What began as a bid by environmental activists to send a carbon tax measure to voters ended with the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, created Monday night by the Denver City Council.
In theory, the office will add urgency to fighting climate change because its staff will report directly to the mayor. Denver’s current Office of Sustainability is housed deep within the Department of Public Health and Environment, which deals with pollution, yes, but also cockroaches in restaurants.
“Our original goal was to pull the office out so that it would have accountability at the cabinet level,” said Ean Tafoya, a lead advocate for the new department. “And it also wouldn’t have to compete for budget money with the same people who are doing inspections at restaurants.”
The climate change office’s primary function will be to implement all the things Denver must do to meet its stated goals for reducing pollution from fossil fuels and increasing the use of cleaner energy.
Elected officials empowered the office to oversee the city’s various sustainability programs, including its green building ordinance and other initiatives to make buildings more energy efficient and lower individual carbon footprints. The office is supposed to play a role in jumpstarting Denver’s transition to a green economy as well.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Councilman Jolon Clark said. “We have a long way to go until we can say that we’re doing everything we need to do as a city to meet the science-based targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.”
The climate change office was not in the mayor’s original plans, but activists and political leverage made it happen.
First a grassroots effort to pass a carbon tax and create the office fell short. Clark and some of his colleagues picked up the ball and kept running, but ran into a wall from council members who thought the approach was rushed and haphazard.
But locals and electeds were clamoring for urgency. In exchange for Council pausing the carbon tax initiative, Mayor Michael Hancock ceded $8 million for the office’s efforts in his 2020 budget.
Activists still aim to bring a carbon tax bill to voters next year. And Council can vote to restart Clark’s efforts after July 1 if the Hanock administration doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain.
But as of right now, the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency will launch July 1, 2020, and the administration is already looking for an executive director.