Guest opinion: Trump budget threatens Colorado economy
The Rocky Mountains are iconic to the state, core to Colorado’s identity. The mountains, and the national forests and public lands that blanket them, teem with wildlife, replenish watersheds that quench the nation, and provide some of the best hunting, fishing and recreation in the world.
Colorado depends on these public lands, for the wildlife habitat they provide, for the watersheds they protect and for the economic, recreational and community uses they offer. Public lands drive tourism, attract business and bring in revenue. They contain the source areas and rivers that allow us to irrigate our pastures and crops, and that bring water to our towns and cities.
Unfortunately, the proposed Trump budget threatens the health of our public lands and their ability to support healthy wildlife, provide clean water, and offer unsurpassed recreation and hunting opportunities. The Trump budget goes after the Environmental Protection Agency with a vengeance. And that’s bad news for Colorado.
As Colorado towns put out the orange to welcome hunters, the success of the season depends on healthy public lands. Few things threaten our public lands and water supplies more than climate change — bringing drying forests, increased pestilence and wildfire, and changes in snowpack and seasons. Trout streams are at risk from climate change, as are snowpack and snow sports.
Even picturesque wildflowers are at risk, as is the colorful Colorado fall. And although the EPA has an obligation to address pollution driving climate change, it disappears as any sort of priority for the agency in the Trump budget.
But the EPA cuts don’t stop with climate change. Colorado’s extractive legacy has left thousands of abandoned mines in the high country, calamities waiting to happen. We don’t need to speculate what such a disaster might entail, with the recent example of the Gold King mine that fouled the Animas. But it’s not just Gold King. More than 200 more mines are identified by state officials as leaching heavy metals. By the EPA’s own calculations, some 40 percent of the West’s headwaters are imperiled by this type of contamination. These sites need to be remediated now. Instead, the anti-EPA budget doubles down on the previous policy of neglect, slashing remediation funds by 30 percent.
Finally, environmental restoration and protection creates jobs. Cleaning up toxic sites, deploying technology to capture methane escaping from oil and gas operations, taking smart steps to lessen our contributions to climate change — these actions not only pay in improved public health and environmental dividends but make economic sense as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics good-paying remediation careers in environmental engineering are likely to be the among the most in demand for the next decade and beyond.
The work the EPA does is vital for Colorado. Clean air, clean water, healthy public lands, a livable climate: these are the very things that the EPA is obligated to protect. Our clean environment is too important. Simply put, investment in a clean future is a triple-bottom-line win — good for people, good for the environment and good for the balance sheet.
Colorado deserves better than purposeful neglect, and it is now up to our senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and their congressional colleagues. The Senate should send the Trump budget back, and vote for a clean bill — without anti-environmental riders or anti-democratic shenanigans. The Senate should vote to fully fund the Environmental Protection Agency. Call your senators and ask that they do so. The future is looking back on us and holding us accountable — the time to act is now.
Pete Kolbenschlag works as a consultant on conservation, climate and public lands issues from Paonia.
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