Rebuffed on climate change by their Republican colleagues, Senate Democrats — including Colorado’s Michael Bennet — are launching their own committee to tackle the issue.
After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused an attempt by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to create a bipartisan special climate change committee in the chamber, Democrats on Wednesday announced that they would assemble their own panel to hold hearings and issue findings on climate change.
Bennet is one of 10 Senate Democrats on the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that will be led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
“For many reasons — most of all, the corruption of money in our politics — Republicans in Washington refuse to treat climate change as a serious issue,” Bennet said in a statement. “Our children’s future can’t become another casualty of Washington’s mindless partisanship. We need to construct enduring solutions to climate change, and this committee is a step forward in accomplishing that goal.”
Senate Democrats formally announced the creation of the new special committee at a press conference Wednesday morning, the day after Senate Republicans uniformly opposed the adoption of Democrats’ sweeping Green New Deal resolution to combat climate change. Most Senate Democrats, including Bennet, voted “present” on the measure, which they dubbed a “sham” vote aimed at dividing Democrats on the issue.
The panel will serve as a messaging platform for Democrats, but it won’t have any legislative authority. A select committee on climate change that was launched by House Democrats this year also doesn’t have legislative authority, but it does have Republican members.
Also on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse joined other House Democrats in unveiling climate legislation aimed at preventing the United States from following through on President Trump’s promise to exit the Paris climate treaty.
The measure also calls for the president to issue a public plan for the country to achieve an economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that are 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
“The administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and halt progress being made forward is severely detrimental to the planet and to the next generation,” Neguse said at a press conference announcing the bill.
“We are the only country to reject this global pact. We can and we must do better. Now is not the time for ignorance, it is not the time for shortcuts, it is the time for action. We must act and we must act on climate now.”
Neguse, a freshman, was appointed to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created this Congress.
Pelosi said Wednesday that this bill is “only step one,” and that action on climate change is a Congress-wide initiative and a moral issue. In 2009, under her leadership, the House passed sweeping climate legislation that ultimately died in the Senate.
“If you do believe, as I do, that this is God’s creation, this planet, we have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of it,” she said. “But even if you don’t subscribe to that, you know we have a moral responsibility to future generations to pass on this planet in a responsible, responsible way.”
Why is the Crystal River significant and what would happen if it dried up? LOCC students look into the importance of this river to the people of Carbondale. This film was made by students in Carbondale, Colorado during summer 2018.
Three months after a quarter of the state had been in the worst drought conditions, only a small part of Colorado remains in even moderate drought according to the most recent report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Since February, a series of storms systems have brought significant snow, particularly to southwest Colorado where extreme and exceptional drought – the two worst categories – had been entrenched for months. River basins in the area started the year at 70 to 80 percent of the median snow water equivalent. They now stand at 150 percent or greater, with the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin at 161 percent as of March 27.
Moderate drought remains across all but small portion of Costilla county. Western Huerfano and southwest Las Animas counties are also impacted by moderate drought.
The southern half of Archuleta County, along with slivers of southern La Plata and Montezuma counties are also in moderate drought.
Abnormally dry conditions continued to fall back across the state, now affecting only south central and southwest counties.
Overall, 75 percent of Colorado is drought-free, up from 54 percent one week ago. Twenty percent is abnormally dry, down from 40 percent. Moderate drought impacts five percent of the state, down from six percent. Severe drought fell to zero from one percent. Extreme and exceptional conditions exited the state earlier in the year.
Across the state, snow water equivalent stood at 140 percent, with all basis reporting 124 of the median or greater.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to an amendment to the state’s $30.5 billion annual state spending plan that would divert more money to roads and bridges. Such amendments to the budget bill, particularly one this large, are rare.
That happened during debate over, SB19-207, the state’s annual budget. Initially, the bill called for spending only $30 million in general fund money on transportation, funding that was on top of $200 million already allocated to transportation projects.
But in a deal between Republicans and Democrats reached earlier in the day, transportation projects now may see additional money.
“What this amendment will do is make a slightly less increase (to all departments) and find a way to take this $106 million and put it into transportation,” said House Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “I’m grateful to those who have been involved in the conversation.”
The bill still requires a final Senate vote, which is to come today.
It then will head to the House for more debate. Whether that money will stay in the final version of the bill remains to be seen.
From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:
Colorado’s Senate has approved a draft $30.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The Senate voted 29-6 on Thursday to send the legislation to the House Appropriations Committee.
At Republicans’ insistence, senators agreed on Wednesday to divert $106 million to transportation needs from other programs. That brings to $336 million the proposed budget’s total transportation funding.
Colorado’s backlog for new transportation projects and repairs is an estimated $9 billion.
The budget document includes funding for full-day kindergarten for school districts and families that want it. Colorado now guarantees half-day funding.
Representatives from all seven Colorado River Basin states testified before the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, detailing the years of hard work, compromise and negotiations that went into forging the plans that will be the operational foundation for the river through 2026…
Testimony came the same day the U.S. Drought Monitor released updated drought conditions across the United States, showing marked improvement in many of the basin states, including California — which is virtually drought free — and Utah, which sits with just 3.24 percent of its land mass in moderate drought.
That sliver of land is minuscule compared to where Utah sat just three months ago with drought conditions — with 99.96 percent of its land mass classified in moderate drought.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, and several others cautiously acknowledged the bountiful nature of this winter’s precipitation, with upper Colorado River snowpack at 127 percent of normal and March rounding out to be one of the wettest ones on record.
“But one good year is no guarantee the 19-year drought is over, and prudence and experience both warn us of the need to be prepared,” McClintock said. “History is desperately warning us to be prepared.”
Brenda Burman, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said the plans use a variety of tools and measures to implement water savings among the states.
“The drought contingency plans are not designed to keep us out of shortage, they are designed to keep us out of crisis.”
She said savings are possible, pointing to the bureau’s own accomplishment of tightening losses at the Hoover Dam of 100,000 acre-feet in the early 2000s to less than 7,000 acre-feet last year.
“We have overwhelmingly tightened the system,” she said.
James Eklund, Colorado commissioner with the Upper Colorado River Commission, echoed McClintock’s concerns about a good performing water year easing concerns over drought.
“Don’t be misled by the snowpack, the excellent snowpack we have received so far this year. It only demonstrates the wide swings we have to manage moving forward,” he said. “You can put an ice cube, even an excellent ice cube, in a hot cup of coffee but eventually it is going to disappear. But for the 40 million people who depend on this river, it is not an abstraction. This is personal.”
Eric Millis, the Colorado River commissioner for Utah and director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said this year’s snowpack will likely deliver near normal inflows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell.
“It is hard to know, however, if this year will be just one more good year among so many bad ones, ” he told the committee. “It is therefore wise to have a plan and implement actions to help ensure we can keep the system operating in a way that complies with the law of the river and protects water users and the environment.”
On Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who crafted it. One of them, Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, called on the committee and Congress to take “urgent action” and authorize it as soon as possible.
Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would allow the federal government to carry out the plan. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who chaired the subcommittee, vowed action “as soon as possible.”
Buschatzke and the other officials stressed the short timeline they have tofinish work on the plan, a product of years of long and tense negotiations that crossed state and party lines.
“It is a plan … to address the ongoing drought in the lower Colorado River Basin that began nearly two decades ago and has no end in sight,” Buschatzke said to the committee…
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., one of the many Arizona representatives at the hearing, asked U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman how the plan complies with environmental standards, which he called the impetus for moving the plan forward.
Burman explained that a careful balance was found between stakeholders and water officials to help ensure any cuts would not harm wildlife that lives in or near the river.
Grijalva said the legislation, which he plans to introduce early next week, has support from all seven basin states and that it respects environmental laws.
He also said he has made a commitment to Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., to deliver possible solutions for stakeholders who were displeased with the exclusion of the Imperial Irrigation District, which objected to the plan’s failure to fully address problems with the Salton Sea.
Grijalva was joined by Arizona Reps. David Schweikert, Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs, Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, all of whom lauded the deal as a rare bipartisan accomplishment and recognized the work from the state’s tribal communities.
Thursday was the water deal’s second test on Capitol Hill, coming a day after a Senate subcommittee, chaired by McSally, R-Ariz., similarly endorsed the plan. McSally echoed Buschatzke and the other officials who stressed the short timeline they have, saying she and other senators will take swift action.
“Now that the states have completed their work, it’s time for Congress to take it across the finish line,” McSally said on Wednesday, adding that she and other senators are working to finalize the language of their version of a bill to enact the plan, which could be introduced as soon as Thursday.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, joined McSally in celebrating a huge first step, one of many standing in the way of enacting the plan. Sinema released a statement on Wednesday following the Senate hearing and said she was “proud to continue the legacy of water policy leadership in Arizona.”
While mostly optimistic, Burman also gave the committee a glimpse into what might happen if the federal government fails to do its part
“While shortages are likely part of the lower basin’s future, none of the lower basin states or Mexico can afford to allow a true crisis of water supply to develop,” Burman said to the House panel.
“Simply put, if lake Mead were to decline to elevations before 1,020 feet …this would leave us without a full year supply,” she said.
Even with recent storms and a promising snowpack in the Rockies, Burman said one good year won’t fix the underlying issues of drought. Lawmakers, she said, need to recognize the reality and authorize the plan so states like Arizona can breathe a little easier.
Stanton, D-Ariz., one of the lawmakers on the panel, is the former mayor of Phoenix, a city that gets almost 40 percent of its water from the river. Stanton, who often worked closely with Buschatzke, said he understood how much work has gone into finding a compromise for a critically important plan…
Stanton pointed to climate change as one of the larger reasons why the American desert Southwest is in this dire situation.
“Make no mistake, one of the primary reasons we are here today is climate change,” Stanton said, adding that Arizona and other Southwestern states are in the midst of a historic drought that is projected to worsen…
Burman alsostressed that water officials in the basin states will have to begin work soon on a long-range agreement.
“What (the plan) is going to do is give us that space for us … to work together on what is the next step,” Burman said. Buschatzke echoed Burman and said this temporary plan is just a bridge and that he didn’t know what could come of those future negotiations.
If nothing is done, Buschatzke and the other officials fear a crisis could cripple the sustainable growth of cities and their economies, negatively affect the wildlife that depends on the river and bring many other unforeseen consequences. The river, they said, is the lifeblood for 40 million people, millions of acres of farmland and a significant source of hydropower.
Biggs, R-Ariz., underlined that a reliable source of water is an economic necessity for the state, which he said has been a national and international leader in water conservation.