Guest Opinion: Use political system, election to act on climate change
Elections can offer a course correction and an opportunity to hold our leaders accountable. And, whether a politician is a candidate this cycle or not, election season is a great time to remind them of the need to represent the public’s priorities.
One priority must be climate change, and how we will act with the urgency required to address it. A cursory review of Colorado media in just the last month highlights what some are calling “the new normal” in our warming world.
A sampling of headlines read “High stream temps prompt closures of Fraser, Colorado Rivers for first time in two decades,” “Westbound I-70 closed as new wildfire burns in Garfield County,” “Record Summer Heat Leaves Outfitters And Fish On The Yampa River In Hot Water,” “Colorado Drought: Western Slope Ranchers, Farmers Are Feeling The Pinch,” “Firefighting costs exceed $16 million for Cache Creek and Cabin Lake fires.”
The bottom line is that climate change is real, and it poses a real threat to Colorado with real costs to Coloradans.
Scientists are sounding the alarm, as CO2 levels reach an 800,000-year record. They warn that “the crisis is already real.” Frontline communities are urging the nation to take action. We must act now to avert even worse consequences. Alarmingly, the Trump administration is doing the opposite. Instead of stepping up to the challenge, it is undoing the small steps that were taken in the past by attacking clean air laws, climate science, and basic environmental and public health protections.
As America roasts and a long summer of fires still smolders across the state, August has been particularly busy for this polluter-friendly administration. It started with the EPA rolling back Federal Clean Car Standards. Next in the line of attack: The Clean Power Plan to move America away from dirty energy sources. The Trump administration even admits that gutting this rule could lead to over a thousand more deaths every year.
Opposition to the “Dirty Power Scam,” as the Clean Power Plan rollback has been dubbed, is wide-spread: from public health, faith-based, and wildlife groups, states and cities, businesses and trade associations, and environmentalists. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “…more than 70 percent of Americans – including a majority in every Congressional district in the country – support putting strict limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants…”
The administration has also noted its intent to finally undo the methane waste and venting rules protecting Americans and our pocketbooks. Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has worked diligently from the onset to undo these broadly favored and sensible protections – but Congress could not muster the votes to undo them, and the courts have upheld them. So now the agency is taking the formal steps to do them in once and for all.
Methane is a terribly potent climate pollutant. And American taxpayers will miss out on hundreds of millions in loss revenue. Despite support – for the methane venting rules, the Clean Car Standards and the Clean Power Plan – these and dozens of other rules protecting our clean air and water, shared environment, and public health are under attack by the Trump administration and its enablers.
We deserve to know if officials and candidates support these attacks on environmental protections, climate science, and our livable future. Coloradans should ask where leaders stand. And vote. Because here’s the thing. Both Congress, and Colorado working with other states, can stop many of these actions. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. And, under our system of federalism, states can also lead on climate.
Colorado’s senators and Congressional delegation should support sound climate, environmental, and public health policy and should resist the Trump administration’s efforts to undo them. The state of Colorado should continue and improve its climate efforts, despite the failure in federal leadership and regardless of who sits at the Governor’s desk.
And, voters should use this election season to demand that elected officials act.
Pete Kolbenschlag is an environmental activist, climate leader and public lands and energy consultant. He lives in Paonia, where he works on clean energy, conservation and climate projects.