County moves toward making carbon-neutral a requirement

Special Development Project Resolution to impact big projects

The Gunnison County Planning Commission is nearly through its final review of the Special Development Project Resolution (SDPR) proposal. When they send their final recommendations on the document to the Board of County Commissioners on Friday, July 10, the final phase of a two-and-a-half-year process will be under way.



The latest version of the document, meant to set a separate development standard for “mega-projects” in the county, will have only a few changes from the previous version, but some of those changes should have significant impacts on how the regulations are implemented.
One change that will be felt by all applicants under the regulations is the addition of a requirement to be carbon neutral that will have to be met before the county will approve a project.
The requirement says that for an application to be successful, there can be “no net contribution into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide or other gases that when emitted into the atmosphere trap heat” as a result of the proposed project.
By including the word “net,” the county isn’t requiring that proposed projects emit no carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas; it just requires that the applicant buy carbon offsets or reduce the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere generated from their project in some other way.
“If overall carbon neutrality is a direction the county wants to go in, then not requiring a mega project to be carbon neutral could force everyone else in the county to emit less or offset more to compensate for that operation,” reasoned commissioner Richard Karas.
The SDPR process takes the entire project into consideration when an application is being reviewed, from the initial construction to the disassembly of the operation and those parts of the process will be held to the same carbon neutrality standard.
Commissioner Ramon Reed asked if that was asking too much.
“I don’t know if that’s reasonable,” said Reed. “Almost any general contractor and road construction crew that has diesel trucks going up and down the road for a much smaller project are probably doing just as much [emitting] as the construction phase of a mega project.”
Karas countered, “To me that says we ought to go back and look at the [Land Use Resolution] as well. If you have a big project like that you can’t do without diesel rigs, but that would presumably be the time when they’d be buying most of their offset.”
Karas pointed out that there is a carbon offset market that is readily available to companies looking to do what the county would be asking them to do. Commission chairman Ian Billick added that Crested Butte Mountain Resort currently purchases green energy credits to offset carbon emissions.
Billick told the commission, “Before we get into wordsmithing, I want to make sure that this is a concept that we want to move forward on.”
The commission agreed that the concept was a good one, but commissioner John Messner was the sole vote against moving forward with the definition of carbon neutral, saying that he felt the county should meet the standard before it asked another operation to.
The commission also struggled with the definition of wetland, which county attorney David Baumgarten said was “fraught with as many political and policy considerations as abortion, gun control and the death penalty.”
“The Planning Commission has the opportunity to choose a definition that will be uniform with the definition used by other agencies, like the Army Corp [of Engineers] or [Environmental Protection Agency], or they could choose a definition that doesn’t conform, but does give the opportunity to create the definition as we see fit,” Baumgarten said.
Depending on which definition the commission chooses, should it conform with some other agency definition, the Planning Commission runs the risk of either being too encompassing, so that it would be indefensible in law if it were ever challenged, or so restrictive that only a small amount of area would be covered by the definition.
Baumgarten asked that any definition that is given to the Board of County Commissioners, when the recommendations on the document are made July 10, include an explanation.
“If you do chose a different definition than the one in the [Land Use Resolution], you should tell your reasoning explicitly to the board so they can consider making a change,” he said.
Billick allowed for any new issues to be brought forward at the end of the meeting, but prefaced the offer by saying, “There is a pretty high bar to open up any new issues at this time.”
The Planning Commission meeting on July 10 will yield the official transmittal letter and recommendation to the county commissioners. With the recommendation and a motion made during a meeting, the commissioners can then start a public hearing process after at least 30 days.

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