Mountain Town News
By Allen Best
Taking a stand on tar sand
WHISTLER, B.C. – The Whistler Municipal Council took a rare, perhaps unprecedented, step in May of adopting a resolution about a major national issue.
In a unanimous vote, council members opposed construction of a set of pipelines that would export crude bitumen from the oil sands of Alberta to tankers along the coast of British Columbia.
Local government and businesses in
most mountain towns and valleys shy away from taking stands on the larger issues of the day. But even those eager to announce their positions to locals and all else who listen say the messages must be articulated in terms of direct, local interests.
“You do have to be judicious (about
taking stands on issues outside your
jurisdiction),” says Rachel Richards, an
elected official in Aspen and Pitkin County since 1991. “Some people will always criticize you. They’ll ask, ‘Who gives a squat about what they think?’ At the same time, I believe your public wants you to stand up.”
In most cases, local governments identify environmental or economic interests at stake—and often,
those issues are intertwined. That’s true in Whistler’s resolution.
The council asserted that building and operation of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and the attempt to ply oil tankers in the province’s tricky fjords pose a “significant” environmental threat to the coastline of British Columbia. And the threat of a spill is a “significant risk” to Whistler’s tourism industry, the resolution goes on to say.
Forest renewal uncertain
ASPEN, Colo. – Taking stock of the piñon-and-juniper forests of New Mexico’s mountain ranges, research ecologist Dr. Craig Allen sees change ahead.
Allen, speaking at conferences in Aspen last weekend, predicted new ecosystems in years ahead as fires raze old forests.
“These forests did not evolve with this type of fire,” he said, as quoted in a New York Times report. “Fire was a big deal in New Mexico, but it was a different kind of fire.” The result, he said, is that the species that now live there—ponderosa pine, piñon and juniper –cannot regenerate, and new species are moving in to take their place.
He said that forests in the region have not been regenerated after the vast wildfires that have been raging there for the last 20 years. “Ecosystems are already resetting themselves in ways big and small,” he said.
Telluride fights uranium
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride has also been involved in litigation regarding a proposed uranium processing mill, called Pinyon Ridge, that would be located about 60 miles to the west, near the Utah border.
The community has a clear and direct interest, according to Mayor Stu Fraser. If the mill is improperly constructed and operated, prevailing winds could deliver radioactive particles to the town’s water supply, a basin at 12,000 feet above Bridal Veil Falls.
Telluride, among others, argued that the state environmental regulators had violated its own procedures by failing to hold a required meeting.
As evident by that neglect, Telluride thinks the state oversight of uranium processing is suspect. It won a recent court case on procedural grounds, but proponents of the mill remain confident they will prevail.
Belly up to methane bar, boys
ASPEN, Colo. – In its stand against global warming, the Aspen Skiing Co. is, beliegve it or not, going into business with a coal mining company. Chief executive Mike Kaplan last week announced that Aspen Skiing is committing $5.4 million to capture of methane at the Elk Creek Mine.
The Elk Creek Mine, which is located about 60 miles southwest of Aspen, is owned by Bill Koch, of the famous family from Kansas. Koch’s brothers, who have a refinery in Wichita, among other businesses, have been underwriting efforts to discredit the science of global warming. Aspen Skiing, of course, has been doing all it can to highlight the problem.
“It is an answer to the question of how you go about solving climate,” says Auden Schendler, Sustainability VP for the Aspen Skiing Co. “You tag the high impact short term pollutants (soot, methane, ozone) in the short term to buy time while we work on CO2. This is also a story about getting outside the box, how climate is fracturing old alliances and creating new ones, and how we’re going to have to rethink the world to solve climate issues.”
Aspen Skiing during the last decade has worked to improve energy efficiency while developing renewable energy. The company uses a microhydro system at its Snowmass snowmaking plant, and helped build a solar farm at Carbondale which generates 3 megawatts of electricity, or about as much as is needed annually by the Aspen Skiing Co. at its four ski areas, two hotels, and various other buildings and operations.
Aspen estimates the payback on the investment at 10 to 15 years. Coal mines produce methane, which is combustible and hence a safety threat. The mines near Somerset are known to be among the most “gassy” in the country. Methane released into the atmosphere is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 23 times as much effect in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere over a century’s time than carbon dioxide.
Climate activist Randy Udall even a decade ago began drawing attention to the problem of methane. Burning it produces carbon dioxide, but the effect is much less. And Udall calculated that just a small project of harnessing methane in Colorado can have a greater effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado than all of the solar panels erected to date.
Aspen Skiing emphasized that this project can be replicated elsewhere. “The potential (for methane capture) is vast, but not just in the West, all over the U.S. where there are gassy mines, operational or not.”