In this beginning of 2018 I’m looking forward to what we have in front of us, the opportunity to work to protect this place we love, the West. But I’m also thinking back to the final days of 2017. I am grateful I had the opportunity at the close of 2017 to escape with my family and friends to perhaps the only place in the Interior West where there was any snow over the holidays, northwest Colorado. We got a chance to do a little skiing, snowshoeing, some extreme sledding and a lot of just hanging out and enjoying the West. At the same time, I also got the chance to do some reading, in particular to read the wrap-up on 2017. The headlines, not surprisingly, weren’t encouraging. I read about our “broken politics,” “chaos, division, and disruption…” It was painful to be reminded that recently “Trump slashes size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase…” and earlier in the year when the “U.S. withdraws from climate agreement…”
I won’t sugarcoat it. In many ways 2017 was horrifying from the perspective of people like me and you who care about the places we live and the planet we inhabit. While we went backwards on the federal level on critical environmental policy, the impact of climate change was front and center for all to see throughout 2017:
- Five major hurricanes in the Atlantic,
- Well over 80 wildfires in the West that burned over 9 million acres, destroyed communities and resulted in loss of life, and
- A continuing and deepening drought in our Western region.
And those impacts keep compounding in the New Year, with deaths reported early in January in California from flooding in areas previously devastated by wildfire.
But there are also some very positive signs that lead me to believe that states around the West can lead in addressing the challenges we face and protecting the places we love. Last year brought the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, and 15 Governors representing more than half the population of the country uniting to say they will march forward aggressively to address climate change. New constituencies were formed as the Outdoor Industry Association and many of its member companies effectively engaged to protect our public lands and raised their voices in opposition to threats to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Out here in the West, it is clear that people are deeply concerned about these climate threats. And they are ready to speak out and to work to protect their communities and what they care about. A few encouraging signs:
- The incredible support we have seen for clean energy in recent years continues to grow. Today, over 80% of people in the West say they want more of it. The good news is that they are likely to get more since clean energy keeps dropping in price. Recent bids submitted to utilities show clean energy and energy storage beating coal and gas on price alone.
- In Colorado, WRA has worked with Xcel Energy to advance a proposal that would close two coal plants and bring on loads of new clean energy, at a cost savings to consumers of over $175 million.
- Also in Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper signed in 2017 an historic Executive Order on climate that sets Colorado on course to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels, and also cut power plant carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2030, compared to emissions levels in 2012.
- In New Mexico, the Public Regulation Commission confirmed WRA’s position that utilities must spend 3% of their revenues on energy efficiency. And, the commission is considering a WRA-crafted proposal that would reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2040, potentially putting the state on path to exceed the carbon reductions called for by the world’s scientific community.
- In Arizona, WRA negotiated an agreement with Tucson Electric Power and other stakeholders to completely depreciate San Juan Generating Station off the company’s books by 2022, which will remove financial obstacles to fully retiring the coal-fired plant. The plant’s retirement will cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 million tons per year.
- And in Utah, WRA successfully worked with representatives of PacifiCorp, other advocacy organizations and regulatory agencies to design an EV charging incentive and rate design pilot to promote more rapid adoption of electric vehicles in the state and better ensure the electricity comes from clean energy.
So, yes, the federal attacks on environmental protections, on our public lands and on the places we go to recreate, rejuvenate and seek peace, will continue. Headlines will continue to showcase horrendous disasters that are increasing due to climate change. But, I know that momentum and public opinion are on the side of protecting the places we love and addressing climate change. Let’s get to the work of state-level clean energy progress and building momentum to reverse the federal course on climate action permanently.
I’m inspired by the opportunity to work with you, toward that end.