Mountain Town News: Another town bans plastic bags, schools commemorate Columbine and cities sue Big Oil | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: Another town bans plastic bags, schools commemorate Columbine and cities sue Big Oil

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

Plastic bags non grata on May 1 in another ski town

AVON, Colo. – The Colorado ski town of Avon has joined eight other towns and cities in Colorado that have prohibited merchants from giving out disposable plastic shopping bags.

The ban begins May 1, but the town council passed the ordinance last September, with the hope that it would give shoppers at Wal-Mart and Home Depot along with other, smaller stores time to prepare.

Avon, however, may push further than others, as elected officials are scheduled to renew a discussion in June of a proposed ban on disposable polystyrene foam products, such as are commonly used to package fast food. Styrofoam is one branded polystyrene product.

San Francisco was the first jurisdiction in the United States to ban the practice of merchants of giving shoppers free single-liner plastic bags. That was in 2007. Since then, hundreds of other cities have done so in the United States. California has a state-wide ban and Hawaii a de facto state-wide ban.

On the flip side are states that refuse to allow local jurisdictions to enact bans. They include Idaho and Arizona.

Recommended Stories For You

Avon's allows exemptions for newspaper bags, laundry-dry cleaning bags, and so forth. Retailers can, if they wish, provide paper bags in lieu of the banned plastic bags, but only if they charge 10 cents a bag. That fee must be tacked on to the bill of customers because, the town says, the intent is to encourage customers to shop with reusable bags.

Preston Powers, Avon's deputy town manager, said the town's bag ban was rooted in consideration over the environmental impacts of plastic bags. The bags may tear apart, but the plastic itself does not break down.

He said that he had been at the big-box retailers in recent weeks to remind shoppers of the upcoming ban. Most were aware, but some had missed the every-other-week advertisements in the Vail Daily, as well as other outreach efforts. "There wasn't as much pushback as I had expected," he said.

Telluride was the first local government in Colorado to ban bags, but only at grocery stories. Others that now have bans are Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Crested Butte, and Durango. Vail, located a few miles from Avon, also has a ban.

Basalt, located near Aspen, also had a ban, but it was overturned. A bag-ban effort also failed in Glenwood Springs.

In Utah, Park City adopted a ban several years ago, and now seventh-grade students at a local private school have proposed a ban in Summit County. Park City is the county's largest city.

The students made the proposal after visiting the local landfill and then studying the process by which laws are adopted. Most of all, reports The Park Record, the students learned how complicated law-making can be.

Plastic – not just plastic bags – is proliferating on the landscape. It's almost impossible to find a place on the settled planet where you don't see plastic bags festooned on barbed wire fences, snagged in trees, washing down river and streams. And, of course, there is the famous image of the giant plastic blob in the Pacific Ocean.

Students march in snow to call for gun-control policies

ASPEN, Colo. – While cannabis smokers were exhaling at the stroke of 4:20 p.m. last Friday afternoon in the unofficial holiday of marijuana, students in Aspen that morning remembered something nobody celebrates: the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb.

Among the students were 250 at Aspen High School, roughly half the student body. The Aspen Daily News reported they walked through fresh snow to a park, where they heard speakers, including Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.

DiSalvo said he believed that military-grade assault rifles should not be available to civilians. He predicted the movement started by students after the massacre at Parkland, Fla., in February will lead to that change.

Local politicians were also in the metaphorical sights of the students. Tullis Burrows, a sophomore in the school, called out U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a reliable opponent of gun-control legislation, for taking campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. "We know how you are, and we know what you've done, and we are coming for you," said the student. Tipton represents Aspen and many of the other ski towns, islands of liberal blue in western Colorado's sea of conservative red.

In New Mexico, students from Taos High School and other local schools also left classrooms to march through sleet and snow while carrying signs such as "This is Not Normal."

The Taos News reports that opposition to the march was limited to a few people shouting derisive comments from passing vehicles as the students walked to the town plaza. During the march, students chanted rhymes deriding the NRA.

In Aspen, students who left classes for the march will be assessed for unexcused absences. The same would have applied to the public school in Taos, except the town had a water problem so students had been dismissed anyway.

Plenty of jane dumped at the airport security gates

ASPEN, Colo. – A Pitkin County sheriff's deputy recently emptied two boxes at the local airport installed to allow travelers to rid themselves of cannabis products before going through federal security gates to board airplanes.

The Aspen Daily News says that the contents of the boxes suggest that "many people are wildly overestimating how much they can consume during a vacation here, had second thoughts about trying to take marijuana home, or both."

Showing a photo of the contents of the two boxes, the manager of a marijuana store in Aspen estimated the discarded bud, vape pens and 30 joints were worth $15,000 to $20,000. Also discarded was a product called "aphrodisiac chocolate."

Pitkin County installed the amnesty boxes at the airport in January 2014, when legalized sales of marijuana began in Colorado. Federal law, however, continues to frown sternly on possession of marijuana.

"With a lot of what we see, it's clear someone made a bulk purchase, consumed a small amount, and then the rest gets dumped," said Ron Ryan, the undersheriff for Pitkin County. "Either they didn't know what they were getting into, or they changed their mind. There's a lot of brand-new unwrapped product."

The Aspen Times reports that the city has five cannabis dispensaries, and two more applications have been filed, including for one business called the Green Joint. Last year the marijuana shops sold $11.3 million of cannabis products, topping the $10.5 million generated by liquor stores.

Colorado lawsuit targets two fossil fuel companies

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Colorado's San Miguel County has linked arms with Boulder, the city, and Boulder County to bring suit against ExxonMobil and Canada's Suncor Energy over the costs associated with climate change impacts.

The Boulder Daily Camera points out that the legal waters into which the Colorado plaintiffs have plunged are already being tested by eight counties and city governments in California, including San Francisco and Oakland, as well as New York City. The lawsuits target a variety of fossil fuel companies.

The Colorado lawsuit is described as the first from the nation's interior. But, in common with those on both coasts, it seeks compensation for battling the effects of climate change. The San Francisco lawsuit, for example, mentions the projected cost of $5 billion in improvements to the city's seawall.

The lawsuit says that Suncor and Exxon have "known about the consequence of fossil fuel use for more than 50 years," according to a news release that outlines the complaint, "yet they continued to promote and sell their products, while deceiving the public and policymakers about the dangers."

San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper told the Telluride Daily Planet that the county is committed to spending no more than $5,000, and that's only if the Colorado governments lose the case and the judge awards legal fees. "We will not spend any more than that without a public vote, and San Miguel County can drop out of the case at any time," said Joan May, another county commissioner.

The three Colorado jurisdictions, similar to those along the coasts, argue that impacts caused by a warming climate burden them. The suit cites "increases in extreme hot summer days and minimum nighttime temperatures, precipitation changes, larger and more frequent wildfires, increased concentrations of ground-level ozone, higher transmission of viruses and disease from insects, altered stream-flows, bark beetle outbreaks, ecosystem damage, forest die-off, reduced snowpack, and drought," the lawsuit says.

The governments also allege they will, as May told the Daily Planet, have to spend "money out of our limited budget to address climate change impacts that are partially the consequences of extraction by, and emissions from, fossil fuel producers."

The Boulder Daily Camera reported that oil and gas industry advocates dismissed the lawsuit as a "political stunt," in the words of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. The group said oil and natural gas operators "should not be subject to liability for doing nothing more than engaging in acts of commerce while adhering to our already stringent state and federal laws."

Exxon issued a statement that said greenhouse gas emissions are a global issue and require global participation and actions. "Lawsuits like this – filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life – simply do not do that."

Mark Squillace, a professor the University of Colorado Law School, told the Daily Camera the most applicable precedent for the new lawsuits was legislation against the tobacco industry. The 1998 settlement resulted in $206 billion to be split among 46 states over 25 years.

"In that case, though, there were just a handful of large tobacco companies," Squillace said. "But while ExxonMobil, in particular, is a huge company, it is hardly alone in producing massive quantities of greenhouse gases. And that is why the plaintiffs will have some difficulty showing a causal connection between Exxon and Suncor's emissions and the plaintiff's alleged injuries."

Suncor has a refinery in Colorado, north of downtown Denver, which produces up to 98,000 barrels a day of gasoline and diesel fuel, but also jet fuel used at Denver International Airport. A fifth of the oil produced at the refinery comes from the Athabascan oil/tar sands in Alberta.

The Denver Post was unimpressed with the lawsuit. "Without fossil fuels, transportation would stagger to a halt, agriculture productivity would plummet, millions would suffer from cold, that heat and hunger, and untold legions would suffer premature deaths," the newspaper said in an editorial. "That's why any comparison between fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry whose product is a health disaster with no redeeming economic value, is so wide of the mark."

Added the newspaper, "The activists behind the Colorado lawsuit wish to portray the challenge of climate change as a morality tale involving white hats and black hats, but that is simplistic and misleading."

How did the three jurisdictions end up as plaintiffs, but not others, such as Aspen and Vail? In the case of Boulder County, the lawsuit had been under consideration for a year. San Miguel County commissioners had been discussing it since January in executive session, according to Amy Markwell, the county attorney. The formal decision to file suit was made last Tuesday morning, the same time as the decision was formally reached by the other two bodies.

It's not clear whether Aspen, Vail, and other jurisdictions were also invited to join the lawsuit.