Denverites want clean, healthy air. We love seeing our iconic mountains glistening above the city. We love the four-season climate that draws us outdoors throughout the year. But in recent years, that’s not what Denverites have been getting. Instead, the “brown cloud” has returned.
The simple act of breathing is unhealthy for too many, too often. And the dirty air that they see comes from the same polluting sources as the climate-changing greenhouse gases that they can’t see. Greenhouse gases may be invisible and odorless, but Denverites can and do see the climate harms they cause – excessive summertime heat, nearby forest fires, increasing drought and periodic extreme weather events such as flooding.
Air pollution is a regional problem; climate change is an international problem. Denver can’t solve them by itself. But Denver can establish a track record of leadership in both areas and use that leadership to build alliances with other communities near and far to produce solutions at the necessary scale.
Leslie will strive to ensure Denver is a top-performing climate city in the nation, and meets its science-based targets of 65% carbon pollution reductions by 2030 and 100% by 2040.
Leslie’s work has always been, and will continue to be, rooted in equity and justice. Climate change causes the greatest harm to the most vulnerable among us, who have contributed the least to causing that harm. We must prioritize protecting vulnerable neighborhoods until we get these problems solved, and Leslie will center all sustainability and climate programs around equity. As we expand electrification across the city, Denver will see an abundance of new jobs created. Leslie will focus workforce development around those communities most impacted by climate change to begin righting the social wrongs caused by climate change.
The cornerstone of any city’s climate program is its relationship with its investor-owned utility. In Denver, Xcel Energy distributes all electricity and gas. Xcel is subject to substantial state regulation, but Denver has an important role to play. The city’s franchise agreement with Xcel will be up for renewal during our next mayor’s term. Leslie will use negotiation of the next franchise agreement to obtain stronger commitments from Xcel to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for low-income residents, accelerated conversion of buildings from gas to electric and greater equity in the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Leslie will also pursue these same objectives through active participation in the state public utilities commission proceeding involving Xcel, and through promoting partnership between the city, Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC), Energy Resource Center (ERC), and Xcel.
Xcel must act more quickly to allow and assist homes with solar to make grid connections and sell power back, and should help fund and facilitate housing retrofits more than they currently do. Denverites deserve a utility company that is committed to keeping energy bills low and expanding Denver’s efforts to be the greenest city in America.
How we heat and cool our buildings is a major contributor both to conventional air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing those emissions will require a combination of increased building energy efficiency and transitioning off of natural gas for heating and cooling. Electricity will be more renewable every year, so the faster we move from natural gas to electricity for heating our buildings and their water, the faster we can bring down air pollution and greenhouse gases. But all buildings are not created equal. Some can move from gas to electricity much faster than others. Denver already has a robust plan for electrification of buildings that recognizes the differences among building types and schedules transitions accordingly. Leslie will put a priority on implementing and strengthening it, as well as ensuring that disproportionately-impacted communities benefit from electrified buildings.
Denver is currently behind other leading cities that have implemented all-electric building codes, but we will catch up and even bypass other cities under Leslie’s leadership. Incentivizing insulation and air sealing is also one of the best ways to make net zero emissions buildings possible, and is the fastest way to lower energy bills immediately. Leslie will ensure that Denver’s incentives are strong and accessible so that everyone in Denver can reduce their carbon footprint and save money in the process.
See Leslie’s strategies for providing more affordable mobility options, reducing congestion and improving safety in her transportation plan. A key component of mobility relating to air pollution and climate change is the type of fuel used to get around by those who aren’t walking or biking. Electricity is cleaner than gasoline, and the “cleanliness gap” between them is increasing every year. Leslie will work to move all forms of motored mobility from gas-powered to electric-powered as soon as possible. The federal and state governments are already providing multiple incentives to make this happen, including the development of a robust, expanding charger network, and Leslie will work to ensure that Denver applies for and wins federal and state grants focused on electric vehicles.
Leslie will focus on creative use of the city’s parking rules and charges to provide additional incentives for electric vehicles. To the extent there are city incentives for electric vehicle purchases, Leslie will prioritize making them income-restricted so that low-income residents get a seat at the electric vehicle table. Leslie will also work with the auto repair industry in Denver to help transition workers to the repair needs of a more electrified vehicle mix, and with the mobility-for-hire industry (e.g. Uber, Lyft, taxi companies) to increase the percentage of their vehicles in service that are electric.
Leslie will promote resilient and sustainable communities by investing in more public transportation for Denver and addressing issues like transit-oriented development, providing more options for people to live closer to work and services, and access to affordable housing while preventing gentrification and displacement. (For more on Leslie’s transportation and mobility plan, click here)
Rapid climate change does the most harm to the people who contributed least to the problem. Therefore the city’s expenditures to bolster its resilience should prioritize the neighborhoods where those people live and are likely to live in the coming decades. These include flood control programs, cooling centers, tree planting and other green infrastructure programs and resident training for sudden climate-related emergencies. The city should develop “resilience hubs” - neighborhood facilities where residents can obtain relief in such emergencies. Those hubs should be designed for maximum flexibility, so that they can provide year-round benefits to these neighborhoods when there is no immediate climate threat or disaster (which is most of the time). Finally, the city should assess its supply chains for the critical resources – food, water, energy, medicine – that vulnerable communities will need the most but afford the least when disasters hit. Plans for maintaining those supply chains must be developed and maintained long before the disasters happen.
Leslie will prioritize investments in and policies for communities that continue to face environmental racism and injustice and fulfill the city ordinance that states that Denver “should, over the long term, endeavor to invest 50% of dedicated funds directly in the community with a strong lens toward equity, race and social justice.”
In 2023 Denver activated the “pay as you throw” program for solid waste first proposed in the city’s 2010 Solid Waste Master Plan. The city now charges residents for waste sent to the landfill while making it free to recycle and compost. The new program has significant room for improvement. As mayor, Leslie Herod will ensure that this program is operated efficiently and productively. But Leslie does not worry about waste only when it is headed for disposal. She envisions a circular economy that reduces our community’s demand for resources and extends the useful life of goods already produced before we ever get to thinking about throwing them out. She views repair services and second-hand stores as strategic industries in Denver that create good jobs while reducing waste headed towards disposal. She will pressure the General Assembly to enact broad “right to repair” legislation that makes it easier to attempt repairs on products without voiding their warranties. She will support legislation that prioritizes deconstruction over demolition. She will also organize community “repair fairs” to connect residents who want to repair their possessions rather than throw them away with businesses skilled in making those repairs. And she will explore ways to feature and incentivize second-hand stores in the city so that residents have more alternatives to buying new goods and throwing them away while they still have useful lives.
Denver’s city government has a big checkbook. It will spend billions during the next mayor’s term. Leslie always wants taxpayers to get the best deals available, but some of what makes purchases good is the good that those purchases can do for climate and the environment. As mayor she will develop a robust sustainable procurement policy that will use the power of the city’s purse to promote products that minimize waste and toxics and maximize energy savings. This will include efforts to phase out the city’s gas-powered landscaping equipment rapidly, accelerate electrification of its fleet, and reduce the carbon content of building materials used in city-funded construction projects. She will direct that work plans for city employees involved in purchasing provide explicit sustainable procurement goals while ensuring that these employees receive the training they need to enable them to meet these goals.
Leslie believes that city plans need to be in implementation, not sitting on shelves. She does not believe that the answer to unmet goals is to promulgate new, more ambitious goals without first addressing why the city fell short of its previous goals. In 2018, 2019 and 2020 the city was featured on the “A List” of top-performing climate action cities by the international organization CDP, but it has since fallen off that list – now behind cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Columbus and Phoenix. In its 2022 report to CDP, Denver did not even report its current progress towards many of its climate and energy goals. Denver is already far behind on meeting its goal to have 30% of light-duty vehicles be electric by 2030; a recent report said that 10% is more likely. Falling so far behind is not acceptable. Denver has one of the best-funded city climate programs in the country, but spending a lot does not guarantee succeeding a lot. As mayor, Leslie will insist on frequent, accurate and public assessments of the city’s progress on its climate and sustainability goals. She will direct a final accounting of Denver’s performance on its 2020 sustainability goals and a full assessment of whether Denver is or is not on track to meet its ambitious climate goals. If previous goals were missed and progress on future goals is not where it should be, she will analyze why these shortcomings have occurred and will adjust city strategies and tactics accordingly. Denver residents have been extremely generous in providing funding for city climate and sustainability programs. Leslie wants to ensure that they are getting the maximum return for their generosity.
As noted above, Denver cannot solve regional air pollution or international climate change alone. It needs allies, but it cannot ask more from its allies than what it is doing itself. Denver needs to be both a leader and a partner in the struggle against air pollution and rapid climate change. How we expand Denver’s role as an environmental and climate leader is described above. As mayor, Leslie Herod will leverage that leadership by reaching out to neighboring communities near and far, urging them to match our efforts step for step. In Colorado we will join with other communities to demand that the General Assembly give us the tools we need to succeed. We will do the same at the national and international levels. We can only reach the pollution and greenhouse gas reductions we need through robust alliances.
The Denver Climate Office has done amazing work already, and Denver can expand on and invest in this work. Leslie will work with the Office to get more heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, solar panels, and more installed across the city. She will also approach the Office’s efforts through an equity lens by putting a greater emphasis on multi-family properties, getting landlords to implement these upgrades for tenants, rather than focusing only on single-family homes.