Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor outlines climate change mitigation and adaptation measures taken by the county

As a notorious hotbed of environmentalism, Boulder and Boulder County in past years have adopted a dizzying array of policy measures to reduce the community’s environmental impact, while attempting to adapt to tomorrow’s climate.

At CU-Boulder on Wednesday, County Commissioner Will Toor presented an overview of the steps that Boulder County has taken and will take to plan for climate change, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation.

“Boulder is where we are see these policies first,” said Toor to the audience. “If we are successful then we will see them spread.”

Boulder has been at the forefront of local communities fighting against climate change since 2006, when voters approved the first “carbon tax” in the nation and enacting the Climate Action Plan, which set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

According to Toor, through stern building codes for energy efficiency, public financing of clean energy development, and efficiency regulations, the city can work towards decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the county.

While upgrading energy efficiency in existing buildings is something Toor described as “difficult politically,” he heralded last year’s passage of SmartRegs, which forced landlords in Boulder to lower energy usage on rental properties through efficiency upgrades. He hopes that someday all buildings in Boulder will be required to meet minimum energy efficiency standards.

Toor commented on the municipalization debate and the city’s goal to dramatically increase renewables for the electricity supply. “It doesn’t seem unreasonable that Boulder could make municipalization work by capturing Xcel’s 10 percent profit margin, which amounts to millions of dollars each year” said Toor. “But if we are successful, I believe both working with Xcel or municipalization could allow Boulder to create a very important model.”

If the county is to push energy efficiency and lower carbon usage by its residents, Toor says that it is important to set a good example with county buildings. He discussed plans to upgrade the county jail into “probably the greenest jail in the nation.”

As far as adapting to climate change is concerned, according to Toor, the largest issues to contend with will probably be increased fires, flooding, and drought.

In the last year, multiple forest fires, including the disastrous Four Mile Fire sparked concerns that climate change may be increasing the risk of fire in the county.

While the county plans to step up fire mitigation measures, Toor also believes that restrictions on development in fire prone areas presents a practical tool in avoiding fire damages.

Toor said policy surrounding climate change is difficult to enact because of uncertainty. “How much do we invest in climate change insurance? That’s the question we have to grapple with and I don’t have the answer.”

The presentation was one of a four-part series of environmental discussions held this semester by the CU Environmental Studies Program and the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Taran Volckhausen is a freelance journalist who primarily writes about the environment, politics, and drug policy. His work has appeared on National Geographic, Christian Science Monitor, The Intercept, Mongabay, among others. He is also a former editor at Colombia Reports. Twitter: @tvolckhausen

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