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EDITOR'S DESK: How PPACG does/doesn't support sustainability

       By Kenyon Jordan

        Dick Standaert's recent letter to the Westside Pioneer, which included his description of the region's sustainability plan as a “PPACG plan,” spurred a request for clarification from the regional agency.
       Jason Wilkinson, policy and communications manager for the PPACG (Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments), e-mailed the Pioneer about it. He asserted that it was “not a 'PPACG' plan,” and that “volunteers, professionals and community leaders from nearly 100 organizations donated thousands of hours” to create it.
       Having covered several PPACG meetings involving sustainability over the past several years, I initially questioned Wilkinson's stance. At the very least, PPACG's Board of Directors -- elected officials from the local governments -- have never stood in the way. They authorized staff time on the plan as part of the 2010 and 2011 PPACG work programs. They approved the release of a draft plan for public comment in 2011 (although never advocating that it go to a public vote). A PPACG web page even takes credit for “spearheading” the plan's development.
       In communicating back to Wilkinson, I also took issue with the part of his e-mail that stated “an independent organization, the Peak Alliance for a Sustainable Future (PASF), was formed to implement the plan and promote sustainability in the Pikes Peak region.” Here was my problem with that: The contact phone number on the PASF website belonged to a PPACG staff member.
       Wilkinson did not dispute most of my points. He further said that the staffer's contact information would be removed from the PASF website. But over the course of a few e-mail exchanges, he stuck to his guns on his main argument, and I finally had to concede that he is correct on this: The PPACG Board of Directors never voted for a final version of the regional sustainability plan. Thus, it's not technically a “PPACG plan.”
       Clever, yes? To one part of the public, the PPACG board members can boast of their support for the magic, environmentally conscious word, “sustainability,” but to skeptics wondering why they wasted their time, they can say by golly, there were nasty federal mandates and they never put their formal stamp of approval on it, anyway.
       But why wouldn't they want to? Here's the rosy definition of sustainability as defined in the draft plan: “acting in a manner that improves our quality of life by balancing economic vitality, a healthy vibrant community, and mindful stewardship of natural resources and the environment for current and future generations.”
       Sounds great, huh? Plus, the regional plan's goals include calls for using much more renewable fuel and much less fossil, using less energy as a whole, dumping less trash, riding mass transit more and personal vehicles less and (in case you were worried) having more fishable streams. The plan's goals also declare that out of changes like these would come such wonders as fewer people smoking or overeating, increased educational opportunities, a flourishing art scene and prosperity so profound that almost no one would be poor.
       If all that sounds too good to be true, then it starts to become clear why a majority of local elected officials might be leery of actually signing the document. It's one thing to say that saving the planet would lead the region to utopia, but quite another to have to admit you backed an expensive wish list in quest of that will-o'-the-wisp (not to mention slapped down innumerable regulations... but at least an official could point out that enhanced citizen freedom is not one of the regional sustainability goals.)
       Wilkinson is also right that the plan's development involved various members of the community -- although calling it grassroots would be a stretch. PPACG Director Rob MacDonald has spoken of "increasing federal requirements to address sustainability at the local level." Thus, the PPACG- procured federal grant money that funded much of the plan's development could be seen as a form of blackmail. Locally, the first sizable entity to have its own sustainability plan was Fort Carson, which of course got its marching orders from Washington, D.C. Local colleges, which love social causes, also got involved in the regional plan, along with green groups such as the Sierra Club and several businesses, some of which stand to gain financially from certain societal changes.
       But overall, it is evident that community participation was limited and, in one known case, even biased. At a December 2010 meeting of the local effort's "consensus committee," members expressed concern about getting only 188 responses to a public survey on sustainability goals. It also came out of the meeting that more than 60 percent of the respondents they did attract had heard about the survey from (wait for it) a regional sustainability conference!
       A current example of sustainability in action is the political pressure being put on coal-fired plants (as detailed in the Standaert letter). Setting aside the very real question of whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant worthy of such angst, the idea of using its reduction as a ploy to force power suppliers into far more expensive renewables will surely mean greater costs passed onto customers (and this could happen sooner than expected, based on the Drake decommissioning study's quasi-recommendations, probable City Council/Utility Board acquiescence and Colorado Springs Utilities' own green policies)... which by the way will do little to bolster the sustainability goal for less poverty.
       (This last reference, of course, excludes the Utilities CEO, who is slated for a major pay raise. Oops, is that a low blow?)
        As an aside, I won't be surprised if one or more elected officials from the region respond to this column with a sonorous rebuttal intended to lull you back to sleep (literally and figuratively) about how important PPACG, sustainability and they themselves are. Maybe they will even add explanations about why they are putting the same kind of social engineering into the regional transportation plan (examples include promoting infill, preserving endangered species, reducing greenhouse gases and ensuring that all benefits are “equitably distributed”).
       We've previously talked to City Councilwoman Jan Martin, a sustainability supporter, who emphasized that the plan is not meant to lead to “green police,” but to give people a chance to dream about a better future.
       Wilkinson reiterated that the plan “is not mandated.”
       Right. And at least we have the consolation that, if we're being taken for a ride, it will be on mass transit.

(Posted 3/3/14- Opinion: Editor's Desk)

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