Opinion | Bruce Butler: The high cost of living center

Mark Twain said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In true humorist tradition, he was aware that ideologues, political parties, public interest groups, salesman and attorneys are masters at twisting otherwise sound facts and data to support their arguments, in order to sway public opinion and policy and bolster their preconceived conclusions. One of the foremost local manipulators of statistics to support desired policy outcomes is the quasi-governmental High County Conservation Center.  If High County Conservation Center were to achieve their stated policy outcomes, they should be more appropriately named the “High Cost of Living Center.”

For the record, I have no doubt our climate is in an ever-evolving state of change. We live on a diverse planet in a dynamic universe that has forces at work that we have yet to discover, let alone understand, so climate changes are a given. However, I am skeptical of many studies and statistics that are quoted and manipulated to support specific policy outcomes under the guise of climate science. In short, there is a lot of political science in popular climate science, and I very much doubt that charging Summit County residents more for their garbage cans, eliminating natural gas stoves, mandating heat pumps, and forcing people to buy electric cars will have much of an impact on the earth’s climate — especially when major polluting countries like India and China have little or no interest in curbing their carbon emissions or any other substantive environmental conservation initiatives.

Two weeks ago, High County Conservation Center officials told the Summit Board of County Commissioners that Summit County ranked third highest for greenhouse gas emissions per person among a sampling of 10 localities in Colorado. Does anybody really believe that Summit County’s air quality is worse than Denver’s? Even if we were to accept that conclusion on face value, High County Conservation Center admits that having an interstate highway and thousands of visitors on a weekly basis skews the data, but its remedy is to double-down on the Summit County Climate Action Plan, which calls for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Summit County Climate Action Plan is based upon a report devised by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization in 2021 that is loaded with non sequitur statistics and equivocal statements. The Summit County Action Plan is mostly platitudes and light on details, and, as I recall from the focus group I participated in, the purpose was to set up a pretext for new regulations and new tax ballot measure.

Where the Climate Action Plan does specify new rules and regulations, the costs will be considerable, and the logistics are often unworkable. Some examples out of the Action Plan that are working their way through county government right now are requiring new construction to include space for recycling and food scrap collection, new laws to require recycling at construction sites, subsidizing deconstruction and reuse instead of demolition in remodeling projects and creating local markets and infrastructure for recycling used asphalt and concrete. While these ideas may sound easy or popular, the better question in an already high cost of living area is: at what cost?

Under the proposed new rules, all new construction, remodels, and demolition projects will be required to submit Materials Management Plans. Job sites will have to accommodate trash, wood scrap recycling, cardboard recycling, concrete recycling, and presumably hire a dedicated recycling czar to enforce compliance. Some of the jurisdictions that have been used to model these concepts ironically have very high construction costs that make homes out of reach for lower income and ever-shrinking middle class residents. 

I suspect most of you have not been on a job site recently, but it is a challenge to get trash, food waste, and scrap materials into a dumpster, period, let alone source-separated and into a myriad of containers. There are cultural and language barriers to overcome along with the sheer logistical impossibilities. I have always thought that it would be a lot easier to repair automobiles if automotive engineers had to work as mechanics for two years before they designed cars. The conservation center workers need to get out from behind their desks and work on a construction site before they force more new — and costly — rules on the industry.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.