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RMCO's Monthly Newsletter

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, sent by email, by sending a request to admin@rockymountainclimate.org.

February 2019

  Western States Doing More to Fill Federal Void 

With an Administration and Senate majority openly hostile to climate action at the federal level, states are increasingly playing the role of proving grounds on climate protection. In the West, the 2018 elections set the stage for governors, legislatures, and regulatory agencies to do more, and these states are beginning to step up. 

These governors are showing what happens when you campaign on climate action and win (Vox, January 31, 2019), outlines new clean energy actions unfolding in several western states.

  • In New Mexico, new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order with provisions to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, create a climate change task force, and commit the state to cutting statewide heat-trapping emissions 45 percent by 2030.
  • In Oregon, re-elected Governor Kate Brown's comprehensive climate agenda includes provisions to build electric vehicle infrastructure, boost the market for electric vehicles, increase energy efficiency investments, and create a new state climate policy agency responsible for coordinating climate action. Democratic majorities in the state legislature are expected to act on legislation connecting Oregon to California's cap-and-trade system and committing the state to reduce heat-trapping emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Other positive developments:

News about RMCO and CC4CA

CC4CA president Anita Seitz comments on Governor Polis' transportation electrification executive order (see lead story above), "Our residents are demanding we get involved with climate action. Local governments have already started to do all they can to help promote the deployment of electric vehicles." She cited Westminster's actions to build 10 public charging stations for electric vehicles, including two at City Hall. Gov. Jared Polis pushes Colorado toward zero-emission vehicles with first executive order, Denver Post, January 17, 2019.

CC4CA executive director Jacob Smith comments on a lawsuit f iled by the Colorado Auto Dealers Association challenging the Air Quality Control Commission's November adoption of state low emission vehicle standards, "There's no question that fuel efficiency standards are what drives this. We know when those standards go up, families, small businesses and local government, every one spends less money on the life of the vehicle." Auto dealers sue state to prevent Colorado's adoption of California's low-emission vehicle standard, Colorado Sun, January 29, 2019.

News about Climate Action

Water Preparedness

Beyond Drought: 7 states rebalance their Colorado River use as global warming dries the region, Inside Climate News, January 31, 2019 and Interior and Reclamation seek formal input from governors to protect Colorado River Basin, Bureau of Reclamation news release, February 1, 2019. A January 31 deadline for the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states to approve Drought Contingency Plans is not met by Arizona and California. The Bureau responds with a February 6 Federal Register notice requesting input from the governors of each state to make recommendations for Interior Department actions in the event the state plans are not completed and promptly adopted, an apparent signal the federal government is preparing to act to "reduce the risks the Colorado River Basin is facing."

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies   

PG&E's bankruptcy could slow California's fight against climate change, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2019. The January 14 bankruptcy filing by the utility giant to avoid liability for some California wildfires could deter investments in the clean energy technologies counted on to reach the state's target of 100 percent clean sources of electricity by 2045.

Public Opinion

Global warming concerns rise among Americans in new poll, New York Times, January 22, 2019. A new survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication shows that nearly half of Americans say people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming "right now," 73 percent say global warming is happening, and 62 percent understand that the warming is mostly caused by human activities - all significant gains. See also AP-NORC Poll: Disasters influence thinking on climate change, AP News, January 22, 2019, showing 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years has influenced their opinions about climate change. But translating these concerns into national policy action still faces tough going, though. A Pew Center Research poll released January 24 places climate change far down on the list of priorities that the public thinks President Trump and Congress should address in 2019.

Fossil Fuels

Colorado could save $2.5 billion by rapidly shutting down its coal power plants, Vox, January 8, 2019. A new paper concludes that through 2040 the state could capture $2.5 billion in net savings by rapidly phasing out its coal fleet, while providing reliable power, lowering customers' power bills, improving public health, and reducing carbon emissions by more than a half-billion metric tons.

Future U.S. electricity generation mix will depend largely on natural gas prices, Energy Information Administration release, February 6, 2019. EIA's reference case in this analysis says natural gas will remains the leading source of electricity generation through 2050 and that renewables will surpass coal by the mid-2020s.

Transportation

Xcel Energy, Colorado regulators weigh utility's role in electric-vehicle market, Denver Post, February 5, 2019. A bill enabling investor-owned utilities to own and operate charging stations as part of their regulated services, and to build a return on their investment into rate bases, is under consideration by the Colorado legislature. That would dovetail well with transportation electrification cases that Xcel plans to file with the Public Utilities Commission.

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Flexing new political muscle, the outdoor industry unites for a historic push against climate change, Colorado Sun, January 30, 2019. Three of the industry's largest trade groups announce the formation of the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership to encourage their thousands of members to embrace a lighter carbon footprint but also to use their surging political clout to advocate for policies that reduce heat-trapping emissions and that advance renewable energy at state and utility levels. 

 

  News about Climate Disruption

Water

The West's great river hits its limits: Will the Colorado run dry?  Yale Environment 360, January 14, 2019. This first article in a four-part series sets the stage for an in-depth look at the complex web of institutional and climatic challenges facing the basin as it continues getting drier.

North America's glaciers are melting four times faster than they were a decade ago, Earther, January 19, 2019. A new study by a multinational team of university researchers uses satellite measurements to  estimate glacier mass change for western North America and finds that ice loss quadrupled during 2009-18 compared to the previous decade.

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

Wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme weather cost the nation 247 lives, nearly $100 billion in damage during 2018, Washington Post, February 6, 2019. A ccording to NOAA , the number of billion-dollar weather disasters has more than doubled in recent years.

Ecosystems

Montana's forests once helped blunt climate change. Now they contribute to it. Washington Post, January 29, 2019. A segment from a Post video series shows that Montana is one of six states in the West where trees have switched to emitting, not absorbing, carbon dioxide in the past decade or so. There, as in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, increases in tree mortality from various causes has driven the change.

More wildfires, drought and climate change bring devastating changes to California wildlands, Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2019. Southern California's chaparral and sage scrub are adapted to grow back after periodic hot, intense wildfires, but fires are now repeatedly burning landscapes in ways from which the ecosystems may not be able to recover. 

Wildlife

Tree loss from bark-beetle infestation impacts elk habitat, Science Daily, February 6, 2019. In a forest on the Colorado/Wyoming border, beetle-killed forests affect elk habitat and could reduce their population.

As Idaho's moose population declines, Fish and Game slashes number of hunting tags, Idaho Statesman, February 3, 2019. Moose numbers are declining in part because they are weakened by parasites , particularly ticks, that don't die off during today's warmer winters, an impact already well documented in Minnesota.

 Alpine frogs under threat from climate change, Oregon Public Broadcasting, February 3, 2019. A new study finds that hotter temperatures and decreasing snowpack increase by 50 percent the risk of extinction for populations of the mountain-dwelling Cascades frog.

Heat-Trapping Emissions

.S. carbon pollution surged in 2018, after years of stasis, Atlantic, January 8, 2019, and Scientists call for drastic drop in emissions. U.S. appears to have gone the other way. ProPublica, January 11, 2019. According to a new analysis by the Rhodium Group, carbon dioxide emissions jumped 3.4 percent in 2018, ending three straight years of reductions. The increase is attributed to Americans flying more, more goods shipped by truck, a thriving manufacturing sector, and inefficient buildings.

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