Schwartz, Tipton square off in Club 20 debate | PostIndependent.com

Schwartz, Tipton square off in Club 20 debate

GRAND JUNCTION — Third District Congressman Scott Tipton's position on disputed gas leases in the Thompson Divide area near Glenwood Springs sparked a spirited exchange between the Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger Gail Schwartz during Saturday's Club 20 debate.

"You have the counties of Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Delta working for five and a half years to attempt to … protect the Thompson Divide, but your solution was not the solution that your community brought before you," Schwartz said during the cross-examination portion of the debate.

"Your solution in fact was a starting point for your largest donor, a gas firm out of the state of Texas, that was not about solving the communities' problems, but was really about protecting their financial interests," Schwartz said of a proposed lease exchange put forward by energy companies including Houston-based SG Interests and backed by Tipton.

Principals of the company have been among Tipton's campaign supporters.

"How did that fundraiser in California with Nancy Pelosi go?" Tipton countered, referencing support by national Democrats for Schwartz's bid to unseat the three-term U.S. representative.

"If you want to be able to find a solution to these things you have to put an idea on the table," Tipton said of his bill proposal to swap leases in the Divide area for new ones farther west on National Forest lands.

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The BLM has since announced its expected final decision to cancel 25 previously issued Thompson Divide leases outright, in keeping with a new U.S. Forest Service plan that excludes the remote, mostly roadless area from new leasing for the next two decades.

Tipton called the lease exchange idea a "win-win" because it would have removed the controversial leases but protected the lease holders' interests by giving them new ones closer to existing natural gas activity.

"You may favor win-lose, but I favor win-win," Tipton also said in reference to Schwartz's support for the Colorado Clean Power Plan during her two terms representing Colorado's Senate District 5.

Tipton said the renewable energy standards contained in that legislation have been a net job killer for western Colorado coal and natural gas jobs.

During the debate, Schwartz, the former state senator who relocated from Snowmass Village to Crested Butte, touted her ability to work across party lines, calling Tipton part of the Washington gridlock problem.

Tipton, in turn, hammered on Schwartz for efforts he said have not been friendly to Colorado energy jobs.

The debate also hit on issues ranging from health care and repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to preserving Social Security funding, immigration reform and energy policy.

Tipton asked Schwartz to apologize to the families of coal miners who have lost their jobs due to what he called government overreach in setting renewable energy standards for the state.

Tipton accused Schwartz and other supporters of the measure of "picking winners and losers" when it comes to energy jobs.

Schwartz countered that the clean power legislation had bipartisan support, and that international market forces, poor business practices by multinational companies and low prices are more to blame for the loss of fossil fuel-related jobs.

Both candidates said they support the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, as a way to open markets for natural gas produced in Colorado and other Western states.

Tipton appreciated that, but accused Schwartz of being "silent" when it came to the controversial Keystone pipeline project.

Both also said they believe the H2A worker visa program needs to be fixed in order to provide a reliable stream of immigrant labor for agricultural operations.

"We do need to make sure we are going down a path toward immigration reform, securing our borders, yes, but taking people out of the shadows who are contributing," Schwartz said.

"No matter where you on the issue of immigration, the system is broken," Tipton said.

Both also said Social Security must be preserved for today's senior citizens who rely on it, but the future of the program remains uncertain given the nation's debt, Tipton said.

"We need some innovative ideas … but there also has to be fiscal responsibility," he said.

Schwartz said she will stand to improve and protect Social Security as well as Medicare for seniors.

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