Senate D8 hopefuls spar over climate, economy
Politics around climate change and its impact on northwest Colorado’s economy emerged as a key dividing point between the candidates running for state Senate District 8 at a Glenwood Springs debate Wednesday night.
It’s not a matter of one’s belief system; climate change is real and it is having an impact on everything from agriculture to the ski industry, Emily Tracy, a Breckenridge Democrat and instructor in Colorado Mountain College’s sustainability program, said during the Glenwood Springs Chamber Issue and Answers Forum held at City Hall.
“It’s something that has been well studied … and it’s already affecting when and how crops grow, when seeds are planted, and when water is flowing,” she said. “And it’s going to continue to affect us in many ways.
“Whatever role the state can play in figuring out how to approach that, certainly in the area of water, that’s something we should be doing,” Tracy said.
Tracy seeks to unseat first-term Republican state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a rancher from Hot Sulphur Springs, in the Nov. 8 election. The sprawling Senate District 8 includes the counties of Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit.
Baumgardner countered that efforts aimed at addressing climate change, especially as it relates to the energy industry, harm the region’s economy.
“I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say that I agree or disagree with the scientists on that,” Baumgardner said of the climate issue in general.
“But there’s a push in the state of Colorado to do away with certain types of industry, and that’s going to affect how northwest Colorado continues to survive,” he said.
Baumgardner observed that ski resorts have been opening earlier and staying open later, and that recent winters have been colder and longer.
He also criticized Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for his recent comments that Colorado might look at employing some aspects of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan that was blocked by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
“That would affect many jobs in Colorado, and many good-paying jobs here in northwest Colorado,” Baumgardner said. “I think climate change is something that some people take on as a genre of, ‘We need to change things.’
“I’m not sure we always do need to change things,” Baumgardner said.
Tracy said the loss of energy jobs has more to do with the boom-bust nature of the industry than any attempts at climate change-related regulations.
“I’m not a scientist either, but we all rely on science every day of our lives,” she said. “A lot of really important work is being done and continues to be done. The data is out there and it’s growing that says this is real.”
The two also clashed over Baumgardner’s votes last legislative session to kill a bill that would have required better traction for vehicles traveling Interstate 70 in the winter, as well as one to kill a $300,000 study to offer assistance for veterans to train for and obtain jobs.
“The Department of Transportation did a study, and on a typical ski weekend whenever that highway is closed it results in $800,000 in costs,” Tracy said. “We have to find out how better to keep that highway open in those conditions.”
Baumgardner said his vote in the Senate Transportation Committee to defeat the traction bill shows he’s an “independent thinker” who’s willing to go against even those in his own party.
Traction laws are already in the state statutes, and there was no reason to duplicate that, he said.
When supporters of the bill questioned him, Baumgardner said he had a quick answer. “I told them, I guess the lobby can’t buy me, so I voted my conscience … and I voted not to reinstitute a law that’s already on the books.”
Regarding the veterans bill, Baumgardner said that measure also would have been redundant.
“It was a study to look at a program that the federal government already has in place,” he said in reaction to ads attacking him on the vote. “You only hear part of the story on these things. What about the other 45 veterans bills I voted for?”
Tracy said she’s tired of hearing “lip service” regarding veterans services.
“We’re so quick to send people off to war, but when they come home we tend to not want to face that,” she said.
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.