This month we are excited to honor Leslie Weise, a long-time 350CO Board Member, and a fierce advocate for climate justice for many decades. From improving her former community in Colorado Springs to now being a force for change in Boulder County where she has helped to enact the strongest fracking regulations in the state, Leslie is always there to offer her strategic mind, her passion and her expertise.
In this special edition of ‘Climate Hero of the Month,’ we honor Leslie’s long service as a board member with 350 Colorado, where she has served multiple roles over the years including Board Secretary and 350 Colorado Springs Team Leader and co-founder.

Leslie Weise

“Leslie has over and over again been a fierce and tireless advocate in working for climate justice on so many fronts,” says Deb McNamara, Development & Communications Director at 350CO. “She is one of the most dedicated and inspiring activists we have had the honor to work with. She was the winner of The Colorado Independent’s 2017 Whistleblower Award – and is a tireless advocate for transparency and accountability. We look forward to the many ways we will collaborate in the future and will continue to benefit from her keen insight as one of our advisors.”

“Leslie’s tireless dedication in the face of huge adversity and even personal attacks is truly an inspiration. Thanks to her steadfast work to protect her son and everyone else forced to breathe the polluted air from the Martin Drake Coal Plant, and her determination and ability to inspire others to take action, the plant was closed many years ahead of schedule. Wins in the environmental movement are too few and far between, and Leslie and the 350 CO Springs team gave us a win to truly celebrate. I know Leslie sacrificed a lot to bring us this win, and I’m so grateful to her for her leadership and also her work for years on our board, sharing her knowledge and expertise to help our organization flourish! We’re lucky to have her continuing to serve on our Advisory Board!” – Micah Parkin, 350CO Executive Director.

Leslie’s path to being a Board member of 350 Colorado started in Silicon Valley in the 1990s where she worked as a technology lawyer in the computer industry. After 10 years, she left to pursue a Master of Law degree in environmental law and policy at University of Denver, motivated by George W Bush after he abruptly withdrew the US from the Kyoto Protocol as one of his first acts of his presidency.  She realized that we cannot rely on our politicians to do the right thing on climate.

“I am part of 350 Colorado because I believe it is among the most impactful organizations dealing with our climate crisis.” – Leslie Weise

After moving to Colorado, ‘good trouble’ seemed to find Leslie, and she embraced it when it did.  In 2007, Leslie and two friends were instructed by officials to leave a public, taxpayer funded visit by Bush in Denver for reasons unknown to them that day, but later were to discover that it was because of the bumper sticker that was on Leslie’s car that stated “No More Blood For Oil”, selected by her in rebuke to Bush’s phony WMD reasons for invading Iraq.  A clear First Amendment violation, the ACLU lawsuit that was filed on their behalf caused Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to issue a response to a request for Supreme Court review that said “I cannot see how reasonable public officials, or any staff or volunteers under their direction, could have viewed the bumper sticker as a permissible reason for depriving Weise and Young of access to the event.”  Leslie never imagined that the statement of her $4 bumper sticker purchase, (nor likely did those who threw her out of the event in order to stifle her speech), would be read in media articles published all over the world – serving to further educate people that the reasons given by our government to justify invading Iraq were false, but were instead mostly about US interests in oil.

(Photo: Colorado Independent, Leslie Weise wins Whistleblower Award)

Ten years later, more ‘good trouble’ found Leslie while she and a dedicated community group in Colorado Springs were trying to seek transparency about the pollution that was being emitted on the city of over 500,000 residents from the downtown Martin Drake coal-fired power plant.  An air quality study that the City had commissioned using taxpayer funds had been accidentally given to her, despite the City’s prior significant efforts to keep it secret.  When Leslie confirmed her suspicions about the obvious reasons the city officials had been so vigorously guarding the report (it turns out the coal plant was not as free from harmful pollution as the City of Co Springs had been making efforts to have the public believe it was), she shared information about it with the media as a matter of significant public interest – as she felt it was the public’s right to know what harmful pollutants they were being exposed.  The City Attorney aggressively retaliated to Leslie’s whistleblowing by attempting to sanction Leslie’s law licenses, however the effort failed to convince either the New York or California Bars that any wrongdoing had occurred.  

During the community group’s efforts in Colorado Springs regarding the coal plant’s pollution, Leslie helped a committed environmental activist, Laura van der Pol, to start a Co Springs chapter of 350 Colorado, and so it began.  The Co Springs chapter was able to organize events surrounding the coal plant so that the City quickly realized it was dealing with a real force of opposition in search of truth.  Typically, at least a dozen or so people showed up at every Utilities Board meeting to give testimony in support of more transparency about the pollution from the plant, and to push for the plant to be decommissioned.  Later, this chapter was handed off to and enthusiastically led by Amy Gray. 

The work of the strong community group of dedicated activists that Leslie was a part of attracted a lot of support, including from the Colorado Springs and Denver media who realized the issue was worthy of public attention, from legal support by Robert Ukeile, from the Sierra Club, and consistently from the local and statewide support by 350CO.  These efforts resulted in the Martin Drake coal plant being decommissioned this year, at least 13 years earlier than the previous earliest date ever stated by the Utility that it might be shut down.

Public education and pressure, enabled by such dedicated people and largely organized by 350 Colorado Springs, was the catalyst that caused a coal plant to be shut down and lots of pollution and GHG emissions avoided!   

The legal and open records battles Leslie was engaged were quite stressful and resource draining – but 350 Colorado was there in support of Leslie every step of the way.  350 Colorado leadership and volunteers provided fundraising support, pushed petitions, rallies, information to support residents who wished to speak at City Council hearings, and more!  Being so supported by 350 Colorado made all the difference to Leslie in her journey in Colorado Springs, and the successful outcome in the coal plant’s decommission.  Leslie’s participation on the 350 CO Board for over 5 years was important for her to volunteer to help the organization grow and become even more impactful – which she is very content to know that it has done so successfully.  Leslie will continue to serve as an Advisor to the Board, and will continue to support the growth and impact of the organization.  

Leslie hopes that everyone will continue to speak out about climate change, engage more people to be active, and embrace “good trouble” when it confronts them – you can only imagine the results you will get when you do!