County adopts GHG reduction plan

Nothing new, but making it official and hoping to gather momentum

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

Gunnison County officials have changed course from their previous position that actions speak loud enough without declarations, and adopted an official climate change mitigation plan this week. At county commissioner Liz Smith’s prompting in January, as commissioners reviewed their next steps in climate change mitigation, the county has created and approved an official greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation plan to better reflect and communicate the policies and decisions being undertaken. The official Gunnison Valley Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Plan declares the county’s goal to reduce GHGs by 50 percent by 2030 by several measures, including renewable energy, building codes, affordable housing near the municipality centers and improved public transportation.

Previous county efforts include making county buildings more efficient, adopting new energy codes, supporting the Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) growth, establishing programs to help residents lower their energy use and most recently, reducing GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030. The One Valley Leadership Council (OVLC) and its members will review and likely adopt the plan next as “a roadmap to collaborative action addressing climate change.”

“We have been working on reducing greenhouse gas; we’ve had consistent elements within our strategic plan that address these. There is oftentimes discussion about ‘Where’s the plan?’” said county commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck. “And plans versus actions are often two different things. We’ve been very action oriented; we’ve been detailing those outcomes and results to the community. But we also realized, and Liz was a strong and loud voice in saying, actually we have some pieces that have been guiding the work that we’ve done and with some work, the ability to move those into a planned document.”

County sustainability director John Cattles said he essentially took the information he presented to commissioners in January and formalized it in a document.

Cattles said he anticipates that the municipalities across the county will adopt it or something similar in the coming weeks. He also predicted that the Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) would consider it as well in the near future, and possibly the school district.

“Most of the large organizations endorsing the same plan and getting on the same page of how we are going to address reducing our emissions is a really good place to be,” said Cattles.

He said the goals will all be updated next year in the county’s biannual strategic plan update.

“But this gives us marching orders now,” he said.

Smith said she was very impressed with the “the astounding leadership” Cattles has shown in leading on the county’s environmental goals, and expressed her appreciation for such a quick turnaround on the document. Houck and commissioner Roland Mason agreed.
Commissioners approved the new plan unanimously, and Mason thanked Smith for bringing the plan to the forefront after the climate change community forum took place in 2019.

“It’s really good to bring this back forward again now that we just signed off on stopping the emergency steps for COVID. We can get back to business as usual,” he said.

Houck echoed the appreciation to Smith.

“And I did it at a moment when everyone was overwhelmed,” she quipped.

When Smith had asked for an official plan at the beginning of this year, county manager Matthew Birnie and Cattles had expressed some trepidation, considering all the steps being taken and how busy the county staff was already.

Mason added that there is still an opportunity to look at capturing the methane that escapes from local mineshafts. Cattles said he and other staff members are looking into the available tools and that step is on the horizon as the technology develops.

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