Climate Change: Its What’s for Dinner

Norman Rockwell painted a scene of a fictionalized Thanksgiving that still haunts hostesses and hosts to this day.

By now most people are aware that the history that brings us Thanksgiving is not all as sanguine as we may have been led to believe. The subtext of conquest is bitter to swallow for many.

And abundance itself can devolve to gluttony and greed – stampeding consumerism no longer contained to the immediate Black Friday aftermath even, but invading the holiday itself.

So don’t blame me for ruining the day to raise another issue we can fret over even as we count our blessings otherwise – and that is climate change. Specifically what that clear and present climate crisis means for the food system and food security.

As you slather butter on squash and pile high your pie, you might consider that food systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change.  At risk from drought and wildlife, floods and landslides, threatened by declining pollinators and expanding pests, burdened by crashing fisheries. Of the systems that sustain humanity, how we produce and find the food we eat may be the most in jeopardy.

The point with all this isn’t to ruin the feast but to provide a morsel to chew on as the tryptophan kicks in. And may there be many more days of too much deliciousness in your life. But if we care about feeding ourselves and each other we ought to care about climate change and what we can do about it.

Recently I helped convene a group of growers, food advocates, climate crusaders, and local heroes in a series of gatherings and events around local food security and climate change, as reported in High Country News and KVNF community radio.

Pete Kolbenschlag, the organizer of the Paonia panel discussion, knows that food security affects everyone. “If you care about what’s on your plate, and you care about feeding other people and the planet, then we need to care about climate change, because climate change is going to affect our food supply,” he says.

The purpose was to consider what climate change means for agriculture and rural communities on the Western Slope and how we could begin to work collaboratively to address it.

Generally western Colorado is vulnerable to increased periods of drought and extreme precipitation, a snowpack that melts earlier and warmer winters, with freezes into May likely to remain a fact on the elevated slopes on the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains.

Warm winters result in early blooms on fruit trees that are then at risk to late snow and spring frosts.

Accepting some problems such as increased incidences of early bloom coupled with late April freeze, which is a real problem for the fruit producers where I live for instance, will be part of living with a changing climate.

And climate change means several things more broadly for farming and food security in Colorado as well, including:

*Adapting our farming and food systems to a changing climate will be necessary: to create more climate resilience into the design, crop selection, and techniques; and to make wise water use and management, a top priority in all aspects of growing and producing food.

*Adopting better practices in agriculture and in food system, to reduce greenhouse gas contributions – from eating less meat to utilizing techniques that enhances local carbon capture.

*Accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources and more local power production in agricultural and food production.

Food security and the threats looming to it from climate change is an issue of global significance.  It also matters for us here at home.  And meeting the challenges that climate change poses for Colorado’s food system will take national and state commitment, as well as local action.

Homegrown approaches for rural communities and others that can help us adapt our food system to address climate change,  from sharing local clean energy capacity and installations (‘solar barn-raisings’) to expanding local food networks.

There is tangible value in gratitude. And for most of us there are things for which we are rightfully thankful. Considering these things helps cultivate a positive attitude.

We can be thankful we are removed from troubling global events we see, perhaps. We may be thankful we are not fleeing a war torn cluster of other powers’ making.

But even these situations have roots not only in political upheaval, like in Syria and Iraq, but also in basic needs that are going unmet. The fact is we are all connected. Global security is connected to food supply. And that supply is being directly impacted from climate change.

A stock Thanksgiving meal set unlike any that I have personally experienced, yet with several classic elements.

So if you are fortunate enough to be able to look with thanks upon your table this season, do take time to think about the world beyond your circle. Remember your family and friends that aren’t there. Include the farmers and winemakers, the workers and craft that brings bounty to you.

But also thank Governor Hickenlooper for defending the Clean Power Plan and Senator Bennet for supporting it against Republican rollbacks in the Senate. One little bite at a time, and some perseverance, and we can make a real difference.

Maybe say a little prayer for peace. But also send it to the world’s leaders heading to Paris this week. Ask that they keep the wisdom that reminds: the smart ruler fills bellies while the harvest of an army is a waste of thorns.

If we want peace, we need security. And if we want security then people need to be secure in their food supplies. And to ensure people have full bellies, and secure food supplies, political leaders need to Act on Climate. It really is as simple as the food on our plate.

GOP’s Clean Power Insurgency a Cavalcade of Stupid

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

As promised late last months when Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her decision to join a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Gov. John Hickenlooper formally petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday to stop Coffman taking legal actions that contravene the policies of his administration. AP reports via CBS4:

Gov. John Hickenlooper asked the Colorado Supreme Court on Wednesday to rule that he, not the state’s attorney general, has the final say on whether to sue the federal government.

Hickenlooper’s petition comes after he complained that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman should not have joined about two dozen other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency over new air pollution rules without his authorization…

Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel to the governor, said Coffman has filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits without the support of or collaboration with her clients. “This raises serious questions about the use of state dollars and the attorney-client relationship between the governor, state agencies and the attorney general,” Melmed said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and AG Cynthia Coffman in happier times.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and AG Cynthia Coffman in happier times.

From Hickenlooper’s petition to the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday:

In this Petition, he requests a ruling on the Governor’s and Attorney General’s respective authority under the Constitution and laws of Colorado to determine whether the State of Colorado should sue the United States. The Governor asks this Court to issue a legal declaration that (1) the Governor, not the Attorney General, has ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the State of Colorado whether to sue the federal government, and (2) the Attorney General’s lawsuits against the federal government without the Governor’s authorization must be withdrawn…

The Attorney General lacks statutory authority to bring these federal lawsuits unless “required to do so by the governor.” [Pols emphasis] C.R.S. § 24-31-101(1)(a). Nor does the “common law” allow her to circumvent the statutory limitations and undermine the Governor’s constitutional authority to set Colorado executive branch policy.

We we’ve discussed previously in relation to the Clean Power Plan and Attorney General Coffman’s decision to sue the federal government to stop it, our state is considered to be in a leading position to meet the new standards. A result of legislation passed by our General Assembly in recent years and the constitutional renewable energy standard set forth in 2004’s Amendment 37, we’re well ahead of the curve.

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

But as a report in the conservative Business Times out of Grand Junction unintentionally makes clear, opponents are not reliant on, you know, rational arguments.

While Colorado is already an estimated 80 percent on the way to achieving lower emissions standards, [Pols emphasis] Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined in a lawsuit challenging the plan as federal overreach…

[Sen. Ray Scott] took exception to the state’s renewable energy standard and the push by state and federal regulators to mandate the increase use of renewable energy sources for electrical generation. “Solar has a problem, it’s called night,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Yes, folks, he really said that.

Back in the land of adult dialogue, Colorado’s leadership on renewable energy standards may indeed have made the state an ironic target for energy industry flacks like attorney Mike Nasi–who according to open-records documents we received played a questionably big role in persuading Cynthia Coffman to join this lawsuit. But for the rest of the state government Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is in charge of, Coffman’s lawsuit is totally discordant with the agenda they’ve been progressing toward for years–an agenda the voters of Colorado mandated with the passage of Amendment 37, and the legislature strengthened with subsequent laws signed by Govs. Bill Ritter and Hickenlooper.

With these facts in mind, Hickenlooper not only has the right, but the obligation to rein in a rogue attorney general off pursuing her own ideological flight of fancy in opposition to the state’s explicit policy goals–goals in place long before she was ever elected. And if Republican lawmakers don’t want to make fools of themselves while she does, they might want to come up with less ridiculous arguments themselves.

Because this really is quite embarrassing. For all of them.

On This We Agree: Cynthia Coffman is Silly



Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is a big supporter of the new federal Clean Power Plan. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is not a fan, however, and that’s okay…to a point. The Governor thinks that Coffman is breaking the law by forcing Colorado to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan. As the Associated Press reports:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will ask the Colorado Supreme Court whether it was legal for the state attorney general to sue the federal government over new air pollution rules even though Hickenlooper supports the rules and is trying to implement them.

Hickenlooper said he should have made the final decision on whether Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined 23 other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency. Coffman said the rules are an illegal overreach.

“The law makes it clear that except in limited circumstances — which don’t exist here — the attorney general is not permitted to file such lawsuits unless directed to do so by the governor,” Hickenlooper said.

Former Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar backed up Hickenlooper’s comments today during an event in Boulder, telling Bruce Finley of the Denver Post that Coffman’s legal opinion is incorrect in this matter:

“What the attorney general is doing here is clearly illegal on her part,” he said. “We’ll see what the Supreme Court has to say.”

And what does Coffman herself have to say about the subject? That leads us to this little gem that just made it into a story from the Colorado Statesman (which also references a Colorado Pols story from last week):

“And finally, I would say to people who would think that I have been influenced by the energy industry, that they must not know me that well, because I am not that easily influenced,” Coffman concluded. [Pols emphasis]

Not. That. Easily. Influenced.

Yes, friends, we are talking about the same Cynthia Coffman who played a central role in trying to blackmail State Republican Party Chair Steve House last summer. You may have heard about the scandal, which has been dubbed “Coffmangate.” It would be difficult to be any more persuadable to political arguments.

Cynthia Coffman Does Not Speak For Colorado

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

UPDATE #2: Via the Denver Business Journal, Gov. John Hickenlooper slams Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for joining this lawsuit over his objections and the state’s longstanding leadership on the issue:

“We do not support this lawsuit,” Hickenlooper said via an emailed statement.

“Clean air and protecting public health should be everyone’s top priority. Colorado’s interest is best served by an open, inclusive process to implement the Clean Power Plan,” he continued.

“This lawsuit will create uncertainty for the state and undermine stakeholders’ ability to plan for and invest in cost-effective compliance strategies, something that the Attorney General has been advising the state on,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Hickenlooper said Colorado also has worked “extensively with the EPA to ensure we have the time and flexibility we need. We believe that Colorado can achieve the clean air goals set by the EPA, at little or no increased cost to our residents.”


Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

POLS UPDATE: The Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, let no pesky facts come between Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and destiny:

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman again vowed to fight President Barack Obama’s testy Clean Power Plan as the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday published the initiative’s final rules.

“It would be remiss if I, as attorney general, looked the other way and said, ‘Because Colorado is likely to meet this carbon dioxide cap, we shouldn’t challenge the federal government,’ ” said Coffman, who in late August announced she was joining a lawsuit to stop the plan. [Pols emphasis]

“That to me is an abdication of my responsibility.”

In short, Colorado is going to pass this test. But by God, we shouldn’t have to. Because freedom. And unregistered lobbyists. The rest of the state be damned!

Original post follows…


After Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, in apparent defiance of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the rest of the state government which has been working toward a smooth transition to the clean energy economy for years, ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, called on Coffman to stop playing politics with her office at the behest of out-of-state special interests–and to abandon this ill-conceived lawsuit against our state’s best interests.

“Documents unearthed by Public Citizen reveal unethical heavy involvement in Attorney General Coffman’s opposition to the Clean Power Plan by a Texas energy attorney named Mike Nasi,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. [1] “Why is Cynthia Coffman colluding with out-of-state oil and gas interests against our state’s own governor and legislature? As Attorney General, Coffman’s job is to represent the people of Colorado, not Texas.”

“Since taking office this year, Cynthia Coffman has repeatedly brushed with scandal,” said Runyon-Harms. “Coffman has been accused of misusing her position for political advantage and was even accused by fellow Republicans of blackmailing the party’s chairman. By using the power of her office to join this lawsuit against the wishes of Gov. Hickenlooper, Coffman has once again proven that she is not fit to serve as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.”

“Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit flies in the face of Colorado’s leadership in the global transition to a clean energy future,” said Runyon-Harms. “In 2004, Colorado passed a groundbreaking constitutional ballot measure establishing a strong renewable energy standard. In 2013, our legislature made it stronger. Experts agree that Colorado is well positioned to meet the challenge of the Clean Power Plan. Our state’s pro-energy Governor supports the Plan. It’s the right thing to do for Colorado, and it will grow our economy the same way Amendment 37 made our state a leader in renewable energy.”

Cynthia Coffman’s Clean Power Plan Suit: Who’s Pulling The Strings?

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Among the growing number of curious decisions by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is her signing on to a multistate lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Because of clean energy  initiatives and legislation already passed here in Colorado in the last 12 years, our state is much closer to compliance with the goals of the CPP than many others. Avowedly pro-energy Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the CPP, and in an August interview with Colorado Public Radio, expressed some amount of befuddlement over Attorney General Coffman’s plans to sue:

Hickenlooper has said he intends to meet the carbon reduction goals set by the EPA this month. But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says the goals are “unrealistic,” and raise “significant concerns for Colorado,” and is considering suing the EPA.

“[The attorney general and I] haven’t had a chance to talk… One of the amazing things about this moment in time is that inexpensive natural gas is a very, very clean fuel. And we have a couple of aged coal plants in Colorado… there might be one or two or three that might be able to be converted to natural gas, and natural gas right now is so inexpensive, it might allow us to achieve the reductions without significant cost increases [for consumers]…

“We don’t see the evidence [to support a lawsuit] based on what we know.”

Any way you look at it, AG Coffman’s decision to join in lawsuit over the objections of the governor of the state she serves–a state already a model for the goals this plan wants to achieve–looks weird. Of the 20 or so states that have filed suit against the administration over the Clean Power Plan, we haven’t checked to see how many involve state attorneys general going against their own governors, but we’re guessing that’s a minority of cases.

So what gives? Yesterday, we were forwarded documents produced from a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request of the attorney general’s office by the DC-based group Public Citizen. These documents appear to show a major role in Colorado joining the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan by one Mike Nasi. Nasi is a Texas-based energy industry attorney who has apparently helped direct the energy industry’s response to the Clean Power Plan, new rules on mercury emissions, and a variety of other subjects. It should be noted that neither Nasi nor his law firm Jackson Walker LLP are registered lobbyists in the state of Colorado.

Despite this, Nasi testified in favor of the industry-sponsored Senate Bill 15-258 this year, the so-called “Electric Consumers Protection Act” to forestall any state implementation plan for carbon dioxide reduction. After SB-258 died, Gov. Hickenlooper announced that the state would support and comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Enter Cynthia Coffman.

There’s a wealth of information in the CORA “doc dump” from Public Citizen (two files, here and here) about the collusion between her office, pro-energy Colorado lawmakers like Sen. John Cooke, and Nasi in advocating against the Clean Power Plan. This in turn sheds light on Nasi’s multistate roundup of willing attorneys general to sue the administration. We hope readers will take a look at these documents and help us establish more details about the connections and players involved. In light of Colorado’s readiness–according to the governor, anyway–to be a leader in implementing the Clean Power Plan, this back-channel maneuvering by the attorney general to join this lawsuit stands out as especially dubious.

And maybe even, dare we suggest it, misconduct.

Turning Points for Renewable Energy

Turning points.

Turning points.

Whether it comes out of the ground or from the sky, energy production remains a hot topic in Colorado. Each side has its own set of arguments, but we may be reaching a true tipping point in favor of renewable energy.

As Tom Randall writes for Bloomberg Business, the “capacity factor” is making solar and wind energy more economically-viable than other sources of energy:

Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It’s the first time that threshold has been crossed by a G7 economy.

But that’s less interesting than what just happened in the U.S.

To appreciate what’s going on there, you need to understand the capacity factor. That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential that’s actually achieved over time…

…One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average U.S. natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 percent of its potential (falling short of 100 percent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that’s what’s changing, and it’s a big deal.

For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. [Pols emphasis] That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.

In any political debate, simple economic factors can end up making the strongest argument. All of the saber-rattling and fist-shaking about fossil fuels and renewables will grind to a halt when oil and gas production is no longer economically preferable…and it appears we may be crossing that bridge.

Rural VFD Scrambles as Billionaire Driller Flares Wells & Funds Politicians

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Methane is a greenhouse gas some 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is a pollutant when released into the atmosphere, often a precursor to ozone, and is itself a volatile compound that may signal a threat of area toxicity depending what other compounds are present in the gas.

It is also, we are regularly reminded, a valuable commodity, harbinger of American ‘energy independence’ and of a manufacturing revolution, when piped and sold as natural gas.

Yet despite all this—the bad, the good, the ugly—methane, the primary component of natural gas, is regularly vented and flared in America’s oil and gas fields.

Even in the dark of night on remote Colorado mountain passes when maybe no one will notice.

But it was noticed, not once but twice, recently on McClure Pass, provoking a flurry of concerned and sometimes overblown comments on the local Facebook message board as motorists reported the incidents. In the most recent episode local fire fighters scrambled to the report of flames in the forest at a rig on a dark night.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is reporting:

SG Interests flared a natural gas well in the upper North Fork Valley recently without notifying local authorities, reportedly requiring an unnecessary visit to the somewhat remote location by local firefighters.

Companies are required to notify authorities of flaring under state rules, and SG says it is taking steps to prevent a repeat violation.

Paonia resident Pete Kolbenschlag, who works as a consultant on environmental issues, says he hopes so. He fears a succession of false alarms could lead to emergency agencies with limited resources being less apt to quickly respond to an incident like a true well fire or a spill of pollutants into waterways.

“There’s a reason why there’s a notification requirement,” he said.

The flaring occurred earlier this month near Colorado Highway 133 southwest of McClure Pass in Gunnison County.

Venting and flaring releases volatile and harmful compounds, and can include flames several stories tall, both bothersome things to come across driving over a mountain pass in the National Forest.  

SG Interests—operator of the gassy, flaring well—is one of two oil and gas companies that are most active in the upper North Fork Valley. The other is Bill Koch’s Gunnison Energy Company. In the earlier July incident the motorist reported strong smells.

I was driving on Route 133, towards Paonia, on July 3, 2015. It was 11:15 AM, on that Friday, as I was driving down McClure’s Pass, after mile Marker 40, that I was assaulted by the most extreme and dense vapors/gas from a chemical source.

It was so extreme, that I thought I might pass out. It lasted for several minutes at the very extreme level and then as I drove further away, the fumes left my truck’s cab. On the right of my truck, at the moment I first smelled the heavy chemical fumes, I saw liquid rushing down the mountainside. This liquid ran down the mountainside and down a ditch along the side of the highway. This liquid may or may not have been the source of the chemical fumes.

There are 2 active gas well sites and companies operating in the vicinity of my exposure to the chemical vapors. The first company is SG Interests and the second company is Gunnison Energy. Route 133, mile marker 39-40, west of McClure’s Pass, outside of Marble, Colorado and before Paonia, Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission complaint on file for that incident notes that inspectors did not find anything amiss when they got around to inspecting the well a few days later.

I Spoke with Thane Stranathan with BLM (Montrose) on phone today. He met with complainant on location and said he could find no fault with SG and the water flow was above location and caused by mudslide under CDOT control and they were aware of it. We plan to meet next week and visit site.

Both GEC and SGI are privately held billionaire-owned companies. Texan Russ Gordy being the primary name behind SGI. Just last week the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management gave these two companies the go ahead to develop 16 new wells north of Paonia Reservoir State Park. Colorado Park and Wildlife concerns regarding their location within elk winter concentration areas were mostly dismissed.

It was these two companies that together built the Bull Mountain pipeline, which was itself the cause of a losing (for the roadless forests and impacted wildlife) environmental battle about eight years ago. GEC and SGI have an uneasy relationship, sometimes in conflict other times in collusion according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Another Gunnison Energy Company project for up to 150 wells is currently under agency review (Bull Mountain Master Development Plan). And SG Interests is currently trying to acquire additional lands in the North Fork via legislation while attempting to drill on the other side of the pass, within the Thompson Divide area, threatening to take its heavy industrial traffic right through Glenwood Springs and up Four Mile Road against everyone’s objections.

Perhaps due to its often blunt tactics SGI has been investing heavily in the politics of the geography it hopes to drill. It is rumored to give hefty 4 figure contributions to small town Chambers of Commerce. SGI is the local congressman’s number one donor and he SGI’s number one recipient. Senator Cory Gardner also being among its top recipients of campaign cash. So far in just 2015 SGI has spent over $220,000 on high-priced DC lobbyists.


Bipartisan support for Colorado’s clean-air laws undermines accusation of Obama overreach

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

It’s irritating when officials and pundits here in Colorado grandstand about President Obama’s climate change initiatives as being overreach, without pointing out that, as a matter of fact, state efforts to regulate global-warming emissions from power plants have won bipartisan support.

An article in The Denver Post last month reported that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has decided to sue the federal government to stop Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Colorado by 28 percent from 2012 levels over the next 15 years.

The Post reported that “Coffman describes the measure as another EPA and Obama administration authority overreach.”

To its credit, The Post added this fact:

Colorado lawmakers under a Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act in 2010 required regulated utilities to develop plans for reducing air pollution. These plans launched utilities on efforts to replace coal plants with energy generated using renewable sources and natural gas.

Omitted, however, is the crucial information that Colorado’s Clean Air, Clean Jobs of 2010 received bipartisan support, getting the votes of numerous GOP lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, including muckety-muck Republicans like former state senators Josh Penry and Greg Brophy and former state representatives Frank McNulty, Ellen Roberts, and Amy Stephens.

Thanks to the 2010 law, and other state measures, some of which admittedly had less bipartisan support, Colorado already has a plan to reach 70 percent of the reductions mandated by Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, according to Western Resource Advocates.

Colorado has worked in a bipartisan way to address climate change, and the attorney general should be asked to explain why she’s politicizing and wasting time on a lawsuit that runs counter to  Colorado’s approach to this issue.

All of Colorado is (NOT) Contaminated

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Governor John Hickenlooper juggles a lot of different responsibilities as Colorado’s top elected official — which includes serving as Colorado’s chief tester of gross-looking water, which he did again last week in chugging a bottle of water from the Animas River in the aftermath of the Gold King mine wastewater spill.

Hickenlooper agreed to drink from the river at the request of several people in the Durango area in an effort to assure people that the water was safe — and the big sip made Hick plenty of friends as a result. From the Durango Herald:

John Hickenlooper was Johnny-On-The-Spot, clearing his schedule to be in town, see the Animas River firsthand, listen to concerns and offer the power of his office.

Then there was The Moment – when Gov. Hickenlooper took a bold stand for Durango and La Plata County. He defiantly raised a bottle of river water and downed it.

“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” he said.

Hickenlooper didn’t say whether or not the Animas River was tastier than the glass of fracking fluid he once quaffed, but the move nevertheless generated a bit of controversy. On Monday, Denver Post reporter John Frank Tweeted a link to his Sunday story about the Animas River, asking the question “Is [Hickenlooper’s] big Animas River sip a liability or political win?” Here’s what the Governor had to say regarding his motivation for drinking from the river:

“The point I was trying to make is that the river is back to normal,” Hickenlooper said in an interview after returning from Durango. “There’s a silver lining in all this. It doesn’t appear there is going to be lasting environmental damage or significant environmental damage, and what most of us were fearful of didn’t happen.”

Sunday’s Post story notes some vague disapproval from the likes of state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who offered her usual brand of WTF-flavored commentary, but you’d have to really squint your eyes in order to make out the downside of Hick’s demonstration. By swigging river water, the Governor was making a pointed effort to ease fears and tamper speculation about the extent of the pollution in the Animas River — and to make sure that misinformation didn’t cripple the tourism economy in Southern Colorado. (more…)

It Wouldn’t Be a Secret Society if you Talked About it, Kent Lambert


Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do, we do!
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do, we do!
Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do, we do!
Who robs cavefish of their sight? Who rigs every Oscar night? We do, we do!

        – “Stonecutter” theme song, via The Simpsons.

On Tuesday the environmental group Center for Western Priorities released a new report underlining the “anti-government extremism” behind renewed efforts to move federal public lands under state control. According to a summary of the report:

Last week, armed members of the Oath Keepers and other militias arrived at a mine in Montana, posting “no trespassing” signs on public land. The operation is the latest in a string of standoffs involving extremist groups that refuse to recognize the authority of the U.S. government, including incidents at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon and Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.

A new investigation by the non-partisan watchdog Center for Western Priorities has uncovered wide-ranging ties between those extremist groups and Western legislators involved in a coordinated effort to take our national lands from the American people. 

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope on the Mexican border.

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope on the Mexican border.

Reporter Joey Bunch picked up on the report for the Denver Post, and he caught up with Colorado Springs state Sen. Kent Lambert for his response:

“They aren’t just supporting similar goals — they’re trying to pass legislation that goes directly to the demands and ideology of the Oath Keepers and Bundy Ranch supporters,” Aaron Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, responded in an e-mail about the state-control advocates.

“When Kent Lambert mentions ‘posse comitatus’ during a floor debate, that’s a dog whistle to the Oath Keepers — there’s a tiny group of people who even know what the term means, much less cite it during the legislative session.” [Pols emphasis]

Lambert said he hadn’t heard of the Oath Keepers before Tuesday [Pols emphasis], so it wasn’t a dog whistle but a reference to the “Federalist Papers, No. 29,” a letter from Alexander Hamilton to the people of New York in 1788 to the clarify the role of state militia in enforcing provisions of the Constitution. Further, the often-cited 1878 Posse Comitatus Act limits the federal government’s role in domestic police matters. Lambert’s unsuccessful Senate Bill 39 would have recognized that state and local governments already has jurisdiction over U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Sen. Kent Lambert (R), and militia leader Chris Simcox.

Sen. Kent Lambert (R), and militia leader Chris Simcox.

We don’t know if Lambert is a card-carrying member of the Oath Keepers, but we have trouble believing he’s never even heard of this group before. Lambert is a well-documented supporter of usurping federal control over lands (and borders), and has openly consorted with militia leaders like accused child molester Chris Simcox in Arizona (photo right). The Oath Keepers have been in the news quite a bit lately for their bizarre attempt to “defend” Ferguson, Missouri from…black people, or something. Here’s what Mother Jones magazine says about the group:

Oath Keepers is one of the fastest-growing “patriot” organizations on the right. Founded last April by Yale-educated lawyer and ex-Ron Paul aide Stewart Rhodes, the group has established itself as a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Pat Buchanan have all sung its praises, and in December, a grassroots summit it helped organize drew such prominent guests as representatives Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, both Georgia Republicans.

Hard to imagine these guys not being right up Lambert’s alley–Lambert or any number of other GOP Colorado legislators in both chambers. You might start with legislators who tag along for the Republican Study Committee of Colorado’s annual border “fact finding” junkets. But there’s at least a possibility that without the right secret handshake, you’ll never know for sure!

Might be worth keeping this angle in mind next session just the same.

Enviros Back Bennet, Because Obviously

Sen. Michael Bennet at Chimney Rock National Monument.

Sen. Michael Bennet at Chimney Rock National Monument.

A press release from the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund today announces that group’s and the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund’s endorsement of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet for re-election in 2015:

The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund (LCVAF) and National Resources Defense Council Action Fund (NRDC) announced their endorsements of Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election today, lauding his work to address climate change, protect the environment, champion renewable energy and protect Colorado’s natural treasures.

“Senator Michael Bennet has been a champion when it comes to tackling climate change and protecting our environment, and we are excited to support his re-election,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCVAF Senior Vice President for Government Affairs. “Michael has fought for clean air and water, worked to protect Colorado’s natural treasures like the Hermosa Creek Watershed from drilling, and led efforts to increase renewable energy. Earlier this spring, during the Senate’s budget debate, he elevated the economic and national security threats posed by climate change and the need for action. We know Michael will continue to fight for our environment as Colorado’s Senator for years to come, and we look forward to continuing to work with him.”

“We’ve known Senator Michael Bennet for years, and there’s no doubt that he’ll continue the fight against climate change and be a leader working with us to protect the environment and our natural resources,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, Director of the NRDC Action Fund. “Michael is a clean air hero who has fought against efforts to gut the Clean Air Act. He has led bipartisan efforts to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed, Chimney Rock and Browns Canyon, and even passed amendments to make the fight against global climate a national security priority. We are proud to support his re-election.”

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports, and we’re obliged to note having covered it in this space, Sen. Bennet’s environmental credentials are not without a few caveats:

Bennet’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline — a litmus test for ardent environmentalists — led to protests at his campaign kickoff fundraiser in March featuring a sign that read, “We don’t vote for fossil fuel politicians.” And eco-activists also demonstrated against Bennet for his support of a major trade deal in May.

The two big endorsements may help reassure environmentalists about Bennet’s credentials — even if they are unlikely to satisfy all the green activists in the Democratic Party. It also is a reflection that no major alternative — Democrat or Republican — has emerged to challenge Bennet so far.

Despite the disappointment many environmentalists rightly expressed over Bennet’s votes–in the end meaningless votes–for the Keystone XL pipeline, he has a number of actions to point to as positives on this issue as well. Bennet’s spouse Susan Daggett, a longtime former attorney for the environmental legal group Earthjustice, also helps refute the idea that Bennet is soft on the environment.

But above all, there is simply no alternative to Bennet in the mix now or likely to emerge who will be better on environmental issues than he is, and that’s why he got these endorsements so early in the race. In the absence of a strong GOP challenger, we fully expect Republicans to use votes like Keystone to drive a wedge within the Democratic coalition and weaken Bennet as much as possible. We would do the same in their situation out of sheer political expediency.

These early endorsements from credible, national environmental advocacy groups should help nip that in the proverbial bud.

Mosquitoes, Beetles & Global Warming – Climate Change and Colorado’s Great Outdoors

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado, summertime. The living is easy…  

Sure we have some of the best winter recreation in the world, and Color Sunday drives and hunting season make fall the busiest part of the season for many Colorado communities. But there is something about a Rocky Mountain summer that is hard to beat. 

The wet May and early, heavy monsoons much of the state has been getting since, have brought forth wildflowers that many say are the most outrageous, rainbow array seen in years.  Truly a display of Colorado pride. 

All the moisture, and warm weather between, has also led to another fact in this year’s backcountry – there are lots of mosquitoes out there.  And mosquitoes are not just an annoyance, but bring public health warnings.  In Colorado, for the West Nile Virus, which is likely to become an even larger problem under climate change.

Invasive species aren’t just species — they can also be pathogens. Such is the case with the West Nile virus. 

As Science Magazine (Online) reports:

The higher temperatures, humidity and rainfall associated with climate change have intensified outbreaks of West Nile virus infections across the United States in recent years, according to a study published this week.

…Warmer weather helps spread West Nile virus because it extends the length of the mosquito season, said Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease section at the California Department of Public Health.

Higher temperatures also let mosquitoes reach biting age sooner and speed multiplication of the virus within insects, said Kramer.  Thus in a warmer climate not only are there more biting mosquitoes, but those mosquitoes carry more copies of the West Nile virus, making them more likely to infect their human targets.

“It takes a while for the disease to build up,” says Kramer.  “That’s why we see more cases in August than in June.”


Colowyo Carping Conceals Credible Climate Concerns

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, a much-anticipated confrontation between backers of a northwest Colorado coal mine and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this weekend didn’t go off with quite the bang expected:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reassured northwest Colorado officials and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., that the U.S. Department of the Interior will complete work on a study needed to keep open the Colowyo coal mine.

“We believe the best way to deliver certainty to the Colowyo mine and the people who work there is to fix the deficiencies,” Jewell told more than a dozen county commissioners, city councilors and others at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge on Friday night. “I’m confident we’ll do it within the 120-day deadline.”

A Sept. 6 deadline looms for an Interior Department agency, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, to complete work evaluating the mine’s contribution to global warming.

The study was required by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in a case in which an environmental organization, WildEarth Guardians, challenged the agency’s approval of the mine, which employs 220 people from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties

“We feel we are ground zero for your department,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

Ever since a federal judge ordered the Department of the Interior to complete a required environmental assessment of the effects of expanded coal mining at two mines near Craig that supply a major coal-fired plant there, ruling that Interior failed to follow environmental analysis procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act, local politicos and energy-industry benefactors have been irate about the possibility that a judge could overrule the expansions retroactively, jeopardizing several hundred mining jobs.

The potential loss of 220 jobs at the Colowyo mine in northwest Colorado amounts to the equivalent of 50,000 jobs in Denver, he said.

Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush.

Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush.

We’re not sure what kind of wacky math Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid is using there, but let’s take a look at the actual ruling from Judge R. Brooke Jackson that’s causing all this supposed uncertainty:

The Court declares that [Office of Surface Mining] violated NEPA by failing to notify the public of and involve the public in the preparation of the Colowyo and Trapper EAs and by failing to notify the public once the EAs had been completed and the [Findings of No Significant Impact] had been issued. OSM also violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at the direct and indirect effects of the increased mining operations before determining that there would be no significant impact on the environment. The Secretary of the Interior violated NEPA by approving both of these mining plan modifications in spite of these defects.

There’s a big piece of the story of these mine expansion approvals and the subsequent lawsuit against them that’s missing from most news reports: the expansions environmentalists sued over were approved in 2007 by George W. Bush-era Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Incidentally, this was the same year that Kempthorne was awarded the “Rubber Dodo Award” for the distinction of having protected the fewest endangered species of any Interior Secretary in American history. Like his predecessor Gale Norton of Colorado, Kempthorne and the Interior Department under Bush were repeatedly criticized, and eventually sued, for disregarding crucial environmental considerations when making decisions about energy development.

Such as whether or not expanding coal mines in western Colorado would hurt the environment? Suddenly this story starts to make a very different kind of sense, and the politicos demanding the process be appealed and/or short-circuited don’t look so altruistic.

Since the ruling in May, energy industry mouthpieces have been shrieking at the top of their lungs about the possibility of a few hundred coal mine jobs being lost if the Colowyo and Trapper mines were to close, demanding President Barack Obama’s Interior Department appeal this ruling that the previous administration’s Interior Department broke the law. For reasons that appear quite sensible with all the facts in view, Obama’s Interior Department declined to do so, and is instead working to properly complete the required assessment in accordance with NEPA. Coal industry supporters have tried to make this about the environmental group that filed suit, even trying to organize a boycott of companies that support the group in question like New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins.

Well folks, if you can think past the wall of contrived weeping and gnashing of teeth, it looks like a very legitimate concern is being raised here–and a court ruling that agrees does not mean it’s time to boycott one of Colorado’s best breweries. The environmentalists involved with the suit say they don’t want the mines shut down, at least not tomorrow–they want the environmental assessment that approved their expansion to be conducted in accordance with the law. And that’s what the Interior Department says it wants, too. According to Secretary Jewell, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

So…shut up and let it happen.

Think Frackapalooza Is Over? Think Again

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

The AP’s Dan Elliot updates the state of play on the always-controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” near Colorado’s populated areas. After a compromise last year that ended the threat of a ballot measure increasing setbacks for drilling from existing development, a task force convened that issued limited recommendations for improving local control over drilling in February. The drilling industry was very happy with the limited scope of the task force’s recommendations, but conservation activists and local communities–including northern Front Range cities that already had passed bans and moratoria on fracking–felt betrayed.

In 2016, it looks like they may well get another shot:

“I think the fossil fuels industry won,” said Karen Dike, a member of Coloradans Against Fracking.

Fracking is a pressing issue in Colorado, the nation’s No. 7 energy-producing state. Along the urban Front Range, expanding suburbs and booming oilfields are running into each other, and drilling rigs sometimes show up near public schools. Several municipal attempts to ban fracking have failed, and the industry warns that local control would stifle energy development.

Dike and others won’t say whether they plan to put measures that would restrict fracking on the 2016 ballot, but they don’t rule it out…

[Rep Jared] Polis said fracking could be on the 2016 ballot if state officials don’t further regulate the industry. He stopped short of saying whether he would organize the effort, but he wants lawmakers and regulators to adopt three proposals that weren’t formally recommended by the task force.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis became involved in the state-level debate over fracking after a drilling company illegally sited a well too close to structures on Weld County land owned by the wealthy congressman. After his own experience, which resulted in a hefty fine against the offending driller, Polis came out in support of two specific ballot measures: a general “bill of rights” empowering local communities to regulate land uses within their boundaries, and a measure increasing setbacks for drilling from existing development to 2,000 feet. The failure of the task force he helped broker via the threat of a well-funded ballot measure reportedly did anger Polis, but so did the unreasonable reaction of anti-fracking activists who bitterly denounced his good-faith attempts to forge a compromise.

Today, it’s true that some of the pressure on this debate has dissipated as energy prices have plummeted during OPEC’s anti-fracking price war. The drilling industry, just last year very bullish about its future growth, has seen new drilling projects slow dramatically, and hiring postings turn into layoffs. The reduced pressure from less demand for new drilling creates a situation where the industry claims victimhood indiscriminately, blaming “fractivists” for industry downturns that have nothing to do with their efforts.

Both the industry and the far left wing of environmentalists would prefer the debate be about a wholesale ban on fracking statewide. The industry uses the simplistic arguments surrounding a ban to divide the opposition, while the far left…well, they’re just not realistic about what can be achieved in a major energy producing state like Colorado. Certainly there is a problem with all-or-nothing argumentation on both sides of this debate, but we continue to believe that what the energy industry fears most are reasonable, targeted proposals to mandate better protection of residential communities.

The reason is simple: they could actually pass.

One would let local governments impose stricter rules than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating drilling statewide. Another would change the commission’s role from facilitating oil and gas development to simply regulating it. The third would set up a panel to resolve disputes between energy companies and local governments or property owners before they land in court.

None of these proposals fit the industry’s alarmist predictions of what would happen if Colorado “banned fracking.” If the industry and surrogates are able to continue to define the debate in those black-and-white terms, they’ll win. If pragmatic-minded conservationists can keep focused on proposals that would genuinely help protect communities while avoiding the industry’s semantic games, they could accomplish something that would have much more of an impact on our state’s health and environment in the long run.

We’ll just have to wait and see who’s smarter about it.

Proposed BLM Rule Could Recoup Billions for U.S. Taxpayers, Help Avert Climate Catastrophe

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Like a number of communities in Colorado, the valley where I live has been engaged in an effort to constrain oil and gas development to keep it out of our water supplies, our favorite recreational areas, our towns, farms and communities. 

This effort has been met with mixed success.  We banded together to stop an ill-advised Bureau of Land Management lease sale, deferring it twice.  We compelled the BLM to consider a community-based alternative as it revises its very stale 1980s era land use plan, and local conservation groups have successfully challenged some other projects—sending them back for a time to the drawing board. 

But more than 80,000 acres of public lands are leased in the upper reaches of the North Fork, many private lands are already under industry control, and Texas billionaires with privately held gas companies have their sights on acquiring more.

When Halliburton rolled a fracking convoy up the valley last week, to do the completion work on some wells on private lands and blocking traffic for a mile on our narrow two-lane road, the Paonia Message Board on Facebook erupted. 

Meanwhile, as small communities like my own face off against the world’s richest industry, each year in Colorado approximately 8.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas is wasted from oil and gas development on public lands, often vented raw or flared at the source.