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Just days into Colorado’s 2020 legislative session, Coloradans are asking how our elected officials will continue to take bold, progressive action to tackle the biggest issues facing our state.
As a member of the Senate majority party, you would expect Senator Cory Gardner to have the power to follow through on his promises to Coloradans to protect our climate, lands, and natural resources. Instead, Sen. Gardner fell short and failed to deliver key environmental funding while finding ways to help carbon polluters.
Despite Sen. Gardner’s ramped-up environmental rhetoric, a brief look at the final months of 2019 shows that Gardner’s record is full of hot air. He has much to improve in the New Year.
Depleting Conservation Funding
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a critical program for funding land protection, access for hunting and fishing, trail maintenance, and other programs, but this funding was allowed to expire in 2018 when Republicans held majorities in the House and the Senate.
At no cost to taxpayers, LWCF collects as much as $900 million annually from offshore oil and gas royalties. But because Republican Congressional leaders like Sen. Gardner allowed the program to expire, none of that funding has been going to protect and invest in national parks and public lands across the nation. Sen. Gardner spent most of this year promising he would clean up the mess he made by delivering full, permanent funding for LWCF.
Sadly, under Sen. Gardner’s watch, the Senate passed a year-end $1.4 trillion spending bill that fell short for conservation funding, failing to approve over $400 million of the $900 million allotted for LWCF projects for the next year, and only allocating the remaining funds for just a single year.
Dismantling the Bureau of Land Management
When it comes to managing our public lands, Sen. Gardner tied himself to an Interior Department plan to relocate the headquarters of Bureau of Land Management—the agency that oversees oil, gas, and coal leasing and permitting on millions of acres of public lands—to Grand Junction, Colorado. It quickly became apparent that the move was not all it was cracked up to be.
Sen. Gardner, who labeled himself the “chief architect of the plan,” has long-touted the local economic benefits of moving up to 400 BLM staffers out West and the conservation benefit of having BLM leadership closer to the lands they manage.
After the initial relocation announcement, details began to emerge about how devastating the plan will be for the agency. More than 80 percent of BLM officials who have been forced to relocate are expected to resign rather than uproot their lives, and Interior officials will only be moving approximately 40 jobs to the new headquarters. Those that do relocate face pay cuts. Many other D.C. positions will be scattered through the West. It turns out the 27 staff members forced to relocate to Grand Junction will share an office building with oil and gas companies and industry executives.
Dismantling the agency and moving career leadership positions away from Congress will allow political appointees at the Interior Department to approve drilling and mining projects on public lands. The plan received widespread criticism from former BLM career staff, and prompted an investigation from the Government Accountability Office.
Sen. Gardner promised significant economic benefit to the Grand Junction community, and that this move would be beneficial for the management and conservation of public land in the West. However, his words do not match the results. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel summed it up well in their reaction after the details of the move emerged:
“A day after feeling like this was a game-changer for Grand Junction, the letdown is palpable. We’re stuck between feeling grateful that Grand Junction will be known as the BLM’s Western Headquarters and frustrated that such a distinction has been hollowed out to its barest impact… It doesn’t help that much of the rest of the country thinks that this is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle any conservation-oriented aspects of the agency in service to President Trump’s energy dominance agenda.”
Cutting Clean Energy Investments
As Colorado makes significant strides moving towards a clean-energy economy, federal investment has failed to keep up.
In April, Sen. Gardner touted that he cosponsored a bill that would provide tax credits for battery and energy storage—a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to bolstering a clean energy grid in states like Colorado and combatting our dependence on fossil fuels. The bipartisan legislation would have provided tax breaks for investments in developing grid-scale energy storage to incentivize wind and solar production. In the long run, the energy storage investments would have paid for themselves through grid improvements. A similar tax incentive structure significantly drove down the prices of solar panels in recent years.
Again, Sen. Gardner failed to deliver.
Although the year-end funding bill included $39 billion worth of provisions that would extend or establish tax breaks for different sectors, tax incentives for clean-energy storage were not included in the final spending package.
Coloradans expect our leaders to fight for our climate and public lands and stand up to corporate donors and the fossil fuel industry. Sadly, Sen. Gardner’s environmental promises to his constituents don’t match up with his actions in Washington.
Sen. Gardner, please: as you look to the New Year, consider a resolution to represent Colorado values in the U.S. Senate.
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