City Leaders Meet on Energy, Environment Policy

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EENR Steering Committee members tour the Powerhouse Energy Institute at Colorado State University

Last week, the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) Steering Committee, chaired by Council Member Bill Peloza of Auburn, WA, met in Fort Collins, CO to discuss climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience and to review and vote on policy and resolutions.

Hosted by Fort Collins Council Member Gerry Horak, the committee learned how Colorado cities are preparing for and adapting to the risks of climate change, including lessons learned and recommendations from the 2012 High Park Fire and the 2013 flooding in Fort Collins, Boulder and the surrounding areas. The 2012 wildfires, in which 87,000 acres burned, was a precursor to the flooding in that erosion, debris flows, and flash flooding have become more common. Additionally, the wildfires led to significant impacts on aquatic resources, infrastructure, and drinking water supplies.

The 2013 flooding was a 50 year flood event causing $1.7 billion worth of damages, with the worse damage in Boulder and Larimer counties. In the City of Fort Collins, after the 1997 Spring Creek Flood, which was a greater than 500 year event, officials implemented mitigation techniques and policy changes which helped to minimize damage and impacts in 2013. Committee members also heard from the Colorado Recovery Office on the state-wide long-term recovery effort to build back strong, safer and more resilient.

In a discussion on climate mitigation and greenhouse gas reductions, committee members heard from the local municipal utilities on efforts and challenges with various types of renewable energy deployment, such as economies of scale, operation and maintenance costs, and transmission. Despite the challenges, as the cost of solar has come down over the years, Fort Collins has increased their cumulative solar PV capacity from 1667 kilowatts in 2013 to 2760 kilowatts in 2014 and an estimated 7260 kilowatts in 2015.

The committee also heard from a local fire chief and emergency manager on protecting public safety from hazardous materials traveling by rail through communities. With crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials traveling on rail lines through Fort Collins and the surrounding areas, emergency managers must be able to prepare, mitigate, respond and recovery from a disaster but lack information about the exact material on any given train and often full array of necessary response equipment.

Policy Discussions

The committee approved adding new language to the existing NLC resolution on resilience and preparing communities for extreme weather events pertaining to the National Climate Assessment and regional climate change impacts, improving energy infrastructure, and federal assistance in helping communities address and prepare for the impact of climate change.

Additionally, the committee amended policy language pertaining to climate change mitigation and approved a new resolution on climate mitigation, both creating a sense of urgency for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution brings specific attention to current policy positions supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Regarding rail safety, over the past several months, members from the EENR Committee, the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee and the Transportation Infrastructure and Services Committee have been working together on a resolution on protecting cities and towns from rail accidents involving flammable and hazardous materials and liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol. The three committees have prepared a new resolution.

Speaker presentations and the EENR agenda and meeting book are available on the NLC website. All proposed policy and resolutions changes will be voted on at the upcoming NLC Congress of Cities in Austin, TX.