grand Junction, more than 80% of them white, and around 15% Latino. The city is named for its location at the junction of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, and has a long history of mining, including uranium. In the 1970s, thousands of homeowners were warned that their homes had been built on non-mediated radioactive sites, marked by gray, sand-like waste from a defunct uranium mill downtown.

    Over the last decade, Grand Junction has developed a reputation for outdoor recreation and wineries. It is a city defined by two distinct identities: new liberal-leaning outdoor enthusiasts and a more rooted, conservative population. The different groups coexist amid the expansive public land with all its multiple uses: hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, motorized off-roading and skiing, as well as ranching and the extraction of oil, gas and coal.

    Downtown Grand Junction is home to more than 20 outdoor gear stores. Photo credit: AHolidayAway.com

    There are nearly 20 outdoor gear stores in the downtown vicinity alone, reflecting the myriad approaches to life here. Brochures, maps and pamphlets at places like Hill People Gear — a family-run institution that sells hand-sewn goods and promotes gun rights on its website — and Loki Outdoor gear — where an 18-year-old sales associate told me she was “definitely” voting for Biden — tout the many nearby places where one might recreate. About 73% of Mesa County is public land, but only 18% of it is protected from natural resource development. So far, Grand Junction has had enough room for a variety of perspectives and competing interests. Since Trump took office, however, he has offered more land for oil and gas development in his first two years as president than Obama did in his entire second term, auctioning off more than 24 million acres of public lands. If Trump is re-elected and continues to lease land at the rate of the last few years, opponents fear that land that could be managed for recreation, wildlife or conservation will wind up under the control of energy companies. At best, it will remain idle, but be inaccessible to the public. At worst, it will be immediately developed and directly contribute to greenhouse emissions in a world that is already nearing the critical threshold for the climate crisis.

    Even as Grand Junction has changed, the Trump years have widened the political and cultural divide between liberals and conservatives here. Multiple use and the concept of space for all have given way to sharpened political ideologies and divisiveness, and attitudes have hardened around the pandemic and its restrictions, while protests have arisen concerning police brutality.

    The Lunch Loops Trail System on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado, was developed on public land by the Bureau of Land Management and the local mountain bike trail association. About 73% of Mesa County is public land, and about 18% of it is protected from natural resource development. Photo credit: Andrew Miller/High Country News

    AFTER I LEFT THE REPUBLICAN WOMEN’S Luncheon, I drove west to the trailhead of Lunch Loops, a popular mountain biking trail network just outside Colorado National Monument. I was there to meet Sarah Shrader and Scott Braden, two of the town’s most prominent conservationists.

    Shrader and Braden represent an alternate vision for Grand Junction, a future in which a sustainable economy is built around abundant access to public lands. Both are relative newcomers to the area, but they’ve invested their personal and professional lives in the Colorado canyon country.

    I waited for them by a picnic table in the sweltering heat. Behind me, a rocky mesa hulked over the system of singletrack trails, extending out from narrow ledges and scarcely visible breaks in the canyons — the kind of landscape whose scale outflanks the mind’s ability to absorb it.

    The area is managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the city of Grand Junction. The local BLM office, with the help of the city and a number of other land-use agencies, is extending a connector trail all the way to the monument. Once it’s finished, a person will be able to bike from the heart of downtown Junction all the way to the monument in about 25 minutes.

    Soon, Braden arrived and shared some relief: iced black coffee sweetened with agave nectar, which he poured from a glass jar into a tin mug for me. Braden is 44, with a friendly smile and a dark goatee. He has worked for many conservation organizations and served a stint on a resource advisory council for the BLM. Now, he runs his own firm where he provides advocacy-for-hire for Western environmental and conservation groups.

    “Grand Junction is really the perfect place to be for me,” he told me as we drank. “This is a place with an economic identity built around cattle and sheep, oil and gas, uranium mining. But you look out on places like this, and you see the ability of outdoor rec as an industry to transform it.”

    Just then, Shrader drove up, parked, and walked towards us. Shrader is the head of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition, a local interest group she founded in 2015 to help outdoor recreation businesses work together to market the area as an international destination.

    The three of us stood on the sandy pavement drinking our coffee, using the picnic table to reinforce social distancing. The trails were empty except for one mountain biker, who was climbing a steep ascent to the edge of the ridge; we watched, half in awe, half concerned that the rider might collapse from heat exhaustion. Shrader thought she recognized the cyclist as a pro she knew. “I was riding my bike up the monument the other day, and she lapped me going up,” Shrader said, “and she lapped me again going down.”

    Shrader’s cheeks were moist with perspiration above a royal blue bandanna that she pulled down to drink her coffee. She moved from Prescott, Arizona, to Grand Junction in 2004 with her husband. In addition to running the coalition, Shrader owns a company called Bonsai Design, which builds adventure courses — hard-core mountain playgrounds with ziplines, obstacle courses, Indiana Jones-type bridges — for resorts, state parks and adventure-recreation companies. She started it in her basement in 2005, and her business grew quickly. She bought a building downtown, but outgrew that space, too. Just recently, she broke ground on a new location by the Colorado River — part of a revitalization project that features a water park designed to accommodate low-income families and encourage them to recreate on the river.

    Shrader said the Outdoor Recreation Coalition was formed to grow adventure-based industries and the higher quality of life that goes with them. “I did that to really start talking publicly and visibly about the outdoor rec economy here and to shift focus on primarily getting our wealth from the surface of the land, instead of underneath it,” she said.

    Recently, the president of Colorado Mesa University asked Shrader to develop and head a new outdoor rec industry program, which offers students experience and coursework on adventure programming, guide services and the fundamental accounting and finance classes needed to run an outdoor recreation business. This fall is its first semester. Shrader serves as the program’s director and also teaches a few classes. “It came from the demand of so many outdoor industry businesses here saying, ‘We need a talented and skilled workforce,’ ” she said. “I really created the program classes to be a reflection of what businesses need and what businesses want.”

    She envisions training a new workforce for outdoor-recreation businesses in what has become an $887 billion industry — creating stable, green, good-paying jobs in fields tied to conservation and landscape preservation.

    Shrader views the coming election as a crucial moment for Grand Junction. “When we’re talking about the economy, we’re talking about creating a quality of life that is bringing people here,” she told me. “Location-neutral workers, doctors, manufacturing companies — they don’t have to work in the outdoor rec industry, but they’re coming here and raising their families here, buying houses, buying commercial property here, paying their employees here because of this” — she motioned to the rocky mesas surrounding us.

    Braden and Shrader worry that Trump’s desire to develop more natural resources here could significantly alter the local landscape. “This place — along with Book Cliffs, Dolores Basin, Grand Mesa, the national monument — is the critical infrastructure of our community, if you’re thinking about creating that quality of life,” Braden said. “If an oil well and a surface oil truck is one picture of an economy future, this place would be the picture of the other economy future. We have a choice as a community, which one we want to run towards.”

    As Shrader drank her iced coffee, Braden continued. “Grand Junction is an avatar for this choice,” he said. “This is a place that, not too long ago, our picture of our economic future was an oil field. Now we have a choice.”

    FOR DECADES, the Bureau of Land Management has struggled to disentangle the two contradictory directives that make up its mission: management of the landscape for conservation, and a quota for sustained yield of that landscape’s natural resources. Its direction sways back and forth, reflecting the interpretation of the administration currently in charge of the agency’s mandate for multiple uses. The idea is that the political appointees who run the agency have a responsibility to take a balanced approach that keeps in mind the public land’s many resources — timber, energy, habitat and more — and its various other uses, including recreation, mining and grazing. The BLM’s mission, in its own words, is to balance these at-odds uses “for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

    But ever since the BLM was formed in 1946 by President Harry Truman, to act as the guardian of the public lands, it has served as more of a purveyor than a preserver of land, water and minerals. It was established to administer grazing and mineral rights, and it largely benefited ranching interests, officially combining the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service — both of which aided in the exploitative conquest of the Western United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    The agency has never found its balance. In 1996, President Bill Clinton made history by designating the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, the first national monument to be overseen by the BLM. Then, under George W. Bush, millions of acres of public land were leased for oil and gas drilling and logging, and “Drill, baby, drill!” became a 2008 Republican campaign slogan. Barack Obama’s tenure over Western public lands was marked by the implementation of policies meant to rein in extraction and focus on preservation. The result was a record of compromise and small gains: He delisted 29 recovered species, but weakened the Endangered Species Act; he designated over two dozen national monuments, more than any other president, but left other important public lands unprotected; he promoted tribal sovereignty, but failed to address systemic inequalities in Indian Country. And even though Obama is considered the first leader to seriously address climate change, he also oversaw surges in oil and gas production.

    Neil Kornze, who served as BLM director under Obama, told me that the agency acted as crucial connective tissue in addressing climate change. “As we think about climate solutions and the way that plants and animals are reacting to these really strong changes in our environment, the BLM becomes the bridge to other areas of refuge,” he said. “Questions about sustainable use and conservation are going to be really, really important for the next administration.”

    But while the Obama administration’s policies were aimed at protecting more public lands from energy development, the rollout of those regulations was difficult for Bureau of Land Management field offices across the West. Jim Cagney, the BLM’s former Northwest district manager, based in Grand Junction, told me that the administration was too ambitious, and it overreached. Effective land management, he said, happens over decades, not over the course of a single administration.

    “I don’t want to burst any environmentalist bubbles or anything, but those guys were really calling the shots from up above,” Cagney said. “My feeling at that time was that we can’t take on this many battles and win them. We’re going to get more pushback than we can handle. Can we slow down and bring this along at a sustainable pace? The Obama administration would have none of that.”

    Cagney, who worked for the BLM for three decades, retired before Trump became president. “It’s plainly obvious that (the Trump administration’s) public-lands approach is rooted in the denial of any science that conflicts with their extractive agenda,” Cagney said. “I’ve spent my lifetime trying to maintain a balanced, unbiased approach to public lands. I think both parties overplay their hand, and the ever-increasing pendulum swings associated with administration changes are making management of the public lands unaffordable and impractical.”

    SINCE HIS INAUGURATION IN 2017, Trump has worked hard to undo Obama’s legacy, especially when it comes to the environment. I interviewed more than a dozen former Interior Department employees, BLM directors and staff, conservationists, environmentalists and Washington insiders, and by most accounts, Trump has narrowed the vision of the beleaguered agency far more than any of his predecessors. “Energy dominance is not the same thing as multiple use,” Nada Culver, vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel for the National Audubon Society, told me. “It’s a very, very radical tug on the balancing act. There is a thumb on the scale.”

    Back in October 2016, I attended a campaign rally for then-candidate Trump on the tarmac of the Grand Junction airport. Ten thousand people waited more than four hours outside the arena. The scene was rowdy, joyous, like an energized fan base at a music festival. Although public lands account for nearly three-quarters of the land inside Mesa County’s limits, a place known as the gateway to the canyonlands and the home of Colorado’s first national monument, Trump never mentioned them explicitly. But he knew that energy development would resonate with his constituency. “We’re going to unleash American energy, including shale, oil, natural gas, clean coal,” he told the crowd. “That means getting rid of job-killing regulations that are unnecessary. … We’re going to put the miners right here in Colorado back to work.

    “We are going to dominate,” he said, as his audience whistled and whooped.

    Trump won Mesa County by 64% — 28 points more than Clinton. And so began what critics call his “frontal assault” on regulation and public-lands protections, and a chaotic remaking of the Bureau of Land Management. Just one week into his presidency, in his second executive order, Trump took aim at the National Environmental Policy Act — the bedrock environmental legislation that safeguards public land and resources for future generations by requiring thorough environmental impact analyses — and ordered expedited environmental reviews for high-priority infrastructure projects. A few months later, Trump ordered public-land agencies to remove regulatory burdens that blocked projects to develop the “nation’s vast energy resources,” giving agencies 45 days to review ongoing projects.

    According to an analysis by The New York Times, in the past few years, Trump has reversed 68 environmental rules; more than 30 similar rollbacks are currently in progress. Many of these moves impact the BLM. In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order to review all designations under the Antiquities Act; later that year, he shrank the boundaries of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. In December 2017, he scrapped a rule that required mines to prove that they could reclaim their mines; a month later, he ordered Interior to expedite rural broadband projects on public lands. Trump has exempted pipelines that cross international borders, such as the Keystone XL project, from environmental review. In April 2019, he lifted an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands; that summer, he nixed a ban on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    The new headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction, Colorado. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

    Trump has also refused to hire a BLM director. Instead, he selected William Perry Pendley, a controversial conservative with a history of lobbying to transfer public lands to local private interests, to serve as acting director in 2019. Trump sidestepped the nomination process altogether until this June, when he formally nominated Pendley to lead the agency in an official capacity. After months of outrage and opposition — notably from vulnerable Western politicians like Colorado’s Republican senator, Cory Gardner, who is up for re-election this year — Trump withdrew the nomination. Still, Pendley remained at the helm of BLM until a federal judge in Montana ordered Pendley to leave his post in late September. The judge concluded that Pendley served unlawfully as acting director for 424 days.

    By most accounts, Trump has been successful in advancing his agenda of energy dominance. Though American energy production set records during Obama’s tenure, according to the Interior Department, the revenue from federal oil and gas output in 2019 was nearly $12 billion — double that produced during Obama’s last year in office. The courts — and the uncertain economic situation — have acted to temper abrupt change, but Trump has done everything in his power to clear the way for development.

    “Four more years of Trump means a steady stream of oil and gas lease sales and locking in leases and fossil fuel emissions when we can’t afford it,” Kate Kelly, public-lands director for the Center for American Progress, an advocacy organization for progressive policies, told me. “We will continue to see every acre that could potentially be leased, leased, and the hollowing out of the agencies that are there to protect these landscapes.”

    In late summer, Trump revealed one of his most extreme changes yet: Amid the widespread economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, his administration finalized a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of NEPA. Trump’s change would fast-track infrastructure and result in shorter reviews and a narrower comment process, thereby limiting what the public is allowed to scrutinize. Already, 17 environmental groups have sued. “(NEPA) is a tool of democracy, a tool for the people,” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the firm representing the groups, wrote in the suit. “We’re not going to stand idly by while the Trump administration eviscerates it.”

    And Trump has promised to continue what he started if he’s re-elected in November. He remains skeptical of climate change, calling the crisis a “make-believe problem,” a “big scam” and a “Chinese hoax.” In countering Trump on the issue, Biden has been able to make his most compelling argument for the presidency yet: “There’s no more consequential challenge that we must meet in the next decade than the onrushing climate crisis,” he said at a virtual town hall in July. “Left unchecked, it is literally an existential threat to the planet and our very survival. That’s not up for dispute, Mr. President. When Mr. Trump thinks of climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs’ — green jobs and a green future.”

    Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the public lands are the battleground for the climate crisis. The United States is the world’s largest emitter of fossil fuels after China, meaning that the country must play an outsized role to curb the climate crisis. In order to keep rising temperatures within the critical 2 degrees Celsius threshold that scientists deem necessary to prevent the worst environmental impacts, the U.S. must decrease its total emissions by 25% by 2025. We are not on track to meet this benchmark, but reducing the 20% of emissions that occur on public lands would significantly help the nation to limit catastrophic ripple effects from the worsening crisis. The fight between Biden and Trump is really a fight over keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

    IN LATE OCTOBER 2019, Joe Biden traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a campaign rally. There, he encountered Lily Levin, an 18-year-old climate activist with the Sunrise Movement, an international coalition of more than 10,000 young people fighting for immediate action on climate change and skyrocketing inequality. “I’m Lily from Sunrise,” she said as Biden turned around to face her. “I’m terrified for our future. Since you’ve reversed and are now taking super PAC money — ”

    Biden held up a phone, pointed it toward himself and Levin, and took a selfie, as Levin continued: “How can we trust that you’re not fighting for the people profiting off climate change?”

    “Look at my record, child,” Biden responded.

    A few days earlier, Levin had learned that Biden was walking back an earlier promise that his campaign would not accept dark money from super PACS — interest groups that influence politics without regulations to require disclosures of the identities of their donors. “This lack of transparency is a problem, because young people simply cannot trust that politicians — who have kicked the can down the road for decades when it comes to climate change — will be on our side, unless we also know that they’re not taking a single dollar from the merchants of our planet’s destruction,” Levin wrote in an op-ed for BuzzFeed News a few days after the encounter.

    Biden has struggled to capture the support of the progressive arm of the Democratic constituency, and his exchange with Levin deepened the doubts of the Sunrise Movement, which, since its creation in 2017, has become an influential force in Democratic politics. The group was an early champion of the Green New Deal, which was initially mocked by politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, as being overly ambitious and impractical. By 2019, however, 16 of the Democrats running for president had endorsed it. Biden was not among them.

    A few days earlier, Levin had learned that Biden was walking back an earlier promise that his campaign would not accept dark money from super PACS — interest groups that influence politics without regulations to require disclosures of the identities of their donors. “This lack of transparency is a problem, because young people simply cannot trust that politicians — who have kicked the can down the road for decades when it comes to climate change — will be on our side, unless we also know that they’re not taking a single dollar from the merchants of our planet’s destruction,” Levin wrote in an op-ed for BuzzFeed News a few days after the encounter.

    Biden has struggled to capture the support of the progressive arm of the Democratic constituency, and his exchange with Levin deepened the doubts of the Sunrise Movement, which, since its creation in 2017, has become an influential force in Democratic politics. The group was an early champion of the Green New Deal, which was initially mocked by politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, as being overly ambitious and impractical. By 2019, however, 16 of the Democrats running for president had endorsed it. Biden was not among them.

    When Biden released his initial climate plan in June 2019, it fell far below what youth climate activists demanded, focusing more on market-driven changes rather than federal mandates to limit emissions. It shied away from a carbon tax, for example, instead favoring policies that finance emission-cutting efforts by the private sector. That December, the Sunrise Movement gave Biden an “F” rating, deriding his plan for its lack of specificity and saying it fell far short of promises made by other presidential candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Polls from the time showed that Biden lost more than three-quarters of voters younger than 45. “We don’t have to beat around the bush,” one Sunrise member said. “Young people ain’t voting for Joe Biden.”

    But in the months following the primaries, Biden abandoned his moderation in favor of a bolder, more progressive climate stance, largely as a result of pressure from the Sunrise Movement. In late July, Biden released a radically progressive, $2 trillion climate plan, the most ambitious blueprint ever released by a major party nominee and the culmination of months of collaborating with members of the Sunrise Movement.

    Just days after releasing his plan, Biden held a virtual fundraiser. “I want young climate activists, young people everywhere, to know: I see you,” he said. “I hear you. I understand the urgency, and together we can get this done.”

    In his plan, Biden calls for the complete elimination of carbon pollution by 2035. He also promises to rejoin the international Paris climate accord, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2017. While Trump continues to dismiss the science behind climate change, Biden’s plan uses climate science and the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a foundation. Biden’s plan will focus on investing in renewable energy development and creating incentives for industry to invest in energy-efficient cars, homes and commercial buildings. Biden has pledged to end new oil, gas and coal leases on public land and has said he will emphasize more solar and wind energy projects on BLM land.

    Despite their initial reservations, many environmental organizations and climate activists have been won over by Biden’s new approach. In August, the Sierra Club officially endorsed him. The Sunrise Movement, which agonized publicly over the choice, said that though it would not formally endorse Biden — the group has an endorsement process with specific benchmarks, including requiring candidates to sign a “no fossil-fuel money pledge,” in which lawmakers promise not to accept money from PACs or from donors in the extractive energy sector — it would campaign for him. “What I’ve seen in the last six to eight weeks is a pretty big transition in upping his ambition and centering environmental justice,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the group, told the Washington Post.

    In August, Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate — a signal to his constituency that she would bring accountability to the promises he has made regarding climate action. Harris, who has a strong record of environmental action, made it a centerpiece of her own failed run for the presidency. She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive congresswoman from New York, introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would establish an executive team and an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to police the impacts of environmental legislation on low-income and communities of color. Harris has also said that she wants to eliminate the filibuster — which is a tool most often used for hyper-partisan gridlock — in order to clear the way for the passage of the Green New Deal, a progressive package that aims to mitigate the worse impacts of climate change while transforming the U.S. economy toward equity, employment and justice in the country’s workforce.

    If Biden is elected, his nomination to lead the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management will have great significance for his climate agenda. Potential nominees include Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; Ken Salazar, Obama’s Interior secretary; and John Podesta, a lifelong Democratic operator and former chief of staff under Obama, who is credited with envisioning that era’s most memorable conservation and environmental achievements, such as the Climate Action Plan and an economic recovery bill that invested $90 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

    Biden has signaled that he’d name a preservation-minded Interior secretary. When Trump withdrew William Perry Pendley’s nomination, Biden responded on Twitter. “William Perry Pendley has no business working at BLM and I’m happy to see his nomination to lead it withdrawn,” Biden wrote. “In a Biden administration, folks who spend their careers selling off public lands won’t get anywhere near being tapped to protect them.”

    FOLDED NEATLY ON THE COUNTERTOP that divides Tye Hess’s kitchen from his living room was a large navy flag decorated with stars and a bright red stripe and the declaration: TRUMP 2020, NO MORE BULLSHIT. It was a sunny afternoon in July in Redlands, a suburb of Grand Junction. The streets and culs-de-sac in Hess’ neighborhood are named after the local wine scene; Hess lives on Bordeaux Court.

    “How many flags have you sold this week?” I asked. He exhaled loudly. “Quite a few, probably like 20,” he said.

    Hess has short brown hair, bright blue eyes and a small gap between his teeth. He was wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt and casually sipped a ruby grapefruit White Claw as we spoke.

    “On Friday, I’m getting much more in, and I’m just going to start handing them out to people saying that if they want to donate to buy more, they can,” he told me. “I feel guilty, ya know?” He laughed. “It’s just something I believe in, so I don’t feel like charging for them. I’ve made plenty of money off these, and I can afford to give some away. But if somebody wants to donate money to buy another one, I’ll do that. Just keep it going.”

    Hess typically sells the flags for $25. When I met him, he had already sold more than 200, hand-delivering each one, and setting up the deals through social media. Previously, he worked for a coal mine, overseeing methane flaring outside of Paonia, Colorado, and then working as an independent contractor, installing granite countertops, carpet and tile. He supplements his income by running his own e-commerce store. He views his flags project as a personal campaign trail. “We have to do everything we can to get him re-elected,” he said. Hess, who is 42, only registered to vote a few months before we met, and this election will be his first.

    We were waiting for a customer named Eric Farr, who was picking up today’s flag. Hess threw away the White Claw, opened his refrigerator, and grabbed a Coors Light. The doorbell rang.

    Farr seemed surprised to see me, even though Hess had told him a reporter would be at the handoff. “You’re not some super liberal lady who is going to spin everything I say, are you?” he asked. I promised him that I wouldn’t. “OK,” he said.

    Farr was born in the mid-1980s at St. Mary’s Medical Center, in Grand Junction. He grew up riding a Yamaha YZ125 motorbike, honing a talent and a love for motocross on the dips and yaws of the town’s bluffs, managed for motorized use by the BLM. He had traveled widely, competing professionally on his Yamaha and sponsored by Jägermeister. “I have been all over the world, but never wanted to live anywhere else,” he told me. “I just want to keep the public lands open, like the BLM area. It’s just free and open space. I just want to keep a lot of it open for the motorcycles and side-by-sides.”

    As we talked about the land, I asked Farr what he thought of Trump’s refusal to fill the position of director at the BLM. “With everything going on, I haven’t seen anything about (Trump’s) approach to public lands,” Farr replied, referring to the pandemic and the ongoing demonstrations for Black lives. “It seems like Trump is about letting the states do what they feel is best with their public lands. So I think he’s got enough on his plate that he doesn’t really have time. As important as public lands are, there are a million other things that are just as important that he’s focused on.”

    I asked whether Farr was worried about future generations being able to mountain bike, e-bike and dirt-bike the rocky plateaus and canyons, the same lands that have been such a large part of his own life.

    “I get real upset when people dump their trash out there, because that’s going to get them shut down quicker than anything probably,” he said. He thought Trump was the country’s best hope for a return to aspects of his childhood he values: “constitutional values,” he said, “what the founding fathers tried to instill into our country.” He told me that he wants his children — he has two children under 7 and a baby on the way — to experience the same freedom that he feels he grew up with. “I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican,” Farr told me. “I’m a patriot. Trump is like our savior basically. He’s our only hope.”

    “Yep, I just barely registered (to vote) because of Trump and seeing these idiots,” Hess said, referring to the social justice activists protesting in Grand Junction following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. “I’ve had plenty of disagreements, and I never seen such rude comments (on social media). Then you fight back and they play the victim.”

    Hess took another Coors out of the refrigerator and handed it to Farr. “It’s just ignorance and — like you said — victim mentality,” Farr said to Hess, taking the beer.

    I tried to steer the conversation back to the Interior Department, but they wanted to focus on what they called the gall of the “radical socialist left.” Though both Hess and Farr’s lives have been intimately connected to the public lands in the Grand Junction area, the fate of those landscapes has not factored into their calculus for November’s election.

    Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.

    About a week later, a lightning bolt 18 miles north of Grand Junction ignited the Pine Gulch Fire, a blaze that became the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history. By early September, it had burned around 140,000 acres, mostly on BLM land. It pushed northwest, forcing evacuations for residents who live next to abandoned wells in the town of De Beque, down the road from Rifle, the home of Shooters Grill.

    For weeks, Grand Junction was shrouded in wildfire smoke. Since we first talked, Hess and his fiancée had moved to the rural edges of the county. From Hess’ home, he could barely make out the rows of peach trees just beyond his property line under the dense sepia-toned sky. In a photo he sent me, the sun burned an electric scarlet; he told me he was worried for the wildlife.

    I imagined what someone standing in the new headquarters of the BLM might be able to see. When I visited the office in July, the sky was bright blue and clear, with mere scraps of clouds offering a respite from the heat. From its north-facing windows, you could see the Grand Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, where Farr loves to ride. To the southeast was the place known as Lunch Loops, the mountain biking area that Shrader can pedal to in just minutes from her front door, and the entrance to Colorado National Monument.

    Due to the pandemic, most employees were telecommuting, and very few people were there, save for a few construction workers fixing electrical issues on the third floor. They were from Shaw Construction, one of the BLM’s neighbors in the building. The BLM also shares the building with Chevron, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Laramie Energy and ProStar Geocorp, a mapping company. In the middle of a move, the BLM headquarters was a scene in flux, a place still trying to realize itself.

    Along the halls of the BLM’s office, large murals of iconic scenery — Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison — leaned against bare walls, waiting to be hung. I remembered talking to Hess about his city as a new nexus for public-lands management, and asking him what he thought about moving the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction. Hess just laughed: “The BLM headquarters is here?”

    The Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A

    From the Gunnison River Basin News:

    The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A. This measure from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, asks voters to approve a mill levy increase to continue it’s vital work protecting Colorado’s westslope water resources.

    “We recognize the value of the River District as a voice for western Colorado water issues of importance to the Upper Gunnison River basin,” stated Sonja Chavez, General Manager, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

    Resolution

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Grand County backs #ColoradoRiver District Ballot Question 7A #COriver #aridification

    From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden):

    The Grand County Commissioners voiced their support on Tuesday for a ballot measure that would finance water projects on the Western Slope.

    Voters of the 15 counties on the Colorado River Basin, including Grand, will be asked in November to approve ballot question 7A for a mill levy increase of 0.248 mills for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. This would bring the total mill levy for the district up to 0.5 mills, equaling a yearly tax increase of $1.90 per $100,000 in assessed value for homes.

    Mike Ritschard, the Grand County representative on the Colorado River District board, explained Tuesday that the district collected $169,388 from Grand in 2019. If passed, the measure would roughly double that amount and pump almost $5 million more per year into the entire district.

    The district has not asked for a mill levy increase since it was created. Ritschard explained that reduced tax revenue from the energy industry and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, combined with the reduction in assessment rates from the Gallagher Amendment, has led to financial challenges for the district.

    Of the $5 million that could be raised, Ritschard said that 86% would go toward projects identified as priorities by local communities and basin round tables. The remaining 14% would fix the district’s financial deficit, but absolutely none of the funds would go toward creating staff positions.

    While these funds cannot be committed to certain projects, they would go toward at least one of five categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. Ritschard highlighted the Windy Gap bypass as an example of such a project…

    Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the district, added that the fiscal implementation plan for the funds would ensure they are distributed equitably across the geographic region based on need, not just population…

    While the commissioners expressed support for the ballot measure, Grand County makes up only a small portion of voters for it. The river district includes all the counties in the Colorado River Basin with the largest of the population being in Mesa County with Grand Junction…

    The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the ballot measure, joining Delta, Eagle, Garfield and Summit counties.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Pitkin County’s opposition to tax follows pattern of ‘misalignment’ with #ColoradoRiver District — @Aspen Journalism #COriver #aridification

    Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. The River District has said the tax revenue would be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, but commissioners said the ballot language was too ambiguous. The headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, near Independence Pass, are shown here. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In a reflection of long-simmering mistrust of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Pitkin County is opposing the organization’s proposed tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot.

    Pitkin County commissioners in a special meeting Tuesday passed a resolution that said that without an identified use for the revenue, a tax increase is irresponsible and not in the best interests of county citizens.

    The ballot question tells voters in the 15-county district that the money will be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation. But commissioners said the language was flawed and too ambiguous.

    “It’s not that we don’t support the efforts of the water district, it’s not that we don’t support protecting water on the Western Slope,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “It’s just that I would like more clarification, more specification in the ballot language as to the benefits to the Pitkin County taxpayers.”

    The resolution opposing the River District tax hike passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Greg Poschman and Steve Child voting against it. Both said they would like to hear from members of the public and the River District before making a decision.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller wasn’t happy with the way the meeting was noticed or that the draft resolution wasn’t included in the packet materials for the public to see. In a last-minute request to postpone Tuesday’s vote, Mueller asked commissioners in a Monday night email for an opportunity to engage in direct communications with Pitkin’s five-member Board of County Commissioners about the ballot measure.

    The BOCC did not take any public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. In order to vote on the resolution, the BOCC came out of Tuesday’s work session and went into a “special meeting.”

    “The fact that they refused to allow public comment and input, and that they held it during a really strangely noticed meeting is really disturbing,” said Mueller, who learned Monday about the county’s resolution to oppose the tax measure. “The public in Pitkin County deserves a hell of a lot better.”

    Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said the BOCC discussed in August all the different questions on the ballot this year and whether the elected officials should bring in presenters both pro and con.

    “The board decided at that time that we didn’t think it was necessary and there was enough information out there for us to make a decision rather than put time on the schedule, which we frankly don’t have, to allow these groups to come in and present,” McNicholas Kury said. “I know the River District would have liked the opportunity to present. (Pitkin County Attorney) John Ely sits on that board, and he’s given us the accurate picture. He’s been fair in his summaries.”

    In July, the River District decided to move ahead with Ballot Issue 7A, which will ask voters to raise its property taxes from a quarter mill to a half mill. That works out to an increase of $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value, and will raise nearly $5 million annually.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy for Pitkin County’s median home value would increase from $18.93 per year to $40.28. Pitkin County’s median home value, at $1.13 million, is the highest in the 15-county district. The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which was created in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

    Ely, the Pitkin County representative on the River District board, was the lone “no” vote against the ballot measure in July, saying that the district’s fiscal implementation plan — where it outlines how the tax money could be allocated — is not directly tied to the ballot language, so there’s no commitment on how exactly the money will be spent.

    On Tuesday, Ely told the BOCC that environmentally minded Pitkin County has been a proponent of enhancing streamflows and improving riparian ecosystems, while the River District has been more “traditional” in seeking ways to develop the Western Slope’s water, meaning dam and reservoir projects.

    “The district has not been aligned with many Pitkin County directives,” he said.

    After learning of Tuesday afternoon’s impending vote on the resolution, environmental groups American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, which support 7A, scrambled to rally their members in an attempt to stop, or at least postpone, the vote.

    “Pitkin County representatives need to understand that this issue is bigger than them,” Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, wrote in an email. “The most progressive communities and the most conservative communities, conservation organizations, agricultural associations, ranchers, water providers, business leadership, etc. are putting their differences aside and coming together to do what needs to be done for the Colorado River. None of us are getting everything we want nor are we going to agree on everything in the future — but we know we have to do something now.”

    Other counties, including Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Delta, have passed resolutions supporting the River District’s ballot measure.

    Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Historic mistrust

    Pitkin County’s opposition to a River District tax increase is just the latest in the historically antagonistic relationship between the two entities, a dynamic that Poschman noted Tuesday.

    “I know maybe there’s a necessary and justified amount of suspicion and mistrust that the money could be spent against our interests, because we do have a misalignment with Pitkin County and the River District,” he said.

    Some of that mistrust can be traced to a River District-led project that included conditional water rights for 200,000 acre-feet of water storage on the Crystal River. The water rights for what is known as the West Divide Project were tied to three dams and reservoirs, including a dam just downstream from Redstone, which would have created the 129,000-acre-foot Osgood Reservoir.

    The River District abandoned these conditional water rights in 2011 after being sued in water court by Pitkin County, but the memory is still raw for some.

    “The timescale is still fresh in the minds of those people up the Crystal,” said Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Laura Makar.

    The River District and Pitkin County have also been on opposing sides of designating the upper Crystal as “Wild & Scenic.” The River District has opposed the federal designation, saying it would end water-development opportunities in the valley, but Pitkin County still supports the move.

    The narrows on the Crystal River just below Placita where a dam big enough to store 62,009 acre-feet of water was once planned by the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The Pitkin County BOCC passed a resolution opposing the River District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Competing water studies

    The county is also going its own way on an analysis of water needs in the Crystal Valley. It recently hired hydrologist Kristina Wynne of Englewood-based water consultants Bishop-Brogden Associates to study backup water-supply options for Crystal River water users instead of relying on a study already underway by the River District and Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District.

    2018’s summer drought revealed a water shortage on the Crystal that may not leave enough for both agricultural users and residential subdivisions. Irrigators south of Carbondale placed a call on the river, meaning that upstream junior water rights holders — including some homes that use wells — would have to stop using water so the downstream senior irrigators could get their full amount.

    The River District, which often advocates for the interests of agricultural water users, was awarded state grant money to study the issue.

    Mueller maintains that his organization is no longer the dam builders of yore and emphasizes his desire for collaboration. Last week, he told members of the Crystal River Caucus that the River District will commit to not damming the mainstem of the Crystal and will emphasize solutions to the water shortage other than storage.

    “I recognize our district has a lot of trust-building to do in the valley,” he said. “I think, frankly, the River District has evolved and realized that damming anything on the Crystal is not a good idea.”

    But it’s a hard sell for some in Pitkin County.

    “It’s pretty alarming we didn’t get a heads up from the River District,” said Kury, the county commissioner, regarding the district’s Crystal River study. “We’ve had to fight the River District before. We were taken off guard by the outreach to our constituents about shutting off their wells. I have some hesitancy in that relationship.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 17 edition of The Aspen Times.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A growing coalition is getting behind a Colorado River District tax-hike proposal intended to bolster its struggling balance sheet and strengthen its role in advocating for Western Slope water interests and helping fund projects.

    However, opposition to the measure also emerged this week from Pitkin County commissioners, after their representative on the district board also was the only board member to have voted against the tax proposal. And while some other counties in the district have been formally endorsing the measure, so far there’s no indication that Mesa County commissioners will follow suit.

    Pitkin County traditionally has been one of the largest sources of tax revenues within the 15-county district because of its high property values. As for Mesa County, it has by far the largest population and largest number of voters that will help decide the fate of the proposal.

    The district board has placed a measure on the November ballot to boost the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The district’s levy is now capped at 0.252 mills and its effective current rate is 0.235 mills.

    The move would raise the district’s annual revenue by an estimated $4.9 million and cost an additional $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value. For business property, it would cost another $7.70 per $100,000 in assessed valuation…

    The river district measure also proposes relieving the district from TABOR’s limits on how much revenue it can collect and spend in any year. The district still would have to go to voters for any further hike in its tax rate.

    It is proposing to use just 14% of the new revenues the tax measure would raise to address its financial troubles. It plans to use the rest to partner with others on projects focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, conservation and efficiency.

    BACKERS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN

    This week, supporters of the measure launched their campaign to support the district proposal, Question 7A.

    “Water access is non-negotiable in the West,” Kathy Hall, chair for the Friends of the Colorado River District campaign group, said in a news release. “Nothing is as central to our area as water. Question 7A will ensure that Western Slope water gets used on the Western Slope instead of being diverted to the Front Range or the West Coast states.”

    […]

    Among others stepping up to support the measure are Club 20, local peach farmer Bruce Talbott, local rancher Carlyle Currier, Moffat County rancher and former river district board member T. Wright Dickinson, and groups ranging from American Rivers to Business for Water Stewardship.

    Matt Rice with American Rivers said during a Zoom meeting of supporters of the measure that the Colorado River is at risk due to factors such as drought and demand from cities outside the river basin and Lower Colorado River Basin states…

    He said the tax proposal is critically important, as evidenced by the diversity of support.

    “We have conservationists standing next to ranchers standing next to water providers to get this done. It’s never ever been more important,” he said…

    COUNTY SUPPORT SOUGHT

    Some county commissions within the river district — among them Garfield, Delta and Summit counties — have endorsed the tax measure, and supporters are continuing to pursue endorsements from other counties.

    Steve Acquafresca, who serves on the river district board as the Mesa commissioners’ appointee to it, said he and the district’s general manager, Andy Mueller, recently visited with Mesa commissioners. He said he didn’t specifically ask for an endorsement of the measure, but asked them to speak out on it individually if they favor it…

    The tax measure’s ballot language includes a clause Acquafresca requested, saying Mesa commissioners had said they wouldn’t consider backing the measure without it. The language commits the district not to use any of the new tax revenue to pay for fallowing of agricultural fields. Temporary, voluntary, compensated fallowing is being considered as one means of Colorado cutting its water demand to bolster water storage by Upper Basin states in Lake Powell during drought, to help ensure they can meet their delivery obligations to downstream states and Mexico…

    Acquafresca said with Mesa County being particularly politically conservative, a lot of local residents are tax-averse and probably a fairly constant number of people are going to vote against any tax proposal. But he thinks some Mesa County residents are listening to the river district’s concerns about the greater competition for and threats to water resources at a time when the river district’s revenues and staff are shrinking.

    CD3 candidates agree on protecting Western Slope water, reservoir enlargements — @AspenJounalism #CWCVirtual2020

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, pledged cooperation and Lauren Boebert, her Republican challenger, promised to fight — the Front Range, neighboring states and the federal government — to protect Western Slope water.

    The two candidates on Thursday tackled water-related questions at this year’s Colorado Water Congress. Typically among the largest annual gatherings of water managers, policymakers and scientists, the 2020 series of panels and workshops has gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsch Bush answered questions live via Zoom, while Boebert sent in a prerecorded video. She was attending President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech at the White House on Thursday night.

    Mitsch Bush touted her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and three-term state representative, and framed herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who uses science, not ideology, as the basis for decisionmaking. From her history of working with the basin roundtables, she said the best ideas come from listening to one another.

    “I’ll work diligently with our delegation and the other Western states to ensure our Western voices are heard and our needs as a headwaters state get met,” she said. “To do that, I will work with colleagues across all the divides: the aisle, basins and states to rebuild our infrastructure so our communities can flourish now and in the future.”

    Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, made headlines earlier this summer when she beat Rep. Scott Tipton, an incumbent endorsed by Trump, in the District 3 Republican primary. The upset has thrust the conservative gun-rights activist and mother of four into the national spotlight.

    Moderator Joey Bunch, of Colorado Politics, posed the question of how the burden of drought and a potential Colorado River Compact call could be shared equally by the Front Range’s populous urban center and the rural, agriculture-dependent Western Slope.

    Western water managers desperately want to avoid a compact call, which could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) can’t deliver on the amount of water they owe the lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). A compact call could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use for Colorado, known as “curtailment.”

    This scenario reveals an interesting intrastate dynamic: Many of the oldest and most valuable water rights are on the Western Slope, meaning the cutbacks wouldn’t affect them because they predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    But the state’s population center and deep-pocketed municipal water providers are on the growing Front Range. Some worry that Front Range interests will try to secure these senior Western Slope agricultural water rights so they can avoid cutbacks. Cities’ purchasing of agricultural water rights is sometimes derided as “buy and dry.”

    Mitsch Bush said, “My top principle is: We cannot let curtailment lead to buy and dry of agriculture.”

    Boebert agreed and played up the urban/rural divide, saying she is against more transmountain diversions to the Front Range and is primed to fight for Western Slope water. The burden for compact curtailment cannot fall solely on District 3, she said.

    “I’m 100% committed to fighting this out with Denver and Boulder and making sure they don’t push all the work and all the costs onto us,” Boebert said. “Rural Colorado must have a voice, and we must have someone willing to fight for us in D.C.”

    Both candidates agreed on the expansion of existing reservoirs to increase water storage as an alternative to building new reservoirs.

    “The enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage,” Boebert said. “Increasing water storage capacity is key for Colorado’s future.”

    Mitsch Bush agreed.

    “Enlarging existing reservoirs is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer and for water users and much less environmentally challenging than building new reservoirs,” she said. “The best sites are already occupied by dams and reservoirs, so increasing the reservoirs’ capacity makes sense.”

    After the candidates spoke, political commentator and former Colorado GOP state chair Dick Wadhams gave his analysis on where water issues fit into the campaign.

    “Water is one of the most important issues we have in Colorado going back since statehood, and yet it’s the most obscure and least understood and least prioritized oftentimes by voters,” he said. “I do think with our dramatic increase in population that we are headed to a calamity at some point if we have a horrible drought.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative journalism organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story appeared in the Aug. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, and Steamboat Pilot & Today.

    Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

    Diane Mitsch Bush touts experience in U.S. House race

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    Says her leadership can help bring jobs and tame health care costs

    Congress needs to take action on soaring health care costs, a faltering economy and public lands, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Diane Mitsch Bush said.

    Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who also served in the State House from 2013-2017, is making her second bid for the U.S. House. She faces Republican nominee Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-time incumbent for her party’s nod.

    “At the very whole-nation level, our democracy is clearly in some danger,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday. “We need for us, the people of the 3rd Congressional District, a representative who has the experience to lead. We need a representative who actually listens to us, looks at the data and the evidence, and really knows how to legislate. This is not a time to have inexperience.”

    The current COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans and spawned an economic downturn, is only the most current crisis, she said, citing fires and the past recession. Dealing with those issues requires leadership and bipartisanship, she also said.

    “I have those skills. I want to use my skills at bringing people together across the aisle,” Mitsch Bush said…

    People in the 3rd District have to spend a lot to obtain health coverage and prescription medication, she said. In Montrose County, few insurance carriers offer plans on the state’s public health exchange, where people without coverage can purchase it. The exchange also provides subsidies for those who qualify.

    Mitsch Bush said she will work to reduce premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs; end surprise medical billing practices; allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase coverage for mental health.

    “Health care costs here are just so difficult for people. We pay some of the highest premiums in the country,” she said.

    Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

    Colorado Water Congress Day 2 recap

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.

    The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.

    Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…

    “It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.

    Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.

    Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…

    Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.

    The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.

    #Colorado Water Congress Summer Meeting Day 1 recap #CWCVirtual2020

    Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch):

    U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado can’t conserve its way out of a deep drought and a decades-long struggle over the state’s water, as he spoke to the state’s water managers Tuesday…

    He said he had passed more water legislation than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined during his six years in the Senate and four years in the U.S. House before that. Gardner also is a former state legislator.

    “We have such diverse water needs in our state,” Gardner said, noting his Yuma County community depends on groundwater and that a canoe would dam up the nearest river 30 miles away. He also cited his work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver fresh water to the parched farm region east of Pueblo, a project on the books since 1983 that only this year got federal funding, as well as other funding for endangered species recovery on the Colorado River.

    He spoke of the complexity of solutions given the diversity of users and suppliers, plus the Front Range’s dramatic and steady growth.

    “No. 1, we have to have more water storage, that’s an absolute,” Gardner told the Water Congress. “We have to have conservation, No. 2. We cannot conserve our way out of our water shortfall, though.”

    […]

    Former Gov. John Hickenlooper began his recorded statement by noting he’s spoken in-person to the Water Congress before. He then spoke of the challenges created by COVID-19 “made worse by the reckless action of the United States Senate,” before he pivoted to climate change and wildfires.

    Hickenlooper spoke of his time building bridges with Denver and the rest of the state, recalling how he visited the Western Slope soon after he became mayor of Denver in 2003 and received a standing ovation for his remarks.

    “Unfortunately today’s politics almost begs us to be partisan, assuming the worst in each other, raising suspicions between neighbors on either side of the Continental Divide,” Hickenlooper said. “At the federal level Washington is as dysfunctional as a broken septic system.”

    He said water provided grounds to put partisanship aside.

    Hickenlooper spoke of water often during his eight years as governor and adopted the Colorado’s first statewide water management plan. Hickenlooper did not acquire legislative or public support for funding the plan – an estimated $100 million a year – during one of the state’s strongest period of economic growth…

    Pollster Floyd Ciruli interviewed Republican strategist Cinamon Watson and Democratic strategist Rick Ridder after the two candidates spoke.

    Colorado River, St. Vrain districts asking voters for millions in new tax revenue — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with a recession looming, two Colorado water districts will ask voters this November to approve property tax increases for millions of dollars in new funding for water education, water quality improvement, infrastructure and water use management.

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, made up primarily of Boulder County, is asking voters for more money for the first time in 50 years. Similarly, the 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District in western Colorado is also going to the polls to ask for more funding.

    Historically, funding for water has been hard to come by in Colorado, with voters reluctant to help pay for a statewide water program. But these two districts are hoping for more success at the local level, where voters can more easily see and feel the direct impact of their dollars on local watersheds.

    “Whether your relationship with water is limited to water that comes out of your kitchen faucet, or you’re a rafter or kayaker, or a farmer or rancher, or somebody who works in mining and energy production, we all need a secure water supply,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “These efforts that we’re talking about are vitally important to securing that water supply for the next 50 years. And if we don’t do this, our kids will not have the same quality of life.”

    Both districts are grappling with a confluence of social and economic pressures: the ongoing drought in Colorado and the West, a rapidly growing population, increased demand for water, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

    Both are also hoping to leverage the new property tax revenue to access additional state, federal and private money for water projects.

    “It allows us a driver’s seat at the table rather than a passenger seat,” said Mueller.

    Local water, local use

    The Colorado River District will ask voters to increase the mill levy from 0.252 mills to 0.5 mills, which would generate an additional $4.9 million per year starting in 2021. Under the proposal, the district’s taxpayer-funded budget would more than double from its current $4.5 million level.

    The district, home to some 500,000 residents in an area that covers 28 percent of the state, encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, including the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

    The proposal translates to a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents in Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties.

    The district, which has 22 employees, plans to use the extra money to help fund projects and initiatives within its top priority areas: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. No new staff positions will be created if voters approve the increase.

    Already, the district has tightened its expenses as much as possible, Mueller said, but projections show cuts alone won’t be enough. The district’s board members, who have varied political leanings, thought long and hard before deciding to move forward with the ballot question.

    “This is essentially government closest to the people,” said Dave Merritt, the district’s board president. “This protects western Colorado water, for use in western Colorado, and gives us the ability to bring some money to bear or some water to bear when we need to solve problems.”

    Historic ask

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which spans roughly 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks, will ask voters to increase the mill levy from the current 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills for the next 10 years, according to Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

    If voters agree to the proposed property tax increase, they’ll send an extra $3.3 million to the district each year starting in 2021. For comparison, the current mill levy generates $416,000 annually. (The district’s budget also includes an enterprise fund that generates between $100,000 and $150,000 per year, Cronin said.) The tax would add $9 to the annual property tax bill for a $100,000 home.

    The tax increase would be used for projects that support the district’s five main goals, which were outlined in a strategic plan the board approved in January: the protection of water quality and water supply, infrastructure for agricultural water use, water education, creek improvement facilities and conservation.

    It’s a historic decision to ask voters for more money: The district has not asked for a property tax increase since its founding in 1971, nearly 50 years ago.

    “It’s been an evolution, this isn’t a sudden thing,” said Dennis Yanchunas, the district’s board president. “We believe [the strategic plan] is what our citizens are looking for from the district, and we can provide that leadership. In order to do that, you also have to have the kind of financial base that puts you in a position to do projects and make significant contributions.”

    The district’s board members initially discussed asking voters for an even larger tax increase to 1.5 mills, but ultimately decided on the more conservative proposal. The board also added a 10-year sunset clause to help make the idea more palatable.

    “There was very much a concern and a discussion around, ‘What’s the potential economic climate in November?’” said Cronin.

    Indeed, the board considered the appropriateness of asking voters for a tax increase at all. Ultimately, however, they decided there’s no time like the present.

    “I’m not sure that there is ever a good time to ask somebody for more money,” said Yanchunas. “There’s an awful lot of stuff we just have to set aside and say, ‘We have the right plan, we have a mission we believe in and we think the citizens believe in.’”

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    On Climate, @KamalaHarris Has a Record and Profile for Action — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

    Kamala Harris. By United States Senate – This file has been extracted from another file: Kamala Harris official photo.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64332043

    From Inside Climate News (Marianne Lavelle):

    In choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden put a spotlight on two key elements of his climate policy: environmental justice for minority communities and accountability for the oil and gas industry.

    Harris, who will be the first Black woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket, only last week sought to affirm her commitment to communities of color in the climate battle—and progressives in the Democratic party—by introducing climate equity legislation. The California Senator teamed up with Green New Deal avatar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the effort, an outreach to the climate activist community that Biden hopes to energize behind his candidacy.

    During her presidential run, Harris also frequently advocated for the federal government to take legal action against fossil fuel companies for their legacy of climate pollution. It’s another stance that resonates with many climate-focused voters, even though, as California’s attorney general, she did not go as far as other state law enforcers in pursuing litigation against the industry.

    Certainly, many factors beyond climate change will decide Harris’s value to the Democratic ticket, including her ability to win over voters in states beyond California. How she handles critiques of her past work as a prosecutor will be important, especially amid the national reckoning on race and law enforcement, and how well she stands up to President Donald Trump’s attacks will be critical, as well.

    But the environmental community is an important constituency that analysts believe Biden must activate to put together a winning coalition. He took an important step toward that goal last month with a greatly expanded $2 trillion plan, developed with input from advisers to his primary rival, Bernie Sanders. By bringing another rival, Harris, aboard as vice president, Biden chose a candidate already tested in the campaign spotlight with a record and profile for action on environmental issues that is winning the team praise throughout the activist community.

    “A true environmental champion,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, noting that Harris has had a 91 percent pro-environmental lifetime voting record on the LCV scorecard (that’s better than Biden’s lifetime score of 83 percent). “Senator Harris has been a long-time champion for climate action and environmental justice….We know she will continue the fight for a more just solution to the climate crisis.”

    Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, an environmental group that would like to see Biden’s recently expanded climate platform go even farther, also had praise for the choice of Harris.

    “Senator Harris’ commitment to environmental justice and her desire to hold corporate polluters financially and criminally accountable for their destructive behavior is a welcome sign,” Pica said. “We hope her inclusion on the ticket provides another opportunity for Vice President Biden to increase the ambition of his climate plan and cements climate justice and climate equity as a priority for their administration.”

    ‘There Has Been No Accountability’

    Harris brings a record on climate issues that dates back to her time as San Francisco’s district attorney, when she created that office’s first environmental justice unit in 2005. As California attorney general, she confronted the fossil fuel industry by opposing Chevron’s proposed refinery expansion in Richmond, a majority Black and Hispanic city that has waged a long battle against pollution at the Chevron site.

    Harris also sued the Southern California Gas Co. over a massive methane blowout from an underground storage facility on the outskirts of Los Angeles, citing the climate threat posed by the uncontrolled emissions of the super-potent greenhouse gas. The blowout was the largest known natural gas leak in U.S. history. The case was settled three years later, after Harris’ departure for the Senate, in an agreement that some environmentalists criticized as inadequate.

    As California attorney general, Harris lent her support to a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general who vowed in 2016 to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change. The group—AGs United For Clean Power—was formed in the wake of disclosures that oil giant ExxonMobil had understood the magnitude of climate change for decades yet went on to mislead the public about the catastrophic consequences.

    During one primary debate last year, Harris said, “I have sued ExxonMobil,” but in fact, she never did. (The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts took Exxon to court—with the company successfully defending itself against the New York charges and still in litigation with Massachusetts.) Harris’ campaign spokesman at the time said that she meant that she investigated the company.

    But as a presidential candidate, Harris was consistent in her call for accountability from the oil and gas industry over liability for their past actions on climate change. “Let’s get them not only in the pocketbook, but let’s make sure there are severe and serious penalties for their behaviors,” she told Mother Jones, in an interview last year on the campaign trail.

    At a CNN Town Hall on climate change, she said as president she would direct the Department of Justice to launch an investigation of the companies. “They are causing harm and death in communities. And there has been no accountability,” she said.

    Hungry for a ‘Transformative Change’

    Harris has sometimes struggled with Black and progressive voters because of her history as a tough-on-crime prosecutor in a state where the incarceration rate for African Americans is five times higher than their share of the population.

    That history looms large for Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist from New York, who founded the activist group Earth Uprising.

    “I think Kamala Harris is a big win for women of color and environmental justice, however she definitely has some work to do in order to show our generation that she’s become more progressive since her prosecutor days,” she said.

    But Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University and author, widely known as “The Father of Environmental Justice,” told InsideClimate News last week that he thought Harris would add value to a Biden ticket at a moment when people are hungry for “transformative change.”

    “We must center the fight for environmental and climate justice in the broader conversation” on race, Bullard said.

    Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, called Harris “a cross-generational consensus-builder with a solid record for getting things done.” McCarthy, who served as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator under President Barack Obama, said Harris’s work in the nation’s leading clean energy state makes her a good fit to lead a national transformation.

    “She’s worked to make California the nation’s leader in the clean energy jobs we need to confront the climate crisis head-on and build back better with a recovery that’s strong, durable and creates opportunity in every community in America,” McCarthy said.

    In a foreshadowing of the attacks that are sure to come, the Trump-Pence campaign sent a blast email to the media Tuesday night, calling Harris “the most radical, far-left Vice Presidential nominee in U.S. history.” But many climate activists see both her and Biden as centrists. Calvin Yang, an 18-year-old Canadian climate organizer and spokesman for Fridays for Future International, commented on the pragmatism of their policy approaches.

    “It’s great to have a green and relatively eco friendly duo on the presidency and vice presidency,” he said, “and the politics they implement wouldn’t be impossible to pass and would win the support of the American public.”

    One Black climate activist, Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, who served on the task force that helped craft Biden’s climate plan, sees Harris as a standard-bearer. “It is time to make change and history at the same time,” she said.

    From Grist (Zoya Teirstein):

    Harris — formerly the district attorney for the city of San Francisco and the attorney general of California — has been known to be somewhat of a political chameleon. Her once-promising presidential campaign failed in part because of Harris’s inability to nail down her political ideology. But, over time, the Democrat has become increasingly firm in her commitment to one particular issue: environmental justice.

    When Harris was running for president in 2019, she released a climate plan that put environmental justice front and center. Last July, she and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York unveiled a plan to introduce climate legislation in Congress that would ensure new environmental regulations and legislation get evaluated through an environmental justice lens before becoming law. Last week, the two Democrats made good on that plan by formally introducing legislation called the Climate Equity Act. The act would set up a new Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.

    A week prior to that announcement, Harris introduced another piece of climate legislation in the Senate: a companion bill to the Environmental Justice for All Act introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives by Democrats A. Donald McEachin of Virginia and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. In an email interview with Grist ahead of the introduction of that bill, the senator explained why environmental justice is so important to her. “Our country is in the midst of multiple crises,” Harris told Grist:

    “First, there’s the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus that has killed over 148,000 people. It disproportionately affects Black and brown people in part due to the high frequency of pre-existing conditions like asthma and high blood pressure. These can stem from decades of toxic pollution being dumped in communities of color and which place people at higher risk of complications. Meanwhile, there is the continuing crisis of systemic racism in America that people of color have known and experienced for generations. All of these things intersect, and we must center the fight for environmental justice in the broader conversation.”

    Harris’ commitment to this kind of work dates back to her days as a district attorney. In 2005, she created a mini version of the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability she’s proposing now within the San Francisco district attorney’s office. “Crimes against the environment are crimes against communities, people who are often poor and disenfranchised,” she said at the time.

    In short, she’s got a good record on justice that’s getting better and better. That could serve Biden well as he continues to hash out his climate plans in the months leading up to the election. He’s already introduced a more comprehensive and equitable version of his initial climate plan and sought input from an array of formal and informal climate advisors from many different corners of the climate movement, including environmental justice advocates. Harris will no doubt continue to steer his campaign in a justice-friendly direction. She also supports abolishing the filibuster, a step that will likely be necessary to get any climate or environmental policy through Congress in a Biden administration.

    2020 Summer Convening of the Colorado Water Congress

    From the Colorado Water Congress:

    Water Congress will hold a virtual summer meeting beginning August 25 and will continue for 4 weeks. Sessions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at noon with each one running 60 to 75 minutes. More information on specific topics and related workshops will be released in the upcoming weeks.

    Voters to face #ColoradoRiver District tax question — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Voters in 15 counties this fall will be asked if they’re willing to lighten their wallets a little for the sake of supporting Western Slope water interests.

    The Colorado River District board on Tuesday voted almost unanimously to put a proposal on the November ballot to boost its property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The move would raise its annual revenue by an estimated $4.9 million and cost an additional $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value. The district’s levy is now capped at 0.252 mills and its effective current rate is 0.235 mills.

    The district is seeking to address a growing financial crisis and strengthen its ability to play a role in addressing the water issues that challenge the region amid a continuing trend toward longterm drought…

    The river district measure includes a provision that would relieve the district from TABOR’s limits on how much revenue it can collect and spend in any year, though it would continue to have to go to voters for any further hike in its tax rate.

    The district already has cut staff and other expenses. Absent a tax hike, it is expecting a possible $425,000 reduction in general fund revenues based on the latest projection for how Gallagher will affect collections of taxes from residential properties next year.

    If the measure passes, the district says it will spend only 14% of the new revenues to address its financial structural deficit, with the remainder to focus on projects partnering with others and focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, conservation and efficiency…

    Polling the district did in March and again a few weeks ago suggest that a majority of voters (about 63% in the latest poll) would support the tax measure today, even amidst a pandemic and its economic impacts. That polling suggests 60% support in Mesa County, which will be pivotal to the measure’s chances because Mesa has the largest population of any district county and also is largely conservative when it comes to tax and other issues.

    Steve Acquafresca, Mesa County’s representative on the district board, is supporting the tax proposal.

    Acquafresca had agreed to support the measure after ballot language was added that commits the district not to use any of the new tax revenue to pay for fallowing of agricultural fields. He said Mesa County commissioners also were unanimous on insisting on that clause being included before they would even consider supporting the tax measure.

    Electoral College benefits whiter states, study shows — The Conversation


    A congressional staffer opens the boxes containing the Electoral College ballots in January 2017.
    Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    William Blake, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    States can force members of the Electoral College to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state’s presidential primary, the Supreme Court recently ruled. The July 6 decision removed one of the two reasons why the framers of the U.S. Constitution created this election system: to empower political elites who may know more about the candidates than ordinary voters. Now, the founders’ only remaining justification for the Electoral College is structural racism.

    Though the Electoral College has changed since it was first used to elect George Washington to the presidency in 1789, my research shows that the system continues to give more power to states whose populations are whiter and more racially resentful.

    Electoral College myths and realities

    The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in large part because they feared voters would not know all the candidates who would be running for president. In that era, most people never left their home states, so they were not likely to know candidates from other states.

    The founders did not foresee the development of political parties and campaigns, which help teach voters about their options. Instead, Alexander Hamilton argued that those serving in the Electoral College would be “most likely to possess the information and discernment” needed to choose a president.

    With its recent decision, the Supreme Court has abandoned the possibility that electors might vote for people other than the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.

    [Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

    The other reason for the Electoral College was to bridge a major divide among the states: slavery. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention: “[T]he great division of interests in the U. States did not lie between the large & small States; it lay between the Northern & Southern” because of “their having or not having slaves.”

    The original 13 U.S. colonies and their territorial changes from 1782 to 1802.
    The 13 colonies had competing land claims in the early years of the United States.
    Kmusser, CC BY

    Race in early America

    By the time the founders discussed how to pick a president, they had already made the so-called “three-fifths compromise,” counting enslaved people as three-fifths of a person in the census and allotting seats in the House of Representatives accordingly. That gave Southern slave states an advantage over the Northern states in the House.

    Slave states – with many people and with fewer – insisted on the Electoral College to preserve this advantage to give them a similar advantage in presidential selection. Ultimately, delegates to the Constitutional Convention decided that each state would receive votes in the Electoral College equal to their representation in both houses of Congress.

    As a result, after the 1790 census, Virginia got 21 electoral votes and Pennsylvania got 15, though both were home to just over 110,000 free white male adults, who were then the only Americans allowed to vote. That’s because Virginia had 292,627 enslaved residents, to Pennsylvania’s 3,737, the country’s very first census shows.

    Similarly, South Carolina and New Hampshire had nearly identical numbers of free white men – right around 36,000. But South Carolina got two more electoral votes, for a total of eight, because more than 100,000 enslaved people lived there, compared to New Hampshire’s 158 enslaved people.

    Congressman Samuel Thatcher of Massachusetts.
    U.S. Rep. Samuel Thatcher, in 1806.
    Fevret de Saint Memin/Wikimedia Commons

    In 1803, the 1800 census was about to shift the balance even more toward slave states. Representative Samuel Thatcher of Massachusetts complained that counting enslaved people added significant numbers to the slave states’ delegations.

    The slavery bonus ensured that the nation’s first 18 presidential elections delivered a slave-owner as either president, vice president or both. Only in 1860, with the victory of Abraham Lincoln from Illinois and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, did a team of Northern politicians manage to beat the Electoral College’s skew toward white Southerners.

    After the Civil War

    Following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment removed the three-fifths clause, and the 15th Amendment should have protected African Americans’ legal right to vote. But that didn’t fix the Electoral College’s anti-Black bias. It actually made the problem worse, because Southern state governments were happy to get the representation from their large numbers of Black citizens – while keeping them from voting through discriminatory practices like literacy tests and poll taxes.

    Judicial decisions at the time upheld Jim Crow restrictions on the right to vote, but those practices are illegal today.

    This system benefited the Democratic Party, which was dominant in the South. Republicans tried to counter that power by strategically admitting new states from the Great Plains and Mountain West. In part because of racially disparate postwar settlement policies, these states – such as Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming – were unusually thinly populated, heavily white and reliably Republican.

    A woman looks at papers.
    Staff of the House of Representatives review Illinois’ Electoral College vote report in January 2017.
    Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Race and the Electoral College now

    Those statehood decisions made a century and a half ago still reverberate today. States with smaller populations have more electoral votes per resident because, no matter how few people they might have, they still get two senators and one House member.

    I recently performed a quantitative analysis of race and the allocation of electoral votes. The data indicate that whiter states consistently wield more electoral power partly because of their population.

    On average, as a state’s racial composition gets whiter, its electoral power increases. For instance, in 2016, North Dakota was the seventh whitest state and 47th on the list in terms of adult population. It had more than 5.2 electoral votes per million adult residents, when an average state had just 2.2 electoral votes per million adult residents. According to my analysis, a state that is 10% whiter than the average state tends to have one extra electoral vote per million adult residents than the average state.

    I also found that states whose people exhibit more intense anti-Black attitudes, based on their answers to a series of survey questions, tend to have more electoral votes per person.

    Statistically speaking, if two states’ population numbers indicate each would have 10 electoral votes, but one had substantially more racial resentment, the more intolerant state would likely have 11.

    This is not an ironclad rule, and the inherent bias isn’t always decisive. For instance, Donald Trump owes his presidency to winning Wisconsin, a state that is whiter than the average state, but that has slightly less electoral votes per capita than average.

    In addition, the centuries-old racial bias in the Electoral College could disappear with future population changes. Perhaps other states with relatively few people will follow the pattern of Nevada, whose population has recently become larger and more racially diverse. But the Electoral College remains a system born from white supremacy that will likely continue to operate in a racially discriminatory fashion.The Conversation

    William Blake, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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

    Editorial: Trump’s continued disregard for the environment and #climatechange poses a mortal threat — The Los Angeles Times

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The Los Angeles Times editorial board:

    It’s fitting that President Trump invoked an interstate highway expansion in Atlanta last week to announce final rules that, if they survive the inevitable legal challenges, will undermine one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act. American voters face a fork in their own road this November — stay on the Trump expressway to environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change, or shift to the road, bumpy as it may be, to a cleaner environment and more sustainable future of wind, solar and other energy sources that do not involve burning fossil fuels.

    The COVID-19 pandemic understandably has seized the nation’s attention, but that hasn’t lessened the risk we all face from air and water pollution and carbon-fed global warming. Trump has unabashedly sought to dismantle federal regulatory structures to speed up construction projects while forging a national energy plan based on producing and burning fossil fuels.

    His embrace of the oil, gas and coal industries defies the global scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that make the Earth less habitable by warming the atmosphere, feeding stronger and more frequent storms, triggering devastating droughts that propel human migration, and pushing up sea levels so that they encroach on cities and other human settlements. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that unusually high tides led to record flooding among one-quarter of Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities where the agency maintains tide gauges. Climate change is no dystopian vision of the future; it is here.

    Trump’s efforts to eviscerate regulatory oversight of the environment is rooted in his belief that regulations are for the most part unnecessary hurdles to economic progress. He bewails the amount of time it takes for projects to clear environmental reviews and related court challenges, adding what, in his mind, are unnecessary costs and delays. To be honest, he may have something there. NEPA came into being five decades ago — signed into law by President Nixon — and it’s not out of line to suspect that there are places where the law and the regulations that arose from it could use some reasonable revising. But Trump and his industry-connected advisors are not the ones to trust with such a task.

    These new rules are not reasoned updates. By requiring environmental impact analyses to be completed within two years (now they often take twice that), the administration seeks to cut short the consideration of those most affected by major projects — often people of color and low-income households — and disarm the environmental activists fighting to ensure that necessary environmental protections are respected. The rules also would require regulators to no longer weigh the cumulative effects of a proposed project and limit their review to effects “that are reasonably foreseeable” and “have a close causal relationship” to the work being done. So, for example, a proposed project’s emissions could not be added to those of other nearby emitters to determine whether their cumulative impact creates an excessive burden on a specific community.

    Separately, the Government Accountability Office reported last week that the administration tweaked the formula for measuring the “social cost of carbon” so that estimates of the potential harm from emissions are seven times lower than they used to be. It’s foolhardy — and dangerous — to look at environmental impacts through such a narrow lens.

    Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, after lengthy negotiations with progressive environmentalists who had backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), released a $2-trillion plan for quickly shifting the nation from its reliance on fossil fuels to renewable sources.

    It’s not the controversial “Green New Deal” that progressives have been pushing, but it’s in the neighborhood. Getting such a measure through Congress even if both chambers were controlled by Democrats would be no easy task, but Biden’s proposal at least recognizes the dire future we all face if the nation — and the world — do not fundamentally alter how we produce and consume energy.

    The world cannot afford to backslide on environmental protections and the all-important fight to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Yes, jobs are important, but survival more so. The errors and consequences of the past are crystal clear. The question is, will we heed those lessons?

    @ColoradoStateU unveils educational resources on potential #restoration of wolves in #Colorado

    Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

    Colorado residents will vote in November on a ballot initiative that calls for the proposed reintroduction of gray wolves to the state. Proposition 107, a citizen-initiated measure, would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves to the western part of the state.

    To help ensure the public is informed on this topic, Colorado State University scientists have teamed up with Extension staff to produce and publish educational materials on the possible wolf restoration.

    The resources include 12 information sheets on topics including wolf biology, wolves and livestock, disease, human and pet safety, big game and hunting, ecological effects and economics, and a robust list of frequently asked questions with answers.

    “As Colorado’s only land-grant institution, CSU is uniquely positioned to provide science-based information on the subject,” said Kevin Crooks, professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and director of the new Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence. “The educational materials have undergone extensive review by scientists within and outside CSU, including world experts on wolves.”

    Crooks helped lead the development of these educational materials. The center he leads is focused on integrating science, education and outreach to minimize conflict and facilitate coexistence between people and predators.

    The center’s team has developed projects in a variety of systems where human-carnivore coexistence is proving difficult. In addition to wolves, they are tracking growing conflicts with urban black bears and coyotes, polar bears in energy fields in Alaska, lions and cattle keepers in East Africa, and ranchers in systems with predators in the United States.

    A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
    Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Wolves already spotted in Colorado

    In early 2020, after the initiative was approved to be placed on the ballot, a pack of wolves was confirmed to be living in Moffat County in the northwestern part of the state. Another lone wolf was confirmed in North Park in summer 2019. These wolves likely migrated from a nearby state, perhaps Wyoming, where they were reintroduced 25 years ago.

    “Science-based information provided from this team is critical to aid in policy development around wildlife and public lands,” said Ashley Stokes, associate vice president for Engagement and Extension at CSU.

    Stokes said that these resources are also important for people who vote, so that they may better understand the issues surrounding potential reintroduction of wolves and the impacts on ecological systems, agricultural producers and local communities.

    CSU researchers analyzing public response, media coverage

    Rebecca Niemiec, assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimension of Natural Resources at CSU, recently led research studies on public perspectives and media coverage of the wolf restoration issue in Colorado.

    “One thing we have found from our social science research is that the public has a diversity of beliefs about the potential positive and negative impacts of wolves,” explained Niemiec. “Some of these beliefs are supported by ecological and social science research, while some of them are not. Our hope is that with these educational materials, we can facilitate more productive, science-based discussions about wolf reintroduction and management.”

    John Sanderson, who directs the Center for Collaborative Conservation at CSU, helped direct the scientific review process and worked with partners to produce the educational materials.

    “The topic of wolves is uniquely contentious,” Sanderson said. “If wolves are part of Colorado’s future, we need an inclusive process of creating policy and making decisions that builds trust and identifies mutually acceptable solutions among people with different perspectives.”

    Public surveys over the last few decades suggest support for wolf reintroduction from the majority of Colorado residents. Despite those survey results, restoring wolves in the state is a contentious topic that taps into diverse emotions and passions across various groups. And misinformation about wolves is widespread, on all sides of the issue.

    CSU Extension has a goal to empower Coloradans and to address important and emerging community issues using science-based educational resources. The information sheets are also available to the public through Extension’s website.

    Learn more about the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence.

    The Center for Collaborative Conservation and the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence are part of the Warner College of Natural Resources.

    Survey finds support for #ColoradoRiver District ballot measure — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    The lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Colorado River District owns water in Ruedi Reservoir and plays a role in the flows in the Fryingpan, which is heavily diverted to the eastern slope at its headwaters. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The results of a survey to gauge voters’ attitudes about the Colorado River Water Conservation District and Western Slope water returned some good news for the district. But due to concerns about the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, River District officials are still mulling whether to push ahead with a plan to ask voters to restore part of its original mill levy.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the overall results of the survey, which found that 65% of respondents would support a mill levy increase, were a ray of good news in an otherwise dark time. But at the board’s April quarterly meeting, Mueller recommended that it postpone making a decision about whether to move forward on a ballot initiative until at least its July meeting.

    “Given the economic devastation that is occurring throughout the district, the question we have to ask ourselves in July is: Is it appropriate to go to the voters to ask for additional funding at this time when they are suffering such great economic hardship?” Mueller said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

    The River District board is considering whether to ask voters to raise its property tax rate from a quarter-mill to a half-mill, taking its budget from about $4 million to $8 million. That works out to 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. One mill is the equivalent of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, for the median home value in Pitkin County — the highest in the district at $1.13 million — the mill levy would increase from $18.93 to $40.28 per year.

    For several days in mid-March, River District consultant Arvada-based New Bridge Strategy surveyed about 600 residents and voters via email and phone to assess the feasibility of a ballot question. The survey results found that residents trust that the River District manages taxpayer funds wisely, and three out of five people said they would support a tax increase if it were on the ballot measure in November.

    “I think, overall, this is positive,” said Lori Weigel, principal of New Bridge Strategy. “It’s pretty rare to see something testing at 60 percent or higher in Colorado these days. It speaks to the primacy of water and people’s concern about water in this part of the state.”

    Survey-takers said protecting western Colorado water for agriculture and preserving clean drinking water were the most compelling reasons to vote yes on a tax increase. Eighty-eight percent found these reasons convincing. The River District is not a direct provider of drinking water, but part of the organization’s mission is to keep water on the Western slope.

    Women older than 55 years old made up the backbone of support for a tax measure — 73% said they would back it. Residents across the political spectrum supported a tax increase, but it found the most support from Democrats, with 75% saying they would vote “yes.” Fifty-six percent of Republicans were supportive.

    The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. The Colorado River District works to keep water on the Western Slope, including in the Roaring Fork. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Mesa County

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District, created in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in western Colorado, spans 15 counties: Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache. The survey found broad geographic support overall, but the numbers were lowest in one key, populous county: Mesa. Only 59% of survey respondents there said they would support a tax increase.

    “What it means to me is that we need to do better and make sure that if there are places that others perceive we are not speaking and advocating well for agriculture, then we need to do it more uniformly,” Mueller said.

    Steve Acquafresca, who represents Mesa County on the River District board, said probably only a small percentage of voters know what the River District does, and although the River District has ramped up its outreach to Western Slope communities this year, more is needed. Those efforts, however, have been sidelined by the pandemic. The River District had scheduled a series of State of the River meetings this spring, which were canceled.

    “It’s a huge challenge,” Acquafresca said. “That’s a huge disadvantage of going forward with a question in 2020 if we can’t get out and do the campaigning.”

    He also pointed out that the results of the survey may no longer be valid because of its timing.

    “Although some of the results look pretty good, all of that was done before the pandemic really impacted our Western Slope communities,” Acquafresca said. “Nobody had any concept of the economic consequences of this pandemic on big cities and small towns alike.”

    For the median home value in Mesa County, at $218,601, the mill levy would increase from $3.67 to $7.81 per year.

    A view of the White River between Meeker and Rangely. The Colorado River Water Conservation District includes the White River basin, and the district is supporting an investigation into a new storage project on the White. Photo credit: Brent Garndner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Projects plan

    River District staffers also have unveiled a fiscal implementation plan for how that additional funding could be spent should voters pass a ballot measure. Of the projected $4.9 million in additional revenue, $4.2 million of that would be spent on projects identified as priorities by local communities and basin roundtables in five categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality.

    Some representative projects that River District revenue could help fund are the White River Storage Project, maintaining flows secured by the Shoshone call and the Windy Gap Reservoir connectivity channel.

    The state engineer is opposing the water rights tied to the White River Storage Project in water court over concerns that the project is speculative and that the applicant, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, has not proven there is a need for the water. The project would include a 90,000-acre-foot conditional storage right, and a dam and reservoir on the White River between Rangely and Meeker. But Mueller said it’s too early to know what specific projects the River District’s tax money might fund.

    “We can’t say we would fund any one of those in particular; those are examples,” Mueller said. “We are not making a commitment to funding any of those that are listed.”

    Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supported by its donors and funders, that covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 8 edition of The Aspen Times and the May 12 edition of the Vail Daily.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are considering asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Colorado has wolves for first time in decades, but big question is: Are they breeding? — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
    Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

    Now that a pack of wolves has been confirmed in Colorado for the first time in decades, could the state also have its first breeding pair?

    Answering that question could have ramifications for a ballot initiative and legislative bill that calls for reintroducing wolves, predators that have been absent from the state since the 1940s (aside from sporadic reports of wandering lone individuals).

    Both measures require the state to establish a sustainable wolf population. However, wording in the bill allows the state to cancel reintroduction efforts if the gray wolf already has a self-sustaining population.

    “There is some trickiness and uncertainty for the ballot initiative and legislation (if the pack does produce young in Colorado), but you need a couple of packs successfully producing a couple of years to call it a population,” said Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife species conservation program manager.

    Now that a pack has been reported in the state for the first time in 80 years, the start of that self-sustaining population may already be happening.

    Currently, neither Colorado Parks and Wildlife nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is actively monitoring the pack, which was discovered in the northwest corner of the state earlier this month…

    If the pack was captured and tracking collars applied, it would identify if there is a breeding pair of adults, allow biologists to locate a possible den site and help determine if the pair produces young in the state this spring…

    Carbondale rancher Bill Fales said he would like to see the pack more closely monitored.

    “I think we need to know if they are breeding and what they are eating, and the sooner we know that information, the better,” said Fales, while checking calves at his ranch Friday.

    Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is spearheading the ballot initiative, said more closely monitoring the pack may not be needed until later.

    “It is conceivable in the future that there will be a closer eye paid to them because it will play into discussions of what we do going forward with reintroduction or augmentation of the wolf population,” he said…

    What biologists do know about the pack

    Odell said district wildlife mangers used spotting scopes to locate six wolves from more than a mile away on March 4. The pack was spotted several miles south of where the animals were initially seen in January in Moffat County.

    He said no tracking collars were seen on any of the wolves verified by CPW employees. He said genetic evidence collected from the pack’s scat samples near an elk kill indicated three females and one male and that the animals are siblings. Their age is unknown.

    He said it is unknown if the other wolves in the pack are parents of the siblings. If that is the case, it would indicate a breeding pair but would still leave unanswered whether the parents produced the siblings in Colorado.

    Wolves generally breed in January and February and give birth in April and May. Wolf packs are usually made up of parents and their pups from the previous several years.

    “You can connect the dots and make an educated guess based on the genetics that there has been reproduction in the past, maybe even last spring,” he said. “But that could have taken place in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, who knows.”’

    Edward said it is likely if there are adults in the pack and they do produce young in the state this spring, given the current monitoring of game cameras and the local’s interest in the wolves, they will be seen.

    #Colorado throws wolves to the vote — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Ethan Linck) [March 1, 2020]:

    The last wolf resident in Colorado in the 20th century died in 1945 at the edge of the San Juan Mountains, where a high green country falls into dark timber near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It was caught by its leg in the ragged jaws of a steel trap, set by federal authorities following reports that it had killed 10 sheep.

    If the wolf was mourned, it wasn’t mourned by many. Contemporary newspaper articles reflected widespread support for ridding the West of wolves. “Wolves are like people in that they must have their choice morsel of meat,” wrote Colorado’s The Steamboat Pilot in an April 1935 story on the retirement of William Caywood, a government contract hunter with over 2,000 wolf skulls to his credit. “(Some would eat) nothing but the choice parts of an animal unless they were very hungry. Wolves are killers from the time they are a year old.”

    Seventy-five years later, public perception has changed, and otherwise clear-eyed Westerners regularly wax poetic over Canis lupus. “Colorado will not truly be wild until we can hear the call of the wolf,” opined one writer in a recent editorial for Colorado Politics. “That mournful sound rekindles primordial memories of our ancestors, and to most of us, brings a state of calmness that nothing else can approach.”

    Wolves, it turns out, may be a part of the world we want to live in after all.

    This about-face is more than conjecture. According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wolves in Colorado,” echoing similar polls over the past 25 years. Yet state wildlife officials have been reluctant to comply, wary of the toxic politics surrounding reintroduction in the Northern Rockies.

    In response, activists seized an unprecedented strategy. A coalition of nonprofit groups in Colorado, led by the recently formed Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, spent 2019 tirelessly gathering support to pose the question to voters directly through a 2020 ballot initiative. They succeeded, delivering more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of State. Initiative 107 was officially ratified in January and will be voted on this November. (Meanwhile, neither politicians nor wolves have stayed still. In January, a state senator introduced a controversial bill to regain legislative control of the issue; in the same week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a pack of at least six wolves was now resident in northwest Colorado, though it’s far from clear they represent the start of a comeback. For the moment, the future of wolves here still likely rests on the initiative.)

    A new transplant to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest, I learned about the campaign from a canvasser outside Whole Foods in north Boulder on a sunny June day last year. In a parking lot filled with Teslas and Subarus, the tattooed volunteer stood opposite a wall-sized advertisement for the store, featuring the smiling faces of ranchers and farmers on the Western Slope.

    It was a scene that would have done little to assuage fears that urban liberal voters were forcing reintroduction on rural residents. The canvasser caught my eye as I left the store. “Can I talk to you about reintroducing wolves to Colorado?” he asked, waving a pamphlet. I demurred and walked back to my bike. But the initiative and its backers — happy to use scientific justifications for their cause, paired curiously with populist rhetoric about its overwhelming public support — lingered in my head.

    Darlene Kobobel. Photo credit: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

    The initiative fascinated me, beyond its potential to transform the landscape of my adopted home. As an academic biologist, I tended to think science should be both privileged in debate and somehow above the fray. But my own environmental ethic operated on an independent track — drawing on the scientific literature when it supported my opinions, and claiming it was beside the point when it didn’t. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project reminded me uncomfortably of this contradiction.

    If voters decide to reintroduce wolves to an increasingly crowded state from which they were effectively absent for over 70 years, Colorado’s ecosystems and rural communities may change rapidly, in unexpected ways. Yet unlike nearly all other major wildlife management decisions, the choice would rest not with a handful of experts, but with the public.

    The case poses a thorny set of questions. What will happen if wolves return to Colorado? When, if ever, can science tell us what to do? And, in the face of empirical uncertainty, could direct democracy be the best solution?

    I wondered: If I knew my own research could dramatically affect ecosystems and livelihoods, would I want it to play more of a role in public life — or less?

    CONSERVATIONISTS OFTEN HESITATE to frame arguments in moral terms, leaning on the perceived authority of empiricism to buttress their positions. At the same time, many conservation debates are complicated by the collision of disparate worldviews, where evidence is almost beside the point. Large carnivores — intensively studied and politically controversial — fall squarely in the center of this push-and-pull between data and belief.

    In 1995, federal biologists released eight gray wolves from Alberta, Canada, in Yellowstone National Park, seeding a population that eventually grew to as many 109 wolves in 11 packs. With the wolves came the unique opportunity to test the theory that their influence on elk numbers and behavior reduced grazing pressure on riparian vegetation, with consequences for the very structure of rivers themselves.

    Preliminary data suggested that this process — known as a trophic cascade — was indeed in effect. Elk numbers were down, grazing patterns were different, tree growth was up, and at least some river channels appeared to recover. A tidy encapsulation of the idea that nature had balance, it had broad appeal: In a viral YouTube video from 2014, British environmentalist George Monbiot breathlessly described these changes over soaring New Age synthesizers and stock footage of an elysian-seeming Yellowstone, calling it “one of the most exciting scientific findings of the past half century.”

    Yet ecology is rarely simple, and as the mythology surrounding the return of wolves grew, so, too, did skepticism in the literature. Over the past 15 years, a cascade of papers has called into question most of the findings taken for granted in the popular account of Yellowstone’s transformation. Elk browsing might not be reduced in areas with wolves; streams and riparian communities had not returned to their original state; maybe beavers were more fundamentally important to these processes than wolves were. In sum, a 2014 review paper suggested that there are no “simple, precise, or definitive answers” to the question of whether wolves caused a trophic cascade in the park; another evocatively concluded that “(the wolf) is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so.”

    Yellowstone represented a single experiment — one possible outcome among many. In a different corner of the West with more people, or different habitats, or more or fewer elk — in Colorado, for example — would wolves have had the same effect? Last June, a paper in the journal Biological Conservation attempted to answer this question indirectly by aggregating data on species reintroductions and introductions around the world and asking whether their removal or addition caused a reversion to historic conditions. Unsurprisingly, the answer was “it depends”: Restoring predators has unpredictable, complex consequences.

    That paper’s lead author, Jesse Alston, was a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Wyoming. I met him on a bright fall day in Laramie, at a coffee shop in a strip mall on the east side of town. Driving up from Boulder the same morning, I marveled at the abrupt transition in landscape at the border between Colorado and Wyoming: In the span of only a few miles north of Fort Collins, the sprawl of the Front Range fades away, and the High Plains begin rolling up into a sepia-colored saucer from the flatter, hotter agricultural land of eastern Larimer County.

    Alston spoke quietly and slowly, in the cautious manner of someone who anticipated a long future working with wildlife and wildlife-related controversies. Though he thought the evidence favored trophic cascades in Yellowstone, he was circumspect about predicting whether wolf reintroduction in Colorado would have the same effect. “(It) really hinges on the idea of there not being adequate predation currently. And there are a lot of hunters in Colorado.” But hunters are a minority of trail users, he added, and recreation of all kinds can influence elk behavior much the way fear of wolves does.

    Jesse Alston. Photo credit: jmalston.com

    I asked him to elaborate on the role of science in justifying carnivore restoration and whether he thought it might backfire. He paused, thinking, then said: “I think the people who would be most turned off if you don’t see large-scale ecosystem effects are the people who are least inclined to listen to science anyway, so I don’t see that being that big of a deal. But I do think that — as scientists, particularly as good scientists — that we should be sure that our ideas are buttressed by empirical findings.”

    Of course, there are empirical findings, and then there are the caveats that always accompany them — the reasons we can’t say for sure what will happen when wolves return. “I think really where the science-policy nexus is most problematic has been when there’s misunderstanding of uncertainty,” Alston continued. “I think it’s good to advocate for causes that we believe in, but we should be pretty straightforward about discussing the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

    IF WOLVES ARE NOT an ecological magic bullet, it is not readily apparent in the literature of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which nonetheless aims to “disseminate science-based information” as part of its mission. On its website, a blog post suggests that since wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, “the ecosystem has balanced.” This isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it isn’t correct, either, and the simplification belied a willingness to use science as a political battering ram. I was on board with the group’s mission as a voter, a Coloradan. As a scientist, though, it made me uneasy.

    Though the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is itself young — founded at the end of 2018 — its roots go back nearly to the release of wolves in Yellowstone, through its Boulder-based predecessor, Sinapu. In 2008, Sinapu — whose name was taken from the Ute word for wolves — was folded into Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, which also sought to restore large carnivore populations to the Southern Rockies. On an October evening at a brewery in South Boulder, I asked Rob Edward — founder and president of the board of the wolf fund, longtime Sinapu employee and the public face of wolf reintroduction in Colorado for decades — why the group had chosen to emphasize what might be described as the spiritual resonance of the effects of carnivore reintroduction on ecosystems and landscapes.

    Edward was eloquent but blunt, a middle-aged man who dressed in a way that suggested he was as comfortable in the rural parts of the state as in Boulder. His wife, Anne Edward, also a longtime wolf advocate, joined us; she was quieter, with gray hair and eyes that lit up whenever wolves were mentioned. They had chosen their language based on polling data, Rob Edward said. “They use that term — ‘restoring the balance of nature.’ Now, is it an oversimplification of a tremendously complicated system? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really.” At the same time, he said, the connection to research and its perceived authority was important. “The public as a whole places a tremendous amount of stock in scientists.”

    While it was clear the couple would support reintroduction even if they were the only two people on earth in favor of it, they nonetheless viewed public opinion as validating. A ballot initiative was a necessary last resort, a way to force the state and its slow-moving wildlife officials to comply with the will of the people of Colorado. “We’re not excluding experts, we’re simply telling them, get it done!” Rob Edward said, pounding the table in a gesture that passed unnoticed against the backdrop of his general animation. “Figure it out! Don’t keep machinating about it for another five decades. Get it done!”

    As I listened to him, I again found myself deeply conflicted at the prospect of the ballot initiative, and at putting major wildlife management decisions up to a simple vote. On the one hand, I appreciated that it was a creative solution to an intractable political problem, on behalf of a natural system divorced from the political ebb and flow of Denver. On the other, it seemed to set a dangerous precedent. As the history of our complicated relationship with wolves shows, popular opinion can be capricious. Was it really right to pose complex questions — questions at the limit of expert understanding — to a largely naive public?

    Laws that translate science to policy can give a voice to a nonhuman world that cannot advocate for itself. Yet in our society, democracy is haunted by the question of whose voices matter. Edward was clear that polling showed clear majorities of Coloradans support wolf reintroduction across the state, including groups that you might expect to oppose it: Rural residents on the Western Slope, hunters and Republicans all support it by a substantial majority. But Colorado is changing, becoming less white, and he was unable to refer me to data broken down along racial and ethnic lines — particularly among historically disadvantaged groups that remain underrepresented at the ballot box.

    Nor have the views of Indigenous people — who have the longest history of cultural connection to wolves, and whose lands in Colorado will likely be among the first impacted by a rebounding wolf population — been highlighted in the debate. I was unable to reach wildlife officials with the Southern Ute Tribe by press time, but they are clearly watching the issue closely. In a statement on the initiative, the tribe clarified that it does not have an official position on wolf reintroduction and is “simply evaluating whether (to) support, oppose, or remain neutral on the subject.”

    Carbondale, Colorado-based muralist Valerie Rose works on one of four murals she’s done for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project since early 2018. This one is at Green Spaces in Denver. Photo credit: Cheney Gardner

    SCIENCE IS VERY GOOD at addressing the how, but often fails when confronted with the should — the biggest questions, which veer into the realm of values. There is no experiment we can conduct to say whether we should proceed with wolf introduction, no data that can tell us if it is the right thing to do. It comes down to how evidence is filtered through our worldview: whether we think of humans as a part of nature or separate from it, and whether we think changes in grazing habits and water channels — and the presence of wolves themselves — add up to a fundamental good worth fighting for.

    But, like conservationists, scientists often shy away from such moral judgments, and for valid reasons: the fear of being perceived as not impartial, thereby undercutting the authority of their research; a sense of obligation to the politically diverse taxpayers who fund their work; an acute awareness of the limitations of their data, statistics and the scientific method itself. In the public sphere, however, this feigned objectivity can have the negative consequence of suggesting there are scientific solutions to philosophical questions.

    That wolf reintroduction advocates lean on science rather than those weightier themes is understandable. Yet arguing that having wolves in Colorado is an intrinsic good — because they represent what we want Colorado to become, not because they will have a net benefit on aspen growth or stream hydrology — would be more honest, and might win people over in unexpected ways.

    Back at the brewery in suburban Boulder, Rob Edward vacillated between polished language justifying reintroduction in scientific terms and moments of raw emotion: “They have wolves on the Gaza Strip. They have wolves in Italy. They have wolves in Northern-freaking-California. Why can’t we have wolves here?”

    IF THE BALLOT INITIATIVE passes this November, a three-year planning process begins, followed by what Anne Edward described as “paws on the ground” — the release of the first few wolves — in 2023, almost certainly in the San Juan Mountains. Advocates anticipate that this process will be difficult, and they are prepared for a fight.

    A successful reintroduction would be a remarkable accomplishment, given the fraught history of wolves in Colorado, as well as a landmark event in the gradual return of large carnivores to the 21st century West. It would also be a remarkable reflection of the blurring lines between science, belief and politics in the 21st century. As political gridlock becomes a feature of daily life, and environmental degradation — the cancerous rot of the Anthropocene — metastasizes, the impulse to circumvent collapsing institutions in response to crises is likely to become more common. In these circumstances, what role should scientists and science play? How much should uncertainty prevent action, and how much should empiricism determine our value system?

    There are no easy answers here. If the basic question of whether or not to reintroduce wolves to Colorado is largely beyond the purview of science, then perhaps putting it to a vote is the most responsible option. The messiness of democracy can be terrifying. Still, there may not be a better way. After all, the language of values has been a part of the modern conservation movement since its birth — the Endangered Species Act of 1973, for example, states that endangered species provide “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation.”

    Toward the end of my conversation with the Edwards, thinking of their many years of advocacy and of the curious arc of history, I asked them what it was like to see an end in sight. “Do you allow yourselves to get a little carried with the fantasy of it?” I asked. “Things are in your favor — have you started imagining ‘paws on the ground’?”

    Both were quiet for a moment, and the noise of the bar washed over us. “I’ve been working on this for 25 years,” Rob said, his voice breaking into a sob as Anne reached out and gripped his arm. “I certainly do.”

    Ethan Linck has previously written about recreation and conservation for High Country News, and about science and nature for Los Angeles Review of Books, Undark and Slate. He is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico, where he studies evolution and genetics in birds. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    Update on NW #Colorado wolf pack — @COParksWildlife

    A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
    Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Randy Hampton):

    A group of wolves has again been verified in Moffat County. It is likely that the latest sighting is the same pack previously seen in that area.

    A member of the public spotted the wolves on Tuesday, March 3, providing a credible sighting report of seven wolves. District wildlife managers were able to investigate and visually verify six wolves in the reported area on Wednesday, March 4. The location of this sighting was several miles south of the January sighting location. Over the past few weeks, wildlife managers have heard from area residents about howling, carcasses, and tracks but actual sightings remain rare. Wolves travel over large distances, especially when establishing new home ranges, so the movement and new sightings are not surprising.

    As a federally endangered species, wolves in Colorado remain under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Colorado Parks and Wildlife works closely with federal partners to monitor wolf presence in Colorado. The wolves migrating into Colorado are likely from larger populations in Wyoming, but could be from populations in Idaho and Montana.

    CPW reminds members of the public that killing a wolf in Colorado can result in federal charges, including a $100,000 fine and a year in prison, per offense. Instead, the agency requests that the public give wolves space, and report any sightings to CPW as soon as possible. For more information, visit the CPW website.

    2020 November election: Western Slope prepping for wolves — @AspenJournalism


    Gray wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1930s, but a pack was recently spotted in the northwest corner of the state. In November, voters in the state will decide on a measure to reintroduce gray wolves. JOHN AND KAREN HOLLINGSWORTH, USFWS

    From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    Since Colorado’s last wild wolves were killed in the 1930s, a few lone animals have been spotted in the state. So, when a pack was spotted in northwest Colorado — several months before Colorado voters decide whether they’ll support a bill to reintroduce gray wolves to the state — it wasn’t a total surprise to Carbondale ecologist Delia Malone.

    “It does give life to the idea that Colorado has ample suitable habitat for wolves,” said Malone, a member of the science advisory team for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which hopes to reestablish a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado.

    Malone and Colorado wildlife officials agree that the rural northwest corner of the state is well-suited for wolves. CPW isn’t releasing the pack’s exact location, but agency spokesperson Lauren Truitt says there is plenty of prey and room to roam.

    “With Colorado not having any wolf presence, there’s not a whole lot of competition for them, so it’s very likely that they’ll hang around,” Truitt said.

    CPW biologists used DNA testing on four scat samples, which revealed there are at least three females and one male in the pack, and those wolves are all closely related, probably as full siblings.

    “That does not mean there’s a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado,” Malone said. “A sustainable, recovered population is a population that is ecologically effective in their role to restore natural balance; they’re well-distributed throughout Colorado; they’re well-connected. And six little wolves is not that.”

    Malone says her work as an ecologist gives her a clear view that Colorado needs wolves.

    “Our ecosystems are not in great shape,” Malone said.

    The combination of a warming climate and lack of predators has reduced the resilience of Colorado’s aspen forests and other habitats. Malone said the presence of wolves has tremendous benefits, including improving water availability in the driest months of the year.

    “They (wolves) move the elk so that they don’t overgraze, so that there’s willow left for the beavers to build their dams, to store their water, to supply streamflows in the late-summer season,” Malone said.

    Malone and others point to the ecological benefits seen after wolf recovery in Yellowstone National Park as a model. The National Park Service says that without pressure from predators such as wolves, the elk population grew far beyond what was sustainable. The number of elk has since reached healthier levels.

    A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
    Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    While a pack sighting indicates the possibility of wolves returning to western Colorado on their own, there are also two potential paths to reintroduction.

    Sen. Kerry Donovan in January introduced to the state legislature a bill that would take cautious steps toward wolf reintroduction, potentially beginning in 2025.

    In November, voters will decide on Initiative 107, which would require CPW to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves by the end of 2023. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project has been working for years on a plan that would fully restore wolves to Colorado.

    “Vast areas that are rugged and remote without humans are the ideal reintroduction sites,” Malone said.

    The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project identified several potential reintroduction sites, including the Flat Tops Wilderness north of Glenwood Springs; Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; Weminuche Wilderness in San Juan National Forest; and Carson National Forest.

    Gray wolves are currently listed as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, which gives management authority to the federal government. Last year, the federal government petitioned to remove those protections and declare wolves recovered. That would mean that CPW would be in charge of management.

    If Initiative 107 passes and gray wolves remain listed under the ESA and, therefore, under federal management, Truitt says the next steps are unclear.

    “The ballot initiative instructs the Commission to develop and implement a plan for reintroduction, but is silent as to what CPW is supposed to do if it has no authority to reintroduce or manage wolves,” she wrote in an email.

    There is strong support across the state for wolf reintroduction. In an online survey conducted by Colorado State University professor Rebecca Niemiec, 84% of respondents intended to vote for wolf reintroduction.

    Bill Fales and Marj Perry raise cattle near Carbondale. They fear that the presence of wolves in Colorado would come with a significant economic hit to their ranching operations. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Herd instinct and ranching changes

    Jose Miranda raises water buffaloes, mostly for dairy, in Old Snowmass. He says it would be silly to think that wolves won’t change his operations, but he still plans to vote for reintroduction.

    “My position is that morally, it’s the right thing to do,” Miranda said. “On the verge of so many species that are facing extinction, if we can do something to help some of them, we just have to.”

    Miranda acknowledges that wolves would mean major changes for many ranchers, particularly those whose use permits to graze cattle on U.S. Forest Service land. Those permit areas tend to be large, with animals spread out across the landscape rather than gathered in herds.

    Longtime Carbondale ranchers Bill Fales and Marj Perry use a Forest Service permit to graze up to 900 head of cattle each year in the summer and fall.

    Perry has been researching ranchers’ experiences across the West, and she worries that wolf predation would be particularly severe during two times of the year: calving season, when wolves tend to hang out lower in the valleys and there are an abundance of calves available; and early fall, when wolf pups are learning to hunt.

    “It’s a lot easier to learn to hunt a calf than a deer or elk,” Perry said, adding that their cattle are spread out on Forest Service lands during that time of year.

    Researchers and ranchers have identified ways to minimize the loss of cattle to wolves and other predators. Matt Barnes, a rangeland and wildlife conservationist and a former rancher, says ranchers who use strategic grazing — a process in which cattle are moved from one pasture to another and work is done to encourage herd behavior — lose very few animals to predators.

    “If they bunch up and stand their ground, the vast majority of the time, they all survive,” Barnes said. “A lone prey animal out there is kinda easy pickings.”

    Wolves hunt by forcing their prey to run and attacking from the sides. That’s how they are able to kill animals that are four times their weight. But researchers think wolves are only successful about 15% of the time, and much of their success depends on how the prey behave — namely, if they gather in a herd.

    “There is something magic about that herd effect,” Barnes said. “It’s prey animals’ primary anti-predator behavior.”

    Cattle — indeed, all kinds of prey — can move the weakest members of the herd to the middle, and defend themselves using their hooves.

    Miranda, who raises water buffaloes, thinks his animals stand a pretty good chance against wolves because of their herding behavior.

    “I know that the water buffaloes that I have are probably going to have a better instinct protecting themselves and the younger animals as far as protecting themselves against a pack of wolves,” Miranda said.

    But Perry and Fales say the landscape where their cattle graze make herding up very difficult. There aren’t many open fields on the Forest Service land where their permit is, and there’s also limited access to water.

    “We try to not have the cattle in a big bunch in order not to hammer the riparian areas,” Perry said. “Our whole strategy has been to keep cattle strung out. And so far, it seems like it’ll be really hard to remedy that.”

    Wolf advocates also say range riders can help minimize losses; a rider who is out with the cattle daily can watch for injured or weakened cows or calves that might become targets and keep an eye out for wolves. But Fales doesn’t think that would work, either, especially with the challenges of finding reliable labor.

    “We do a lot of range riding. There’s never a day when there’s not someone out there,” he said. “But it would be totally insufficient to manage for wolves.”

    The management strategy that Perry and Fales think would work in their situation is one that currently isn’t an option in Colorado: killing the problem wolves that prey on cattle.

    “The only thing I would really advocate for would be lethal control,” Perry said. “You can’t have wolves without forevermore killing them.”

    Killing wolves is illegal in Colorado because the species has federal protection under the ESA, but the future of that status is uncertain. Some ranchers, including Miranda, are hopeful that reintroduction would mean a larger voice in how wolves are managed than if the animals return to the state on their own.

    “Some of these programs are very progressive,” Miranda said. “As long as there’s that kind of help and communication, that’s very fortunate.”

    In fact, the CSU survey found that nearly 80% of people who identify as ranchers intend to vote for reintroduction. The online survey asked respondents a series of questions about how officials could manage wolves — including lethal control and compensation for ranchers for lost livestock — before asking whether people support the ballot initiative.

    The initiative does not include any promise of lethal control, and management depends on a series of questions — namely, if wolves are removed from protections under the ESA. Even then, Barnes said control measures need to be carefully executed.

    “For lethal control to make sense, it’s got to be targeted to the specific individuals that are involved in the conflict,” Barnes said. “Preemptive lethal control does not work.”

    Also, he said, the number of cattle and sheep actually killed by wolves in states such as Montana and Wyoming is surprisingly low.

    A scavenged elk carcass was found in Moffat County on Jan. 2. CPW officials confirmed that scat found nearby and from which they collected DNA samples belonged to wolves. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Wolves kill few cattle, sheep

    In Montana in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the loss of 71 livestock — 64 cattle and seven sheep — and two dogs to wolves. The USDA received 93 complaints of wolves killing livestock that year, while the state was home to an estimated 2.55 million cattle, 225,000 sheep and 819 wolves.

    The numbers are similar in Wyoming, where wolves are considered “predatory animals” in most of the state, meaning they can be killed at will. In 2018, wolves were confirmed to have killed 71 head of livestock: 55 cattle, 15 sheep and 1 horse.

    Wolves do kill livestock but not in big numbers.

    “The rhetoric, the exaggeration, the myth is our biggest challenge,” Malone said. She said wolf advocates have work to do to assure ranchers that wolves won’t devastate their livelihood.

    “We need to do work with the ranching community to be sure that they are whole and that they’re fairly treated,” Malone said. “But we can do that. We have good examples of it.”

    Initiative 107 includes direction for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to compensate
    for livestock lost to wolves. Similar plans exist in other Western states, including Montana, where the state paid $82,959 to 40 livestock owners.

    Funding for such a program in Colorado would come from an existing wildlife cash fund, and Malone says the goal is for public input to help shape policy on how to fairly compensate ranchers for their losses.

    Still, Fales and Perry worry that wolves in Colorado would mean a significant economic hit — and an emotional one, too.

    “There’s an emotional attachment (to the cattle), even though you’re selling them for a beef animal. You’re taking care of them, we’re with them just night and day when they’re calving,” Perry said. “And to go out and find them just shredded and eaten up is not something I would ever vote for.”

    If Initiative 107 passes, Perry says she might quit. And her husband, Fales, thinks others might follow suit.

    “I think a lot of people will quit, and certainly in this part of Colorado, there are a zillion developers ready to help you quit,” he said.

    Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

    Coexistence amid conflict

    Historically, conflicts between ranchers and wolves have not ended well for the predators.

    “Because of their depredations of domestic animals, wolves in Colorado were systematically eradicated by shooting, trapping and poisoning,” reads the CPW informational website on wolves.

    In recent years, CPW officials say there have been no reports or evidence of people killing wolves in the state, except for a widely publicized incident in 2015 where a hunter shot a wolf that he said he thought was a coyote.

    While wolf advocates point to the ecological benefits of restoring wolves to their historic range, the social implications might be harder to pin down. Perry says she understands why people might be attracted to the idea of wolves, but she believes the implications on the ranching industry will be far-reaching.

    “There could be unintended consequences (of wolf reintroduction),” Perry said. “Loss of ranchland, which means more fragmentation, more housing development, more decline for all animals, prey and predator.”

    Barnes, who has experience in both wildlife conservation and raising livestock, says part of having domestic animals is the risk of predators.

    “Very little in nature gets to live out its life without the risk of getting eaten,” Barnes said. “Coexistence is possible, but it’s probably not peaceful.”

    The #ColoradoRiver Water Conservation District may move to put a mill levy increase on the November 2020 ballot #COriver #aridification #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

    From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Thomas Phippen):

    River district Director Andy Mueller presented the commission with the possibility of asking taxpayers to double the existing mill levy for Garfield and 14 other counties. Currently, the River district levies about a quarter mill on properties, which has been enough since about 1992.

    Under the 2019 assessment rate, the river district’s current quarter-mill levy comes out to $1.79 on a $100,000 home. If increased, the half-mill would cost the same home $3.58 in property taxes.

    But with cost increases, decreasing revenues from oil and gas development, and several crises looming over the Western Slope’s water, the current tax is simply not enough, Mueller said…

    Mueller said the river district has cut costs in recent years, but sustaining current operations requires an increase.

    And the district wants to support important projects that are currently unfunded, like identifying and developing small high-mountain reservoirs.

    Those reservoirs could play a role in keeping streams flowing, and supplementing water for agriculture and municipalities “during times of severe hot, dry summers that we’re having more and more of,” Mueller said.

    “We can’t do it with the current revenue stream,” he added, which is why he again asked the district’s board to look into placing the tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

    The Garfield County commissioners expressed support for the mill levy ballot language…

    If the river district’s board approves the ballot language, and voters approve the property tax in November, it would bring in an additional $4.9 million to the district.

    Mueller suggests using most of that for the special water projects. One example is the Windy Gap bypass, which would reconstruct a channel around the reservoir to preserve fish habitats and river flows.

    The river district’s mission is “to make sure we have water for all of our industries and economic activity, everything from recreation to agriculture,” Mueller said, but that’s impossible without sufficient funding.

    Are Republicans coming out of ‘the closet’ on #ClimateChange? — The Washington Post

    Science Senator. It’s called science.

    From The Washington Post (Steven Mufson):

    Bruce Westerman, a Republican congressman from Arkansas, has a plan to help save the planet — one he thinks may also help save his party.

    His proposal, which calls for planting a trillion trees to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, was warmly received last month when House Republicans gathered to discuss their policy agenda heading into the 2020 elections.

    After years of denying that the planet was growing hotter because of human activity, an increasing number of Republicans say they need to acknowledge the problem and offer solutions if they have any hope of retaking the House.

    In poll after poll, large numbers of young and suburban Republican voters are registering their desire for climate action and say the issue is a priority. And their concern about climate change is spreading to older GOP supporters, too.

    Almost 7 in 10 Republican adults under 45 said that human activity is causing the climate to change, according to a poll last summer by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Republicans “can’t win the majority back [in the House] without winning suburban districts, and you can’t win suburban districts with a retro position on climate change,” said former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican who is pushing his party to craft a climate plan…

    The GOP is still hammering out details, but some critics say the new Republican approach to climate change looks a lot like the old one. In addition to trees, senior Republicans are said to be considering tax breaks for research, curbs on plastic waste and big federally funded infrastructure projects in the name of adaptation or resilience…

    The already well-worn buzzword “innovation” will be their rallying cry, and natural gas, despite its carbon emissions, will be embraced…

    House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) told the news outlet Axios that a new set of policies would expand an existing tax credit to encourage carbon capture and storage, sharply increase research-and-development funding for “clean energy” technology, curb plastic pollution, and plant a whole lot of trees. Graves in an interview also said that U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas would be better for the climate than natural gas from Russia…

    What’s missing? There are no taxes or tax revenue. There are no regulatory standards to boost automotive fuel efficiency or contain methane emissions. And there are no limits on fossil fuels. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Moreover, Republicans have no taste for a proposal that leading economists say is the fastest, most powerful way to cut carbon emissions — a $40-per-ton carbon tax on polluters, promoted by George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, and James A. Baker, Reagan’s treasury secretary and secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush. Money raised by the tax would be returned to taxpayers in the form of dividends…

    Younger voters’ concerns

    As difficult as it may be to change the positions of GOP lawmakers, Trump makes matters even more complicated. Moments after rhapsodizing about trees at Davos, the president took aim at climate activists, calling them “perennial prophets of doom” and “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortunetellers.”

    Earlier, in response to efforts to ban plastic straws that end up in the ocean, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a super PAC, sold packs of 10 red plastic straws emblazoned with Trump’s name and said that “liberal paper straws don’t work.”

    It is unclear whether Trump will refer to the changing climate in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, with the possible exception of the trillion-trees commitment, which echoes Bush’s unrealized 1990 proposal to plant 1 billion trees a year for a decade.

    Among voters who approve of Trump’s overall job performance, his approval ratings on climate change — 73 percent — were the lowest out of six questions the Post-Kaiser poll asked his supporters. And 23 percent of all Republicans disapprove of his handling of the climate issue, substantially higher than the 9 percent of Republicans who disapprove of his job performance overall.

    “You see among younger voters a higher concern,” said David Winston, a veteran Republican pollster who has been researching attitudes toward climate change. “Does it meet the levels of the economy and health care? No. But you are seeing it move up as a level of concern.”
    Much of the impetus for a new Republican posture on climate change has come from McCarthy and Graves.

    When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis last year, Graves told McCarthy the party needed to change its position on climate change or risk being left behind by its voters and awash in a worsening series of floods and fires.

    “My conversation with McCarthy was about hey, number one, I think the science is pretty good here and I don’t think the path forward has to be a hard right or a hard left turn,” said Graves, the ranking Republican on the climate committee.

    McCarthy was receptive. In October, he told the Washington Examiner that the GOP would introduce several free-market-based bills in response to the Green New Deal, a sweeping set of policy proposals backed by some Democrats that would aim to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years.

    Before he ran for Congress, Graves worked as a congressional aide, then returned to Louisiana to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) put him in charge of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, where he learned about permanent changes to the coastline. In 2014, he won his first race for Congress.

    Graves is no liberal. He has received a 3 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, based partly on his opposition to requirements that natural-gas producers control methane releases and his support for logging Alaskan national forests.

    “I think that some climate advocates have made a fundamental error in identifying fossil fuels as the enemy as opposed to emissions,” Graves said.

    Louisiana ranks as the nation’s third-largest producer of natural gas, and the biggest campaign contributions to Graves in the current electoral cycle come from the oil, gas and utility industries. His four biggest contributors are the ClearPath Foundation, which promotes nuclear energy, hydropower and increased energy research; Entergy, a New Orleans-based utility; Marathon Petroleum, a refiner; and NextEra Energy, a big Florida-based utility that relies heavily on wind, natural gas, nuclear and solar. Over Graves’s career, Koch Industries has also been a major contributor.

    Graves and other Republicans paint a bright line between their approach to climate change and Democrats’. They have sharply attacked the Green New Deal…

    Graves also opposes taking some measures when other countries are not acting in similar ways. “If you were to implement the Green New Deal, you would be playing into the hands of China,” he said.

    Instead, Graves said, Congress ought to promote U.S. technology, which is “all about U.S. competitiveness.” And spending on resilience to prevent costlier climate damage is “an awesome conservative fiscal argument,” he said.

    In the Senate, some lawmakers are seeking common ground, led by Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “There have been a lot of Republicans in the closet on climate,” Braun, a freshman senator, told The Post in December. Coons and Braun each recruited three colleagues to their Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has also managed to work with Republicans on specific parts of a climate policy. He joined with Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime climate denier, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who also represents a fossil-fuel-intensive state, to pass legislation that gives tax credits to companies that capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it.

    Risky territory for GOP
    Still, some Republicans have paid a political price for urging action on climate change. Consider the swift downfall of California state legislator Chad Mayes. In July 2017, Mayes, then the State Assembly’s Republican leader, joined Democrats in supporting a climate-change program called cap-and-trade.

    “We lower taxes, we reduce costs, we reduce regulations, and at the same time we’re going to protect our environment,” Mayes said at a news conference. “I know for some they’re going to look at this and say: What in the world is going on? Why are Republicans talking about something like cap-and-trade? Well I’ll tell you. We believe that markets are better than Soviet-style command and control. We believe that markets are better than government coercing people into doing things that they don’t want to do. We believe that businesses in California want to do the right thing.”

    A month later, Republican activists in the assembly’s 25-member caucus stripped Mayes of his leadership position.

    He went on to form a group called “New Way California,” but that, too, was attacked. Two months ago, Mayes quit the Republican Party and filed to run as an independent.

    Inglis, the former congressman from South Carolina, has followed a similar path. “For my first six years in Congress, I just said that climate change was nonsense,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it except that Al Gore was in favor of it.”

    After going back to private life, Inglis decided to run again for Congress. His son insisted that he wise up on climate change.

    Then Inglis went on a congressional trip to Antarctica and looked at bore samples of polar ice. “It is an amazing record of the Earth’s atmosphere,” he said. That convinced him that human activity since the Industrial Revolution was warming the planet.

    Back in Washington, in 2009 he proposed a bill that would have imposed a carbon tax, adjusted the prices of imports from countries such as China and India that did not have such a tax, and return the revenue to taxpayers by cutting payroll taxes.

    It was poorly timed during the Great Recession, he recalled. And unpopular.

    He lost the Republican primary to Trey Gowdy by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent…

    After Barack Obama moved into the White House in 2009, Republicans solidified their opposition to his entire agenda, including any climate plan.

    “My party was against everything Obama was for,” Inglis said.

    It took nearly a decade for any shift. On Feb. 12, 2018, Joseph Majkut, climate policy director at the libertarian Niskanen Center, became the first Republican witness before the House Science Committee in nearly 10 years to talk about tackling climate change, according to Inglis.

    The former congressman is now traveling the country trying to change Republican minds about climate policy…

    Democrats and middle-of-the-road politicians are wary about the GOP’s recent climate buzz.

    “I think they’re caught on the politics,” said Ben Finzel, president of a public relations firm, RenewPR, and a former Hill staffer. “The challenge is they want to get stuff done but also want to beat up the Dems.”

    Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said he thinks there is meaningful change underway.

    “The fact that Leader McCarthy is publicizing his intention to put out a Republican climate solution matters a lot,” Grumet said. “The details will be embraced and ridiculed like every other climate plan. But that gives tremendous license for the Republican Party to get in the game.”

    The 2020 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention starts today #CWCAC2020 @COWaterCongress

    Posting may be intermittent this week. You can follow the sessions on my Twitter feed @CoyoteGulch and even better, engage using the hash tag #CWCAC2020.

    The convention is the place to be this week for all the conversations, networking, and great presentations. Once in a while someone from Colorado water history even shows up.

    David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

    #ColoradoRiver District revisiting mill levy increase — @AspenJournalism @ColoradoWater #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are considering asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District are revisiting a recommendation to ask voters to restore part of the district’s original mill levy.

    River District General Manager Andy Mueller recommended at the district’s quarterly board meeting this week asking voters in the November 2020 election to raise the district’s property tax rate from a quarter-mill to a half-mill, taking its budget from roughly $4 million to $8 million.

    That works out to 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

    According to a memo from Mueller, the River District has taken steps over the last year to reduce expenses — which have climbed at a rate of 3% per year — such as putting a grant program on hold, instituting an early retirement program to reduce the number of full time employees and reducing its fleet of vehicles by two. These efforts, however, are not a long-term fix to what Mueller called a structural deficit.

    Mueller’s recommendation seeks to remedy a dwindling general fund caused by the bane of many Colorado taxing districts: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and Gallagher Amendment, which restrain the growth of government by placing limits on the amount of taxes allowed to be collected. The River District gets 97% of its revenue from property taxes.

    “It’s not with lack of thought that I’m recommending this board consider asking the voters, appropriately under TABOR, to support a tax increase,” Mueller told River District directors. “We want to see that money going to partners on the West Slope and projects that span the scope of our water improvement needs.”

    Some directors said they supported the measure, which was first publicly discussed at a February 2019 meeting.

    “I think it’s obvious this is a necessary step forward,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, who represents Summit County.

    Others agreed about the need to increase the River District’s revenue but expressed doubt a tax measure could pass in western Colorado’s more conservative counties, such as Mesa, Montrose and Delta, especially in a presidential election year with high turnout.

    “I think we face a really difficult battle,” said Tom Alvey, who represents Delta County. “There are a number of tax-averse areas on the Western Slope.”

    14 of the 15 directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, gathered for their January 19 meeting. The directors are appointed by county commissioners in 15 Western Slope counties. Back row, L to R, Alden Vanden Brink, Rio Blanco County, Karn Stiegelmeirer, Summit, Doug Monger, Routt, Marc Catlin, Montrose, John Ely, Pitkin, Steve Acquafresca, Mesa, Bill Trampe, Gunnison, Stan Whinnery, Hinsdale. Front row, L to R, Mike Ritschard, Grand, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle, Dave Merritt, Garfield, Martha Whitmore, Ouray, Tom Alvey, Delta, Rebie Hazard, Saguache. Not shown, Bill Gray, Moffat County. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Building awareness

    The River District was created by the state Legislature in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in 15 Western Slope counties, including Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle. County commissioners appoint its directors to three-year terms. The Glenwood Springs-based organization works to shape Colorado water policy and advocates for keeping water on the Western Slope.

    Even though the River District plays an important role in Colorado water planning, its financial might has lagged behind its political clout. A revenue increase would help remedy that, Mueller said.

    “What we are trying to do is respond to the public’s concerns about (a secure water future) and be the leader at the table and not just with our skilled staff and political influence, but also with money,” he said.

    But before the tax money can start rolling in, voters have to know what the River District is and what it does. To that end, staff has undertaken a rebranding of the River District to help voters connect what it does with its name. Staff has stepped up efforts with social media, a newsletter and video featuring Mueller and West Slope water users, and is also planning a series of webinars and workshops around the 15 counties.

    “We are trying to help people realize there is an agency charged with protecting two-thirds of the West Slope and assist in the long-range planning for water supply and helping them realize while we may not touch their daily lives, how important that work is,” Mueller said.

    In addition to Mueller, the River District employs attorneys, engineers, hydrologists, legislative lobbyists and communications specialists to protect the West Slope’s water interests.

    Directors did not make a decision at this week’s meeting on whether to put the tax question on this year’s ballot. Instead, they agreed to continue to research the issue and discuss it with their constituents.

    “I would need some time before I say yay or nay,” said Steve Acquafresca, who represents Mesa County. “I need some time to talk to people and consider the issue.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story ran in the Jan. 24 edition of the Post-Independent, The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.

    New poll shows leading role of #climate policy in #Colorado primary — @ConservationCO #ActOnClimate #VoteEnvironment #KeepItInTheGround

    Comasche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

    From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):

    New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.

    The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).

    Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:

  • 85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
  • 95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
  • 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
  • These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).

    Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.

    Full survey results can be found here.

    Challenges ahead for aspen forests — @AspenJournalism

    Aspen’s namesake trees, the quaking aspen, acts as a keystone species that sustains hundreds of other plants and animals. Aspens are also under stress from drier conditions, increased temperatures and over-browsing by large herbivores. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    Just as new research shows that aspen forests are a fountain of biodiversity, Aspen’s namesake trees in the Roaring Fork River watershed are battling warming temperatures, drier conditions, climate disruption, and unchecked herds of deer and elk. Although local aspen forests are currently faring OK, they face serious challenges.

    There are a few small aspen groves in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park, tucked in valleys where there’s more moisture than what the surrounding oak brush needs— and Elise Osenga, a researcher at the Aspen Global Change Institute, keeps a close eye on these groves. Osenga leads a program that monitors soil moisture as part of efforts to better understand climate conditions in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Two of the monitoring stations — one at Sky Mountain and the other at North Star Nature Preserve — are in aspen groves.

    “We are interested in seeing,” Osenga said, “if soils are consistently drier over time, are the aspen able to survive?”

    There is not yet a long history of local soil conditions, but Osenga recently completed an assessment of the health of aspens near the two research stations.

    “The good news of what we found is we didn’t actually find many dead trees at this point,” she said. But Osenga noted that aspens can die off in sustained droughts or even after just one or two really dry years. Additionally, as temperatures rise with a changing climate, the rain that does fall evaporates more quickly, further drying out soils.

    Elise Osenga, a researcher with the Aspen Global Change Institute, walks among the aspens on the Airline Trail in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park. She heads up a program to monitor soil moisture and climate conditions. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Aspens thrive on disruption

    Other local experts have found that there are local aspen groves that are struggling.

    “It’s really those south-facing, dry slopes where the aspen decline is pretty evident,” said Adam McCurdy, forest programs director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

    He pointed to groves near the radio tower on the Sunnyside Trail and up Castle Creek near the Toklat Gallery. Throughout the West and particularly in southwest Colorado, aspen trees on south- and southwest-facing slopes at low elevations are declining.

    But overall, the local forests are faring pretty well, McCurdy said. In fact, aspens thrive on disruptions.

    Dry conditions can mean increased risk of wildfire and bark-beetle infestations in evergreens, which thin forests and create openings for aspens to reproduce.

    In the mountains around Aspen, avalanches have cleared paths for aspen trees to peek through evergreen forests, creating landscape-level diversity that benefits the local ecosystem.

    “This really serves to break up the large stretches of what would otherwise be just spruce-fir forests and makes our forests more resilient to beetles and fire and all sorts of other disturbance,” McCurdy said.

    Young aspen trees with massive leaves poke up through avalanche wreckage in Maroon Creek Valley in the summer of 2019. Aspens take advantage of sunlight to grow after disruptions like avalanches, wildfire or beetle outbreaks. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Sunlight and moisture bring diverse life

    Young aspens are already taking root in the paths cleared by last spring’s historic avalanche cycle — and creating space for all kinds of forest life.

    Quaking aspen leaves let sunlight through the canopy, and the deep, rich soils under aspen communities hold more moisture than those in conifer forests. Such a combination of moisture and sunlight is the magic ticket for diverse life.

    “Under aspen communities, there might be up to a hundred different plant species, and then some people have made tabulations of 50, 60 or more animals using aspen on a daily basis,” said Paul Rogers, director of Western Aspen Alliance, which coordinates research and management of aspen ecosystems across western North America.

    A bear walks through an aspen grove in Snowmass Village this past fall. Bears are among dozens of animal species who use aspen communities. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Research shows biodiversity benefits of aspen forests

    Rogers co-authored a recent review of aspen research that contends that conservation of aspen ecosystems can benefit global biodiversity. Rogers and more than a dozen fellow researchers argue for a “mega-conservation” strategy: By sustaining the keystone aspen forests, a wide range of species would also be protected.

    But, in addition to drier soils, aspen forests across the world are under stress from human activities such as mining, logging and urban development — as well as from some of the very wildlife they help support. Young trees are particularly nutritious and attractive to elk and deer, and herds sometimes stay in one spot for days, eating all the new shoots.

    This results in an aging forest, and when the old trees start to die off, “you have a real problem,” Rogers said. “And so, if you combine that with drought, which is happening throughout Colorado, throughout the Western states, that is the biggest threat to aspen ecosystems.”

    Reintroducing predators, such as wolves, could help — especially because when predators are in the area, herbivores can’t stay in one place long enough to overeat young trees, Rogers said. The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is a contentious issue that is likely to be on the ballot in the fall of 2020.

    Rogers also noted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers have increased the targeted size of elk herds over decades. The population goal for the Avalanche Creek elk herd, for example, increased from 3,300 in 1988 to a range of 3,600-5,400 in 2013.

    “We’ve taken away predators, for the most part, that are going to keep those populations in check, but we’ve also managed those big herbivore populations for economics, quite frankly,” Rogers said. “Every state sells hunting licenses, and so to keep those revenues up, they keep those populations high. And those high populations have an impact on ecosystems.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of the environment. A version of this story aired on APR on Dec. 27 and this story ran in the Dec. 29 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Gunnison County Board meeting recap #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Crystal River on Sept. 18, 2018. Photo by John Herrick.

    From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

    Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board member Bill Trampe spoke to the county commissioners this past fall on behalf of the neighboring river district. Kathleen Curry, the chairman of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, also spoke with commissioners during that meeting.

    Trampe reported that the transfer of ownership of Wolford Mountain reservoir near Kremmling in Grand County occurs on January 1, 2020. “So at that point in time Denver Water gets 40 percent of the ownership,” he said.

    Trampe said demand management and drought contingency planning is always front and center for the board, and said the board is frustrated with the state process moving forward and its slowness putting the nine working groups involved in the state water planning process (Colorado’s Water Plan) to work…

    Trampe described issues relating to water resource demand management, with “interests” on the Western Slope trying to make deals with Front Range entities.

    Trampe said the district felt that individual groups making those deals could lead to a lot more “working the market and eventual condemnation rather than purchase—meaning condemnation by force rather than a deal between parties. If condemnation starts, I think that’s going to ruin everything.”

    The solution, he said, is to work together with Western Slope entities and keep a strong base in the river district to negotiate more collectively. “If there’s one pot of money under state control to pay for demand management, then that’s the way it ought to be. There shouldn’t be individual groups out there doing their own thing.”

    County commissioner John Messner asked if there’s been discussion among river districts about a de-Gallagherizing measure to open up current tax funding constraints. De-Gallagherizing refers to ballot measures that freeze the residential property tax rate as a way to stabilize budgets of rural governments.

    Messner asked if the CRWCD has an opinion on whether a measure will address special districts such as this one.

    “We considered a ballot issue for this fall, but didn’t think we were ready,” replied Trampe. He said the reason to wait was to start more outreach to the public in terms of what the districts are and what they do beforehand. He said the districts are hoping to do this in 2020.

    “Whether it’s de-Gallagherization, or TABOR issues, we’re still trying to decide. But yes, we’re going to do something. We’ve got to do something,” he said.

    Looking to support a water survey on the Crystal River basin

    Commissioner Jonathan Houck reported that during a fall Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting, members discussed the Upper Crystal River watershed at length.

    That watershed has an application in with the state to conduct a water study, because the 2018 drought demonstrated that several subdivisions in that basin, some of which are in Gunnison County, had no water plan or storage without the Crystal River’s regular flow.

    The Water Supply Reserve Fund (WSRF) is managing that application, and the Gunnison Roundtable considered and ultimately decided on drafting a letter of support…

    Curry noted that a project in a different river basin asking an adjacent roundtable to write a letter is “a little out of the ordinary. So that threw our roundtable a little bit, wondering if that was even the right role. But I put it on our agenda since, if it involved looking at storage feasibility near Marble, in Gunnison County, I thought [commissioners] might be interested in that,” said Curry.

    Houck responded that the county should send a message as well. “We want to see good, thoughtful water planning per all residents within the county. Due to the size and geography of our county we actually span two watersheds. And it’s important for us to advocate for that but understand that the funding needs to come from the appropriate basin,” he said…

    Last, Curry said that the roundtable is preparing to submit a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) in contribution to Colorado’s Water Plan, and that will include an updated project list. “This is our opportunity to change our project list,” she suggested, with additions or deletions as appropriate. The roundtable formed a subcommittee to begin the process, and its first meeting was this fall.

    Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    #ClimateChange and dark money #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Anti-“dark money” advertisement in April 2015 in the Union Station stop of the Washington Metro. The image was part of a comic book-themed campaign sponsored by three groups—AVAAZ, the Corporate Reform Coalition, and Public Citizen—aimed at pressuring Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White to rein in dark money. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46453530

    Here’s a guest column from Charles E. Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse that’s running in The Boston Globe:

    Pro-climate companies, shareholders, and board members should demand that business associations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change.

    The earth is spinning toward climate catastrophe. The international community has about a decade to take the steps necessary to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius safety zone that the scientific community has established. It will take American leadership to achieve that goal, which means not only bold action in Congress, but meaningful leadership from the president, our allies around the globe, and leadership from powerful forces like major corporations.

    Unfortunately, much of corporate America so far failed to step up and sufficiently support policies that would begin to address the existential threat of climate change. Many individual corporations, perhaps out of conviction, perhaps out of the desire to keep and win over new customers, profess to be on the side of fighting climate change. But in an act of rank hypocrisy, they turn around and support business associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which have been relentless adversaries of climate action.

    Take the Chamber. The US Chamber is not the local chamber of commerce sponsoring your main street businesses. It runs a massive influence machine on behalf of big corporations, touching every part of the federal government.

    In federal agencies, the Chamber is an 800-pound gorilla in virtually every room where climate policy comes up. It lobbies agency officials, files regulatory comments by the dozen, and deploys its public relations machine whenever regulators turn to matters affecting the fossil fuel industry.

    In courts, the Chamber is in a league of its own. During a three-year period late in the Obama administration, the Chamber filed friend-of-the-court briefs in 476 cases and was a litigant in another 25. Environmental issues were its third most litigated subject, and its position always aligns with polluters.

    In Congress, the Chamber is the largest lobbyist, spending roughly three times more than the next biggest group. Energy and environmental issues are a big part of that lobbying effort. Every year, the Chamber sends out dozens of letters and key vote alerts telling members which way it expects them to vote. Those letters and alerts inevitably support fossil fuel and oppose reducing emissions.

    The Chamber aggressively attacks climate action with the last piece of its machine: election spending. The Chamber has spent almost $150 million on congressional races since the Citizens United decision of 2010. In most congressional election cycles, it is the biggest dark-money spender. The Chamber is known for having sharp political elbows. Cross them and you risk triggering an ad against you — like the one run against a US Senate candidate in Pennsylvania in 2016 suggesting her climate position was akin to stealing youthful energy from American children.

    Some Chamber members who say they support climate action may well be funding the efforts to oppose climate action in Washington through the Chamber and other groups. This doubletalk needs to end.

    To fight back, companies that care about climate ought to demand full disclosure of who funds climate obstruction at the Chamber, as well as at API and other big lobbying and influence groups. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is . . . the best of disinfectants.” Send sunbeams into the dark-money corners where climate denial and obstruction fester.

    Better yet, these “pro-climate” companies should demand that those organizations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change. Corporate shareholders ought to know whether their company funds groups that block climate legislation. And corporations who are board members of these denial and obstruction groups have their own governance obligations to know if they’re throwing good money after bad, allowing their goals to be diluted by the influence of the fossil fuel industry.

    The stakes are high: There are massive economic risks flowing from climate change. Don’t take our word for it; listen to the Bank of England, Freddie Mac, Nobel Prize laureate economists, and hundreds of our own government’s most knowledgeable experts.

    Corporate America can still choose which side of the climate fight to be on. But the clock is running out.

    US Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat from New York, is the Senate minority leader. US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a Democrat from Rhode Island.

    #ClimateChange is water change — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    No corner of the globe is spared from the impacts of climate change, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin.

    Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, Climate Change Part 2: Climate Change is Water Change, where we build upon our knowledge of climate change science to explore changes affecting the already parched American Southwest.

    2019 was a wild weather year around the globe with temperatures breaking records and extreme weather events like hurricanes, massive flooding and wildfires impacting communities, people, and ecosystems. No corner of the globe was spared from its impacts, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin. Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, which builds on our understanding of the science behind climate change.

    The Upper Colorado River Basin had record precipitation during the 2018 – 2019 winter, it was the second highest amount of precipitation recorded since 1900. At the annual Colorado River District Water Seminar, Jeff Lukas with the Western Water Assessment noted that not only did we experience a tremendous amount of precipitation but this winter was the coldest winter since 2010. The cold, wet winter built a significant snowpack in the mountains (130% of average snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin). Snowpack is essential for the region as the Colorado River and most other rivers in the region are primarily driven by runoff that melts throughout the spring and summer. Runoff provides rivers with flushing, peak flows and a firm baseline heading into fall. A wet, cold winter was welcome after one of the worst drought years in 2018, and this year’s snowpack pushed the state of Colorado out of a statewide drought conditions for the first time in 20 years.