Action plan on climate is all wet

The goal is clear. To fight global warming, Mayor John Hickenlooper would like Denver to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 4.4 million metric tons by the year 2020 – comparable to eliminating about a half a million cars.

The first step in achieving this objective was laid out in Denver’s Climate Action Plan two weeks ago.

And according to folks in the mayor’s office, it experienced significant blowback after Matt Drudge ran a link on his website revealing some of its more radical elements.

The proposal would, um, encourage Denverites to engage in environmentally friendly living by penalizing them for excessive use of electricity or natural gas. It would charge for extraordinary trash collecting and would base auto-insurance premiums on miles traveled.

The plan, in its present form, is about as unworkable as it is radical. Imagine the minutiae involved in figuring out these crimes against Mother Earth. Do we base electricity usage on house or number of residents in a house? What’s worse: miles driven or gas used? It’s a bureaucratic nightmare waiting to happen.

The mayor tells me that his office did not embrace all facets of the plan but welcomes the “discussion.”

“There are a lot of aspects that are worthy of conversation. But many of the ideas didn’t come from my office,” explains Hickenlooper. “And frankly, at some point you have to put certain ideas back in the too-complicated drawer.”

The mayor doesn’t subscribe to the “sky is falling” version of global-warming hysteria, but he believes the problem is serious enough that Denver must implement a plan.

He uses a reassuring word: “balance.”

After all, it’s not as if Denverites have acted recklessly. According to a city inventory of planet-warming gases, residents, despite living more lavish lifestyles, do not add any more greenhouse gases in their everyday lives today than they did 15 years ago.

I can assure you that most people aren’t aware of this fact.

Another aspect of Denver’s Climate Action Plan that residents may not be aware of is the influence of big business.

FreedomWorks, a conservative group, argues that the plan “is compromised from the top.” The co-chairman of Denver’s Climate Action Plan task force is Benita Duran, an executive with the global firm CH2M Hill.

CH2M Hill is a Denver-based company that’s in the businesses of carbon-offset consulting and renewable-energy services, among other things. The company was the one of the largest PAC donors to Colorado politicians in 2005-06 (both parties benefiting), and it saw $4.5 billion in revenues last year.

“The Climate Action Plan appears compromised by well-connected insiders and political donors who could directly benefit from these new regulations,” said FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe. “Rather than helping the environment, the Climate Action Plan appears to be more about enriching a corporate donor at the expense of the average Denver resident.”

Hickenlooper doesn’t see it that way. “We’re in a discussion phase right now, not policymaking stage,” he says. “Bringing in the private sector is the best way to deal with this.”

That may be true. But the eagerness of many voters to sign on to any plan that includes the word “green” requires extra vigilance.

For some, “environmentalism” means metric tons of cash. And, though I’m all for capitalism, I’m not sure we need CH2M Hill writing city policy.

The mayor seems to understand the need to balance the environment and economy.

“If we first look at the ideas that are revenue neutral rather than the ones with large expense attached,” Hickenlooper says, “the worst-case scenario (is) we have cleaner air and less dependence on foreign oil.”

The first draft of Denver’s Climate Action Plan certainly failed to weigh those concerns. Perhaps the next plan will be more productive.