Wrapping up 2020…

This week I spent a good deal of time following the proceedings of the AQCC.  After having read most of the GHG Roadmap and the Ozone Reduction SIP (over the course of the last couple of months), I sent in a written comment and also signed up to speak Wednesday night.  There was a good turn out, with statements from numerous elected officials including our own County Commissioner, John Kefalas.  Some comments were general, some focused on specific aspects of the SIP, but overall it was an hour and a half (I left before all the comments had been completed) of unanimous pleas for the commission to tighten regulations and to be more aggressive in reducing emissions.  

The next morning, I rejoined the AQCC zoom meetings to hear the staff response.  I sensed there was some disappointment that the public seems to under-appreciate the work that has been done and the progress that has been made.  A lot of their presentation was spent detailing the legal and procedural constraints that would make it nearly impossible for them to rewrite the SIP at this late date in order to include all of the alternatives that were being demanded, including the proposed early closings of the three coal generators.  There would be several serious consequences to any delay in submitting the SIP to the EPA.
They acknowledged that more needs to be done, and pointed out that there will be opportunities in the future for more revisions.

It was also mentioned that some of the comments received seemed to conflate regulations relating to O&G and those that relate to major sources of emissions that are non-O&G.

Between these two meetings I also had the privilege of participating in an excellent three-night on-line summit hosted by LOGIC. (I know many of you were also in attendance.)  Senator Faith Winter was the keynote speaker Wednesday evening and she gave a fabulous tutorial regarding effective advocacy for climate change.  From her talk and from the information I gleaned listening in to the AQCC, I have the following take-aways:

1)  Not all losses are really losses;  the testimony (both written and oral) given to the AQCC will likely bear fruit down the road.

2)  We have to get into the game early–staff mentioned that there were numerous opportunities for public comment during the summer when there would have been more time to incorporate alternatives; we have to do our homework, build relationships; and join the process early on.

3)  Some of the work must be done legislatively.  The AQCC, and other state agencies have to work within the authority given to them by the law. We need to engage more with state legislators, especially those who have shown an interest in developing related legislation.

4)  Speaking of building relationships, I honestly believe that our state leadership has made a dramatic shift from pre-2018 days. Getting things done in government and politics is a clunky, ungraceful business, but I think most of the state agencies are making a serious effort to address climate change.  They are not moving as fast or as boldly as we need them to, but our encouragement and support will go farther than constant criticism from all sides. Let’s give them credit where credit is due and then assure them that we will have their backs as they push forward. 

One final comment regarding Tom Gonzales.  I don’t know if he was present for Thursday’s vote, but on Wednesday it was mentioned that he was absent due to his responsibilities as Larimer County Health Director.  He has a few other things on his plate right now.

Clean Air Champions

During the December 4 board meeting of the Regional Air Quality Commission, the city of Fort Collins was recognized as one of the first recipients of the commission’s Clean Air Champion award.  The city has taken significant steps to reduce emissions by initiating a program to convert the city fleet to electric vehicles as well as replacing mowing equipment with electric machines. 

It is my hope that some of you reading this blog will take the time to send congratulations to Mayor Troxel and city staff for this effort.  In the climate crisis we are now facing, there is no change too big not to be considered; but, likewise, there is no change too small to go without recognition.  We must have a broad perspective that will allow us to perceive all the interconnecting dots.

A significant connection in regards to the city’s admirable work to shift away from vehicles and equipment using internal combustion engines, is the parallel need for the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) to prepare for 100% renewable sources of energy by 2030 (possibly by 2028 given the recent proposal of the Air Quality Control Commission to move the retirement date for the Rawhide coal-powered plant up by two years).  As long as the electric vehicles and equipment that the city has purchased run on electricity generated by fossil fuels, whether coal or natural gas, the value of that investment is greatly diminished. 

The city of Fort Collins is gaining a reputation for being a leader in addressing climate change, it is critical that the city’s efforts be supported by equally bold action on the part of the PRPA.

Activism in a Pandemic

Where is the Larimer Alliance headed as 2020 draws to a close?

As this difficult year draws to a close, the steering committee for the Larimer Alliance wanted to communicate where we stand and where we see us headed in 2021. We do not think we are yet safe from the oil & gas industry here in Larimer County…but we do feel safer due to some big developments in 2020, which were:

  • COGCC decided on its new mission change rules, with some dramatic changes from its past behavior
  • Two new county commissioners elected, both Democrats which the Alliance endorsed
  • A global pandemic that began in March 2020 has dramatically reduced worldwide demand for oil and gas, reducing the incentive to drill new wells

The Larimer Alliance is carefully weighing how to proceed to achieve our goal of protecting the people and environment of Larimer County. We take this role seriously, and are doing what we do because we believe it is necessary; and we absolutely rely on you, our readers and members, to voice your support for these goals. Hopefully in 2021, after the dissemination of an effective Covid vaccine allows us to interact more normally, the Alliance will be able to interact with you and our community on a more personal basis.

When the pandemic hit, the Alliance steering committee pivoted to Zoom meetings, went with the flow, and continued to meet throughout 2020 on a biweekly basis. Our main regret is that we were not able to hold any in-person events this fall, which is our main way to do fundraising.

When SB-181 was passed in April 2019, we knew it would take a while to implement; appropriately enough, it was not until after weeks of hearings begun in summer 2020, the COGCC finally concluded its main hearings resulting from SB-181, which have fundamentally changed the mission of the COGCC, can be viewed in its entirety here.

The main points of that change were:

  • A 2,000 foot setback of any new O&G projects from occupied buildings, with no exceptions allowed
  • Require alternative site location analysis for all well permits
  • Require cumulative impact analysis
  • Started the process of requiring disclosure of all fracking chemicals as the first step towards banning certain uses

What these developments show is that real progress was achieved in 2020, and that more progress is possible in 2021. The rulemaking hearings of the more esoteric areas of COGCC are yet ongoing; as are the rulemakings of its allied organizations: the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment); the AQCC (Air Quality Control Commission), and the RAQC (Regional Air Quality Council)…the flurry of acronyms and organizations can be overwhelming. Is there a simpler way to think about this?

The answer is yes, there is a simpler way to understand what has happened; because what has happened is that the COGCC must now coordinate with the state agencies that oversee public health — a role which neither of them have had to do before in a coordinated way. In effect, the COGCC has been forced, as a result of SB-181, to step outside its traditional role of permitting and monitoring O&G well operations, to including the health and environmental impacts of those operations — at the very start of the well permitting process — which had never been required before. (As such, this is a groundbreaking direction of O&G regulation that has never been done at the state level before, of which Coloradoans can feel justifiably proud.)

However, due to the novelty of this new regulatory direction, there will be a necessary amount of effort devoted to developing these new interfaces between these regulatory agencies that have not had to integrate their operations before; it will not happen simply as result of passing a new law. Another step is required: although our legislators can take credit for the vision to get behind and pass SB-181, it will take many more hours of patient back-&-forth between these various regulatory agencies to work out these new protocols. But at least we can take comfort in the fact that they are now, by law, united in the common goal of making O&G operations safe to operate in Colorado, and sincerely including the impacts on the environment and the health of nearby communities.

As these developments play out in 2021, the Larimer Alliance is positioned as the only non-profit dedicated to monitoring them in Larimer County and communicating them to the public. Please consider helping us to carry on our mission in the coming year.