STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed to collaborate with city of Steamboat Springs officials on devising and implementing a climate action and resiliency plan during its Tuesday meeting.
The partnership marks one of the most comprehensive local efforts to reduce growing greenhouse gas emissions and establish goals to invest in more renewable fuel sources.
“This collaboration between the city and county is long overdue,” said Sonja Macys, a Steamboat Springs City Council member who attended the meeting.
In previous years, Routt County has reported higher-than-average greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the state and the country. According to a 2005 inventory of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, the average resident emits almost 39 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The national average was about 25 metric tons per year.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the state’s emissions have been steadily rising since at least 1990. Officials say the negative effects of this increase already can be seen across the state.
A July report from the Colorado Health Institute noted the following trends: “Snowpack is melting sooner and more quickly. Erratic weather, snow one day, spring conditions the next, is becoming more common. Wildfires are burning more acreage and igniting with greater frequency.”
To combat the effects of climate change, Gov. Jared Polis signed a climate action plan in May. It established a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% in 2050 from pollution levels in 2005.
Following the Tuesday meeting, the county and city will form a climate action steering committee, which will develop goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and apply for grants to fund environmental initiatives in 2020. They also will collaborate to update the 2005 emissions report using data from 2018.
Scott Cowman, the county’s environmental health director, said his department has budgeted about $20,000 to support those efforts next year.
As Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said during the Tuesday meeting, any local action on climate change is “a drop in the bucket” and meaningful progress will require comprehensive change at the national and global levels.
Macys, who went to Washington D.C. last week and attended several legislative meetings, told county commissioners that climate change was a major talking point, evidence of greater awareness.
“It’s a pretty big discussion all over at all levels,” she said. “There are people beyond just you who are concerned about what’s going on.”
Summit County already has begun implementing a climate action plan of its own with the goal of reducing emissions by 15% in 15 years. Among the ways it plans to do so is developing more renewable energy infrastructure and finding cleaner alternatives to heating systems, particularly in the winter months.
Local officials have similar ideas in mind.
Winnie DelliQuadri, the assistant to the city manager, applied for and recently received a DOLA grant to expand solar energy among area businesses. She said similar funding sources are available to finance further environmental initiatives.
Commissioner Doug Monger agreed to serve on the climate steering committee but emphasized that many people in the county depend on fossil fuels for their livelihood.
“I’m not interested in throwing the town of Hayden and the power plant under the bus,” he said, adding that any initiatives need to keep those people in mind.
Two students from Steamboat Springs High School left classes to attend Tuesday’s meeting to voice their support for climate action.
“We truly believe that climate action is more important than education right now,” said Emi Cooper, a junior at the school.
“I wonder if my generation will get to enjoy the long ski seasons we have or the clean air,” she added. “It really comes down to what actions you take.”