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Opinion: Here’s why our Colorado communities are demanding climate justice

Former state Rep. Ken Summers is urging Coloradans to “dance” with the oil and gas industry. But to date, fossil fuel companies have proved to be unreliable partners.

The industry has spent millions of dollars over the past several decades on lobbying and deceptive advertising to spread its destructive agenda and to block meaningful action on climate change. In 2019, it spent more than $1 million on lobbying in Colorado alone — more than most others in the state.

Meanwhile, Colorado — the seventh-largest producer of fossil fuels in the U.S. — is on the front line of the climate crisis and our communities are feeling its effects.

Elise Jones, Sam Weaver, Hilary Cooper

This is clear through several alarming trends: more destructive wildfires, more heatwaves and droughts, reduced snowpack, increased air pollution and changing precipitation, among other indicators.

Since 1983, average temperatures in Colorado have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit and are expected to further rise.

These days, Boulder County experiences, on average, two days a year with temperatures above 90 degrees. By the end of the century, this average is expected to increase to 38 days a year. 

Colorado’s snowpack is known as our largest reservoir — the source of 70% of our surface water. Climate change is drastically altering this critical resource as it snows less often and it rains more frequently.

As temperatures increase, the snowpack is melting earlier than ever, leaving our communities vulnerable to flash floods that can destroy property and roads. Scientists have determined that the 2013 flood that devastated Boulder was caused in part by climate change. 

Earlier this year, The Denver Post found that 125 million metric tons of hazardous and heat-trapping gases pollute Colorado’s air every year. Much of this is caused by the oil and gas industry and coincided with the state’s oil and gas boom. This is literally making us sick — air pollution imposes severe public health risks, including higher rates of mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

As with all messes, the one created by the oil and gas industry in Colorado is time-consuming and costly to clean up. And like a fickle partner who dines and dashes, leaving their date to pick up the dinner tab, fossil fuel companies are making local communities foot the bill.

Adapting to a wide range of impacts requires us at the local level to undertake unprecedented levels of planning and spending; it’s straining our coffers. Repairing roads damaged by floods is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars by 2050. Wildfires, another phenomenon exacerbated by a changing climate, also pose a significant financial burden.

For example, San Miguel County alone spends over $200,000 responding to each wildfire it experiences, not including the costs associated with prevention and recovery. It is unconscionable that companies like Exxon and Suncor are profiting from a reckless agenda as communities in Colorado not only suffer the effects of climate change but are also expected to pay for them.

The oil and gas industry has had five decades to clean up its act; instead of coming clean with consumers, policymakers and the public about the impacts of its products, it chose to hide the truth behind expensive astroturf campaigns that cast doubt on credible climate science, delaying meaningful action on climate change for decades.

Exxon had a 50-year head start to adapt its own facilities in anticipation of the devastating effects of climate change. Now Colorado is scrambling to catch up. 

Boulder County, San Miguel County and the City of Boulder are not the only governments to sue the oil and gas industry for damages imposed by fossil fuel development. New York, Baltimore, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and several municipalities in California have all launched similar lawsuits. These communities are making many efforts to slow and stop climate change, but that’s not what this litigation is about.

The harms inflicted by climate change are going to affect our communities no matter what we do; in fact, many of these harms are already here. That’s why governments like ours are working responsibly to prevent our constituents from bearing the full burden of these costs.

Corporations like Exxon and Suncor are reckless partners that regularly step out of line. And like any partner that destroys your health and your home while gaslighting you and making you foot its expenses, often one’s best recourse is to take them to court to make them pay for the costs of their actions.

That’s why Boulder County, San Miguel County and the City of Boulder and their constituents are demanding climate justice. 


Elise Jones is a Boulder County Commissioner. Sam Weaver is Mayor of Boulder. Hilary Cooper is a San Miguel County Commissioner.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

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