By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver
(Superior, Colo.) People who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire used a Tuesday vigil in one of Boulder County’s destroyed neighborhoods to call on President Joe Biden and Governor Jared Polis to declare climate emergencies and stop the permitting process for new oil and gas developments.
The victims and environmental groups gathered in front of a vacant lot with charred trees where a home stood before the late-2021 fire, which killed one person and destroyed more than 1,000 houses and businesses.
Although wildfires commonly plague Colorado, experts say climate change has resulted in higher temperatures that worsen fire season. A wet spring also created more vegetation that turned into dried brush that fueled the state’s most destructive wildfire.
Susan Nedell, who lost her home when the blaze burned through nearby Louisville, said the Biden administration needs to go further than a new U.S. Senate compromise proposal on taxes, climate and healthcare, called the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation contains provisions for both the renewable and fossil fuel industries.
“I’m frustrated and heartbroken by the continued funding of the fossil fuel economy, and lackluster transition to a clean economy,” Nedell said in prepared remarks.
The Denver-based Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group says it is concerned about climate change but says natural gas – as compared to coal – is a critical element in combating it.
While it’s true that natural gas produces much less carbon dioxide than coal, oil and natural gas operations leak methane, which can cause climate warming in a similar amount as coal plants.
“Additional technology developments at the wellhead have aided in reduced methane emissions from the production of natural gas,” the industry association says.
Organizers of Tuesday’s vigil want Biden and Polis to declare climate emergencies and use their executive powers to stop new fossil fuel development and speed the transition to renewable energy.
“Stronger climate leadership is required at the state and national levels to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the most catastrophic impacts,” Micah Parkin, executive director of environmental group 350 Colorado, said in prepared remarks.
In a speech at a former coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts last month, Biden called climate change an emergency but stopped short of making an official declaration of that status.
Polis’s office, which didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, has previously pointed to the administration’s efforts toward total renewable energy in the state by 2040, with most its electricity on a path to emissions reductions by 2030.
Still, at the state and federal levels, oil and gas development continues in Colorado.
Last month, the Bureau of Land Management sold three parcels for oil and gas development in Colorado for $1.2 million, and state regulators approved Denver-based PDC Energy’s plan to develop 99 wells in Weld County.
At the vigil, fire victim Carol Guerrero-Murphy, 71, mourned losing the home she and her husband, David, 72, had rented nearby.
“We expected to end our days here,” she said. “Now we won’t be able to come back to Superior.”