The office’s advisory council released the Denver Climate Action Plan, which included the goal of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. At the same time, then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter released the statewide Climate Action Plan, with somewhat different mileposts: setting a goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Then-Greenprint Denver director Michele Weingarden told Architect Magazine that the MIle High City achieved its goals three years ahead of schedule. It’s among several environmental successes Hickenlooper now points to from his time as mayor. Others include the launch of what was then the nation’s largest bike-sharing program, the expansion of the city’s green fleet of alternative fuel vehicles, voter approval of the Regional Transportation District’s transit expansion program known as FasTracks, the city’s switch over to a single-stream recycling process and the construction of solar arrays at locations like Denver International Airport and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Hickenlooper’s Greenprint Denver included the Mile High Million tree initiative, with the goal of planting 1 million trees throughout the metro region by 2025 to sequester carbon, improve environmental health and lessen energy needs by providing shade. It was supported with a five-year, $1 million grant from Suncor Energy. But the money ran out and the initiative ended in 2013 with only 250,000 to 500,000 new trees planted. The Denver Post reports current Denver mayor Michael Hancock decided to focus on maintaining the city’s more than 2 million trees instead of planting more around the region.
A Mixed Record As Governor
As Hickenlooper started his run for governor in 2010, he appeared to back away from his earlier urgency around climate change. As reported by The Denver Post, Hickenlooper told mining executives attending the National Western Mining Conference & Exhibition that, “I don’t think the scientific community has decided with certainty that climate change is as catastrophic as so many people think.”
“WTF?” tweeted Beth Conover, the architect of Greenprint Denver and a policy advisor to Hickenlooper when he was mayor, in response to the story. In response to her tweet, Hickenlooper told the Post that “People are very passionate about this on both sides of the issue… Somehow I generally manage to get both sides upset.”
Later that year, he spoke at the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s annual meeting and said, “I get in trouble every time I say this, but I’m not 100 percent absolutely sure that climate change is occurring at the rate that some people fear it is and is going to be as catastrophic,” as reported by Grist.
Oil and gas production boomed in Colorado during Hickenlooper’s eight years as governor, which had less to do with Hickenlooper than with the deployment of new technology. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing opened up oil and gas deposits across the state previously thought to be tapped out or inaccessible.
Hickenlooper’s record on oil and gas from this period is mixed, as he tried to balance environmental priorities with economic development and private property rights.
On one hand, his administration added and strengthened regulations to protect health and the environment. The state’s ground-breaking methane rules — the first of their kind in the nation — are a prime example. His regulatory agencies also rolled out a litany of other smaller measures, often leading to grumbling among operators.
However, Hickenlooper also stood against the environmental groups that wanted to slow or stop the boom in oil and gas development. At a time when some Front Range communities demanded more control over drilling within their borders, Hickenlooper threatened to sue any city or town that banned fracking outright.
“We can’t find examples in Colorado, or more than one or two examples, where fracking, in any sense, has caused harm or been sufficiently dangerous to the public to justify us to ban it,” he said in 2015.
And while Hickenlooper did create a commission to find ways to give local governments more say over drilling projects, its work was criticized by some of its own members as falling short. That commission was the result of a compromise he engineered in 2014 to keep a fracking ban off the ballot. In 2018, he opposed a similar measure that failed. Those positions earned him the nickname “Frackenlooper” by some in the environmental movement.
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