Mountain Town News: Green efforts hit snag in Whistler; Telluride plans plastic ban
August 28, 2018
Whistler emissions rise despite BC's carbon tax
WHISTLER, B.C. – If Whistler can't figure out how to ratchet down its greenhouse gas emissions, what ski town can?
It's in a province considered one of the most advanced in thinking about climate change, with one of North America's first carbon taxes. Whistler, a community of 12,000, has a goal of slashing emissions a third by 2020.
Barring a miracle, it won't happen.
"I don't see any way that we're going to make that 2020 target," said Ted Battiston, a Whistler municipal staffer in summarizing a 2017 trends report.
For several years, Whistler reduced emissions 3.8 percent annually as compared to the baseline year of 2007. Battiston attributed these reductions primarily to one-off projects, including a cap on the landfill that captures the methane. In another project, propane was replaced by natural gas. When burned, natural gas produces marginally fewer emissions than propane. Gasoline, diesel produce more. Burning coal produces far more carbon dioxide.
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Whistler's skid is the result of a 20 percent population growth during a time of robust economic growth. Since 2012, when the resort hosted the Winter Olympics, Whistler's emissions have grown an average 4.7 percent. However, per capita in six of the last seven years had actually declined.
Transportation causes 56 percent of Whistler's emissions. Burning of natural gas, primarily for home heating, causes 33 percent.
Pique Newsmagazine says the community's climate action plan, which was adopted in 2016, has been given less attention than housing and transportation in municipal affairs. Battiston argues for more funding for staffing, to engage the public in changed behavior.
Economists, however, have almost universally favored a carbon tax as the way to steer decisions about activities and infrastructure responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. In this, British Columbia was an early adopter.
In 2008 the province adopted a revenue-neutral carbon tax, meaning that taxes collected were to be used to reduce other taxes. There's some evidence, however, that the tax has not entirely been revenue neutral.
More troubling is the evidence that the tax hasn't been effective in suppressing emissions. The tax was launched at $10 a metric ton and elevated incrementally to $30 a ton by 2012. Since then, political blowback has caused provincial authorities to delay further increases.
Maybe the tax isn't high enough to steer decisions. Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford University's Jeffrey Ball points to the conclusion of a group of economists in 2017. They said carbon prices would have to be between $40 and $80 per metric ton by 2020, and between $50 and $100 by 2030, to achieve the emission cuts called for in the Paris climate accord.
Another problem, he says, is that carbon taxes may be effective in altering electric production. British Columbia gets most of its electricity from hydropower.
However, carbon taxes do little to change how buildings are constructed. Builders don't pay the energy bills of what they construct. Transportation is also relatively unresponsive to carbon taxes. Drivers, says Ball, usually don't change behavior when gasoline and diesel prices rise in modest amounts. And sharp increases in taxes get political pushback.
If an elegant solution, he concludes, carbon taxes in Whistler and elsewhere haven't helped much yet "in the toughest environmental fight the world has ever faced."
The terrifying spectacle of wildfire tornadoes
REDDING, Calif. – Small tornadoes occur commonly enough in wildfires. One was observed in early July near the Weston Pass wildfire in the Mosquito Range of central Colorado.
Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley says most "fire whirls," as they are commonly called, are only 6 to 8 feet tall and last just a few seconds. But the one that killed a firefighter this summer in the megafire at Redding, Calif., was "totally different," he says.
The San Francisco Chronicle says the tornado had a base the size of three football fields, winds up to 165 miles an hour, and temperatures of at least 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. That's nearly double the heat generated by a typical wildfire.
Craig Clements, director of the Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University, also thought this one was different. "Fire whirls occur all the time. What was unusual about this one was the strength of the surface winds and the size," he told the Chronicle. "This was a meteorological phenomenon."
Even experts were spooked by the fire at Redding. They say "extreme fire behavior" has become more frequent, more violent, and more destructive. The tornadoes they produce are nearly impossible to predict.
Even so, deadly fire whirls have occurred before. The worst occurred in Japan in 1923 following an earthquake that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama. The earthquake and an associated tsunami were deadly, killing 142,800 people. But the single largest cause of death was a "fire dragon" produced as a result of the fires caused by the earthquake. The tornado incinerated 38,000 people in Tokyo within 15 minutes.
Also notable was a 2003 fire in Australia that killed 4 people and injured 492. A fire whirl in California, at San Luis Obispo, in 1926 lifted an entire home into the air and carried it across a field, killing two people.
Ski towns impressed, but the biggest stars were overhead
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – You can take it for granted, what you have in mountain towns. Revealing was the report by Mark Reaman, who edits the Crested Butte News.
He had company in from out of town, people from big cities in low-land areas. They hiked from Crested Butte to Aspen one summer weekend, and found much to admire about both.
But what impressed them most was in neither Aspen nor Crested Butte, but instead what was entirely natural.
"They all commented on how the stars popped and blanketed the sky. They could actually see the Milky Way," he reported. "That is something they don't experience much where they live, and the high valley, brilliant night sky is something they will keep in their minds for a long time."
That night sky, he added, is "something none of us should take for granted."
Durango name to stay, but brewery will be elsewhere
DURANGO, Colo. – What's with the mountain town breweries fleeing for the flatlands? Several years ago, the Grand Lake Brewery, founded in the town of the same name at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, decamped for a Denver suburb. For that matter, Breckenridge Brewery always was in Denver.
Now, Durango Brewing Co., the third oldest microbrewery in Colorado, with a founding date of 1990, has closed its tap room in Durango. Instead of Denver, operations are being moved to the Colorado farming town of La Junta. It's on the Great Plains, 300 miles east of Durango.
The Durango Herald says that the beer will retain the name Durango. The company's canned beer has been brewed in La Junta since early in 2018. Now, the bottled beer will be, too.
Why move to a farming town on the Great Plains? Denver's Westword indicated what was to come in 2015 after the brewery was purchased by a Denver-based investment group called Gold Buckle Brewing.
Gold Buckle's Andrea Allison told Westword that the company planned to grow the Durango brand and sales in Colorado, then begin pushing beyond Colorado. Part of that plan was to begin brewing operations in La Junta, where Gold Buckle had purchased a 185,000-square-foot pickle-and-relish plant that closed in 2006.
The pickle factory's infrastructure was easily adapted to a brewery, she said. The plant might also be used to contract-brew for other breweries in Colorado and elsewhere as needed. It is also being used to brew beer under the brand of a Las Vegas-area brewery also owned by Gold Buckle.
La Junta, despite being a farm town, already has mountain-town connections: Tiny houses purchased by the Aspen Skiing Co. for employee houses were built in La Junta. Ironically, much of the water in the adjoining Arkansas River comes from the Aspen area via a series of tunnels underneath the Sawatch Range.
As for Durango, there's no need for thirst. The town will still have five breweries.
Telluride now plans to ban single-use plastics
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride, the first town in Colorado to take aim at disposable plastic bags, now may become the first to take aim at the single-use plastics used in the food and beverage businesses.
The proposed law would ban plastic straws, to-go containers, plastic drink stirrers and plastic-wrapped toothpicks in restaurants but also Telluride's many festivals. Exempted will be emergency health services and select other situations.
The Telluride Daily Planet reports the town council gave staff members direction to prepare the ordinance for consideration in November.
"This is an effort to take responsibility for our waste stream," said Joanna Kanow, a local environmental activist. She got support from Michael Martelon, president of the Telluride Tourism Board. "It speaks to the community and it speaks to the brand," he said.
Avon plans minimum age for tobacco at 21
AVON, Colo. – Avon will likely increase the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products to 21. The Vail Daily reports the move was supported by testimony of community members who reported an uptick in use of e-cigarettes among local youth. The current state-specified minimum is 18.
If the town council goes forward with this age limit, it will leave the state's licensing system for tobacco sales and set up its own authority. It will need to have a licensing administrator, probably the town clerk.
This shift will also cause it to forgo around $42,000 of its share of state sales tax collections on tobacco products. It could, however, ask voters to approve a new tax, to replace what is lost. Either way, the amount is small in the town's annual budget of $30 million, as was pointed out by Councilman Scott Prince.
Vail and Aspen squeezing water-guzzling customers
VAIL, Colo. – Lower water levels in creeks and rivers around Vail and Aspen have caused water authorities to tighten the spigots of profligate users.
In the Vail area, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District sent several hundred letters to high-consuming customers telling them to cut back—or face penalties. Those customers using more than 10,000 gallons a week will be fined $500. Those who continue their lavish use of water will have their service disconnected, explains the Vail Daily. Average residential use is 7,000 gallons a month.
Outdoor lawn watering causes the heavy use. Indoor water results use less water and, at any rate, most of that water is returned to the river—after treatment, of course.
In Aspen, Castle and Maroon creeks were rerunning at only 30 percent of average for August thanks to what the Aspen Daily News describes as a paltry winter snowpack and a stingy summer monsoon.
Like those in the Vail area, Aspen's Stage 2 water restrictions target exterior water use but should not be a problem for conservation-minded folks. For example, lawns can be watered a maximum three days a week, but not during the hot hours of the day, reported the Aspen Daily News.
After wildfire is finally out, can woman get justice?
ASPEN, Colo. – Nobody seems to be getting the rope out for when a 23-year-old woman accused of setting a fire on July 3 makes another court appearance. Nonetheless, her attorney warns that a "mob" mentality will prevent her from getting fair treatment.
In violation of the posted rules, the woman was using a rifle to shoot incendiary tracer rounds at a state gun range at El Jebel. The bullets caused a fire in the pinyon-and-juniper forest and burned down three homes and, as of last week, has blackened 12,588 acres. This is about 20 miles down-valley from Aspen.
"We have to make sure she isn't scapegoated or overwhelmed by the community reaction to this," said Stan Garnett, the attorney for the woman. "The community needs to understand that the justice system needs to judge her based on what the evidence is."
The Aspen Daily News reports that the town council in Basalt wants the state to relocate the shooting range. A good number of town residents were forced to evacuate because of the fire.
Fire season takes economic toll from Banff to Yosemite
BANFF, Alberta – Everybody in ski towns talks about ski season. A new phrase has shown up: fire season.
In Banff National Park, fire season has dealt a blow to one tourism operator. Alpine Helicopter had 200 guests cancel their scenic tours because of the thick smoke that smothered the region in mid-August, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. On the flip side, the business has contracts to provide 20 helicopters to assist in fighting blazes.
In California, there was no silver lining. Yosemite National Park has reopened, but Douglas Shaw estimates the 20-day closure during peak tourist season cost him $200,000 in lost revenue at his hotel just outside the park.
Shaw told the Associated Press the smoke produced by the fire on Yosemite's southern edge forced him to lay off 8 of his 43 employees and wiped out his savings account.
A more serious hit was taken by two firefighters, who died. The fire burned 150 square miles (389 square kilometers).
Planners call for higher-rise affordable housing
KETCHUM, Idaho – Community planners in Ketchum propose that taller buildings be allowed in the town's light-industrial areas if upper floors of the four-and five-story buildings are allocated for deed-restricted affordable housing.
One of the restrictions urged by John Gaeddert, the planning director, and senior planner Brittany Skelton is that residents of those units must acknowledge and accept the permitted light-industrial uses.
The Idaho Mountain Express says the planners propose that buildings be allowed to be up to 48 feet tall, with commercial or light industrial uses on the bottom two floors. Housing units would be from 400 to 1,000 square-feet in size.
The Express says that Ketchum planning commissioners seem skeptical. One sees residential use as being incompatible with light industry, while others fret about taller buildings obstructing views of Mt. Baldy, the primary ski area of Sun Valley.
Cannabis sales 'til midnight recommended in Jasper
JASPER, Alberta – Councillors in Jasper have accepted recommendations from a task force charged with devising rules governing sale of cannabis in the town located in Jasper National Park.
Now, it will be up to the administrators of the national park. However, some members of the task force were representative of Parks Canada.
Those rules, if adopted, will be light: Stores can stay open until midnight. There will be no limits to the number of cannabis stores, no limits on where in a building they are located, no limits on how close they are to one another. The task force also wants to seek an exemption from the Alberta requirement of a 100-metre buffer around schools and hospitals. A small town, many of Jasper's commercial locations are close to schools and hospitals.