Public feedback sought on Routt County climate action plan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County is seeking public feedback on drafting a climate action plan to address the impacts of climate change.
The plan comes as communities across the world look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to environmental phenomena, such as extended drought and warmer winters, that scientists already are attributing to climate change.
Last year, the county and city of Steamboat Springs agreed to collaborate on the climate action plan, both with implementation and funding. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed portions of the plan, but local leaders made a recent commitment to following through on their goals, according to Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton.
“We were generally in agreement climate change isn’t going anywhere just because of COVID, and it continues to be an important focus for us,” Melton said of the plan.
A project management team now comprises representatives from the county, the city, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and the Steamboat Springs Chamber.
Members of the team helped create a new website that explains the need for climate action and describes the ways people can get involved. One thing residents can do immediately is to take the online survey at routtclimateaction.com.
The survey gauges people’s knowledge of climate change and asks what potential impacts are at the top of people’s minds. It lists some specific ideas proposed for reducing emissions, such as installing more electric vehicle charging stations, restricting the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure and enhancing recycling programs to reduce waste.
A 2018 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory showed emissions from Routt County, including Steamboat, were about the same as the emissions from 150,000 passenger cars in a year. Among the most pressing threats climate change poses to the county include higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, increased risk of wildfires, more severe droughts, more extreme weather and increased flooding.
To combat these consequences, local leaders are exploring solutions around five distinct areas: energy, transportation, land use, waste, education and advocacy.
Climate action has been a prickly issue, and proposed solutions often are met with varying degrees of controversy or frustration over a perceived lack of adequate action.
Commissioner Doug Monger, for example, finds it difficult to support a climate action plan he said could prove “catastrophic for West Routt.” His district, which encompasses Hayden Station, relies heavily on the coal industry for public funding and jobs. When it comes to climate change, he wonders if “the cure is worse than the pain.”
At the same time, Monger is running for reelection, and one of his campaign promises is a commitment to implementing the climate action plan. What he wants to see is a well-thought strategy that takes into account the various industries in the county and reduces the harm of any major changes.
To combat the effects of climate change on a statewide level, Gov. Jared Polis signed a climate action plan last year. It established a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% in 2050 from pollution levels in 2005.
But in July, the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Polis’ administration, alleging it hasn’t done enough to meet its climate action goals and demanding a more concrete plan to accomplish its ambitious greenhouse emission reductions.
Commissioner Melton serves on the oversight committee for the local climate action plan. The committee is comprised of local leaders from the county and its municipalities, including Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa, and it is tasked with offering guidance and setting priorities.
Melton also disagrees with the idea that climate action and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, she believes the health of the local economy is contingent on how well the world addresses and responds to a changing climate.
“There is widespread agreement among scientists about the devastating impacts on our economy and our way of life that will occur if we don’t do something to change course,” Melton said. “I think it is important for all of us to identify the role we have to play in tackling this.”
From Steamboat Resort’s reliance on winter snowpack to local ranchers’ dependence on summer moisture, it is hard to find an industry not linked in some way to the natural environment. Monger’s ranch outside of Hayden is one of many facing the negative impacts of a 20-year drought that threatens water supplies and crops.
As Melton added, a necessary component to comprehensive climate action is resiliency planning, so the community can be proactive about the ways the environment already is responding to global trends, from hotter summers to more extreme weather patterns.
Following the community survey, the next steps of the collaborative climate action plan include approving and beginning to implement a list of local solutions by October. In the winter, members of the committee behind the planning process will host an open house for more public feedback. By the end of the year, the final action plan should be adopted.
Visit routtclimateaction.com for more information on the local climate action plan.
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