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  • Dylan Anderson

There are 41 Climate Action Plan recommendations. Which are easiest to do? Which are most impactful?

Experts who helped craft the recommendations share which they feel will be the simplest to accomplish and which will do the most to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

More than half — 54% — of Routt County’s Carbon Emissions come from buildings. Another 26% comes from transportation, according to a 2018 Greenhouse Gas Emissions study conducted by Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

That study showed about 37% of all of Routt County’s carbon emissions come from within the city of Steamboat Springs. About 62% of all emissions come from what is referred to as stationary energy, which includes electricity use, burning fuels like natural gas, propane and wood and the release of gasses through mining and other extraction industries.

If not mitigated, climate change could lead to several significant impacts that could change the way of life in the Yampa Valley. Colorado is projected to experience an increase in average temperature by 3.5 degrees to 6.5 degrees by 2050, which could reduce snowpack, increase wildfire risk and lead to a near-constant state of drought. Warmer temperatures can also lead to faster melting of the snowpack, increasing flooding risk and limiting water availability throughout the year.

The greenhouse gas study and the impacts that could stem from doing nothing have been a significant catalyst for the Routt County Climate Action Plan, which was adopted by each municipality and Routt County itself in 2021. After thousands of hours and several years of drafting, the collaborative board set up to implement the plan now has 41 implementation recommendations.

Those recommendations, introduced at an event at Colorado Mountain College last week, provide a roadmap for how Routt County can work toward meeting goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030 and 74% by 2050.

“The state of Colorado has even higher science-based climate targets,” said Steamboat Springs Council member Gail Garey, who serves as the chair of the collaborative board behind the recommendations. “We believe that the Routt County goals are achievable and necessary to do our part.”

The 41 recommendations represent actionable steps that can be taken — largely by local governments — to reduce emissions locally, but some will be harder to accomplish than others. Some are currently in the works and others could require significant community buy in to be implemented.

Here’s what representatives from each of the five sectors say will be the easiest recommendation to implement and which one will have the most impact:


The easiest of the recommendations from the energy group would be to update local building codes and adopt local planning and zoning regulations that limit outdoor energy uses, said the sustainability council’s Energy and Transportation Director Paul Bony. These codes come from national codebooks and then are then adapted for local use. The updated codes have already gone through an extensive drafting process and will be considered for approval in various jurisdictions later this year.

“All it takes is a vote of the governments,” Bony said. “And it’s probably the second most impactful.”

The most impactful energy recommendation would be to implement an energy and carbon reduction program targeting high-use buildings throughout Routt County. Bony said this would essentially be an inventory of all commercial buildings (including multi-family housing) to find which buildings are the most inefficient.

This is probably one of the hardest recommendations to implement because it requires each building to have a custom analysis and will involve partnering with private building owners, Bony said.

“We inventory every building and we rank them on their BTU per square foot and we go after the old dogs and fix them,” Bony said. “We find out who is the worst because there are national standards. … The big buildings are probably where the bulk of the energy savings and consequential carbon savings can come from, with buildings being the biggest carbon source in the valley.”


Bony said the most accomplishable recommendation for transportation would be to implement a voluntary carbon offset plan for the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, mainly because this is something that several airlines are already working on.

“They’ve actually already started that process,” Bony said.

Steamboat Springs Transportation Manager Jonathan Flint said the transportation recommendation that could have the most impact is to pursue alternative funding for the city’s transportation program and increase levels of transit service by 25%. This recommendation is different from another that pushes for the creation of a Regional Transportation Authority be proposed to voters, as this would largely apply to transportation between municipalities.

This recommendation faces an uphill battle as the city of Steamboat has needed to curb service in recent years as the cost to offer transit has increased. Potential dedicated funding sources that have been mentioned for transit would be paid parking and a lift ticket tax of some sort.

We carry a million passengers a year,” Flint said. “If we could increase by 25%, that’s 250,000 people, 250,000 trips. If we could remove 250,000 trips off of the local roadways or even the regional roadways, I think that would make a pretty big difference.”


Winn Cowman, the sustainability council’s waste diversion director, said there are several ordinances that would be relatively simple to implement in theory, but that the most attainable recommendation would be to establish a community recycling center. This has been discussed prior to the release of recommendations and Routt County and Steamboat Springs have already partnered on a feasibility study for the project.

“It’s been talked about already… and they both agreed we need this and we should have had this a long time ago,” Cowman said.

As for the most impactful recommendation, Cowman pointed to the one encouraging municipalities to support compost programs. This is because when looking solely at the waste sector, all greenhouse gas emissions come from landfills and the highest emitting type of trash is organics.

Not recycling is also a significant greenhouse gas emitter, Cowman said, but because there isn’t much recycling processing locally, it isn’t the sector that can have the greatest impact. As organics composting could be done in the valley and the resulting compost used in the valley, putting these programs in place could have a significant impact.

“We have a landfill here emitting gasses, so if we got the organics out of that landfill, that number would go way down,” Cowman said.

Land Use:

When looking at the Land Use recommendations, Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for Routt County CSU Extension, said most of them are not significant changes from what is happening now, rather they are more about refining current practices to be more climate minded.

Some of these recommendations include securing funding to develop projects to support climate-smart ag practices, increasing capacity for tree planting and increasing area for wildfire mitigation projects.

“How can we refine and improve upon some of our old agriculture practices,” Hagenbuch said. “There’s nothing that is going to blow you away when you look at land use, but what can we do a little better.”

As for the most impactful recommendation, Hagenbuch pointed to restoring and improving wetland and riparian areas using low-tech restoration techniques. Improving river health can help bring down the temperature of the Yampa River and improve the health of wildlife in and around the river.

“We’ve got pretty healthy riparian areas in general, but what can we really hone in on to have kind of a multiple-layer benefit?” Hagenbuch said.


John Bristol, executive director of the Routt County Economic Development Partnership, said the easiest recommendation to implement should be developing and expanding buy local programs and promoting businesses that use low-emission production and transportation practices. This is potentially some of the easiest because it is already in the works to an extent, Bristol said.

“When you are thinking about the transportation costs and the movement and shipment of goods and services too, buying local you can limit that,” Bristol said.

As for the most impact, Bristol said it would be to expand and grow the Colorado Green Business Network of the Yampa Valley program, which can help individual businesses understand the return on investment of being more climate-smart.

This is similar to another recommendation that would incentivize green purchasing programs, but expanding the green business network could potentially impact all businesses, Bristol said.

“As a business, what is the benefit, what is the ROI to make these changes in my operation,” Bristol said. “What is the short-term ROI within a year, what does this look like in five years of 10 years? That’s where you start to get more scale out of it.”

Top Photo Caption: Steamboat Springs as seen from Emerald Mountain. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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