Council discusses where to focus on CB climate issues

CAP or SAP?

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte council had a robust discussion at a November 6 work session on where to focus the town’s energy in terms of climate mitigation and how broad its climate actions should be. 

New Crested Butte sustainability coordinator Dannah Leeman presented council with an update on the Climate Action Plan (CAP) approved in 2019 that included 77 climate actions in four sectors. She provided information on progress with the plan and asked if the town should broaden the scope with a shift toward a Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) that included a focus not just on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also on things like water conservation, regional food access, plastic pollution and emerging contaminants of concern. 

In a memo to the council, Leeman said town staff would also “like to contextualize many of our sustainability initiatives from a public health and equity lens” and highlight co-benefits. One example would be to explain to the public how reducing parking availability on Elk Avenue provides an air quality improvement measure that decreases tailpipe emissions exposure for outdoor dining parklets and sidewalks. The idea is that while reducing parking on Elk would raise many concerns from the community in general, by framing it from a health perspective, “folks may be more likely to align” with the idea given air quality benefits.

“The Sustainable Action Plan sounds more robust with the public health benefits being highlighted as well,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone, who postulated that could help with public support for climate action initiatives by the town.

Councilmember Gabi Prochaska said while the current CAP had more easily quantifiable and measurable metrics, she was leaning toward a broader SAP lens. Councilmembers Mallika Magner and Jason MacMillan agreed in concept.

“I’ll be the contrarian,” said mayor Ian Billick. “I am wary of undercutting the urgency of the Climate Action Plan. The SAP could be perceived as making lifestyle changes. I am wary of initiatives that address how we think we should be living. I see climate change as a real emergency that will have major impacts on our children and grandchildren and I don’t want to undercut the Climate Action Plan. I am fine if we look at other things but I want to stay with the CAP. We need to stay focused on the emergency and focus on the primary goal of reducing carbon emissions.”

Billick said an expansion to a SAP could raise credibility issues. “I think we need to be objective and not just feel good,” he said. “For example, in terms of regional food access, the Sysco truck hauling food to the local grocery and restaurants from Denver is better climate-wise than an old truck that gets 15 miles per gallon coming over from Paonia to sell tomatoes.” He made the point too that water conservation measures might be more of a sustainability issue in San Diego than here at the headwaters.

“I don’t disagree with you on the food but there are other sustainability issues like plastic pollution that are important other than emissions,” said Prochaska. “We should be considering things other than emissions. And the impact of emissions for example on a person eating in a parklet is valid to consider.”

“Each issue we take on is time and money spent somewhere else,” said Billick. “There are opportunity costs. But I’m happy to be in the minority on this issue.”

MacMillan agreed that there was a climate emergency and embracing things like solar power was important. Councilmember Anna Fenerty agreed that it was important “to keep our eye on emissions and do what we can. We have to continue the efforts we started. To switch to a sustainability plan could damage the progress we have made.”

Councilmember Chris Haver said the town had limited funding and he preferred to stay with the plan that could be measured to show progress. “I hate to think we are doing something as a feel-good move. I like continuing on the path we’ve been on.”

Billick said there are times to make decisions based on things other than cost. He said the decision to require electrification of future building in town was a decision that put Crested Butte as a leader on the sustainability front in that regard and was worthwhile.

Prochaska said if town went with the SAP it didn’t mean losing the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions. “I just see it as adding a few more things. Expanding beyond emissions is not a bad way to go forward.”

“The devil is in the details,” responded Billick. “A year from now will we be talking about things that move the dial or just things that make us feel good? We can’t be all things to all people in an emergency.”

“As a government I want to stay focused on emission reduction,” said Fenerty. “But we can support other issues in alignment with the bigger climate picture. It is an emergency. Doing just one thing or the other isn’t prudent.”

Later in the council meeting, during a discussion over the budget, Fenerty expressed concerns over the focus on embracing electric vehicles such as the Teslas being used by the marshal’s department. “I have a real issue with the mining of the minerals for batteries like cobalt,” she said.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said that issue came up at a recent CAST (Colorado Association of Ski Towns) meeting. She paraphrased a response given by Auden Schendler, the senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company, to a similar question. She relayed that he told participants that climate change was at such a level of threat that “we need to keep moving forward with mitigation no matter what. We can’t wait. While there are absolutely problems with mining practices, those will be irrelevant if we don’t address the greater threat of climate change.” 

“Even if it involves slave labor,” asked Fenerty. “Batteries are the issue in this case.”

During the same discussion Billick emphasized the need for prioritization and said if more greenhouse gas emissions were mitigated by replacing leaking windows in town hall than with a Tesla for the marshals, why wouldn’t council go in that direction.

MacMillan said his personal choice would be to replace vehicles with internal combustion engines with EVs given the impact of the vehicle over their life span of seven to 10 years.

Billick noted that with Leeman heading up the new town sustainability position, there was the opportunity to dig deeper into the overall impacts of such choices.

The discussion ended with staff seeming to move forward with a hybrid CAP/SAP direction and Billick saying the council will revisit the issue in a year.

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