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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Global Warming Suit

Air Date: Week of

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The city of Boulder, Colorado is taking legal action against the U.S. government. The crime: financing risky operations without assessing their environmental impact. Host Steve Curwood talks with Will Toor, the mayor of Boulder, about the city’s legal crusade.


The city of Boulder, Colorado has joined Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in an unusual legal crusade to curb global warming. They’re suing two governmental agencies--the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export/Import Bank of the United States. Will Toor is director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He’s also the city’s mayor.

Mr. Mayor, why is your city singling out these two agencies?

TOOR: Well, these two federal agencies over the last ten years have used $32 billion dollars of taxpayer money to invest in fossil fuel extraction projects in the Third World. And, if you look at what the greenhouse gas emissions will be over the lifetime of those projects, it will actually be greater than the annual emissions of the entire world.

CURWOOD: What’s the basis of this lawsuit?

TOOR: This is a lawsuit filed under the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of major actions. The OPIC and ExIm have not analyzed the impacts of their energy lending on global climate change, or what the likely impacts will be on the United States. So, this suit is not seeking monetary damages. Rather it’s trying to force the federal government to live up to their own environmental laws and analyze the impacts of their actions.

CURWOOD: How have these agencies injured the city of Boulder?

TOOR: I think that the issue that really gives us standing is the issue of our water supply. And that there are likely to be such significant impacts to the precipitation regimes in the Rocky Mountains. This year, we’re seeing the impacts of a three-hundred-year drought. We’re seeing water flows that haven’t been this slow since 1713. So, it gives people a very good illustration of the types of impacts that we would be likely to see with greater frequency under a warming regime.

CURWOOD: What’s Boulder done to reduce its own contribution to global warming?

TOOR: We adopted a resolution last spring committing us to meeting the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission targets. Some of the steps that we’ve taken to date include the adoption of a residential green building requirement. And as we’re updating our transportation plan, we are currently examining what we can do locally to create incentives for people to purchase cleaner vehicles. So, the idea there is, for instance, would we give preferred parking permits in the downtown area to people who have hybrid, electric or zero emission vehicles?

While there’s an awful lot happening in municipalities and in states right now to address global climate change, the federal government is, essentially, doing nothing. And as long as the government of the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world refuses to act on this, global climate change is a problem that cannot be solved.

CURWOOD: Will Toor is the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, and director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Thank you so much for taking this time, Mr. Mayor.

TOOR: You’re very welcome.



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