County rejects its climate plan

The La Plata County Board of Commissioners has gone zero for two in recent opportunities to establish a long-range vision for the county, and in doing so has eroded our confidence that it is capable of – let alone interested in – such an investment in governing. What a disappointment.

When commissioners eschewed staff recommendations and voted 2-1 Tuesday not to accept the Climate & Energy Action Plan, they undermined the value of the 2½ years of work conducted by a broad-based group committed to developing a range of options that local entities could use to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the county. This group consisted of local municipalities and county representatives, the gas and oil industry, La Plata Electric Association, businesses, conservation organizations and individual residents. It operated at the direction of the county and the city of Durango, both of which signed on to the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement in 2006, and agreed to produce a plan to reduce emissions and, by extension, local contributions to global climate change. The plan, which was a nonbinding, nonregulatory suite of options that the city and county could consider, analyze, choose among, reconsider or ignore entirely, was worthy of formal recognition. The county opted not to grant it, thereby dismissing the plan’s value, if not its premise.

The decision – which comes all too close on the heels of the recently shelved comprehensive planning effort – is the wrong one on a number of levels, beginning with the fact that in failing to accept the group’s work, commissioners implicitly deny it was warranted in the first place. Commissioner Kellie Hotter’s half-hearted assurance that, “We appreciate you did this,” notwithstanding, it was incumbent on the board to accept the document as a starting point from which to address emissions in the county.

The plan placed at the county’s disposal six action categories, each of which was broadly analyzed for its cost-effectiveness as well its economic and societal benefits: reduce emissions from local oil and gas production; develop renewable sources of energy; develop a multimodal transportation system; increase the energy efficiency of buildings and future infrastructure; enhance the local agricultural system; and reduce waste. Nowhere did the plan presume to implore adopting bodies to commit to implementing all of the action items delineated therein, and nowhere did it portend to have fully considered all of the costs associated with each item. Instead, it offered a map for moving forward – to be refined by further analysis and vision-setting by the county.

Instead, Hotter and Commissioner Bobby Lieb chose a different guiding ethic: that of reactionary, piecemeal and isolated decision-making. Lieb invited staff to bring individual components of the action plan to the board for consideration but was outrightly dismissive of setting a course toward a long-term goal, so much so that it raises the question of just what role Lieb envisions for county government.

“Any action taken today, regardless of how soft the language, will be constituted as a policy mandate,” Lieb said when explaining his “no” vote. His words are true, to the extent that with any decision the board makes, it sets the direction for the county to follow. By shirking an opportunity to move the county forward in addressing a documented problem by means of a range of nonbinding and voluntary solutions that can benefit the climate, the community and businesses operating here, the commissioners set a clear course indeed.

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