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This past monthly newsletter features 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, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

September 2016

Featured Item
Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper Eyeing Climate Change Executive Order

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is considering a new executive order to direct state agencies to do more on climate change, according to a copy leaked to the news media. Hickenlooper drafting executive order to cut Colorado's carbon emissions, Denver Business Journal, August 23, 2016, and Colorado governor may ask for one-third cut in CO2 pollution, Associated Press, August 23, 2016. The steps under consideration would be the strongest and most visible yet by the governor on climate change, and would be strongly supported by RMCO.

The first element of the draft executive order would direct the Department of Public Health and Environment and the Public Utilities Commission to develop rules to cut Colorado’s emissions from electricity generation by 35 percent by 2030, compared to 2012 levels. This would take Colorado ownership of the emission reductions required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, now on hold in the courts, and have the state even exceed somewhat the reductions required by the federal rule, which would be a 32 percent reduction in Colorado. Achieving these reductions should not be difficult in Colorado, where a lot has already been put in motion, including the retirement of coal-fired power plants.

The executive order would also direct state agencies to develop concrete steps to substantiate and implement the Colorado Climate Plan released last year. While that plan was welcomed by RMCO as an opening move toward leadership by the Hickenlooper administration on climate, it was widely seen as essentially just restating things already being done. The development of a full action agenda on both emissions reductions and preparedness to address impacts would be much more important.

The latest indication on timing is that the governor may postpone a decision on the executive order until after the election. See Denver Post editorial, August 30, 2016. RMCO supports action before then, as the clock is ticking both on the growing human alteration of the climate and on the time left in the Hickenlooper administration to address the issue.

News About Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

'A real commitment backed up by real power': Gov. Jerry Brown to sign sweeping new climate legislation and Gov. Jerry Brown, state lawmakers reach last-minute deal on spending cap-and-trade revenues, Los Angeles Times, August 25 and 31, 2016. In the waning days of its session, the California legislature passes measures that:

  • Increase the state’s target for reductions of heat-trapping gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. (The current law is 1990 levels by 2020, which the state is on track to meet).
  • Impose new legislative oversight on the California Air Resources Board and asks it to prioritize steps to reduce emissions from refineries and other facilities.
  • Allocate $900 million from revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade system for subsidies for electric cars, new park space, and pedestrian-friendly affordable housing.

Public Opinion

Conservative media bias is inflating American climate denial and polarization, Guardian, September 6, 2016. A new study by a team of sociologists at Oklahoma State University finds more evidence that climate change is the most polarized issue between Republicans and Democrats, and notes media biases that widen the chasm.

Clean Energy

Xcel Energy reaches agreement on massive Rush Creek Wind Project, Denver Post, September 6, 2016. Xcel Energy reaches a settlement with parties to a Public Utilities Commission docket that will enable Xcel to build the first windfarm that it will own itself – a 600-megawatt operation across five eastern Colorado counties. Xcel says it is the lowest-cost generation source in the company’s Colorado portfolio, saving ratepayers $400 million over its 25-year life. The settlement also covers the construction of a 125-mile transmission line to move renewable energy to the Front Range from the eastern plains. PUC approval is still pending.

Xcel Energy pilot programs will charge extra for electricity used in high-demand periods, Denver Post, August 15, 2016. Xcel and 22 parties file a settlement involving three different cases Colorado’s largest utility had filed before the Public Utilities Commission. Xcel agreed to drop its proposed access grid fee, which renewables advocates regard as a disincentive for distributed solar installations, and to instead pilot time-of-use rates.

Who owns the wind? We do, Wyoming says, and it's taxing those who use it, Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2016. Four years ago Wyoming became the only state to tax power generated by wind turbines, and legislators there are seriously considering raising the tax, at least partly to make up for the decline of fossil fuel industries there. That could cause the demise of a huge southern Wyoming windfarm that industrialist Phillip Anschutz has been working to get built for nine years.

Guzman Energy promises renewable power to the people, Denver Post, September 4, 2016. Northern New Mexico is the testing ground for a new kind of utility whose business model is to acquire lowest-cost power (focused on renewable sources) from power producers for sale to buyers under stable long-term contracts, rather than produce it for sale itself. Its targeted customer base is electric cooperatives and municipalities.

Fossil Fuels

An electric-power giant is poised to fail, High Country News, August 16, 2016. Since 2015 the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has been appealing a ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that Delta Montrose Electric Association can seek power supply contracts from any reasonably-priced sources (including renewables), and is therefore not bound by its contract to buy 95 percent of its power from Tri-State. Since the ruling applies to all 43 rural electric cooperatives in four states served by the notoriously coal-dependent Tri-State, its financial viability is threatened.

News About Climate Disruption

Water

Crisis averted at Lake Mead: Colorado River water users avoid restrictions for another year, Arizona Republic, August 16, 2016. The Bureau of Reclamation releases its 24-month operations plan for Lake Mead and Colorado River water users in Arizona, Nevada, and California, who are relieved to see a new January 2017 projection for a Lake Mead elevation level of 1,079 feet. If the elevation were to fall below 1,075 feet on January 1, it would set in motion water delivery cutbacks to Arizona and Nevada, according to the terms of a 2007 Interim Guidelines agreement with Reclamation signed by all of the Colorado River Basin states.

Ecosystems

Future climate change field test doesn’t make Earth greener, Associated Press, September 6, 2016. A 17-year experiment subjects one million grassland plants to elevated levels of heat, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen to mimic a disrupted climate, and finds thatthe increase in carbon dioxide does not help plants grow, as some have hypothesized.

Rising temperatures stunt tree growth, ClimateWire, August 10, 2016. University of California, Davis, researchers collect Douglas fir core samples at locations throughout the West to document that decreases in growth rates between 1916 and 2006 correspond to increasing temperatures that remove water from both the soil and atmosphere. The effects were most pronounced in the Southwest.

U. of Montana research: Mountain biodiversity more vulnerable to climate change than previously reported, Missoulian, August 9, 2016. The researchers find that the capability of species from mountain habitats to adapt by moving to new territories can be more difficult than it is for flatland species.

Wildlife

Fish deaths in Montana's Yellowstone River tied to warming waters, Inside Climate News, September 2, 2016. Scientists point to warmer, slower rivers disrupted by climate change as a likely cause of a fish-killing disease decimating multiple species along a 100-mile stretch of the river.

California’s native salmon struggling in 5th year of drought, Associated Press, September 4, 2016. Due to the drought, fisheries managers in the Bay Area are turning to mechanical interventions to keep fish populations viable, such as trucking hatchery-raised Chinook salmon around dried-out stream reaches.

Climate change taking toll on the American pika in the West, Associated Press, August 25, 2016. The latest findings (abstract only) of U.S. Geological Survey researcher Erk Beever’s on-going research on pikas’ vulnerability to climate change indicate that populations have disappeared at some Great Basin and northern California sites, but that they are thriving in Wyoming’s Teton mountains, in the colder, northern part of their range.

National Parks

In Mesa Verde, climate change reveals new treasures, destroys old ones, Colorado Public Radio, August 16, 2016. National Park Service scientists are intensifying efforts to understand the vulnerability of the park’s world class archaeological features to climate-change-driven swings in erosive freeze-thaw cycles and to the wildfire risks of heat and drought.

Heat-Trapping Emissions

In U.S. methane hot spot, researchers pinpoint sources of 250 leaks, Inside Climate News, August 15, 2016. Researchers use sophisticated aircraft sensors to measure and identify sources of methane in the Four Corners region, identified in 2014 as one of the nation’s methane escape hot spots. More than half of the escaping methane comes from just 10 percent of the 250 leaking oil and gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines, coal mines, and other fossil fuel facilities.

Heat

Latest climate report: Heat, more heat and signs of worse to come, Inside Climate News, August 2, 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases its 2015 State of the Climate report, chronicling the toppling of several symbolic mileposts worldwide. For the first time since record-keeping started, the average annual global temperature exceeded pre-industrial levels by more than 1 degree Celsius. Record to near-record warmth was common on every inhabited continent. Sea surface temperatures and heat content in the upper levels of the ocean also set records, as did sea level. And the Mauna Loa observatory recorded its first annual mean carbon dioxide concentration greater than 400 ppm.

Resource of the Month

Climate Change Indicators in the United States
2016 Fourth Edition
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In August 2016 the E.P.A. released its fourth edition of Climate Change Indicators in the United States. This report presents 37 indicators, each describing trends related to the causes and effects of climate change, spread among six categories: greenhouse gases, weather and climate, oceans, snow and ice, health and society, and ecosystems. It focuses primarily on the United States, but in some cases global trends are presented to provide context or a basis for comparison.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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