It comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the weather in Southwest Colorado, but the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Group concludes that human-induced climate change appears to be well under way in the Southwest United States.
Among the conclusions, the Southwest is experiencing warming among the most rapid in the nation, driving declines in spring snowpack and Colorado River flows. Strong warming and serious water supply challenges are anticipated in coming decades. Declines in spring precipitation could range from 10 to 30 percent.
This is all driven by computer modeling that undoubtedly will change with future refinements. But folks with any length of tenure in Southwest Colorado already know winters have grown substantially milder and less snowy over the last 20 years. Spring snowmelt is occurring earlier than before, and rivers are peaking weeks earlier than in years past.
The evidence is plain before us, and science organizations are unanimous in fingering unnatural levels of carbon dioxide emissions as the culprit. If you were one of the few hundred congressional leaders charged with safeguarding America's future, what would you do faced with certain evidence and obvious cause?
Fortunately, a slim majority of the House of Representatives recently steeled its will and took the plunge of leadership, to the loud cries of complaints from traditional fossil-fuel industries and coal-fired utilities, including our very own Tri-State Transmission and Generation. By a 219-212 vote, the House passed the so-called American Clean Energy and Security Act in June, the first major American legislative effort to combat
climate change. Our own Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, voted against the bill. Among concerns about costs to consumers, Salazar explained his "no" vote in part because he believed "the bill should have included a strong investment in clean coal technology and nuclear power."
The bill moves over to the U.S. Senate next. What do we know about the positions of Colorado's two senators?
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., issued a statement hailing passage of the House bill: "This is an important moment for our country. We are poised to reclaim our role as the world leader in addressing the problem of climate change and promoting renewable energy."
Udall particularly touted the bill's creation of a national renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020. Colorado already has a renewable standard in place, a fact Udall cited in claiming 3,000 renewable energy jobs created in Colorado.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has a generic statement on his Web site supporting a "comprehensive energy policy." He touts the need for a nationwide renewable electricity standard, and advocates increased efficiency and conservation, but also pushes for more domestic fossil-fuel production. Bennet says, "America needs to be bold." Will this translate into bold action by Bennet on climate-change legislation?
The Senate is poised to tackle the climate-change bill by the fall. Udall and Bennet can be contacted via www.senate.gov.
Mark Pearson is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.