Category Archives: Environment

Beyond the Boom

The Rocky Mountain News did a series on the energy boom rocking parts of Colorado and how communities are enjoying, coping, and mitigating the impacts (or at least trying to). The series offers a a number of perspectives and the challenges involved in local-state-federal policy making and planning.

The day 1 article in the series, entitled “The billion dollar question: What if?”, is particularly interesting because two state legislators have taken seemingly opposite positions from the ones you would think they would take given their respective political ties. Their perspective is likely influenced by their location place in the state and the energy boom.

Representative Josh Penry, a Mesa County Republican, is witnessing the energy boom first hand and is a big supporter of creating a permanent trust fund from oil and gas severance taxes – similar to what Wyoming did a decade ago. Chris Romer, a Democratic Senator from the Denver Metro area, favors the more measured approach of analyzing how taxes are currently collected and allocated before the state tries to set up a permanent fund.

Who’s the conservative in this debate?

Read the entire series

Economies collide with nature

The natural resource based economy that dominated the Western Slope of Colorado for so many years is making a come back.moly mine - assoc. press pic

As Jason Blevins writes in the Sunday Denver Post, mining is coming back to a number of communities due to increasing demand and prices for precious minerals like molybdenum.

If the recent natural gas boom in Garfield County offers any crystal ball, more Western Slope communities are due increasing revenues, stressed infrastructure, a quick disappearance of affordable housing, and a shortage of workers.

The natural amenity and natural resource economy are colliding and the only thing they have in common is a reliance on nature.

Garfield County sees explosive growth

Garfield County received front page space in the Sunday Denver Post due to the energy boom driving the county’s economy.

Jason Blevins story captures the essence of life in Garfield County since the boom began five years ago. As New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin says, “It’s just all happening so fast out here. I just dart around like a bumblebee.”

The economic growth has been a boon to a county mired in a slump cause by the overnight departure of Exxon (Black Sunday) in 1982 and the county now has more jobs than it has workers. The challenge for the public sector is to try tokeep up and pay for the infrastructure to support the increases in traffic, homes, and wastewater while competing with the gas companies for workers.

Blevins quotes Christy Hamrick, the finance director for Garfield County’s 4,500-student school district, “We pay drivers $14 an hour, and they pay $22 an hour. We have to compete with that, and we’ve seen lots of turnover. ”

TOD can save the planet

San Bruno’s Shops at TanforanTransit oriented development is gaining traction around the U.S. (it’s already popular in many other countries) because it can address many community issues — provide affordable housing, increase transit service, prevent loss of open space, create public places — at the same time.

And now, in case you needed another reason to support TOD, it can also save the planet. As San Mateo County Supervisior Adrienne Tissier writes,

The solutions to global warming are found in modern urban planning and zoning and three little words: Transit Oriented Development. Build well-designed, affordable housing within walking distance of efficient mass transit, and the air-fouling traffic jams will unclog themselves. Better yet, build well-designed, affordable housing within walking distance of jobs, schools and retail, and car use will plummet.

It is nice to know that something good for a community has a global benefit as well.

Green buildings get preference in Saanich

Saanich, BC wants residential builders to build “green” by cutting “red” tape. It is giving priority to applications for housing projects using energy-efficient components and provide those builders rebates of up to 30 per cent on building-permit fees.

Read the full article . . .

System versus Silo Thinking

Neal Peirce writes about the the “green revolution” happening in America’s cities and towns in the January, American Prospect

Peirce describes a number of cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle) that are re-connecting the commons (parks, roads, rivers, and everywhere there is public investment) through public infrastructure investments to create heatlhy places.  The projects are bold, exciting, and hold promise for state and national policy.  But, he points out, the work ahead requires a change it the way we think and approach problem solving.  He writes,

“[…] there’s the challenge to the professionals — the architects, planners, designers, engineers, builders, utility representatives, city and county housing officials, and others engaged on the front line of building and reshaping communities. Historically — and often, still today — they have worked sequentially, first doing the land planning, then the underground pipes, then roadways and buildings and so on.

In a smart 21st century, that won’t do. It costs too much and it misses opportunities for better aesthetics, energy efficiency, and quality of life. The time’s at hand to move from silos to systems [emphasis added]. It’s the right moment to ask the professionals to start thinking more broadly, to work closely with colleagues from the other disciplines from start to end of any project.”

Win-Win transportation solutions

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has just released a report on transportation programs and policy reforms that can support environmental, social, and economic goals – a triple bottom line. As he comments in the introduction,

People often assume that environmental, social and economic goals conflict. For example, policies to reduce climate change emissions and programs to improve accessibility for disadvantaged people are often opposed on grounds that they are costly and harmful to the economy. But such conflicts can be avoided. Some strategies that support environmental and social objectives also benefit the economy.

This paper identifies more than a dozen such strategies, which we call Win-Win Transportation Solutions. These are cost-effective, technically feasible policy reforms and programs that help solve transport problems by improving transport options and correcting market distortions that result in economically excessive motor vehicle travel. These are considered “no regrets” strategies because they are justified even if the severity of environmental and social risks is uncertain.

Read the full report . . .