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Sunday February 18th 2018

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Macon Cowles, Lawyer, Candidate and Environmental Advocate


This is the first in a series of candidate profiles written by students in Instructor Jeff Browne’s CU News Corps course at CU-Boulder. Lars Gesing is a graduate student from Hamburg, Germany, where he worked for several print and online publications, including the daily regional newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.


Macon Cowles’ t-shirt carries a simple message: “Save the earth.”

“If you want to ruin the planet, you don’t have to do anything. We already have the perfect business model for that,” says Cowles. He is seeking yet another reelection after six years on the Boulder City Council.

The re-running candidate is passionate about banishing the demons of climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 is the essence of what Cowles preaches on this fall‘s campaign trail. “The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is the electricity that we use. That is why forming a municipal utility is so terribly important.”

For most of his time as an active City Council member, Cowles has been on the forefront of proponents in the heated electrical municipalization debate. “On the first day that this utility starts operating, we can drop our emissions by half and increase the share of energy we get from renewable resources from under 20 to over 50 percent.”

Leslie Glustrom, co-founder of the non-profit group Clean Energy Action, supports Cowles’ push in favor of a municipal utility: “It is not until we address the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—which is Xcel’s current electric generation mix—that we can even think about meeting the Kyoto Protocol and reducing our carbon emissions on a scale that begins to match the scale of the climate crisis.”

Cowles’ wife Regina, an Italian from the Bronx, doesn’t leave Macon’s side these days. Her support is not exclusively tied to marital obligations. Regina, a political consultant, also manages her husband’s campaign.

What makes the candidate Macon Cowles a good husband, then? Regina bursts with laughter. “I think every woman in Boulder should know that Macon makes great pies. And he cleans the floors.”

Switching back from being a grateful wife to being a campaign manager in reelection mode, she adds: “He deserves another term because of his experience as a City Council member and a lawyer, representing people who are in trouble.”

Lawyer Mark Harris has worked with Cowles on many legal cases. “In all the years, never once have I seen him switch to the negative when things go awry with a strategy or plan.”

Macon Cowles—the son of a former congregational minister and a social activist—and then-disc-jockey Regina met in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 1980. Three years later, the couple moved to Boulder, and ultimately to the Whittier neighborhood, where they own a house.

“This house was built in 1847, but we completely rebuilt it over the course of the last year.  It now qualifies for the highest level of energy efficiency,” says Cowles. He mentions this fact for good reason: “Fighting climate change is not just about how we generate electricity, but also about how we build our houses and what materials we use.”

Toto (from Facebook)

Toto—the family’s Terrier dog—rests his head on Cowles’ knee. “He abides by the open space rules,” Regina Cowles says, jokingly. The couple loves to recreate on hikes or during camping trips—especially in the winter, when the two of them and Toto board their Volkswagen Eurovan and travel south.

For now, no such trips are scheduled though. Macon Cowles wants to win (another) reelection.

Whittier, he proudly proclaims, serves as a “textbook example” for a 15-minute-neighborhood, a neighborhood “where people can reach everything they need within a 15-minute-walk.”

Former City Council member Steve Pomerance dismisses the idea of this type of neighborhood as “stupid.” He says there was a simple reason why the approach wouldn’t keep citizens out of their cars: “People don’t work where they live.”

Jonathan Dings, one of Cowles’ contenders in this fall’s election, is also among those who argue against a prioritization of the 15-minute-neighborhood on the campaign agenda. “The way I see it, things are evolving in the developed areas. The major changes should happen on land that is underdeveloped.”

Crystal Gray—another former City Council member—backs Cowles’ stance: “The goal of a 15-minute-neighborhood is not only good for reducing carbon emissions. It also builds the community when you connect with neighbors and local businesses along your walk.”

Customizing people to walk, bike or use public transportation propels the policies of the enthusiastic cyclist Macon Cowles. The retired lawyer is one of Mother Nature’s most passionate and profound advocates.

Because ultimately, his message is as simple as this: Save the earth.

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Reader Feedback

2 Responses to “Macon Cowles, Lawyer, Candidate and Environmental Advocate”

  1. Evan Ravitz says:

    I’d like to vote for Macon again, but as I’ve seen for 35 years in Boulder, power and ego make people act stupid. Macon -and Council member Lisa Morzel- as my fellow Boulder Community Alliance members, opposed the 1994 Transit Tax, which Steve Pomerance properly called the Big Bus Empire. Now they both support the same oversized-bus system, which both and and Steve have learned (I, back in 1994) are using MORE fuel and producing MORE CO2 than if all passengers drove alone!

    I’ve also learned, and Steve confirmed, that heavy vehicles, like Boulder’s 32,000 pound Orion buses, do so much more road damage than cars that pavement engineers usually don’t even include car damage in their calculations. A great deal of the Transportation Tax on the ballot this year is for repaving, which on the bus routes is MOSTLY necessitated by buses, which rut the roads in summer and pothole them in winter. This is a HUGE hidden cost of buses -AND a huge UNCOUNTED part of our carbon footprint. I’ve confirmed with fmr County Commissioner Will Toor that the County’s carbon calculation DOESN’T include “embodied energy” like that in roads, and neither does Boulder’s, or, for that matter, NY City’s. Macon’s assertion that NYC is very efficient is based on that huge omission. Can you imagine how much fossil fuel it took to bore hundreds of miles of subway and water tunnels thru the solid rock underlying NYC? Even NYC Mayor Bloomberg told Rachel Maddow that the City’s greatest asset, the subways, are becoming its biggest liability after being flooded by Hurricane Sandy.

    I called Macon 4 or 5 years ago and explained these things about buses. His response was, well, we better densify Boulder “to make transit work.” But we’d have to make Boulder about THREE times as dense as it is to do that with the current local buses! Does anyone want to live in a Boulder with buildings averaging SIX stories instead of two? Can you imagine the catastrophic traffic and pollution? Why should we live in a way to justify big buses instead of transport serving us??

    RTD justifies the oversized buses for several reasons:
    1. They’re needed at rush hours. Instead, they should have extra drivers driving extra, smaller buses JUST during rush hours, working hours like school bus drivers do. OR, Colorado could de-regulate enough to allow “jitneys” (privately-owned vehicles) to operate at those hours, to supplement smaller, “right-sized” RTD buses.
    2. Diesel buses are more durable. Well, there are 15-passenger vans (the “right size” for most Boulder local routes) with diesel, and even MERCEDES engines.
    3. One standard bus size means easier maintenance, scheduling, etc. Well, RTD uses bigger buses on regional routes than local routes. ONE more bus size isn’t the end of the world. 15-passenger diesel vans cost about 1/5 what the Orion buses do, and this, along with fuel savings, should vastly outweigh those problems:

    Beyond the hype, Boulder’s politicians have fallen for many planning fads over the years: cul-de-sacs in the ’50s and ’60s, traffic circles, medians, neckdowns and other narrowings (thru which bike lanes disappear)in the ’90s and big-city-size buses forever. (Note that Bend, OR copied out traffic circles and after HONEST evaluation, ripped them out. Boulder is a BAD example of transportation planning and this is proved by what the predicted “hockey-stick” increase in congestion which has already started at Baseline and Broadway, and Boulder’s fierce pollution -actually worse than LA’s during 10 days in the summer of 2012. That’s a huge accomplishment for a town 100 times smaller! It’s also getting so dangerous that many cyclists give up and drive.

    Macon is a smart man and excellent attorney. That doesn’t make him an energy expert or immune to the latest big shiny fad or big shiny imported “expert’s” resume and hype. I’m glad to see Macon’s become a daily cyclist. If he’s doing it not just in his Whittier neighborhood and West Boulder, he’s seeing for himself how dangerous and polluted much of the City is for cycling as transportation.

    So much for transportation. I’ll leave it at that.

  2. Evan Ravitz says:

    Actually, it’s not enough. I was floored to read in yesterday’s Camera that Macon said, “Congestion is the friend of alternate modes,” he said. “That’s a recognition that in congested corridors people are likely to choose another way to get around because driving becomes untenable.”

    This is the exact same wishful thinking that former Councilman Havlick said many times over 25 years, as congestion exploded and “alt modes” barely budged. Can’t these “leaders” see that congestion ALSO impedes buses and bikes and peds?

    This is insane. That’s it, I’m campaigning against Macon.

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