A path to address climate change in Denver

Councilmember Deborah Ortega
Posted 9/8/19

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it” – President Barack Obama Last month, Denver Public Schools students …

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A path to address climate change in Denver

Posted

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it” – President Barack Obama

Last month, Denver Public Schools students returned to sweltering classrooms that are unequipped for the sustained summer heat common nowadays. This August, the temperature in Denver broke a 33-year record. Summers of extreme heat are becoming the norm in Colorado, leading to larger and more numerous wildfires.

Human activity is permanently harming our planet and challenging future generations who will live here, and the window of opportunity for change is closing. My colleagues and I recognize this urgency and are putting forward policies in Denver to make us a more sustainable city. City council recently considered referring to the November ballot a measure that would place an excise tax on commercial and industrial users for their use of gas and electricity and a companion ordinance that would establish an Office of Climate Action.

When these bills were first brought fourth, I had concerns about the lack of stakeholder engagement and lack of data and analysis that would allow council to evaluate the efficacy and impact of the proposals. When we are asking for taxpayer money to fund a large new government undertaking, let’s be diligent in how we structure it. As we move forward with climate action in Denver, there has to be appropriate oversight, transparency, and guardrails.

In voicing my concerns about the climate bill, I proposed an alternative that included a) establishing a strong Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, b) immediate infusion of significant funds to accelerate current programs reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and c) a path for long-term financing of new climate efforts. I encouraged my colleagues to consider this alternative.

Shortly before the council vote on Aug. 26, a new path forward was found that addressed my concerns about oversight, transparency and stakeholder engagement in developing city policy while providing significant new funding in 2020. There will also be a formal process to examine Denver’s current climate work and identify gaps and the resources necessary to meet our climate goals with robust stakeholder participation. I look forward to working with all the stakeholders to build on our existing programs to achieve a strong response to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Before the final council vote on this last month, Mayor Hancock and the seven councilmembers sponsoring the climate legislation announced a new plan that addresses concerns and moves forward with immediate action on climate. That new proposal establishes and funds a new Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, launches a formal process to shore up Denver’s existing climate work and identify gaps and funding needs, and engages experts, stakeholders and community members. Council action on the existing bills is delayed while this more robust process moves forward.

I am pleased to see council work out a compromise intended to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by accelerating existing and exploring new programs and funding sources. Now let’s keep the momentum going to achieve a strong city response to the challenges of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Deborah Ortega is a councilmember at-large on the Denver City Council. At-large council members represent the city as a whole. She can be reached at ortegaatlarge@denvergov.org.

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