Denver city officials and residents continue to push for climate policy as two new carbon tax initiatives are planned for next year’s ballot.
A recent citizens initiative was introduced, as well as one by Denver City Council members. Each propose funding a new Denver Office of Climate Action and Resiliency. The citizens initiative gained enough signatures to be on the November 2020 ballot.
“We missed the deadline for November 2019, but certified for the 2020 ballot,” said Ean Tafoya, a representative for Resilient Denver, a citizens activist group fighting climate change. This initiative would establish an excise tax on commercial and residential building electricity and natural gas use. The bill exempts businesses using below average energy consumption.
Meanwhile, Denver City Council has introduced a similar bill proposing an excise tax on businesses, but unlike the citizens initiative, it would not tax residences. This bill is also designed to help fund a proposed new climate office.
According to Resilient Denver, the new office will ensure urgent and proactive climate mitigation efforts while preparing for the effects of climate change and protecting vulnerable populations. It will also ensure Denver meets or exceeds all science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change.
“Our climate efforts are all spread out and we want to streamline and elevate the issue of climate change,” said Jolon Clark, city council president and District 7 representative. “Denver is doing a lot of great work—it’s just that none of it is moving anywhere near fast enough.”
This seems to be the rally call for both initiatives: do more and move faster on climate action. The good news is that the city and citizens have been working together to align and define their efforts. “Council too tried to make the November 2019 ballot and a deal was brokered with the mayor’s office to create a stakeholders group, invest money in the 2020 budget, and create a new office,” said Tafoya.
“Our members have been working with the city from within and outside for many years on sustainability and climate goals,” said Tafoya. “We work as organizers, city committee and stakeholder members via initiatives.”
Clark added that it would be unlikely that both items move forward to the 2020 ballot since they are so similar.
By Denver’s own estimates, commercial and industrial buildings contribute 41% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Transportation contributes 36%, and with buildings, make up the greatest emitters of pollutants. The city considers these sectors slow to change and wants to take action.
Denver has long been in the forefront in creating environmental policies. In 2007 Denver became one of the first major U.S. cities to publish a climate action plan. In 2019, the city was ranked #8 out of 75 large cities nationally for clean energy policy and programs by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Denver has also been ranked a top U.S. city for solar energy efficiency, as well as being named a global city for climate reporting by the nonprofit Disclosure Insight Action/Carbon Disclosure Project.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment published the “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” in July 2018. It set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2005 baseline, and to do so by leveraging existing efforts across the energy efficiency, transportation, and electricity generation sectors already in place in Denver.
The new citizens initiative is the latest in a stream of resident-led efforts. Denver voters also initiated and approved green roof and green buildings ordinances between 2017 and 2018.
“Implementation is going well. New developments have eight compliance options and existing buildings five,” said Ann Cecchine-Williams, deputy executive director, Department of Public Health and Environment for Denver.
Compliance options include energy efficiency, solar, green space on the roof or on the ground, or a combination of options. Around 30 projects have received permits since 2018, about two-thirds of which are remodels and additions to existing buildings. Some projects are opting to pursue even greater energy efficiency than is required by the code, Cecchine-Williams said.
“We have been excited to see the variety of options project teams are selecting,” she said. “Some buildings that are able to support the weight of vegetation on the roof are choosing to do so, while others are opting for important green space on the ground.”
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