10th Circuit Lifts Injunction in #Colorado Challenge of [President 45] Waters of the United States Rule — Lexology #WOTUS

Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

From Lexology (Allison A. Torrence):

On March 2, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in the case of Colorado v. EPA, et al., Nos. 20-1238, 20-1262, and 20-1263, that had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) in the State of Colorado. Under the Tenth Circuit ruling, the NWPR was put back into force, and the State of Colorado’s case was remanded back to district court for further proceedings challenging the rule…

A number of lawsuits were filed challenging the NWPR, including Colorado v. EPA. The Colorado case was significant because Colorado sought, and was granted, a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the NWPR in the State of Colorado. The State had argued that by reducing the reach of the Clean Water Act, the NWPR caused irreparable injury to the State because Colorado would be forced to undertake additional enforcement actions in place of the federal government to protect the quality of its waterways. While the district court had found this to be sufficient injury to support the State’s preliminary injunction, the Tenth Circuit found that it was too speculative and uncertain. Thus, the preliminary injunction was rejected and reversed because the State of Colorado could not show irreparable injury. Notably, the Tenth Circuit did not address the merits of the State’s challenge to the NWPR.

Additionally, prior to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had requested the court hold the appeal in abeyance for 60 days in light of the new leadership at the agencies following the election of President Biden. The court denied the request and issued its ruling lifting the preliminary injunction the following day. The Biden Administration has indicated it is reviewing the NWPR and may want to make changes to broaden the definition of “Waters of the United States” once again. If that is the case, the agencies may look to settle the Colorado case and other similar litigation with a promise of changes to come.

Former @ColoradoStateU adviser Tom Vilsack confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

Tom Vilsack, was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on February 23, 2021. Photo credit: Colorado State University

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Molly Bohannon):

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack, a former Colorado State University System special adviser, as the agriculture secretary in the Biden administration.

The Senate voted 92-7 to approve Vilsack’s nomination.

Vilsack joined the CSU System in 2017 as a strategic adviser of food and water initiatives at CSU Spur for the Colorado State University System. He also worked as the global chair for the International Board of Counselors on Food and Water Initiatives.

At his Feb. 2 hearing, Vilsack said he plans to prioritize pandemic recovery and climate change during his term. He also spoke of the importance of racial justice and equity and how he hopes to change the USDA…

This will be Vilsack’s second term as the secretary of agriculture as he held the position for eight years in the Obama White House.

Interior Department Welcomes Newest Members of Leadership Team — @Interior

Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior:

The Department of the Interior today announced additional members of the agency leadership team working to steward America’s natural, cultural and historic resources, and honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes.

“As we work to advance President Biden’s vision for a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs, protects the environment, and powers our nation, we are thrilled to welcome our newest teammates. The diverse experiences of our staff will help us address the four intersecting challenges that the president has made a priority for his administration: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change — all of which disproportionately impact Tribal communities with whom we have a critical trust responsibility,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff.

Previous leadership announcements can be found here and here. Interior’s political team proudly reflects the diversity of America, with more than 50% identifying as BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) and 80% as women.

The appointees are listed below in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Shakiyya Bland, Ed.D. – Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, Office of the Secretary
  • Daniel Cordalis – Deputy Solicitor, Water
  • Nada Culver – Deputy Director, Policy and Programs, Bureau of Land Management
  • Bryan Newland – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs
  • Biographies are listed below:

    Shakiyya Bland, Ed.D. – Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, Office of the Secretary
    Shakiyya Bland is an educator, mathematics curriculum designer, and equity leader with more than 10 years of experience. Shakiyya produces culturally responsive instructional strategies to support scholars’ racial and cultural identities as contributors to STEM education. Shakiyya is an educational consultant, Institute for Teachers of Color femtor, BetterLesson, Inc. Master Teacher, KSDE Culturally Relevant Pedagogy Consultant, and Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. She has served as a Congressional Policy Fellow for the past seven months in Representative Deb Haaland’s office managing priority issues, conducting research, developing legislation and strategies for legislative priorities, and managing and responding to constituent correspondence.

    Daniel Cordalis – Deputy Solicitor, Water
    Daniel Cordalis has more than a decade of experience working on natural resource and complex water and land management issues on behalf of Tribal governments and conservation groups. Daniel most recently worked in private practice. He previously was an attorney with Earthjustice, the Yurok Tribe, and clerked for the Colorado Supreme Court and the Native American Rights Fund. After graduating from Rice University, Daniel received a M.A. focused on hydrology and a J.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Raised in southwest Colorado, Daniel is a Navajo Tribal member and lives with his family outside Arcata, California.

    Nada Culver – Deputy Director, Policy and Programs, Bureau of Land Management
    Nada Wolff Culver most recently served as the Vice President, Public Lands and Senior Policy Counsel at the National Audubon Society. Prior to joining Audubon, Nada was the Senior Counsel and Senior Director for Policy and Planning at The Wilderness Society. Nada began her career in the private sector, working on a variety of environmental issues including energy development and environmental remediation, and was a partner with the law firm of Patton Boggs. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

    Bryan Newland – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs
    Bryan Newland is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), where he recently completed his tenure as Tribal President. Prior to that, Bryan served as Chief Judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court. From 2009 to 2012, he served as a Counselor and Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Michigan State University College of Law. Bryan enjoys hiking and kayaking the shores of Lake Superior, and is a nature photography enthusiast.

    A member of the Yurok Tribe pulls salmon from his gill net on the Klamath River on the Yurok Indian Reservation in Northern California, July 2015. This April, a district court judge ruled that endangered salmon on the Klamath are entitled to prioritized protection. Photo credit: Terray Sylvester via High Country News

    Interior Announces Plans to Strengthen #LWCF

    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The Interior Department today took steps to strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by rescinding Trump administration policies that significantly undermined the landmark conservation program. Secretarial Order 3396 revokes an order signed on November 9, 2020 (Secretarial Order 3388) that unilaterally imposed new restrictions to inhibit the availability of LWCF funding for federal land and water acquisitions.

    “The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been crucial to protecting public lands, conserving wildlife habitats, and improving access to outdoor recreation. Interior’s actions today affirm our support for one of America’s most successful and popular conservation programs,” said Shannon A. Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “We look forward to further strengthening this successful program to ensure that all communities – from hikers and sportsmen to urban and underserved communities – have access to nature and the great outdoors.”

    In addition to rescinding the November 2020 Bernhardt policy, Secretarial Order 3396 instructs the National Park Service to revise the Land and Water Conservation Fund Assistance Manual to remove the restrictive policies implemented in the previous order, and to reinstate pre-existing implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program. The ORLP program is the only LWCF competitive grant program dedicated to addressing the recreational gap in underserved urban areas.

    Since its inception in 1965, the LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in every county in the country. Last year, Congress permanently funded the LWCF at $900 million per year with wide bipartisan support. At no cost to taxpayers, the LWCF supports increased public access to and protection for federal public lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas – and provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites.

    Interior department announces plans to strengthen #LWCF implementation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commends decision

    Elk mountains via the Colorado River District.

    Here’s the release from the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Walker Conyngham):

    Interior order reverses restrictions, restores funding for public access programs, repeals damaging changes put in place by the Trump administration

    The Interior Department today announced its intent to restore clarity to the implementation of and elevate conservation and access programs in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reversing damaging measures put in place by former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and reinstating bipartisan language passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act.

    The secretarial order from Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega rescinds the order from the previous administration, removing a litany of rules governing deployment of LWCF funds that effectively eliminated funding for land acquisition projects by the Bureau of Land Management and stipulated that state and local officials could veto LWCF-funded land acquisitions from willing sellers (thereby infringing on the rights of private landowners). Interior’s new order also restores the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program, LWCF’s only competitive grant program dedicated to underserved recreation needs in urban areas – a program experiencing increased demands and needs.

    Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for years has advocated for LWCF’s permanent reauthorization and full, dedicated funding and had strongly criticized the actions by the former administration at the time they were announced. BHA welcomed today’s action by the Biden administration.

    “No other federal program has achieved such substantial, durable outcomes – outcomes that have benefited every county and citizens nationwide – than the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Over and over again, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members have joined with other sportsmen and women, recreationists, business owners and others to stand up for LWCF. Today we offer thanks to the Biden administration for heeding the wishes of the people and the intent of bipartisan lawmakers to restore clarity and purpose to LWCF implementation.

    “For over half a century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has enhanced public access, conserved critical fish and wildlife habitat and bolstered state and local recreation infrastructure,” Tawney continued. “It’s well established as the most effective and popular conservation and access program in the country. BHA looks forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that crucial LWCF funds are deployed in ways that will open up public recreational and access opportunities and sustain important populations of fish and wildlife, continuing a national outdoors legacy that is unique the world over.”

    Advanced by Congress and signed into law last August, the Great American Outdoors Act achieved a longtime BHA goal by securing resources for deferred maintenance needs on public lands and ensuring full and dedicated funding at $900 million annually for LWCF. The Dingell Act, which became law in 2019, responded to the outspoken advocacy by millions of Americans, including sportsmen and women, by permanently reauthorizing LWCF.

    @POTUS administration cancels last-minute Trump executive order on Land and Water Conservation Fund — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #LWCF

    Mystic Island Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness Area, south of Eagle, Colorado. By CoMtMan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12260170

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The Biden administration Thursday canceled a Trump administration executive order, issued on the day before the former president’s last day in office, that stripped a program designed to improve access to federal recreation for underserved communities, among other provisions.

    On Jan. 19, then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced grants totaling $452 million. Colorado’s share was $5,172,872.

    Priority for grants totaling $302 million, according to an Interior news release, would be given “to projects that improve physical connectivity between federal and state-managed lands for recreational opportunities such as hunting, hiking, fishing, boating, camping and wildlife observation.”

    Another $150 million would be allocated in grants in a competitive bid process, allowed under the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill sponsored by then-Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

    But the total is about half of what Congress appropriated for the LWCF and left off projects approved for funding in the 2020 budget year.

    In addition, $125 million in funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Program was rerouted to other Interior priorities. The program supports parks and greenspace projects in cities, urban areas and historically underserved communities.

    The LWCF was approved by Congress for permanent authorization in 2019. Through the Great American Outdoors Act, the LWCF was finally approved for full funding of $900 million per year.

    The program dates back to the 1950s and the Eisenhower administration. In 1965, the LWCF was fully funded for the first time; since then, Colorado has seen more than 1,000 projects covered by LWCF funding, according to the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Its funding comes from federal oil and gas drilling lease revenues from offshore sites. However, over its history, much of its funding has been siphoned off for other purposes, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a nongovernmental nonprofit that advocates for the LWCF.

    Specifically, the coalition said, the order “misuses LWCF funds, patently violates LWCF’s underlying statutes as well as the FY 2021 appropriations law, and undermines conservation and recreation projects across the country. Particularly objectionable is the blatant attempt to simply erase the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program and siphon away funding that Congress specifically directed to provide equitable and just park access to underserved communities who need it most.”

    On Wednesday, the coalition, backed by 100 members of Congress, called on the Biden administration to rescind the order. Among the signatories: U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Denver; Jason Crow, D-Aurora, and Joe Neguse, D-Boulder.

    The letter to the acting secretary of the Interior noted that the Trump administration undermined the LWCF for months after the Great American Outdoors Act was signed…

    In the Thursday announcement to rescind the order, the Interior Department news release said that Secretarial Order 3396 “instructs the National Park Service to revise the Land and Water Conservation Fund Assistance Manual to remove the restrictive policies implemented in the previous order, and to reinstate preexisting implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program.”

    The coalition cheered the decision Thursday. In a statement, coalition spokesman Tom Cors, director of government relations for lands at The Nature Conservancy, said the administration’s decision is “a swift and decisive step toward reversing the damaging policies of the previous Administration and unleashing the full potential of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in its first year of full funding.”

    @potus signs order that includes lease moratorium for oil and gas development on federal lands, #water — The #KiowaCounty Press #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

    President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order halting new leases for oil and natural gas development on federal land, a move criticized by the industry and some state governors.

    “We’re going to review and reset the oil and gas leasing program,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.

    Biden said his administration is going to “properly manage lands and waterways in ways that allow us to protect, preserve them and the full value that they provide for us for future generations,” adding that his administration won’t ban fracking.

    The administration cites greenhouse gas emissions and “irresponsible leasing” that negatively affects communities as the reason for the order, which won’t affect existing oil and gas development on federal land and doesn’t apply to tribal land.

    The lease moratorium, which also applies to offshore leases, expands a secretarial order signed last week suspending new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days unless approved by Department of Interior (DOI) leadership. It’s also part of broader executive actions Biden took on Wednesday.

    The executive actions establish an Office of Domestic Climate Policy in the White House along with a National Climate Task Force. Biden is also directing DOI to establish a plan that will conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030…

    Other states, like Colorado, welcomed Biden’s climate actions and pledge to work with his administration.

    “We will also work closely with the Biden administration as they begin a program-wide review of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”

    Environmental advocacy groups praised the moratorium along with the administration’s broader efforts on fighting climate change.

    “Hitting pause on oil and gas leasing is a crucial first step toward reforming a rigged and broken system that for too long has put oil and gas lobbyists ahead of the American people,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Denver, Colo.-based Center for Western Priorities.

    The Sierra Club said the lease moratorium “will improve the health of our communities, our climate and our wild places.”

    “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to secure lasting solutions that address the climate impacts of coal, oil and gas leasing and put in place long-overdue protections for communities, taxpayers, and the climate,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of Public Lands Protection.

    First #ColoradoRiver District project spending from tax to tackle #GrandCounty project — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado River District will spend the first $1 million in partner project funds made possible from a recent tax approval to help pay for a Grand County effort to address environmental impacts from a reservoir.

    The district board last week approved the contribution to a $23.5 million project for a channel to reconnect the Colorado River where the Windy Gap Reservoir blocks its flow.

    The decision means nearly a quarter of the annual amount that the tax approval will generate for such projects will be spent in just one of the 15 counties in the river district. But district General Manager Andy Mueller believes it’s a good place to start. And a district policy newly approved by the board aims to ensure that over the long run, funding is allocated fairly and broadly around the district…

    In November, voters, including in Mesa County, approved roughly doubling the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The measure is expected to boost its revenues by nearly $5 million in the first year. Some of the annual revenues from the new tax will help the district address operating budget needs, but most of it — about $4.2 million this year — is to go toward partnering on projects addressing agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency.

    Under the board’s new policy to implement the program, it is seeking over time to spread funds among those categories and among counties and river basins in the district, while also considering factors such as the relative populations of counties and basins, and the district’s strategic goals.

    The district also plans to use funds to help lobby for contributions of funds from other sources, rather than paying for projects by itself…

    Mueller told the board the Windy Gap project is the kind of funding partnership he had in mind, in that “it really brings together all of these folks to fix something.”

    Among those who already have committed to the project are the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (about $5.67 million), the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District and related entities ($5 million), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (more than $3.2 million) and Grand County ($1 million).

    With the river district commitment, the project remains more than $6.3 million short of full funding, but Mueller plans to use the district’s commitment to push for further funding from a variety of sources, including by pressuring the Northern Colorado Water to chip in more…

    The bypass project partly involves reconfiguring the reservoir through construction of a redesigned dam, and building a roughly mile-long natural channel around the reservoir to reconnect the river upstream and downstream of it.

    The project is expected to improve Gold Medal trout habitat and improve water quality for downstream irrigators…

    Steve Acquafresca, Mesa County’s representative on the river district board, told fellow board members that the project is necessary…

    He said it provides a lesson to the current generation of the water community about the need to “really pay attention to what you’re doing” to avoid unintended consequences…

    As for other projects that the new river district tax revenue could someday fund, the district more locally has pointed to possibilities such as helping rehabilitate the Grand Valley Roller Dam in Mesa County, and working to maintain for the long term Colorado River flows secured by the senior water right associated with the aging Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon.

    Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    “This one was right up there, one of those the district thought was really qualified to be the initial (recipient),” said Catlin, of Montrose, who also represents State House District 58 in the Colorado Legislature. “Hopefully, it gets started right away, but all the communities will be able to apply for funding for projects across the district.”

    Montrose and the 14 other counties that make up the Colorado River District voted in November to increase the district’s mill levy to 0.5. The same ballot measure eliminated spending and revenue caps under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but not the tax-rate cap, and allows the district to keep and spend state and local grant funds.

    The mill levy increase was projected to generate about $5 million in 2021, with the bulk going to partnerships for priority water projects.

    Applications may be made for the awarding of partnership funds, which are to be direct to priority projects; the money can also serve to leverage other funds from state, federal or private sources.

    “The projects supported by the Partnership Project Funding Program will protect and sustain West Slope water for all of us who rely on it,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, in a provide statement announcing the Windy Gap funding.

    “In launching this program and funding our first project, we’re fulfilling our promise to the voters who make our work possible. This and future projects will help build a brighter water future for Western Colorado.”

    Under the Partnership Project Funding framework, the river district has created a line item in its general fund budget, identifying the moneys available for such funding.

    Staff analyze requests for funding and forward those that match up with several criteria to the board for further consideration. Under those criteria, the proposed project must fit with the mission of the district and language of the 2020 ballot measure.

    Risk analysis is part of consideration and applicants need buy-in from their respective local governments. Mostly, the river district will offer partial financial support, although some projects may also receive technical, legal or administrative advocacy.

    District funds are not intended to be the sole funding source for any project.

    Projects may involve improvements related to agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health/water quality, conservation and efficiency. The framework calls for geographic equity in awarding the funds.

    Tanya Trujillo named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The Department of the Interior today announced key members of agency leadership who will advance the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda to build back better and address the four intersecting challenges of our time: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change.

    “With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming Chief of Staff. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the Department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

    Interior’s team reflects the Biden-Harris commitment to diversity, with more than 80% of First Day appointees identifying as people of color, women, or LGBTQ. Additional members of the Biden-Harris appointee team will be named in the days and weeks to come.

    The incoming leadership team possesses a broad range of expertise and perspectives — representing decades of experience in federal, state, and tribal governments; academia; and non-profit and advocacy organizations. As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the highest ethical standards, all appointees received an initial ethics training today following their swearing-in.

    The leadership team is listed here in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
  • Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
  • Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
  • Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
  • Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management
  • Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
  • Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
  • Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
  • Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
  • Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • Shantha Ready Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
  • Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
  • Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
  • Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
  • Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget
  • Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
  • Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
  • Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
  • Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
  • Andrew Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
  • Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Biographies of the new team are listed below:

    Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
    Bob Anderson is a law professor with extensive experience in American Indian law, public land, and water law. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He taught at the University of Washington School of Law and directed its Native American Law Center for the past twenty years. For over a decade he has been an annual visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and Counselor to the Secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

    Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
    Travis Annatoyn joins the Department of the Interior from Democracy Forward Foundation, where he represented national and regional conservation organizations in novel challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental agenda. He began his litigation career as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Columbia University.

    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as Interim Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. She was also Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at ASU. She received a B.A. from Wayne State College and a J.D. from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

    Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
    Tyler Cherry most recently served as Director of Rapid Response for the Biden-Harris Arizona coordinated campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tyler was Director of Public Affairs at the political consulting firm SKDK, where he crafted and executed strategic communications plans for dozens of political, advocacy, corporate, and legal clients. He also previously worked at Media Matters for America as a campaigns associate and researcher. Tyler is a Los Angeles native and graduated from UCLA with a political science degree. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner and two exuberant cats.

    Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Mineral
    Management

    Laura Daniel Davis has more than two decades of experience in the public and non-profit sectors. She served as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration. She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

    Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
    Shannon Estenoz most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of The Everglades Foundation. Previously, Shannon served as Interior’s Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Shannon’s twenty four-year career in conservation includes roles with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association, and appointments by three Florida Governors including to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Shannon is a fifth generation native of Key West, Florida, and holds degrees in International Affairs and Civil Engineering from Florida State University.

    Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
    Morgan Gray has nearly two decades of experience in the Senate and House of Representatives working on climate, energy and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Legislative Director for Senator Edward J. Markey, where he oversaw the Senator’s policy agenda. Morgan previously served as Senator Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, directing his climate and energy policy, and before that as a senior staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee and on the staff of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Morgan graduated from Pomona College and is originally from Lincoln, Massachusetts.

    Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
    Before joining Interior, Ruchi Jain was the Pro Bono Counsel for the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Previously, Ruchi served as Special Assistant to President Obama, where she worked with other senior White House officials on federal agency management, Executive Branch nominations, and personnel matters. She held several other roles in the Obama-Biden White House and the Department of Justice. She began her career in private law practice. Ruchi has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Rice University.

    Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
    Kate Kelly most recently was the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama administration, Kate served as senior advisor to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and also served as communications director on behalf of Secretary Jewell and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Prior to joining the Interior Department, Kate worked in the U.S. Senate. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and hails from Colorado.

    Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
    Marissa Knodel is a passionate advocate for climate and environmental justice through a just and equitable transition to a clean energy-based society, and resilient adaptation to a changing climate. As Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice, her area of expertise included federal onshore, offshore, and Arctic oil and gas leasing and regulations. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Marissa managed a campaign at Friends of the Earth to stop new fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. Marissa holds a dual J.D. and Master of Environmental Management degree from Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.

    Shantha Ready-Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
    Shantha Ready-Alonso served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, Community Mobilization Manager for NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. Shantha is listed among the 2018 “Grist 50 Fixers” and is the recipient of the 2020 National Council of Churches USA J. Irwin Miller Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership award. Shantha holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Pastoral Studies from Eden Theological Seminary. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.

    Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
    Paniz Rezaeerod previously served on the staff of Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), where she was responsible for legislation to ban offshore drilling, protect irreplaceable natural resources, and secure full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the Great American Outdoors Act. Prior to Rep. Cunningham’s office, Paniz worked for the House Financial Services Committee and for CoBank. A first-generation American born in Iran and raised in South Carolina, Paniz is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South.

    Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
    Melissa Schwartz is a strategic communicator and adjunct professor with two decades of experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Jill Biden. As Chief Operating Officer at The Bromwich Group for nine years, projects included coordinating communications strategy to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raise awareness of the rape kit backlog and gender-based violence, defend national monuments and the ocean, and facilitate a just transition for coal communities. Melissa is a former senior spokesperson for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and Senator Barbara Mikulski.

    Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
    Janea A. Scott was most recently a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission. Janea also served as the Vice Chair of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body and is a member of the Western Interstate Energy Board and the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. Janea previously worked at Interior as the Deputy Counselor for Renewable Energy and at Environmental Defense Fund as a senior attorney. She earned her J.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder Law School and her master’s of science and bachelor’s of science in earth systems from Stanford University.

    Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management, and Budget
    Rachael Taylor most recently served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for nearly 16 years. In her role as Democratic clerk of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she negotiated a $38 billion annual appropriations bill and oversaw the budgets of Federal environmental, Tribal and cultural agencies. Rachael has also served in several other legislative and executive branch roles during her career, including in the Office of Vice President Al Gore. A West Virginia native, she received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Administration from American University.

    Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
    Maggie Thompson was most recently the North Carolina State Advisor and Chief of Staff for the Biden campaign and currently serves on the campaign’s Education Unity Task Force. Maggie was also the State Director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She is the former Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. Maggie also worked in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in the office of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She graduated with a degree in economics and classical archaeology from Macalester College.

    Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
    Camille Calimlim Touton returns to Interior after serving as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration. Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.

    Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
    Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

    Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
    Jennifer Van der Heide has over 25 years of federal, state and local experience in legislative, legal and electoral sectors. She most recently served as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Deb Haaland, and had been Chief of Staff and Political Director for Rep. Mike Honda. Jennifer previously served as the Washington Director and on-reservation Tribal Attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Tribal Attorney for California Indian Legal Services; and in private litigation practice in CA. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a focus on public interest law.

    Andrew (Drew) Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
    A native of Houston, Texas, Drew Wallace has worked in senior policy roles in both houses of Congress. Over the last twelve years, he has served in the office of former Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), finishing as Chief of Staff. Drew has a record of significant contributions to bipartisan legislative successes across a range of issues, in particular energy, the environment, and conservation. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. Drew lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife and two sons.

    Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
    Martha has spent her career fostering a love of the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, she gained an appreciation for place and all that comprises it. This passion led her to the wild places of the West where she focused on public lands and wildlife – first as attorney for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, then as Deputy Solicitor Parks and Wildlife at the Department of the Interior, as a professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, and most recently returning to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as its Director.

    Congratulations Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden

    Kamala Harris and Joe Biden November, 2020. Photo credit: JoeBiden.com

    From The New York Times (Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck):

    On Wednesday, 232 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.

    But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.

    With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.

    Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.

    But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.

    “That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”

    Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, administered the oath.

    Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.

    “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”

    With the inauguration of Ms. Harris as vice president, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, 56, had two firsts of his own: the first “second gentleman” and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. The details of what Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, might do with the platform are unclear, but he has discussed focusing on “access to justice.”

    Wise Use Echoes: The rhetoric and ideology of today’s right-wing extremism mirrors that of a lesser-known anti-public lands movement of the 1990s — The Land Desk

    Photo credit: The Land Desk

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    Like millions of people from around the globe, I watched the images of coup-pawns invading the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with shock, rage, and sadness. But, like many others, I wasn’t surprised. After all, almost exactly five years earlier we had been transfixed and alarmed by another violent attack on an American institution, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Sagebrush Insurgents. The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, aptly called Malheur a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.”

    Malheur, meanwhile, was the culmination of what my colleagues and I at High Country News coined the Sagebrush Insurgency, a more violent remake of the seventies-era Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement focused on transferring public lands to state and private hands, that rose up largely in reaction to tightening environmental regulations on public lands.

    Subscribe Now

    So it makes sense that observers are now tracing the roots of the Capitol attack to Malheur and then back to the Sagebrush Rebellion. But to find the true antecedent to the recent insurgency, which was initially sparked by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, one needn’t go back so far. In the late 1980s, another anti-environmental regulation movement known as Wise Use arose from the Sagebrush Rebellion’s ashes. Wise Use would turn out to be more radical, insidious, and ultimately more influential than its more glamorously named predecessor. And today’s right-wing extremist movements reverberate with echoes from Wise Use and its concurrent cousins the Patriot and Militia movements.

    In the late 1980s, as President Ronald Reagan finished his second term and the Cold War neared its end, a right-wing, nationalist furor fulminated in the Heartland. Billboards sprouted along rural roadsides warning of black United Nations helicopters imposing a New World Order on the nation. And in Reno, Nevada, timber lobbyist and co-founder of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Ron Arnold, held the inaugural Wise Use conference featuring sponsors such as Exxon, the National Rifle Association, Boise Cascade Corporation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and several cattlemen’s and motorized-recreation organizations.

    While the Sagebrush Rebellion had been a direct reaction to the tightening of regulations on public lands and the relatively green ethos of President Jimmy Carter, Wise Use had no clear catalyst. Reagan, after all, had opened up the lands to exploitation once again, and his vice-president, not exactly a liberal, took over from him. Instead, it appears that the movement was sparked by a myriad of causes, one of which was Reaganism, although they would never admit to it. Reagan’s mission was to dismantle the framework created by the New Deal, a framework that protected workers’ rights, staved off extreme wealth-inequality with progressive taxation, and built up a strong middle-class. Reagan took the shame out of unbridled greed and let corporations run rampant with the promise that all that wealth would trickle down to the working classes. It did not, and the very farmers, miners, ranchers, and roughnecks who had sought salvation in Reagan’s laissez faire public lands policies instead were dealt damnation from his free-marketeer ways.

    During Reagan’s two terms: Carter-era subsidies for oil shale production ended, triggering a deep recession in the Interior West. The oil boom spurred by energy crises busted, ending—for the time being—Denver’s Dynasty period. Metal mining went global, depressing prices in the U.S. and forcing the closure of numerous Western mines. The uranium mining industry in the West was diminished by Three Mile Island’s then Chernobyl’s impact on the nuclear power industry, followed by the end of the arms race. And the Farm Crisis ravaged agricultural communities everywhere. The middle class was hollowed out while a guy named Donald Trump became a celebrity simply by flaunting his wealth. Reagan’s policies aren’t responsible for all of this, but they did weaken the safety nets that should have caught these people when they were in trouble. Instead, the nets failed, and widespread economic malaise among the working class oozed across the land, spurring resentment that the Wise Use, Patriot, and Militia leaders seized upon to fuel their cause.

    Colorado Governor Richard Lamm once called the Sagebrush Rebellion a “murky fusion of idealism and greed” and a “movement of confusion and hysteria.” Wise Use had the fusion of idealism and greed part down, but it was anything but confused, and was more focused, more radical, more sinister, and ultimately more influential than its predecessor. Like Sagebrush Rebels, Wise Users were looking to get out from the yoke of environmental regulations on public lands. But the adherents of the latter campaign also saw themselves as soldiers in a culture war, and their credo carried more than a whiff of evangelical Christianity. The federal government and environmentalists weren’t just a threat to their profits and occupations, but to their “heritage” and “civilization.” Arnold summed up his crusade’s Western civilization-centric ideology in a 1993 speech:

    I see environmentalism as the destroyer of the economy, as the destroyer of material well being—as the destroyer of industrial civilization—as the destroyer of individual liberties and civil rights. For those reasons, I fight against environmentalism as a matter of principle, as a matter of ethics, as a matter of survival. The same reasons for which I see environmentalists fighting against industrial civilization.

    Wise Use put a nifty little twist on the land-transfer ethos of the Sagebrush Rebels: Instead of focusing on transferring public lands into private hands, they would extend private property rights—for livestock operators, corporations, and counties—to the public lands. It was a brilliant idea, really, because it essentially privatized public land without the need for politically untenable land transfers. One of the leading practitioners of this notion was Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based attorney and alumna of both the Mountain States Legal Foundation and James Watt’s Interior Department, who argued that public land grazing leases bestowed private property rights on the lessee.

    Budd-Falen was instrumental in crafting a slew of ordinances and a land-use plan for Catron County, New Mexico, declaring county authority over federally managed lands and, specifically, grazing allotments. The ordinances were “… about the legal authority of county governments and the legal rights of local citizens as regards the use of federal and state lands.” They were intended to preserve the “customs and culture” of the rural West—by which they apparently meant only the predominantly white, conservative, Euro-American settler-colonial culture and customs, with a big dose of corporate influence thrown into the mix. And the Catron County commissioners were ready to turn to violence and even civil war to stop, in the words of the ordinance, “federal and state agents {who} threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County … and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.” The Utah-based National Federal Lands Conference, launched in the late 1980s by Sagebrush Rebel and military-surplus-peddler Bert Smith, boiler-plated the ordinances and tried to sell them to other counties around the rural West.

    Rising up alongside Wise Use was the Patriot/Militia movement. Whereas Wise Use was worried about the BLM coming after “their” lands, the Patriots were more concerned about the IRS or the ATF or the United Nations coming for their money and their guns (in black helicopters, of course). While the details of their crusades may have differed, the two movements shared followers, philosophies, and ideological roots.

    One of those shared beliefs was the creed of county supremacy over the states and feds and that the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority. A prominent teacher of this philosophy was W. Cleon Skousen, an extreme right-wing author, Mormon theologian, and founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, née the Freeman Institute, known for its best-selling pocket-size versions of the U.S. Constitution. Skousen’s influence—indeed, his exact words—can be found in the Catron County ordinances, and Skousen and Bert Smith were contemporaries and collaborators. Skousen was also friends and ideological twins with Ezra Taft Benson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played a leading role in steering the Church from its collectivist roots onto a right-wing course.

    Skousen, a former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police chief, gave talks to Rotary Clubs and other groups and taught classes to police officers. One of his students was a man named Richard Mack. Mack grew up in southern Arizona in a conservative Mormon family, graduated from Brigham Young University, then joined the Provo, Utah, police force in the 1980s. While he was a police officer, Mack attended one of Skousen’s classes in which he melded constitutional law with Mormon doctrine. Mack became a Skousen-convert and soon went back to Arizona to practice his new creed and where he was elected sheriff of Graham County in 1988 and was re-elected in 1992.

    The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, followed by Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency and his appointments of Janet Reno as Attorney General and Bruce Babbitt as Interior Secretary, was akin to throwing gasoline on the Patriot-Wise Use fire. The reactionary conflagration was further inflamed by the 1993 Waco fiasco and the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring people purchasing firearms to get background checks. Among other things, the Act charged local law enforcement with conducting the checks until a federal system was set up. That provided an opening into which then-sheriff Mack could step and propel himself into the glow of the inferno that was whipping across America.

    When the Brady Bill was passed, Mack, with backing from the National Rifle Association, joined up with other county sheriffs to sue the federal government over the background-check provision, and ultimately won a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court. Mack’s willingness to stand up to the federal government made him an instant folk hero among the anti-government factions (though he lost re-election in 1996) and he was soon headlining Patriot gatherings, railing at Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, and he co-wrote a book with Randy Weaver, the man at the center of the Ruby Ridge shootout.

    Meanwhile, prominent Wise Use leaders took pains to distance themselves from the Patriot movement’s more violent elements, while at the same time espousing identical ideologies. The National Federal Lands Conference’s Federal Land Update, edited for a time by Wayne Hage, the rancher who became famous for doing battle with the federal government, regularly ran rants against the New World Order and gun control legislation. In 1994 the Update ran a long article touting the “need for the Militia in America.” That same year, Helen Chenoweth—a staunch Republican, Sagebrush Rebel (she held “endangered salmon bakes” to piss off the greens), and an early Wise User—was elected to represent Idaho in Congress. Chenoweth, who would go on to marry Hage, claimed that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers were utilizing black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act and that white, Anglo-Saxon males were the real endangered species. Even after a militia-follower named Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 167 people, Chenoweth told a newspaper reporter that she would not condemn militias and that “public policies may be pushing people too far,” and therefore were partially responsible for the bloodshed.

    After George W. Bush was elected president he assembled an Interior Department staff that resembled the attendance roster for a petroleum association or Wise Use conference. It was led by Gale Norton, a disciple of James Watt’s and alumna of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the litigating arm of the Sagebrush Rebels and then the Wise Users. Also on staff were J. Steven Griles, a lobbyist for energy companies; Rejane Burton, the former vice-president of an oil and gas exploration company; and David Bernhardt, a lobbyist for the extractive industry.

    Naturally, that played out on the public lands. During Norton’s years in Interior, the BLM issued drilling permits at a record pace. Norton favored drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voided critical habitat on millions of acres, increased the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and so on. Meanwhile, the Interior Department and its assorted agencies fell into a veritable orgy of ethical lapses, federal coffers were deprived of oil and gas royalties, fragile species denied protection, and industry was given yet more power to wreck public land in the name of greed.

    Give a Gift Subscription

    With so many Wise Users in the government, the reactionary movement had nothing to push back against, and therefore lost a lot of steam. The same went for the Patriot movement. Mack’s pulpit dissolved as well and he became a used car salesman. But the movements were not dead, they were simply dormant, awaiting a new force against which to react and awaken them from their slumber. And that force arrived in the form of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

    “What if the elitists in power also used their paid political hacks to manipulate the voting process? We do know that ANY electronic voting machine can be rigged to make sure that only the elitist chosen candidates will win. That’s when it’s time for an alert and vigilant militia to be on guard. Don’t those in power, the elitists, realize that if they continue in their ways there could be some dire consequences?”

    That may sound like a rant from some Proud Boy’s Parler post, or—if it had more grammatical errors—President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, in the days leading up to the 2020 election. In fact, these words were published in a 1994 article in the Federal Land Update, the Wise Use movement’s rag. The stolen-election trope that Trump and his followers have been spewing for months is just one of many current-day echoes of the Wise Use era. They are reverberating everywhere, whether it’s among the Tea Party or the Oath Keepers or the III-percenters or the Sagebrush Insurgency. Some examples:

    W. Cleon Skousen: Skousen died in 2006, but his legacy lives on. Following Obama’s election, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck began touting Skousen’s 1981 tome, The Five Thousand Year Leap. A re-issued version sold hundreds of thousands of copies and came to be known as the Tea Party’s “bible.” Meanwhile, the Bundys are often seen carrying the pocket-sized constitutions published by Skousen’s NCCS in, well, their pockets. At the 2014 ATV-protest down Recapture Canyon in southeast Utah, led by Neo-Sagebrush Rebel and Wise User Phil Lyman, Ryan Bundy himself handed me one of these booklets, peppered with Scripture. Also at the event were a number of self-proclaimed militia-men.

    “Sheriff” Richard Mack: Skousen-acolyte Mack was so distraught by Obama’s election that he wrote a book. The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, published in 2009, argues that the sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority and thus the “last line of defense” shielding individual liberties from out-of-control federal bureaucrats. Mack then launched the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association. The organization’s 2012 conference attendance roster included Bert Smith, the Wise Use leader. Smith, who became wealthy from his giant military surplus business in Ogden, Utah, had provided seed money for the CSPOA and for the American Lands Council, created that year by Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory to push for transferring public lands to the states, counties, and private entities. Also speaking was Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center, known for spreading fears that the United Nations, under Agenda 21, is taking over the world via bike paths and public transit, and Joe Arpaio, the notorious sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, whom Mack praised for launching an investigation into the validity of Obama’s birth certificate. Ivory gave a rousing speech at the September gathering about the “revolution of ideologies” in which he and the sheriffs were engaged. Mack would go on to lend support to Cliven Bundy during the Bunkerville standoff in 2014 and was a part of the 2016 protest against the prosecution of Wise Use rancher Dwight Hammond, a protest that would culminate in the Malheur takeover.

    Bert Smith: Until his death in 2016, Smith remained active in the new iterations of the Sagebrush Rebellion/Wise Use. After the Bunkerville fiasco, Smith penned a piece on the Bundy Ranch blog in which he called Cliven Bundy a “hero of the range livestock operator on public land,” who had “a sacred God-given right of unalienable rights, private property rights” to graze his cows on the American public’s land.

    Karen Budd-Falen: Falen emerged from Wise Use as a leading private property rights attorney, often fighting against the federal government, and gained new prominence in the latest Sagebrush Insurgency. She once represented Cliven Bundy. In 2011, she told a gathering of county sheriffs in Northern California that “the foundation for every single right in this country, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, our freedom to petition, is all based on the right of ownership of private property.” Trump appointed her to be deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks, an obscure but powerful position, in 2018.

    William Perry Pendley: Pendley worked under Sagebrush Rebel James Watt in Reagan’s Interior Department then became president of Mountain States Legal Foundation—the legal arm of Wise Use—just as the Wise Use movement was getting going. He stayed with the organization until just months before he went to work for the Trump administration. In 2019 he was named acting director of the BLM; in 2020 a judge found that he had been serving unlawfully.

    Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage: Chenoweth-Hage died in 2006, but her firebrand, gun-loving, lib-hating, militia-sympathizing, conspiracy-theory-flinging spirit lives on in the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was recently elected to represent Colorado’s third congressional district. Boebert, who tweeted incendiary messages as the Capitol was being invaded, seems to be emerging as the leader of what I call the #ObnoxiousCaucus, which also includes Westerners such as Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, from Arizona.

    Fake Victimhood: Both Wise Use and the current right-wing movements have portrayed themselves and their culture, customs, and heritage, as the victims of persecution and even genocide by the “elitists,” the environmentalists, cancel culture, liberals, the deep state, black helicopters, Hugo Chavez, and rigged voting machines. By falsely portraying themselves as the little guys getting beaten up by bullies—despite the fact that they are almost invariably members of the dominant power structure and backed by corporations and wealthy benefactors—they can justify responding with violence.

    Now the question is whether these echoes will be amplified in reaction to a Biden-Harris administration, or whether widespread anger and alarm in response to the Capitol invasion will silence them. Will a Biden administration rollback of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments spark a new backlash? Or will the reactionaries finally learn that these protections aren’t an existential threat to their “way of life?”

    It’s worth noting that Western politicians who have adhered to the Wise Use/Sagebrush Rebel philosophies in the past are now emerging as some of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump, including: Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming.

    It’s not a lot, and it may be too little too late, but it does provide a small glimmer of hope.

    @JoeBiden plans to fight climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before — The Conversation #ActOnClimate


    Managing climate change requires a systems approach, with strategic coordination across all sectors.
    Elenabs via Getty Images

    Bill Ritter Jr., Colorado State University

    Joe Biden is preparing to deal with climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before – by mobilizing his entire administration to take on the challenge from every angle in a strategic, integrated way.

    The strategy is evident in the people Biden has chosen for his Cabinet and senior leadership roles: Most have track records for incorporating climate change concerns into a wide range of policies, and they have experience partnering across agencies and levels of government.

    Those skills are crucial, because slowing climate change will require a comprehensive and coordinated “all hands on deck” approach.

    We did that with energy when I was governor of Colorado, and I can tell you it isn’t simple. Energy policy isn’t just about electricity. It’s about how homes are built, how they generate power and feed it into the grid and how the transportation, industrial and agriculture sectors evolve. It’s about regulations, trade rules, government purchases and funding for research for innovation. Coordination and collaboration among agencies and different levels of government is crucial.

    Gina McCarthy at the event where Biden introduced his climate policy leaders.
    The task of coordinating climate actions across the government falls to Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who will be Biden’s national climate advisor.
    Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

    A coordinated approach also helps ensure that vulnerable populations aren’t overlooked. Biden has committed to help disadvantaged communities that have too often borne the brunt of fossil fuel industry pollution, as well as those that have been losing fossil fuel jobs.

    The Biden-Harris team’s depth of experience will be vital as they take over from a Trump administration that has been stripping government agencies of their expertise and eliminating environmental protections. With Democrats gaining control of both the House and Senate, the Biden administration may also have a better chance of overhauling laws, funding and tax incentives in ways that could fundamentally transform the U.S. approach to climate change.

    Here are some of the biggest challenges ahead and what “all hands on deck” might mean.

    Dealing with all those climate policy rollbacks

    From its first days, the Trump administration began trying to nullify or weaken U.S. environmental regulations. It had rolled back 84 environmental rules by November 2020, including major climate policies, and more rollbacks were being pursued, according to a New York Times analysis of research from Harvard and Columbia law schools.

    Many of these rules had been designed to reduce climate-warming pollution from power plants, cars and trucks. Several reduced emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas production. The Trump administration also moved to open more land to more drilling, mining and pipelines.

    Some rollbacks have been challenged in court and the rules then reinstated. Others are still being litigated. Many will require going through government rule-making processes that take years to reverse.

    Michael Regan during Biden's announcement
    Michael Regan will contend with many of the Trump administration’s rollbacks as Biden’s choice to head the EPA.
    Alex Edelman/Getty Images

    Pressuring other countries to take action

    Biden can quickly bring the U.S. back into the international Paris climate agreement, through which countries worldwide agreed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming. But reestablishing the nation’s leadership role with the international climate community is a much longer haul.

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry will lead this effort as special envoy for climate change, a new Cabinet-level position with a seat on the National Security Council. Other parts of the government can also pressure countries to take action. International development funding can encourage climate-friendly actions, and trade agreements and tariffs can establish rules of conduct.

    Kerry, Stern and Deese walking.
    Then-Secretary of State John Kerry (right), with climate envoy Todd Stern and Brian Deese while negotiating the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Deese (left) is Biden’s choice to head the National Economic Council.
    Mandel Ngan, Pool photo via AP

    Cleaning up the power sector

    The Biden-Harris climate plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to net zero by 2035.

    While 62 major utilities in the U.S. have set their own emission reduction goals, most leaders in that sector would argue that requiring net zero emissions by 2035 is too much too fast.

    One problem is that states are often more involved in regulating the power sector than the federal government. And, when federal regulations are passed, they are often challenged in court, meaning they can take years to implement.

    Reducing greenhouse gases also requires modernizing the electricity transmission grid. The federal government can streamline the permitting process to allow more clean energy, like wind and solar power, onto the grid. Without that intervention, it could take a decade or more to permit a single transmission line.

    What to do about vehicles, buildings and ag

    The power sector may be the easiest sector to “decarbonize.” The transportation sector is another story.

    Transportation is now the nation’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide. Decarbonizing it will require a transition away from the internal combustion engine in a relatively short amount of time.

    Again, this is a challenge that requires many parts and levels of government working toward the same goal. It will require expanding carbon-free transportation, including more electric vehicles, charging stations, better battery technology and clean energy. That involves regulations and funding for research and development from multiple departments, as well as trade agreements, tax incentives for electric vehicles and a shift in how government agencies buy vehicles. The EPA can facilitate these efforts or hamstring them, as happened when the Trump EPA revoked California’s ability to set higher emissions standards – something the Biden administration is likely to quickly restore.

    The other “hard to decarbonize” sectors – buildings, industry and agriculture – will require sophistication and collaboration among all federal departments and agencies unlike any previous efforts across government.

    A new comprehensive climate bill

    The best way to tackle these sectors would be a comprehensive climate bill that uses some mechanism, like a clean energy standard, that sets a cap, or limit, on emissions and tightens it over time. Here, the problem lies more in the politics of the moment than anything else. Biden and his team will have to convince lawmakers from fossil fuel-producing states to work on these efforts.

    Democratic control of the Senate raises the chances that Congress could pass comprehensive climate legislation, but that isn’t a given. Until that happens, Biden will have to rely on agencies issuing new rules, which are vulnerable to being revoked by future administrations. It’s a little like playing chess without a queen or rooks.

    Years of delays have allowed global warming to progress so far that many of its impacts may soon become irreversible. To meet its ambitious goals, the administration will need everyone, progressives and conservatives, state and local leaders, and the private sector, to work with them.

    The Conversation

    Bill Ritter Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    10 things to know about the 2021 #Colorado legislative session — The #Denver Post #COleg

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Saja Hindi and Alex Burgess):

    A new legislative session is kicking off this week in Colorado, but it won’t really get going until February.

    A batch of new Colorado state lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday, and the legislature plans to pass about seven mostly minor bills this week. When they return Feb. 16, there will be backlogs of popular bills that were sidelined in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session, plus many new priorities.

    Democrats are still in control, now with an expanded Senate majority. That means until at least 2022, the GOP will have its say but rarely its way…

    Short, distanced start

    Lawmakers will work quickly this week to pass time-sensitive bills and meet constitutional requirements before their break…

    COVID relief

    Ask nearly any lawmaker what they’re plotting for 2021, and they’ll tell you they want to do everything possible to address the coronavirus’ ripple effects.

    But the public should temper its expectations, budget officials say, because there’s a limited pot of money for grants, direct payments and new programs…

    Restricted ambitions

    It is often the case that bills die — or never get introduced in the first place — not because of their merits but because lawmakers are nervous about how much they cost.

    We’ll likely be seeing a lot of that in 2021, given the budget outlook. Take, for example, the bipartisan and generally popular proposal to eliminate the wait list for state-funded in-home care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year was supposed to be the year they committed more than $160 million over seven years to the program, but pandemic hits, plan scrapped…

    Is the momentum for social justice still there?

    The legislature last year repealed the death penalty and passed a police reform package inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lawmakers vowed then that they would not relent on matters of criminal justice and law enforcement.

    There’s plenty on the table for 2021, including banning no-knock warrants and restricting the use of ketamine against people detained by police. The latter is particularly close to home: First responders injected Elijah McClain with ketamine after he was violently detained by Aurora police in 2019…

    Public participation

    Members of the public will have the opportunity to testify on bills in person, remotely or submit written testimony as they were able to do during the special legislative session, but it will likely be limited. People interested in testifying will need to sign up ahead of time at http://leg.colorado.gov.

    They can also contact their lawmakers directly. To find out who your legislator is, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. To contact lawmakers by phone or email, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators…

    Transportation funding, finally?

    Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle have sought and failed to obtain a funding boost for Colorado’s chronically underfunded transportation system. This year, there’s real optimism for a breakthrough.

    The latest plan involves raising certain fees — remember, Colorado lawmakers can’t raise taxes, but they can raise closely related fees — on things like gas and electric vehicle usage in order to generate money for transportation projects…

    Can House Republicans get along?

    Democrats have a strong 20-15 advantage in the Senate and in the House, it’s not even close — 41 of the 65 seats.

    Having hemorrhaged power and influence in the House in recent years, GOP state representatives turned on last year’s minority leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and replaced him with Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland…

    Public option, take two

    Last year, sponsors shelved an effort to implement a hybrid public health insurance option that would have provided Coloradans who buy insurance on the individual market another option.

    Its return in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring more conflict between supporters and hospital groups. But one of its sponsors, Avon Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts said the bill will look very different, because it takes into account the changes to health care due to COVID…

    A renewed push for gun legislation

    Colorado House Rep. Tom Sullivan was beyond disappointed last year that proposed gun reforms were shelved when COVID arrived. The Centennial Democrat pledged last year to bring gun legislation to the forefront of the 2021 session, and he plans to make good on that promise…

    Climate response

    After a year of raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers are planning to address climate and environmental policies.

    “Unfortunately, it’s been a big issues for years and I think we’re sort of behind in where we need to be,” Fenberg said. “We basically don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off of thinking critically about getting our emissions under control.”

    Topics on deck include air-quality issues, improving the electric transmission grid in Colorado, addressing issues of methane leaks, a greenhouse road map and increasing the use of energy storage equipment in Colorado.

    Westminster Democratic Sen. Faith Winter said climate mitigation is also important for communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by pollution. She’s working on a bill to better define environmental justice and impacted communities, and also intends to address issues of environment in transportation funding bills.

    “Climate change is a huge threat to our state,” she said. “It’s a threat to individual people’s health,” she said. “It’s a threat to our economy.”

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Because of the ongoing pandemic, lawmakers will only meet for three days this week, and then it will go into a recess until mid-February.

    “Clearly, there’s going to be a change to how the 73rd General Assembly is going to get started,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Everything is going to look a lot different than it has in the past. We’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and the bulk of our work won’t start in earnest until Feb. 16 when we all come back from our temporary adjournment.”

    Under the Colorado Constitution, the Legislature can only meet for 120 days. But after the pandemic hit at the start of last year’s session, Democratic leaders decided to recess for an extended period because of it, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his first COVID-19 executive order calling for a state of emergency…

    So as a result of this built-in recess, which could be extended or ended early depending on what happens with coronavirus infection rates, lawmakers don’t plan to do much in these first three days…

    Beyond typical beginning-of-session matters, including provisions to allow for lawmakers to participate in floor debates and committee hearings remotely, lawmakers have only a handful of bills they expect to address by Friday, one of which is to fix a problem with a bill approved during last month’s special session.

    That was on a $57 million Small Business Relief Program, which is intended to provide grants and fee waivers to businesses most impacted by the downturned economy, particularly to restaurants and night clubs.

    The bill also sets aside money for hard-hit minority-owned businesses, a provision that currently is facing a lawsuit filed by the white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop…

    Starting on Thursday, counties across the state are accepting applications for that money, and will do so until early February.

    Businesses that qualify will then get their share, but how much will depend on how many apply and how much each county is allocated.

    Under the bill, money is to go to very small businesses, primarily those hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, caterers, movie theaters, fitness centers and other recreational facilities, but only those with annual revenues of less that $2.5 million and only if they are following local public health orders.

    Because of the monthlong recess, individual lawmakers were given more time to introduce their first three bills — under the law, they are allowed up to five — until the Legislature reconvenes in February.

    Meanwhile, the four leaders in the House and Senate from both parties have approved committee assignments for legislators.

    Locally, that means that Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will serve on the Senate Transportation & Energy and Finance committees, while Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will be on the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources and transportation committees.

    Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, will serve as chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She also will serve on the transportation panel, and is the newly chosen Senate pro temp, the second highest-ranking position.

    In the House, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, will be on the House Transportation & Local Government, Appropriations and Finance committees, while Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will be on the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee with Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose.

    Will also will serve on the transportation committee, while Catlin also will be on the House Energy & Environment Committee.

    Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, was taken off the House Judiciary Committee where he served during his first term in office. Instead, he will be on the House Health & Insurance Committee and the energy panel.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, will continue to be on the Joint Budget Committee. The two local lawmakers also will serve on the appropriations committees in their respective chambers.

    From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):

    Here’s a look at the bills lawmakers will debate this week before taking a break

    Legislative leaders said not to expect a robust policy agenda at the start of the session, but rather “minor things we need to get done that are time sensitive,” Garnett said.

    So far, nine bill drafts are on the table. One of the first would allow lawmakers to participate remotely in legislative meetings and conduct certain committee hearings even while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned. Democratic leaders said they plan to conduct oversight hearings — known as SMART Act reviews — for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The public would be allowed to participate remotely.

    In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with the public not permitted to attend but allowed to listen online.

    The other legislation being considered in the first days would:

  • Change the requirements for a small business relief fund approved in December’s special session to apply to more than just minority-owned businesses, a move designed to nullify a lawsuit stating that the new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
  • Extend the deadlines to continue to allow for electronic wills and further suspend debt collection due to the pandemic.
  • Recreate regulations and licensing benchmarks on occupational therapists after lawmakers inadvertently repealed the requirements.
  • Federal leaders have two options if they want to rein in the President — The Conversation


    President Donald Trump gestures during a Jan. 6 speech in Washington, D.C.
    AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

    Kirsten Carlson, Wayne State University

    As the world reacts to the Jan. 6 armed attack on the U.S. Capitol encouraged by President Donald Trump, many Americans are wondering what happens next. Members of Congress, high-level officials and even major corporations and business groups have called for Trump’s removal from office.

    Prominent elected and appointed officials appear to have already sidelined Trump informally. Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly the highest-level official to review the decision to call out the D.C. National Guard to respond to the assault on the Capitol.

    Informal actions like this may continue, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reported request that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, restrict Trump’s ability to use the nuclear codes. But political leaders are considering more formal options as well. They have two ways to handle it: impeachment and the 25th Amendment.

    A scene of the Senate voting in Trump's impeachment trial in 2020
    Donald Trump has already been impeached once, but was not convicted.
    Senate Television via AP

    Impeachment

    Article II of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to impeach and remove the president – and other federal officials – from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The founders included this provision as a tool to punish a president for misconduct and abuses of power. It’s one of the many ways that Congress keeps the executive branch in check.

    Impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives. A member of the House files a resolution for impeachment. The resolution goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which usually holds a hearing to evaluate the resolution. If the House Judiciary Committee thinks impeachment is proper, its members draft and vote on articles of impeachment. Once the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, they go to the full House for a vote.

    If the House of Representatives impeaches a president or another official, the action then moves to the Senate. Under the Constitution’s Article I, the Senate has the responsibility for determining whether to remove the person from office. Normally, the Senate holds a trial, but it controls its procedures and can limit the process if it wants.

    Ultimately, the Senate votes on whether to remove the president – which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators. To date, the Senate has never voted to remove a president from office, although it almost did in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson escaped removal from office by one vote.

    The Senate also has the power to disqualify a public official from holding public office in the future. If the person is convicted and removed from office, only then can senators vote on whether to permanently disqualify that person from ever again holding federal office. Members of Congress proposing the impeachment of Trump have promised to include a provision to do so. A simple majority vote is all that’s required then.

    The 25th Amendment
    The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    National Archives via AP

    25th Amendment

    The Constitution’s 25th Amendment provides a second way for high-level officials to remove a president from office. It was ratified in 1967 in the wake of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy – who was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, who had already had one heart attack – as well as delayed disclosure of health problems experienced by Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower.

    The 25th Amendment provides detailed procedures on what happens if a president resigns, dies in office, has a temporary disability or is no longer fit for office.

    It has never been invoked against a president’s will, and has been used only to temporarily transfer power, such as when a president is undergoing a medical procedure requiring anesthesia.

    Section 4 of the 25th Amendment authorizes high-level officials – either the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or another body designated by Congress – to remove a president from office without his consent when he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Congress has yet to designate an alternative body, and scholars disagree over the role, if any, of acting Cabinet officials.

    The high-level officials simply send a written declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate – the longest-serving senator from the majority party – and the speaker of the House of Representatives, stating that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. The vice president immediately assumes the powers and duties of the president.

    The president, however, can fight back. He or she can seek to resume their powers by informing congressional leadership in writing that they are fit for office and no disability exists. But the president doesn’t get the presidency back just by saying this.

    The high-level officials originally questioning the president’s fitness then have four days to decide whether they disagree with the president. If they notify congressional leadership that they disagree, the vice president retains control and Congress has 48 hours to convene to discuss the issue. Congress has 21 days to debate and vote on whether the president is unfit or unable to resume his powers.

    The vice president remains the acting president until Congress votes or the 21-day period lapses. A two-thirds majority vote by members of both houses of Congress is required to remove the president from office. If that vote fails or does not happen within the 21-day period, the president resumes his powers immediately.

    It is possible that Trump will remain in office through the end of his term on Jan. 20. But once he leaves office, he will no longer have the presidential immunity that has at least partially shielded him from many criminal and civil inquiries about his time in office and before.

    Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 9, 2021, to include additional informal measures taken to limit Trump’s power.

    [Get our most insightful politics and election stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

    Kirsten Carlson, Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    #Drought developments, @JoeBiden moves likely to be big natural-resource, public-land stories in 2021 — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Drought continues to grip the entire state of Colorado, and drought more regionally continues to drive increasing concerns about the adequacy of water supplies throughout the Colorado River Basin given the drier and warmer weather that generally has prevailed through much of the 21st century. That has added urgency to efforts by Upper Basin states such as Colorado to continue exploring measures to reduce water demand by agriculture, cities and other users in times of drought to help head off the possibility of a mandatory curtailment of uses under an interstate compact.

    With snowpack below average so far, this winter has offered little promise of reversing the continuing dry trend. But the winter is young and a few big storms can improve the outlook quickly, which is why everyone from ranchers to municipal water providers to firefighters will be listening closely in coming months to what forecasters have to say about what weather is in store…

    Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s actions on other matters related to public lands and the environment should prove interesting in coming months. For example, Biden could decide to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

    Among other actions that would draw strong reactions pro and con, he could follow through on a campaign promise to ban oil and gas leasing and drilling on federal lands. Such a move likely would be cheered heartily by some conservationist and activist groups concerned about the greenhouse-gas, public health and other impacts of oil and gas development.

    But the Western Energy Alliance industry group already has promised a legal challenge of such an action, which a University of Wyoming professor has estimated would result in Colorado in an annual average loss of $73 million in tax revenues from 2021-25 and average annual job losses in the state nearing 5,200 over that same timeframe…

    LOVED, HOPEFULLY NOT TO DEATH

    Public-land use is yet one more issue where what has happened in 2020 raises questions about what might come in 2021. With all the limitations that COVID-19 forced on people, one way they responded was to head in huge numbers into the great outdoors where the socially distanced solace of scenery and fresh air has provided a balm for the malaise of pandemic-related restrictions.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, the Forest Service and the National Park Service all reported strong visitation numbers, from hikers to boaters to back-country skiers.

    While those agencies love the fact that people are enjoying the lands and facilities they manage, they cringe at the many problems that can result, such as trail heads overflowing with cars, illegal camping and improper disposal of human waste.

    This year, we can only hope, the threat from COVID-19 will subside as vaccination rates increase. It will be interesting to watch if public land visitation eases as well. Here’s guessing that it won’t, at least not by much.

    Who, having discovered the joys of getting outdoors and enjoying the lands that belong to all of us, wants to then go backward, retreating to a life involving more indoor pursuits?

    We love our public lands, perhaps now more than ever. The trick for us, and for those challenged with managing those lands, is how to prevent our loving them to death.

    What Has the Administration Meant for #Water? — Circle of Blue #WOTUS

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    The fires burning in the American West were the prompt. Turning to the president, Wallace asked Trump what he believed about climate science and what he would do in the next four years to confront carbon pollution. Trump, at first, demurred.

    “I want crystal clean water and air,” Trump responded. Then he pivoted to a familiar talking point: railing against cluttered forests as the cause of wildfires in California and other western states.

    The initial line — the desire for crystal clean water — is one that the president repeats frequently, even dating to his 2016 presidential campaign. Immaculate water, he has also said. Clear water. Beautiful water. But the focus on appearances is superficial, according to a number of water advocates and analysts. Revisions to environmental rules that the administration has pursued during the first term of the Trump presidency will be detrimental to the nation’s waters, they said.

    “President Trump loves to say that he wants crystal clear water,” Bob Irvin, president and chief executive of the conservation group American Rivers, told Circle of Blue. “But his administration has adopted policies that will result in dirtier water across the country.”

    Irvin, an environmental lawyer by training, has worked in Washington D.C. for more than three decades, starting out as a trial attorney in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. He was senior counsel for fish and wildlife for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He worked for conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. His career has spanned Republican and Democratic administrations and there was always at least some common ground for environmental priorities, he reflected.

    Not during the Trump administration, though. Irvin could not name any beneficial administration policy for waterways. “It is stunning for me to say that,” he said.

    Others interviewed for this story were not as absolute, but they echoed, to varying degrees, Irvin’s thoughts: “This administration has been unrelentingly hostile to the idea of conservation and environmental protection, and has been single-minded in its determination to undermine that protection.”

    […]

    Failure to secure a big win for infrastructure was surpassed by an agenda to undo environmental protections.

    First under Scott Pruitt and currently led by Andrew Wheeler, who lobbied for fossil fuel industries he now regulates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the reins in the administration’s plan to weaken federal authority and relinquish power to the states.

    Like his boss, Wheeler made public statements that lifted water to a place of prominence.

    “My frustration with the current dialogue around environmental issues is that water issues often take a backseat,” Wheeler told the audience at the Wilson Center on March 20, 2019, in an event to mark World Water Day. “It’s time to change that.”

    And yet, many critics and analysts say that the administration did not change that. Regulatory rollbacks not only at the EPA but from the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Energy leave the country’s waters more vulnerable to pollution and development, they say. States, which are enduring budget cuts to their environmental units, are not in a position to be a backstop, argues Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

    “The assumption that states are going to come in and fill the gap is not warranted,” Schaeffer told Circle of Blue. Schaeffer was the director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002. His group released a study showing that 31 states reduced funding for state pollution control agencies from 2008 to 2018. “When EPA leaves the field, it leaves a lot of work undone,” he said.

    The list of places where EPA has left the field or stepped back from it is long. The administration gave coal power plants more time to close unlined waste pits and relaxed standards for pollutants in power plant wastewater that is discharged to rivers and lakes. It narrowed the scope of state reviews of pollution impacts under the Clean Water Act. It withdrew a proposal that would have required mining companies to provide more financial assurance that they could clean up future water contamination. Reversing an Obama-era decision, it decided not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. Draft rules for lead in drinking water appear to give utilities more time to replace lead service lines.

    The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, overturned an Obama-era prohibition on mining leases in about 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. The administration is proceeding with an environmental review of the contested Twin Metals mine, a proposed copper-nickel mine that would be located in the national forest some five miles from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, meanwhile, has sought to increase the height of Shasta Dam over the objections of the state of California and the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which do not want higher waters to submerge salmon habitat and cultural sites along the McCloud River. And the Bureau is carrying out an executive order to maximize water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

    Laura Ziemer, the senior counsel and water policy advisor for Trout Unlimited, said that there is a lot of opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation to invest in drought and climate preparedness in the western states through certain forms of natural water storage and irrigation efficiency. But projects like the Shasta Dam raise are not that…

    Rewriting WOTUS

    Out of all these deregulatory actions, one stood out. Most people interviewed for this story singled out the administration’s changes to the scope of the Clean Water Act — the definition of what counts as a water of the United States, or WOTUS — as the most damaging policy for water.

    “It’s going to have consequences that are irreversible and far-reaching,” Kyla Bennett, New England director and science policy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Circle of Blue.

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    Written by the EPA and Army Corps, the WOTUS rule reduces protections for wetlands and ephemeral streams that only flow after rainfall. Agency staff used national hydrological datasets to calculate that as many as half of the nation’s wetlands and 18 percent of streams would be excluded under the new rule. That means developers will not have to seek permits to fill in wetlands and stream segments that formerly had protection. It also means that requirements to minimize damage and offset unavoidable impacts by restoring wetlands elsewhere have been stricken.

    Ziemer noted that western rivers are particularly vulnerable to the removal of protections for ephemeral streams…

    Watersheds that are connected from headwater channels to floodplains absorb high flows and retain that water through drought periods. “If we allow all of our hydrologic function to be paved over, we are going to expose ourselves to both flood and drought risk moving forward,” Ziemer said.

    The EPA press office declined requests from Circle of Blue for interviews with Wheeler and David Ross, head of the Office of Water. It is the agency’s position that no existing map depicts accurately the boundaries of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Several federal agencies are now working to publish such a guidepost.

    Tipping the Balance of Power

    What is the effect of this overhaul? In most cases, it is too early to say. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act took effect this June for every state but Colorado. “It takes a while between the time you push the lever on a new policy or decision and the time the impacts show up in water quality,” Schaeffer said.

    The administration touts other steps it has taken to secure the nation’s water: a national plan to coordinate the reuse of water, orders to speed up reviews and permitting of things like the management plan for federally managed dams on the Columbia River, and formalizing a water “subcabinet” of department heads who will coordinate policy, a determination that it will regulate two toxic PFAS substances in drinking water. FEMA, to the pleasure of green groups, also quietly advanced new guidance that allows greater use of federal flood prevention funds for natural infrastructure such as wetlands.

    In general, the administration’s rules have tipped the balance of power to users of water: mining companies, energy developers, farmers, homebuilders. Even as it moves to regulate two PFAS in drinking water, the EPA is allowing the chemical industry to produce and sell new PFAS substances.

    Among the president’s most ardent supporters is the American Farm Bureau Federation. Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the Farm Bureau, told Circle of Blue that the administration has assisted in three ways: collaborating with states on nutrient pollution, encouraging market-based systems for trading pollution credits, and simply listening to farm groups.

    “One of our biggest priorities coming into this administration was a more realistic definition of waters of the United States,” Parrish told Circle of Blue. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act accomplished that, Parrish said, though the Farm Bureau did not get everything it wanted in the revised rule.

    The Utility Water Act Group, a coalition of energy utilities and industry groups that sued to overturn Obama-era coal ash regulations and to support the Trump administration’s environmental policies, declined to comment for this story.

    It’s not just the policies that have drawn ire. The Trump administration has sought to transform the process by which those decisions are made: by sidelining scientific evidence and shrinking the environmental review process.

    According to a survey of federal scientists, political appointees in the Trump administration raised barriers to using science in policy decisions. More than 4,200 federal scientists responded to the survey, which was conducted in 2018 by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University. Half of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that political considerations outweighed scientific conclusions.

    The legacy of these four years is still being written. The administration’s policy changes have fared poorly in court. Many have been overturned because of procedural missteps and hastily written justifications. Other rules like the definition of waters of the United States are in the early stages of litigation.

    In Trump election fraud cases, federal judges upheld the rule of law – but that’s not enough to fix US politics — The Conversation


    Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks on Nov. 19 at a news conference about lawsuits related to the presidential election.
    Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Charles Gardner Geyh, Indiana University

    A healthy constitutional culture, in which the people and their leaders respect the authority of their Constitution, requires a baseline of trust in the government – a baseline that, in the United States, has eroded from 77% in the early 1960s to 17% today.

    This collapse of public confidence paved the way for a populist form of leadership that redirected public faith away from the institutions of government toward a more autocratic leader – Donald Trump – whom voters trusted to consolidate power, neutralize opposition and “drain the swamp” of the experts and bureaucrats he deemed responsible for the government’s malaise.

    In the past four years, President Trump has consolidated power to such an extent that the Republican Party has literally declined to adopt a party platform and effectively embraced the president as its alter ego.

    After losing the 2020 election by a comfortable margin,
    Trump counted on the populist power he had accumulated to force the hands of Republican officials across the country to invalidate the election, despite no creditable evidence of widespread fraud.

    The gambit almost worked. Trump’s influence – made muscular by an energetic base poised to punish disobedient elected officials – quieted intraparty criticism, moved a legal team to launch a battery of meritless lawsuits and inspired 18 state attorneys general to request that the Supreme Court overturn a presidential election.

    But that strategy ultimately failed, because Trump’s populist control did not extend to the federal courts.

    A protestor outside Giuliani's apartment building with a sign that says 'How many lawyers does it take to screw a democracy'
    Lawyers who helped with Trump campaign lawsuits faced protests, like this one outside Rudy Giuliani’s apartment building in New York.
    Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Cases need facts

    The legal assault on the election was spearheaded by attorneys who were willing to file suits based on unsupported suspicions and beliefs to perpetuate the president’s populist regime by any means necessary. These groundless suspicions and beliefs – bellowed loudly and often by the president and his entourage – may have gotten traction in politics, but they got none in courts of law. The judiciary’s firewall withstood the populist bomb that President Trump detonated.

    Apart from the fact that neither the president nor his enthusiasts could threaten the tenure of unelected federal judges who are appointed for life, judges are a different kind of public official, and the lies, bullying and bombast that work well in populist politics fall flat in courts of law.

    When judges hear cases, they follow a uniform system of procedural rules that enable them to evaluate the claims that the parties make and amass a body of information on which they rely to determine facts and ascertain truth. It’s a system that has served the judiciary well for generations, and served it well in the postelection cases that the courts decided in recent weeks.

    Judges are lawyers who have been steeped in the rule of law for decades. It begins with three years of law school, where they “learn to think like lawyers” and are graded on their command of substantive and procedural law. Upon graduation, they must demonstrate their proficiency in law by passing a bar exam, and then practice law for years and typically decades before ascending the bench.

    ‘Trump judges’ aren’t Trump judges

    Trump has been criticized for appointing an unprecedented 10 judges whose credentials and experience the American Bar Association deemed so deficient as to warrant an “unqualified” rating. But the vast majority of his 227 appointees possess the traditional qualifications needed to perpetuate the federal judiciary’s entrenched commitment to the rule of law.

    Some of the judges who dismissed the Trump election cases were appointed by the president. That may have shocked Trump and his followers, but is unlikely to have surprised Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2018, Roberts called out Trump for attacking “Obama judges.”

    “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

    Some criticized Roberts as naïve or duplicitous. After all, the data show that federal judges are influenced by their ideological preferences. Voters know this and choose a president who will appoint ideologically compatible judges.

    These critics, however, miss the mark. Yes, judges are subject to ideological influences in close cases, when the law is subject to conflicting interpretations, and judges tend to favor interpretations that align with their common sense and policy perspective.

    But this does not refute Roberts’ point: Federal judges are trained to take law seriously and do their best to uphold the law as they understand it to be written. So when confronted with postelection fraud cases that were not close – that lacked factual allegations essential to proceeding with the case – judges ruled against the president.

    As one judge said to Trump campaign lawyers, “Come on now!

    Chief Justice John Roberts and President Trump shake hands at the Feb. 4, 2020 State of the Union address.
    Chief Justice John Roberts, right, once chastised President Trump for saying that judges make rulings based on their politics. Here, the two shake hands at this year’s State of the Union address Feb. 4.
    Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images

    Facts and truth

    Thanks to those judges, the rule of law held firm against a populist assault.

    Celebrating the triumph of the rule of law in the courts, however, obscures the reality that innumerable voters, public officials and lawyers who were ostensibly committed to that rule of law stood ready – for the first time in U.S. history – to overturn a presidential election.

    In the past, the majority of Americans drew their conclusions from a common body of information received from the same evening news and morning newspapers.

    With the explosion of the information age and the decline of traditional media, that common body of information has disappeared, as the marketplace of ideas has been flooded with limitless information, the truth or falsity of which is increasingly difficult to assess. The consequences are voiced by a nihilistic spy in the latest “Call of Duty” video game: “There is no truth – only who you choose to believe.” And this, it would seem, has become the mantra for many public officials and their constituents.

    Americans encountered a similar problem once before, during industrialization, when the nation was deluged with a flood of false and misleading information about new drugs, foods and consumer products – a problem that the administrative state ultimately emerged to regulate.

    The trouble is that the government can’t regulate the marketplace of ideas the way it does the marketplace of goods and services – the First Amendment won’t allow it. In most cases, the government cannot prohibit you, media outlets or politicians from telling lies.

    So the challenge is to reestablish a way to evaluate the reliability of information upon which we must depend for finding facts and ascertaining truth. Because if that can’t be done, the nation’s ability to elect its leaders and govern itself in an orderly and principled way will be lost.

    The Constitution is fragile. It works because we the people will it to work, and that will is being tested, perhaps as never before. The judiciary passed its latest test. The American people will be tested again in the years to come – and the future of the democracy hangs in the balance.The Conversation

    Charles Gardner Geyh, John F. Kimberling Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The Energy 202: Biden’s choice of ex-#Michigan governor as energy secretary points to focus on #electriccars — The #Washington Post

    Leaf Byers Canyon August 21, 2017.

    From The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni):

    President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Jennifer Granholm to be his energy secretary is a sign the president-elect’s team will try to spur automakers to sell cars that need little to no gasoline.

    The relationship that Granholm, the former two-term governor of Michigan, has with Detroit automakers may prove crucial to the incoming administration’s effort to cut climate-warming emissions spewing from the millions of cars and trucks on American roads.

    Biden intends to nominate Granholm to run the sprawling department also responsible for overseeing the nuclear weapons arsenal and managing radioactive waste, Will Englund, Juliet Eilperin and I report.

    Cleaning up the transportation sector, now the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, will be critical to meeting Biden’s lofty goal of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

    Biden, the son of a car salesman, pitched no- and low-emissions vehicles not only as a way to combat climate change, but also to create domestic manufacturing jobs. To preserve Michigan’s industrial base undercut by foreign competition, Granholm has also become a vocal proponent of building electric vehicles at home…

    The Transportation Department – which under Biden will be run by former South Bend. Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, our colleagues Michael Laris, Ian Duncan and Seung Min Kim also reported Tuesday – has “transportation” in its name.

    But it is the Energy Department that is the main funder of research into the battery technology responsible for a potential transition to electric vehicles…

    During the campaign, Biden promised to install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030, provide bigger tax breaks to those who purchase electric vehicles and to tighten fuel-efficiency standards on new cars and trucks…

    Today, electric vehicles make up less than 2 percent of new cars and SUVs sold each year domestically. But GM, Ford and other automakers have told investors they plan to build out their fleets of electric vehicles in coming years.

    Tribal leaders respond to the idea of an Indigenous Interior secretary — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News [December 14, 2020] (Graham Lee Brewer and Anna V. Smith):

    Representation is important, and so are policy decisions impacting tribes on the ground.

    President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make his administration the most diverse in history, a promise that so far he has fulfilled with several key appointments. For weeks now, momentum has been building behind a push for the Department of the Interior to be run by an Indigenous person for the first time in history. Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.

    Beyond the obvious symbolic importance of having an Indigenous person lead Interior, a department with a long history of defying the best interests of tribal nations, the possibilities such a position would bring for tribal administrations and citizens alike are endless. Native leaders and advocates are hoping that a Haaland appointment would result in improved tribal consultation on everything from land protections to how agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, interact with tribal communities. As the country awaits Biden’s decision, Native communities are bracing for what could prove a seismic change in the way the federal government treats the interests of Indian Country.

    Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo. Photo credit: Bridget Badore via High Country News

    “It will be a moment to exhale for tribal leaders,” said Judith Le Blanc, a citizen of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance, a national Native training and organizing network. An Indigenous person leading Interior, she said, would mean having someone who understands the legal and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples to govern their own lands.

    “We’re the only peoples in this country who have a collectively owned land base that has been self-governed since the beginning of time,” Le Blanc said. “To have someone who understands that historic fact and therefore the rights and responsibilities to consult and to discuss before a decision is made that will affect treaty lands will be amazing. It creates opportunities and possibilities that tribal leaders will have to step into.”

    The possibility of an Indigenous person leading Interior comes after an election in which Indigenous voters supported the Biden/Harris ticket in critical states like Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin. As IllumiNatives — a nonprofit working to increase Native visibility — put it in a social media post, “Joe, Native people showed up for you. Now, show up for them.” If Haaland — or someone like Michael Connor, a member of Taos Pueblo and former deputy Interior director, whose name has also been floated as a possible nominee — were to run the department, it would have a significant impact on Indian Country policy for the next several years not only for department policies and representation, but also for on-the-ground realities.

    Under the Trump administration, environmental laws were significantly weakened, protections of places like the Tongass National Forest were rolled back and large-scale, high-impact projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were expedited. Many of those policies included a rushed — or, in the case of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, nonexistent — tribal consultation process. While all bureaucracies have flaws, both Haaland and Connor understand that including tribal nations in a government-to-government consultation process is non-negotiable. They could also reverse some of the Trump administration’s controversial decisions. Whoever is chosen, the stakes are high.

    The Yurok Tribe was one of a host of tribes to sign a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, urging him to choose Haaland. The tribe has had a protracted battle with the federal government over keeping enough water in the Klamath River to support their lifeways and the river’s salmon population. In 2001, a government decision caused the largest fish kill in Yurok and U.S. history. Vice Chairman Frankie Myers says the representation and experience that would come with Haaland as an Indigenous person and lawmaker would be a welcome change: “Ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the highest level of government, specifically when it comes to resources, is critical for us moving this country in a better, more positive way.”

    Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, agrees. In November, the Trump administration announced that it would auction off oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just two weeks before Biden takes office. The refuge, which lies within the ancestral lands of the Gwich’in, supports the sensitive populations of Porcupine caribou, polar bears and walruses. The Gwich’in Steering Committee has filed numerous lawsuits to stop the sale. “This current administration has done nothing but disrespect and violate the rights of our people,” Demientieff wrote in a statement to High Country News. As for an Indigenous leader of Interior, “I can’t believe it has taken this long. We have never been included in decisions that will affect our future.”

    While Native voters tend to lean left, Indian Country issues on the Hill have typically found support with both Republicans and Democrats. The six Indigenous people who will join the next Congress are split evenly between the parties. And even though the political atmosphere has been considerably polarized under the Trump administration, the prevailing sentiment is that Haaland’s ability to work across the aisle will keep Indian Country policy from becoming a politically divisive issue.

    “There’s a reason why people like (Republican U.S. Reps.) Don Young and Tom Cole have publicly spoken out in very positive ways regarding Deb,” said Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation and an Obama appointee who was the first Indigenous person to represent the U.S. on the United Nations Human Rights Council. “Because they’ve worked with her and know she’s willing to put the party politics aside and get pragmatic about challenges.”

    “Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together,” said Rep. Cole. Out of all representatives in the House, Haaland’s bills have had the most bicameral support, and often bipartisan. And the political allies and partners she’s made in Congress have some predicting that this would translate to consensus building across the government on issues affecting Native people.

    “Oftentimes, Interior is looked as the agency that handles Indian affairs,” said Kim Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s congressional delegate. “We have HUD (Housing and Urban Development) that handles Indian housing, we have the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that handles broadband, education, the USDA (Department of Agriculture). There is such a cross-cutting nature of Indian Country issues, and I think she has the unique ability as a Cabinet secretary to convene the agencies.”

    One non-Native whose name has been floated for the position is retiring Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, who has long been a champion of Indigenous affairs in Congress. His father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of Interior from 1961-1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. A number of progressive Native-led organizations have called on him to remove his name from consideration. When asked what it could mean for an Indigenous person to lead Interior, Udall told High Country News that “Native Americans should be in high positions throughout government in the White House and various agencies – it’s not just about the Interior Department,” adding that the next secretary must prioritize tribal nation’s needs with inclusive consultation, and put in “the hard work to make sure Native voices are front and center throughout the department.”

    Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Email him at grahamb@hcn.org.

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Follow @annavtoriasmith.

    This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 14, 2020.

    Colorado River District lays out framework for new taxpayer-funded grant program — @AspenJournalism

    The dam at Windy Gap Reservoir. The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. A project to build a connectivity channel for the Colorado River is included in the River District’s fiscal implementation plan and could be on the short list for funding through the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado River Water Conservation District officials have laid out a framework for how they will spend their new tax revenue with an emphasis on equity across water sectors and gaining the support of local government.

    At a Dec. 3 board meeting, River District General Manager Andy Mueller presented a framework for the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program, which creates a system for how entities can apply for funding and how River District staff and board members will evaluate those applications.

    In November, an overwhelming 72% of voters approved ballot measure 7A, which raises property taxes across the district and will add about $5 million annually to the River District’s coffers. Eighty-six percent, or $4.2 million, of that will go toward funding water projects.

    The new program is designed to be more nimble and responsive than other federal or state grant programs, with the River District board considering projects on a rolling basis throughout the year. It also gives Mueller the power to approve smaller amounts of project funds without the board’s involvement.

    The River District plans to doll out funding for projects in five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    Each of these categories will receive roughly equal funding on a five-year running average. The project money also will be distributed as evenly as possible across the district’s 15-county region. River District staff will evaluate project applications and decide which ones to bring to the board for approval.

    Mueller said he wants “to memorialize within this program our commitments that we made to the voters with respect to how we are going to spend the money. … I think it’s really critical going forward that future board members, future staff members, members of the public can turn to a document and find what it is we have committed to and what are the guiding principles of our program.”

    Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon sends water from the Colorado River into the Grand Valley Project Canal. Rehabilitation of the structure could be one of the projects funded by the River District’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

    Local support requirement

    The River District also is making good on a commitment laid out in the ballot measure’s fiscal implementation plan: that it funds projects that have the backing of local elected officials.

    According to the framework, project proponents should get buy-in from local governments in the form of a letter of support from the board of county commissioners in the county in which the project is located. If proponents can’t get a letter of support, they must explain why not.

    Mueller said the requirement does not amount to veto power for local governments, but whether a project has the backing of local officials could be a deciding factor in the River District’s choice to fund that project.

    “We want to make sure our projects are aligning with the priorities of our local communities,” he said in a separate interview.

    Mueller’s initial framework proposed that he, as general manager, be allowed to greenlight projects of as much as $25,000 with an annual cap of $250,000 without board approval. But directors at last week’s meeting said they wanted to up those numbers.

    “I think it should be increased to $50,000,” said board president and Garfield County representative Dave Merritt. “We have the criteria laid out here, and if the board is going to get down into the weeds, we will never get through what we need to get through as a board. We’ve got a lot of money that needs to get expended with these partnership programs.”

    The board is scheduled to adopt the framework at its January meeting, at which time Mueller said it also will consider the first projects for funding.

    According to Jim Pokrandt, the River District’s director of community affairs, no entities have officially applied for grants yet and the grant application is still being developed. Examples of projects that could get funding as laid out in the fiscal implementation plan include forest restoration on the Yampa River, rehabilitation for the Grand Valley Roller Dam, and the Windy Gap Reservoir Connectivity Channel project, which would reconnect the Colorado River through the reservoir.

    Mueller said he is excited that the infusion of tax money will allow the River District to remain fully staffed and thrive as an organization. But he acknowledged the new grant program still won’t solve the biggest problem on the Colorado River.

    “All the money in the world is not going to solve the diminishing flows in the river caused by our warming temperatures and by climate change,” he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, we can make our communities more resilient, but it’s a daunting challenge we are all going to face in the next 20 years.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 10 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Setting the @EPA Back on Track — The Natural Resources Defense Council

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging in the Town of Kremmling Town Park August 21, 2017.

    Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Defense Council (Gina McCarthy):

    After 50 years, what does the future of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hold?

    By a margin of more than 6.2 million votes, Americans elected Joe Biden president, largely on his promise to help unite the country and restore the public’s faith in our democracy.

    It’s a tall order, but he can make a good start on both by setting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back on track. Few arms of the government touch all of us more directly or have suffered more harm under Donald Trump.

    It was 50 years ago, on December 2, 1970, when Richard Nixon, a Republican president, established the EPA to protect the public from runaway pollution that damaged our health and put our communities at risk.

    Since then, the agency has become the worldwide gold standard for environmental protection, dramatically reducing the air pollution, water contamination, and toxic chemicals that make us sick, even as our economy has nearly quadrupled.

    The public benefits have been huge. Reductions in air pollution alone saved Americans up to $3.8 trillion just this year, preventing up to 370,000 premature deaths and more than 30 million lost days of work or school. Those benefits accrue to all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

    The Trump administration, though, has turned the EPA mission on its ear—protecting polluters, not people.

    The administration has tied the agency’s hands, crippled or eliminated commonsense safeguards, curbed enforcement of environmental laws, and turned its back on climate change, the central environmental crisis of our time.

    Biden has made it clear that polluters have had their day—every day that Team Trump has been in office. Their time’s up. Biden’s EPA will get back to protecting people and restoring the agency to the mission it was founded on 50 years ago.

    That begins with naming what I like to call an “Anthony Fauci of the environment” to head the EPA; someone who, whether they’re a scientist or not, has unassailable credibility among scientists, advocates, and the public.

    Much as the Trump administration has put our health at heightened and needless risk by ignoring the science behind the coronavirus pandemic and dismissing experts like Dr. Fauci, it has also recklessly disregarded the truth about environmental hazard and harm.

    The next EPA administrator must make it clear from the start that sound science, public health, and the rule of law will guide agency actions and decisions. We need an environmental champion who makes equity a core agency value, listens and learns from public comments and concerns, and puts protecting our people’s health, communities, and future first.

    That means taking action on climate change now since the last administration squandered four years we couldn’t afford to lose.

    The Biden administration is going to hit the ground running. Biden has named former secretary of state John Kerry to oversee international climate policy; former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken as Secretary of State; and senior foreign service officer Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

    This marks a clear return to U.S. climate leadership, at home and abroad. It puts effective climate action at the top of the agenda. And it sends the message to our friends and allies around the world that they can once again take us at our word and depend on our partnership in the vital effort to confront a global crisis that demands global solutions.

    That’s 180 degrees from where we’ve spent the past four years.

    The Trump administration rolled back vital standards and rules the EPA had put in place to clean up the cars, trucks, and dirty power plants that generate nearly two-thirds of the U.S. carbon pollution that’s driving climate change. We need a new generation of even more ambitious standards now to cut our carbon footprint in half by 2030, as the science tells us we must.

    That’s how EPA actions can support the $2 trillion Biden has pledged to invest in energy efficiency, electric vehicles, wind and solar power, modern electricity distribution and storage, and other clean energy infrastructure. Congress should work with Biden from day one to make a substantial down payment on this investment as part of a broader economic recovery package.

    When the pandemic hit, there were 3.4 million Americans working in the clean energy sector, making 25 percent more, on average, than the national median wage. Clean energy investment can help to ensure the strong, durable recovery we need, creating millions more good jobs in every community in the country.

    Biden has pledged to structure public investment in clean energy in a way that protects low-income communities, people of color, tribal nations, and other vulnerable groups from climate impacts that fall disproportionately on those least able to cope with them. Under his plan, these groups will also receive the benefits of clean energy—better health, improved quality of life, and good jobs—by receiving at least 40 percent of clean energy investment.

    Hand in glove with clean energy is the need to conserve more of our public lands and oceans, and to reinstate clean water protections the Trump administration dismantled. By strengthening wetlands, forests, and croplands, we can enhance their natural capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away in healthy soils.

    Fifty years after the EPA was born, we are positioned to restore the agency to being the gold standard for public health and environmental protection, as it was created to be. We have elected a new president with the strongest plan we’ve ever seen to fight the climate crisis in a way that helps to build a healthier, more prosperous, more equitable future for everyone.

    This plan shouldn’t divide us into red state or blue. It should unite us, as American people, confident in the road ahead and sure of our ability to travel it together.

    #Colorado Looking to Issue Comprehensive Guidance for Waters of the United States (#WOTUS) — Lexology

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    From Lexology.com (Spencer Fane):

    How is Colorado Dealing with “Gap” Waters?

    The scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act remains perplexing, particularly now that Colorado is the only state in the nation where the Navigable Water Protection Rule did not take effect June 22, 2020. In the context of a lengthy “stakeholder” process, on November 20, 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a White Paper addressing its regulatory options in light of the new federal WOTUS rule. Construction companies, developers, and other businesses seeking to permit activities around wetlands, ephemeral waters, and intermittent streams in Colorado would benefit from reviewing this comprehensive discussion of the multitude of dilemmas Colorado and others states face in light of the new rule.

    See White Paper here.

    The state’s White Paper includes background on these topics –

  • Federal permitting including Section 402 and 404 permits.
  • State waters and the state’s regulation of discharges to state waters.
  • The Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision and subsequent guidance.
  • The 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • Litigation of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • And perhaps most importantly –

  • Potential impacts of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule if it were to go into effect in Colorado.
  • Of most significance in terms of the impacts to state regulatory programs, the White Paper states:

    The rule includes several definitions that further limit how the EPA and the Corps will define WOTUS in contrast to the existing regulatory framework. First, it restricts the definition of protected “adjacent wetlands” to those that “abut” or have a direct hydrological surface connection to another jurisdictional water “in a typical year.” 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(1); 40 C.F.R. § 120.3(3)(i). Wetlands are not considered adjacent if they are physically separated from jurisdictional waters by an artificial structure and do not have a direct hydrologic surface connection. The 2020 Rule also limits protections for tributaries to those that contribute perennial or uncertain levels of “intermittent” flow to traditional navigable waters in a “typical year,” a term whose definition leads to additional uncertainty. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(12); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xii); 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(13); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xiii).

    Collectively, these new definitions in the 2020 Rule will reduce the scope of waters subject to federal jurisdiction in Colorado far below that of the 2008 Guidance. The state waters that would no longer be considered “waters of the United States” under the 2020 Rule have been referred to as “gap waters” and are further described in Section II below. Historically, not all of Colorado’s state waters have been considered WOTUS. However, the [CDPHE] has maintained that the number of state waters considered WOTUS under the 2008 Guidance is far more than would be considered WOTUS under the 2020 Rule. [Emphasis added.]

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    On environmental protection, @JoeBiden’s election will mean a 180-degree turn from [the current administration’s] policies — The Conversation


    President-elect Joe Biden opposes proposals to allow uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, which the Trump administration supports.
    Michael Quinn, NPS/Flickr, CC BY

    Janet McCabe, Indiana University

    The Trump administration has waged what I and many other legal experts view as an all-out assault on the nation’s environmental laws for the past four years. Decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and other agencies have weakened the guardrails that protect our nation’s air, water and public lands, and have sided with industry rather than advocating for public health and the environment.

    Senior officials such as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler assert that the Trump administration has balanced environmental regulation with economic growth and made the regulatory process less bureaucratic. But former EPA leaders from both Democratic and Republican administrations have called this administration’s actions disastrous for the environment.

    Rolling back laws and hollowing out agencies

    The Trump administration has used many tools to weaken environmental protection. For example, Trump issued an executive order in June 2020 to waive environmental review for infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways.

    The EPA has revised regulations that implement the Clean Water Act to drastically scale back protection for wetlands, streams and marshes. And the administration has revoked California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own standards for air pollution emissions from cars, although California is pressing ahead.

    The Trump administration has also changed agency procedures to limit the use of science and upended a longstanding approach to valuing the costs and benefits of environmental rules. It has cut funding for key agency functions such as research and overseen an exodus of experienced career staff.

    Worker at Iowa wind turbine plant
    A worker installs components at the base of a wind turbine blade at the Siemens plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. President-elect Joe Biden views renewable energy as a major source of high-wage manufacturing jobs.
    Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images)

    A quick about-face

    I expect that the Biden administration will quickly signal to the nation that effectively applying the nation’s environmental laws matters to everyone – especially to communities that bear an unfair share of the public health burden of pollution.

    With a closely divided Senate, Biden will need to rely primarily on executive actions and must-pass legislative measures like the federal budget and the Farm Bill to further his environmental agenda. Policies that require big investments, such as Biden’s pledge to invest US$400 billion over 10 years in clean energy research and innovation, can make a big difference, but may be challenging to advance. Coupling clean technology with infrastructure and jobs programs to build back better is likely to have broad appeal.

    I expect that officials will move quickly to restore the role of science in agency decision-making and withdraw Trump-era policies that make it harder to adopt protective regulations. A Biden EPA will end efforts to impede states like California that are moving ahead under their own authority to protect their residents, and will make clear to career staff that their expertise is valued.

    The agency is likely to withdraw or closely scrutinize pending Trump proposals, such as the ongoing review of the current standard for fine-particle air pollution. Officials also will review pending litigation, much of which involves challenges to Trump administration rule revisions and policies, and decide whether to defend any of them. There likely won’t be many.

    In their final campaign debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered sharply contrasting views of how environmental protection affects the economy.

    One area where EPA can quickly change course is enforcement. Biden’s climate and energy plan pledges to hold polluters accountable, and his administration reportedly plans to create a new division at the Justice Department focused on environmental and climate justice. Biden has promised greater attention to environmental justice communities, where neighborhoods are heavily affected by concentrations of highly polluting sources such as refineries and hazardous waste sites.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    Many of these actions can be done quickly through new executive orders or policy changes. Regulatory changes will take longer. In my view, Biden’s biggest challenge will be deciding what to prioritize. His administration will not be able to do (or undo) everything. Even with a revitalized career workforce and political staff all rowing in the same direction, there won’t be enough bandwidth to address all the bad policies enacted in the past four years, let alone move forward with a proactive agenda focused on public health protection and environmental justice.The Conversation

    Janet McCabe, Professor of Practice of Law, Indiana University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    “The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history” — Will Toor

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The state officials overseeing efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural landscapes and beat rising heat in Colorado anticipate better opportunities for federal help under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

    And they’re preparing for teamwork with the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the departments of energy, transportation and agriculture, among other federal agencies, to move beyond planning to aggressive action on challenges from saving dying forests to cutting vehicle emissions.

    “It’s going to be a 180-degree shift,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said in a video call with state agency chiefs. “The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history. Certainly when it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change, they’ve done a surgical attack on virtually every federal policy that would support climate action… making it harder to act at the state level…

    Biden’s pledge to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and an expected push to contain warming sync with efforts under Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to reduce heat-trapping pollution within Colorado by closing coal-fired power plants and increasing regulation of the fossil fuel industry.

    Colorado ranks among the leading oil-and-gas producer states, exporting fossil fuels that when burned elsewhere accelerate climate warming. Biden has called for a $2 trillion stimulus investment to hasten a shift to clean energy and create jobs — funds that Colorado officials planned to tap.

    Biden also has promised reversals of Trump rollbacks of environmental regulations for protecting air, land and water. If Congress doesn’t collaborate, Biden has indicated he’ll wield executive power where possible to act unilaterally, which may reduce oil and gas drilling on western public lands.

    And Biden transition team officials are reviewing proposals that would advance climate action Colorado officials have begun to consider. For example, they’re mulling creation of a “carbon bank” run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would pay farmers who adopt no-till methods and store more carbon in soil — helping a draw-down of heat-trapping air pollution that causes climate warming…

    At the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, state efforts dealing with air pollution, emerging water contaminants such as PFAS “forever” chemicals and degradation of waterways traditionally have hinged on cooperative support from federal agencies.

    John Putnam, director of the state public health department’s environmental programs, anticipated a reinvigoration of agencies for better enforcement of national clean air and clean water regulations that under Trump were weakened…

    State officials cited examples where they felt the Trump administration stymied Colorado environmental efforts, including legal action against California’s stricter fuel-efficiency standards, which Colorado recently decided to follow. Trump officials also pressed Colorado to take the lead on toxic mine cleanups, and assume liability if things went wrong. And the weakening of Clean Water Act protections removed safeguards for many streams across Colorado.

    The increasing costs of dealing with climate change are falling largely on local communities where extreme weather and wildfires linked to warming hit home. In Boulder County, commissioners recently allocated $1.5 million to help deal with erosion and destruction of homes caused by the Calwood and Lefthand Canyon fires. A consultant hired by the county estimated costs for building resilience to climate warming will top $150 million a year for non-disaster impacts on infrastructure such as roads.

    The shift from Trump to Biden “means the world — the future of our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, who also serves on Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission.

    “We have to get on track on climate change in the next decade,” Jones said. “If we spent four more years under a climate change denier, we might have dug ourselves into a hole bigger than we can get out of.”

    “Apparently, they’ve [the administration] already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands” — Senator Michael Bennet

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Funding details promised by the Great American Outdoors Act were due Nov. 2, but state and federal land managers are still waiting for specifics of what is supposed to be a record amount of money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and deferred maintenance projects.

    The Great American Outdoors Act — brokered in part by Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and trumpeted by President Donald Trump as they both ran for re-election — directed the full $900 million a year to the LWCF, which uses royalties paid by energy companies to buy federal land for protection. And the legislation spread $9.5 billion over five years toward catching up on an estimated $21.6 billion in delayed upkeep on public lands. It also promised to more than double federal funding to several Western states that rely on LWCF support to acquire and protect public lands and access.

    But fear is growing that the promises of the Great American Outdoors Act — which had bipartisan support this election year — were more about politics than public lands.

    The deadline for the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to submit its project lists for deferred maintenance and LWCF projects was last week. The agencies submitted lists for maintenance projects on time. But the LWCF lists arrived a week after the Nov. 2 deadline, following a Nov. 9 memo from the Trump Administration that delegated authority to the Interior and Agriculture departments to release the LWCF funding lists.

    The broad-stroke lists have left state and federal land managers scratching their heads.

    The lists included no details on specific projects or costs, even though those details — like $116 million for 61 ready-to-go BLM, Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service projects — were circulated by federal land agencies earlier this year when lawmakers were studying the Great American Outdoors Act. (The act requires “a detailed description of each project, including the estimated expenditures from the fund for the project for applicable fiscal years.”)

    And perhaps most troubling is the Interior Department’s Nov. 9 plan for spending the LWCF’s $900 million. The note from Interior Sec. David Bernhardt to the U.S. Senate allocated only $2.5 million to the Bureau of Land Management for land acquisition. The Forest Service’s list of 36 LWCF projects totaling $100 million included a note that one project was in Colorado’s White River National Forest. The White River National Forest’s only request for LWCF funding for Fiscal 2021 was for $8.5 million to acquire and protect Garfield County’s 488-acre Sweetwater Lake property.

    Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

    Calls and emails to state BLM and Park Service officials were directed to the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., which did not respond. White River officials said they had not received any information about LWCF funding for Sweetwater Lake, which was acquired by conservation groups this spring with a plan to transfer the property over to the Forest Service.

    “The monumental nature of the Great American Outdoors Act deserves more information so the private sector can engage and we know where these investments will be made,” said Jessica Turner with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of 33 outdoor organizations representing more than 110,000 businesses…

    “Apparently they’ve already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands,” Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in an emailed statement. “Coloradans worked for years to secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fact that the Trump Administration is failing to follow through and meet LWCF deadlines, while not surprising, demonstrates a serious lack of commitment to conservation.”

    A spokeswoman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the agency is waiting for information on project lists, official funding, timelines and whether the state grants the agency applied for have been approved…

    The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Nov. 10 released funding recommendations for the Interior Department and Forest Service that provides specific details. The committee plan directs $54.1 million to the BLM and $120 million to the Forest Service for land acquisition. The committee’s list for LWCF acquisition projects includes $8.5 million for the Forest Service for Sweetwater Lake, $20.5 million for “recreational access” on BLM lands, $1 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s San Luis Valley Conservation Area and $850,000 for Dinosaur National Monument.

    The committee, in its allocation recommendations said it was “disappointed by the lack of specific bureau- and project-level information” offered by the Interior and Agriculture department secretaries and dismissed Bernhardt’s issues with precise price tags for repairs as “insufficient reason to withhold more specific costs by project.”

    The committee directed the two departments “to provide specific project information, including estimated costs by project, as soon as possible,” noting that it intended to fund LWCF through final appropriations — without or without the department lists.

    @JoeBiden Can Leverage Larger Trends to Make #Climate Progress — The Revelator

    Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

    From The Revalator (Dan Farber):

    Even if Republicans hang onto the Senate, Biden can use these three strategies to make major progress on climate issues.

    With the next president of the United States finally decided, we can now begin moving on to the work at hand.

    Joe Biden’s election creates an exciting opportunity for climate action. But there’s one clear hurdle: Unless the January runoff elections in Georgia for two Senate seats deliver surprising success to the Democrats, President-elect Biden will face a Senate led again by Mitch McConnell. That narrows the range of available policy instruments, but Biden should still be able to make real progress.

    He has the advantage of the tide moving in the direction of clean energy. Market forces are shifting strongly away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and energy storage. State governments are moving in the same direction. And public opinion has shifted, with more people recognizing the importance of climate change and the benefits of clean energy. The trick will be to leverage these trends into faster and larger changes.

    I’d advocate a three-pronged approach to take advantage of these trends: (1) aggressive use of established regulatory tools; (2) funding to improve and deploy new technologies; and (3) government support for state and private sector climate efforts.

    The first prong was utilized heavily by the Obama administration.

    Like Obama Biden needs to make aggressive use of existing law. Given a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court, it would be best to avoid anything that looks legally innovative and instead push as hard as possible on legally established channels.

    That would mean strictly regulating conventional pollution from fossil fuels, using the Clean Air Act as well as other environmental statutes. Additional avenues include ramping up standards for methane emissions, cutting back on leasing public lands for fossil fuels, and higher fuel-efficiency standards.

    There will be industry resistance to these efforts, but economic trends may help dampen that.

    Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    The second prong is legislative.

    Although a GOP or 50-50 Senate will be a challenge, some kinds of legislation may have a chance of sneaking through.

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski has an energy bill she has been trying to get to the floor that seems to have bipartisan support. The bill focuses on spending for research and demonstration projects. Even when the GOP controlled Congress during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Congress voted to increase funding for renewable energy for the Defense Department and to increase funding for research into innovative new energy technologies.

    If Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins can be brought on board, it may also be possible to adopt energy-related amendments to must-pass bills.

    Finally, increased funding for adaptation-related spending by FEMA, the Defense Department and the Army Corps of Engineers may also be feasible.

    The third prong involves climate efforts outside the federal government.

    During the Trump administration, many states increased their use of renewable energy and a smaller group have adopted serious carbon reduction targets. The federal government can defend these efforts in court; can provide states technical resources; and can use its regulatory powers over energy markets to reinforce state climate programs.

    We’ve also seen a serious movement by investors away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. The federal government can support these trends through its regulation of financial markets.

    And the power of presidential jawboning should not be underestimated. Presidential appeals to business leaders can carry considerable clout, as can public praise or shaming.

    Even if Biden is handicapped by the lack of Senate control, a lot can still be done. And the climate crisis is too urgent for us to pass up any available tool for addressing it.

    The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

    600,000 new #environmental voters — Heated #ActOnClimate

    From Heated (Emily Atkin):

    The Environmental Voter Project, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group, tells HEATED it spent $2.05 million this year targeting 1.8 million self-identified environmentalists who had never voted before in 12 states, including the critical battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

    Of those 1.8 million environmentalists targeted by Environmental Voter Project, more than 600,000—or about 33 percent—voted early. It’s “a truly astounding number when you consider that these are almost all first-time voters,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, EVP’s president.

    It’s also astounding when you consider that, in many cases, those voters outnumber the margin between Trump and Biden in key battleground states.

    For example:

  • 54,976 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Pennsylvania, where Biden is leading by about 45,400 votes
  • 56,990 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Arizona, where Biden is leading by 16,730 votes;
  • 69,332 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Georgia, where Biden is leading by 11,596 votes; and
  • 20,705 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Nevada, where Biden is leading by 36,186 votes.
  • Of course, these aren’t necessarily votes for Biden. EVP only encourages environmentalists to vote; it doesn’t say who they should vote for. But given the environmental hellscape of Trump’s presidency, it’s safe to assume many, if not most of those votes did not go in his direction.

    In addition, these are only early vote numbers, and therefore only show part of EVP’s impact. The group will know its full impact in February or March when states release their final voter lists.

    Above all, EVP’s results only constitute one part of the climate movement’s broader impact on voter turnout and fundraising in the 2020 election.

    How #Indigenous voters swung the #2020election — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Anna V. Smith) [November 6, 2020]:

    In Arizona and Wisconsin, Native turnout — which often leans liberal — made the difference in Biden’s slim but winning margin.

    Biden/Harris supporter Cindy Honani stands outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber while holding a sign above her head to protect herself from the snow in Window Rock in late October. Sharon Chischilly/Navajo Times via The High Country News

    Note: This article has been updated with voter data as of Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. mountain standard time.

    This year’s presidential election has been a close race in a handful of states, including Arizona. On Wednesday, for just the second time in 70 years, the Associated Press called the race for a Democratic presidential candidate, in part due to the Native vote.

    Indigenous people in Arizona comprise nearly 6% of the population — 424,955 people as of 2018 — and eligible voters on the Navajo Nation alone number around 67,000. Currently, the margin between Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who has released a robust policy plan for Indian Country — and incumbent President Donald Trump is 17,131 as of Monday. (Votes continue to be counted, so numbers may change)

    Precinct-level data shows that outside of heavily blue metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson, which also have high numbers of Indigenous voters, much of the rural blue islands that have voted for Biden and Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, are on tribal lands. On some Tohono O’odham Nation precincts, Biden and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris won 98% of the vote. As of Nov. 9, the three counties that overlap with the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation went for Biden at a rate of 57%, as opposed to 51% statewide. Voter precincts on the Navajo Nation ranged from 60-90% for Biden.

    That pattern is consistent with 2016, when the rest of the state went for Trump. “Partisan groups have long ignored Native voters, including in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana,” says Jordan James Harvill (Cherokee), chief of staff of the nonpartisan group VoteAmerica, which worked directly with Navajo Nation and community partners to get out the vote. “We view these voters as some of the highest-potential voters in the electorate and we’ll continue to invest in voters in Indian Country for years to come.”

    Indigenous people in Arizona were hit hard by the pandemic, which was exacerbated by Republican state officials who did little to limit the spread of COVID-19 through public safety measures like required mask wearing, business closures, or adequate translations for COVID-19 resources. All this was compounded by an inadequate federal response that delayed financial relief to tribal governments.

    At one point in May, the Navajo Nation had the highest ratio of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., surpassing New York City. President Jonathan Nez has criticized the Trump administration for its botched response, and the Navajo Nation has joined other tribal nations in a lawsuit over the dispersal of the funds. Recent exit polls showing how Indigenous voters favored Biden overall in Arizona also showed the pandemic response to be the most important issue on their minds.

    In the weeks before the election, several Navajo citizens filed suit against the state of Arizona over the deadline for mail-in ballots. Pointing to the myriad challenges Indigenous communities face with vote-by-mail, they asked the court to allow ballots to be postmarked — instead of received — by 7 p.m. on Election Day. They lost the case, but because of efforts by groups like VoteAmerica, Four Directions, Rural Utah Project and the Nez administration, counties like Apache County, which overlaps the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, saw 116% voter turnout compared to the 2016 election. (Votes are still being counted, so total numbers and percentages are likely to change.)

    On the Tohono O’odham Nation, which spans Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties, most precincts were above 90% for Biden, according to a statewide map pulled together by ABC15 Arizona. Throughout the Trump administration, O’odham citizens and the tribal government have been vocal in their opposition to the border wall, which Trump has forced through without tribal consultation, even as it severs the landscape and destroys ancestral O’odham sites. Those high numbers were repeated throughout precincts covering the lands of the Hualapai, Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Gila River, San Carlos Apache, Pascua Yaqui, Cocopah and Colorado River tribes, generally within the range of 70-90% for Biden.

    Indigenous voters are by no means a monolith, and the majority of Indigenous people live in urban areas, which makes it likely that many more voted in metro areas and therefore don’t appear in voting data from tribal lands. (In fact, a survey done by a coalition of Indigenous organizations called Building Indigenous Power showed that Indigenous voters on reservations were less likely to vote compared to those in the city or small towns.) Still, clear voting patterns can be seen across Indian Country:

  • In Montana, though the state went for Trump overall, counties overlapping with the reservations of the Blackfeet Nation, Fort Belknap Tribes, the Crow Tribe and Northern Cheyenne Tribe went blue. The divides were often stark; Glacier County, encompassed by the Blackfeet Nation, went for Biden by 64%, the highest in the entire state, while the neighboring county voted for Trump by 75%. The Native vote in Montana has made the difference before, when Indigenous voters helped Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who has advocated for Indian Country in legislation regarding water settlements, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and tribal recognition, get elected the last three terms in often-close races.
  • Wisconsin, a closely watched swing state, went narrowly for Biden by around 20,500 votes. There, the Indigenous population is 90,189 people as of 2018. Wisconsin counties overlapping the lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans show that voters there helped tip the count to a Democratic majority. Menominee County, which overlaps the Menominee Tribe’s reservation, voted for Biden 82%, compared to the state as a whole at 49.4%.
  • South Dakota went for Trump by 61% — except on tribal lands. Counties overlapping the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and Crow Creek tribes went for Biden. In Oglala Lakota County, which overlaps with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge reservation, Biden won with 88%. In Todd County, which overlaps the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Biden won 77% of the vote.
  • Additionally, Indigenous candidates did well: A historic six Native candidates will be heading to the U.S. Congress next term, New Mexico has made history by becoming the second state after Hawaii whose delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives will now be made up entirely of women of color, two of whom are Native. That’s in addition to dozens of Indigenous candidates elected to state and local offices, 11 of which were elected to state office in Arizona.

    As the 2020 election comes to a close, James Harvill says this election illuminates the importance of the Native vote, which is likely to only grow because of an increasing young population aging into the electorate and a strong level of community support. “When we’re looking on to the next several years, we’re going to see that Native American voters become one of the defining members of the electorate, much like we’re seeing of Latinx and Black voters.”

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email us at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on November 6, 2020..

    The #Colorado #Climate Voter’s Guide To The #2020Election Results — Colorado Public Radio

    Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

    From Colorado Public Radio (Joe Wertz, Michael Elizabeth Sakas, and Sam Brasch):

    After days of uncertainty and delayed counting, Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday — a historic vote that will likely have profound effects on federal environment and energy policy, and the country’s response and adaptation to the hazards of climate change…

    In Colorado, voters broke 52.3 percent for Biden and 42.1 percent for Trump, preliminary data shows.

    Throughout the campaign, Biden pledged to restore environmental regulations reversed or weakened during the Trump administration, including the Endangered Species Act and rollbacks of methane and mercury rules. Biden also talked up a more-progressive environmental agenda that would see the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement, ban new oil and gas drilling on public lands and promote renewable energy.

    Climate change is an increasingly critical motivating issue for a segment of the Colorado electorate. Recent polling finds that well over half of Coloradans think the U.S. government should do more than its doing now to address it.

    Here’s a quick review of some key climate change and environmental outcomes from Colorado’s 2020 election.

    John Hickenlooper

    U.S. Senate

    Winner: John Hickenlooper

    Background: Colorado’s former two-term Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, defeated Republican incumbent Cory Gardner in the race for the Senate by nearly 10 percentage points. Both candidates touted their environmental records, but only Hickenlooper highlighted climate change as a major platform issue, calling it “the defining challenge of our time.”

    In his acceptance speech, Hickenlooper said that, “Regardless of which party ends up controlling the Senate, I want you to know that I will work with anyone and everyone to help Coloradans… to protect our planet, and address the nightmare of these endless wildfires by tackling climate change.”

    If Biden wins the presidency, he would need support from both the House and the Senate to pass major pieces of his $2 trillion climate plan…

    Gardner has often refused to acknowledge human-caused climate change, and focused instead on his public lands and conservation record, including the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. But conservationist saw Gardner’s record as problematic, for things like not stopping the Trump administration from rolling back clean air and water rules.

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    Denver Climate Tax

    Result: Ballot Measure 2A passes

    Background: Denverites signed off on 2A, a measure that increases sales and use taxes levied on most goods by .25 percent, according to unofficial election results. The proposal should generate about $36 million a year to fund programs to combat and adapt to climate change, including cleaner transportation, upgrades to infrastructure and improving the energy-efficiency of streets and local homes and buildings.

    Other cities have adopted more direct taxes on carbon emissions, but the Denver climate tax is unique. Opponents worried about the disproportionate impact of hiking the sales tax, which many consider “regressive” because they’re paid equally by people with different income levels.

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Wolf Reintroduction

    Result: Proposition 114 passes

    Background: Coloradoans approved Proposition 114, which clears a path for state wildlife authorities to bring wolves back to the Western Slope by 2024.

    The Associated Press had not officially called a winner in the campaign by the time this story was published, but proponents of the measure declared victory, opponents conceded defeat and state wildlife officials expect the measure to pass.

    Supporters said reintroducing wolves will positively affect other animals’ evolution and support biodiversity in an ecosystem that was long shaped by the predators.

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    Boulder: 2C and 2D

    Result: Ballot Measure 2C and 2D likely to pass

    Background: Ten years ago, Boulder voters rejected a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy and decided instead to pursue a city-run electric utility, which proponents said would give residents more control over the source of the county’s electricity and pollution that fuels climate change.

    In approving 2C, Boulder voters agreed to pause the municipalization effort and re-enter a 20-year franchise arrangement with Xcel, part of a settlement agreement in which the utility said it will slash carbon emissions from Boulder operations at least 80 percent by 2030.

    Boulder voters also appear to have voted to pass 2D, which extends a city utility tax originally enacted to pay for municipalization expenses. The measure repurposes the tax to fund to-be-determined green energy projects.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Colorado River Water Conservation District: Ballot Measure 7A

    Result: Approved, according to preliminary count — 163,384 votes in favor; 61,689 opposed

    Background: Western Slope voters approved a property tax increase to fund various projects designed to improve and secure water supplies for the 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District, preliminary results show

    Ballot Measure 7A will raise property taxes by a half-mill in 2021 and is expected to bring in $4.9 million, most of which will fund projects that improve the quality and availability of water throughout the Colorado River watershed, which is threatened by climate change.

    @KamalaHarris becomes first Black woman, South Asian elected vice president — The #Colorado Sun

    Kamala Harris. By United States Senate – This file has been extracted from another file: Kamala Harris official photo.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64332043

    From The Associated Press via The Colorado Sun:

    Kamala Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades

    Kamala Harris made history Saturday as the first Black woman elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

    The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington’s power centers. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago.

    Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, serving as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After Harris ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice president on Jan. 20.

    Biden’s running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn’t committed to seeking a second term in 2024.

    Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy — often undervalued — of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.

    “We’re not often taught their stories,” Harris said in August as she accepted her party’s vice presidential nomination. “But as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders.”

    […]

    Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution “more accessible to more people” and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

    Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life…

    “British 19th Century, East Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), late 19th century, gouache on oriental paper, overall: 42.2 x 33.4 cm (16 5/8 x 13 1/8 in.), Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.19.1”. By British 19th Century – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the National Gallery of Art. Please see the Gallery's Open Access Policy., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81415124

    Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower,” and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

    The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

    Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Harris’ power comes not just from her life experience but also from the people she already represents. California is the nation’s most populous and one of its most diverse states; nearly 40% of people are Latino and 15% are Asian. In Congress, Harris and Jayapal have teamed up on bills to ensure legal representation for Muslims targeted by Trump’s 2017 travel ban and to extend rights to domestic workers…

    “That’s the kind of policy that also happens when you have voices like ours at the table,” said Jayapal, who in 2016 was the first South Asian woman elected to the U.S. House. Harris won election to the Senate that same year.

    Harris’ mother raised her daughters with the understanding the world would see them as Black women, Harris has said, and that is how she describes herself today.

    She attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women. She campaigned regularly at HBCUs and tried to address the concerns of young Black men and women eager for strong efforts to dismantle systemic racism.

    Her victory could usher more Black women and people of color into politics.

    Voters overwhelmingly pass #ColoradoRiver District tax hike — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    A boater paddles the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale May 16, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Western Slope voters have overwhelmingly passed a proposal by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to raise property taxes across its 15-county region.

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    The River District announced that the measure had received voter approval in a news release at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, saying the organization is ready to get to work implementing water projects across the district.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado.

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups.

    Eagle County Commissioner and River District board member Kathy Chandler-Henry, who also served as vice-chair of the political action committee Yes on 7A, said it would have been nearly impossible for the River District to protect Western Slope water without the tax increase.

    “I’m glad people throughout the district saw the value in that, even though it’s a tough time to be asking for a tax increase,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win and a huge vote of confidence in the work the River District’s been doing.”

    The River District, based in Glenwood Springs and created by the state legislature in 1937 to develop and protect water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    This story ran in The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Summit Daily News, the Vail Daily, the Steamboat Pilot and Today and the Sky-Hi News.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Millions in new taxes approved for #WestSlope, #FrontRange #water districts — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Water won big in Colorado on Election Day as voters in two multi-county districts approved property tax increases to fund water projects and programs.

    Voters in two local water districts — the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the West Slope and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District on the Front Range — said yes to ballot measures that will generate millions of dollars in new money for conservation, water education, stream health, storage and agriculture.

    Based on vote totals as of 4:30 a.m. this morning, 72 percent of voters in the Colorado River District approved ballot issue 7A, with nearly 28 percent voting against the measure.

    Meanwhile, 69 percent of voters in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District approved a separate ballot issue 7A, with 31 percent voting against.

    Though statewide funding for water projects has historically been a tough sell for Colorado voters, local initiatives with a more direct connection to residents are finding more success at the polls in recent years. These 2020 water funding ballot measures come on the heels of similar successes in 2018, when voters in Denver, Eagle, Chaffee and Park counties approved tax increases, new taxes, and tax extensions for water and land-focused initiatives.

    “Passing any type of fiscal measures statewide in Colorado is going to continue to be an extreme challenge but it’s a much different story on the local level and the regional level,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers, which supported the Colorado River District measure. “People in Colorado like to make their own decisions locally about fiscal issues, but also about how we manage and protect and restore our rivers for the environment, for agriculture and for local economies.”

    In deciding to ask voters for more money this year, the two districts’ leaders cited factors like growing demand for water, drought, higher temperatures, population growth, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

    Those reasons resonated with voters on both sides of the political spectrum across the state. On the West Slope, for example, voters in right-leaning counties like Mesa and Montrose and left-leaning counties like Pitkin and Summit approved the ballot measure. (Of note: Nearly 80 percent of voters in Pitkin County approved the ballot measure, despite opposition by three county commissioners and the county’s representative on the district’s board.)

    “It’s really a testament to what can happen if people put aside partisan differences on water issues,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Voters in Colorado are seeing the effects of rising temperatures, changing climate and the impact it’s having on water resources, and they know that we need to adapt and mitigate and that it’s going to cost money to do that.”

    An angler casts a line on the Roaring Fork River upstream of Basalt in Pitkin County. West Slope voters said yes to millions in new taxes for the Colorado River District. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    West Slope says yes

    In the large Colorado River District, which includes 15 counties and some 500,000 residents, voters approved a mill levy increase that will double the district’s budget by generating an additional $4.9 million every year starting in 2021.

    The district spans an area that covers 28 percent of the state and encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, which include the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

    With the passage of the ballot measure, West Slope voters approved a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents of Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties. The increase represents an additional $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of home value.

    The district, which has 22 employees, will use the new funding for projects related to agriculture, infrastructure, water quality, conservation, efficiency, and other key priority areas determined by local communities and river basin roundtables.

    District leaders say they will also stretch the extra money further by using it to solicit matching funds from state, federal and private sources.

    Water funding on the Front Range

    It was also a historic night for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, where voters approved a property tax increase for the next 10 years. This is the first time in nearly 50 years — since its founding in 1971 — that the district has asked voters for more funding.

    The district’s board thought long and hard about how best to approach voters — and whether this was the right year to do it. But in the end, their approach paid off.

    “The discussions were good and essentially resulted in consensus and agreement with the board,” said Chris Smith, board vice president representing district 3, which encompasses northwest Longmont and parts of unincorporated Boulder County. “It was all done in a very thoughtful manner, which speaks a lot to having a board that represents, geographically, the entire watershed.”

    Smith said he was happy to see the West Slope ballot measure pass, too.

    “The people of Colorado have really keyed in on the importance of water,” he said. “There are so many new people moving to Colorado, it’s good to see that they’re carrying on that mantle of protecting our most important resource.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand district encompasses some 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties. Voters agreed to a mill levy increase from 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills through 2030.

    The tax increase will generate an additional $3.3 million per year for the district starting in 2021, up from the $421,000 generated annually by the current mill levy. On a $350,000 home, the tax increase represents an additional $2.61 per month; on a $500,000 commercial building, it’s an extra $15.10 per month.

    District leaders say they will use the extra money for projects related to water quality, river and creek health, water education, agriculture, storage and conservation, among others.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Water for #Colorado Coalition Applauds the Passage of $8 Million to Protect Colorado’s Rivers — Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

    Today, the Water for Colorado coalition celebrates the passage of two key local ballot measures that will increase investment in Colorado’s rivers and streams. Together these measures will generate nearly $8 million annually to support critical water-related needs.

    Voters approved a property tax increase for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which will provide $3.3 million a year to protect water quality, safeguard drinking water, maintain healthy forests, rivers and creeks, plan ahead for dry years and grow food locally. The funds will be allocated using the District’s recently developed 5-Point Water Action Plan that will protect rivers, forests, and local water quality.

    On the West Slope, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will bring in nearly $5 million a year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health, and water quality in the 15 counties that make up the district. According to its Fiscal Implementation Plan, the District will allocate these funds through partnerships with water users and communities for priority projects identified by local communities and Basin Roundtables.

    Local funding from both measures will support the types of solutions and water management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    “Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value protecting our rivers and streams, and that’s why an incredibly diverse group of Coloradans unified in support of the two funding measures,” said Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers Program Director. “The passage of these two ballot measures will mean communities will have $8 million more a year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife. But while we’re justifiably celebrating today, the wildfires that have been burning across the state this fall are a destructive reminder that climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and we all need to keep working for full funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    “Both measures provide an essential blueprint to these river districts to better manage water supplies and, in turn, support the communities and economies that rely on them,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers. “Voters have clearly rallied around water as a shared priority and recognized the urgent need to safeguard our drinking water, protect forests that are critical to water supplies, and maintain healthy rivers and creeks.”

    “Our economy depends on a healthy, reliable Colorado River System, and Colorado voters realized that in the passage of two ballot issues on water yesterday. Billions of dollars are generated every year in Colorado by river-related recreation, and we know that healthy rivers mean a thriving economy across our communities. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District can now implement their five-point plan to protect that area’s rivers and water sources, and the Colorado River District can continue its important, locally driven work throughout the 15 counties they serve,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship.

    “The passage of these measures comes as Colorado continues to grapple with extreme wildfires and ongoing drought conditions across the state. The water Coloradans use to drink, irrigate crops, recreate, and sustain our communities is water that we share with wildlife that depend on our rivers, streams, and lakes. In the face of a historic drought and the ongoing threat of climate change, these kinds of forward-looking investments in how we care for and sustain our water supplies are critical to ensuring the collective future of the people and wildlife of Colorado,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies .

    “I want to applaud Coloradans who voted to keep our rivers healthy and flowing. The wise investment they approved will protect clean drinking water and iconic waterways now and for future generations,” said Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.

    Coloradans continue to prioritize water by voting to approve ballot measures that use tax revenues to invest in healthy rivers, clean drinking water, resilient agriculture, and a thriving recreation economy. This year’s double win marks another voter-approved effort to fund work that supports the Water Plan. In November 2019, voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to help fund Colorado’s Water Plan.

    However, the Water for Colorado Coalition will continue its efforts to fully fund the Water Plan. This is essential, because even though these local ballot measures will generate significant funding for water in Colorado, a larger funding gap for implementing Colorado’s Water Plan remains. The Water Plan estimates that $100 million dollars per year is needed to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages in the state.

    About the Water for Colorado Coalition
    The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.

    The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

    #ColoradoRiver District Issue 7A: Voters overwhelmingly pass River District tax hike — The #Aspen Times #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups…

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

    Vote Yes on 7A for Our Water #VOTE

    Here’s the release from the campaign:

    Today, the Yes on 7A For Our Water Campaign launches in support of ballot Question 7A, a measure to ensure funding for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District to protect our clean water and healthy forests, rivers, and creeks.

    “Nothing is more important than clean water. We need to step up and ensure our communities have clean water to drink,” said Christopher Smith, General Manager at Left Hand Water District and St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District Board Member. “By protecting our forests, rivers and creeks we can ensure we have safe, clean reliable water. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District is our advocate for protecting our water. Please join me in voting Yes on 7A.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District serves communities in the counties of Boulder, Weld and Larimer, from the mountains to the plains including residents in Lyons, Longmont, Mead and Firestone and the surrounding area draining into St. Vrain and Left Hand Creeks. The District works to protect local water quality and ensure we have water supplies for generations to come.

    “When we started Left Hand Brewing, we wanted to establish our brewery in a community with a long history of clean, reliable water,” said Eric Wallace, President of Left Hand Brewing. “Longmont was a clear winner, and it is no coincidence that our brewery is located right on the “Mighty St. Vrain”. I am voting yes on 7A because it is a great investment in clean water, which is essential for our business, community, and the next generation.”

    “A yes on 7A Vote means we will preserve our spectacular creeks that feed our natural and human environment,” said Barbara Luneau, President of the St. Vrain Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited. Seeing trout in a river indicates clean, high-quality water. Since the September 2013 flood, trout and native fish habitat has increased because of post-flood stream restoration. There is more work to be done to restore our creeks with limited funding available. Voting yes on 7A will bring desperately needed funding to improve our creeks and maintain our high- quality water.”

    For nearly 50 years, the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District has successfully protected our water by facilitating conservation programs, protecting water quality, educating the public and developing and managing water projects. The District has never once asked voters for additional funds. Voting Yes on 7A will ensure the District can continue supporting local agriculture, healthy rivers, and a secure water future. Cost to homeowners will be approximately $9.00 per $100,000 of assessed value, similar to the cost of a cup of coffee per month. For businesses the cost is $36.24 per $100,000 of assessed value. 7A will automatically end or sunset after 10 years.

    “As a representative for the nation’s oldest Cattlemen’s Association, I know how important water is for the ranching and farming community. Grazing lands within the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District are high quality – in part because of the water used to irrigate fields,” said Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “Not only are these fields important for farming and ranching but they also provide food and habitat for wildlife. Voting yes on 7A is good for your local food, water and wildlife. Vote Yes on 7A.”

    For more information about 7A, please visit: http://www.svlhfriend.org.

    @InsideClimate News: In Final Debate, [the President] and @JoeBiden Display Vastly Divergent Views—and Levels of Knowledge—On #Climate #ClimateChange #ActOnClimate

    Boulder County Solar Contractor Residential Commerical. Photo credit: Flatiron Solar

    From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

    The candidates’ discussion on climate change Thursday revealed, again, the significant gulf between a president who has spent the last four years rolling back climate regulations, placating the fossil fuel industry and mocking the climate threat, and a candidate who has called climate change “an existential crisis” and developed a plan to tackle the problem—though one that climate progressives say still falls short.

    “This debate was historic: the first-ever general election Presidential debate with climate change as a pre-defined topic and the first debate where climate change was framed out of the gate by the moderator in terms of jobs, the economy, and what the candidates’ plans were—not if the existential crisis even exists,” said Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

    In the debate, the last before Election Day, Trump and Biden fielded questions about a range of topics, most prominently the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, though the biggest question lingering in viewers’ minds may have been whether Trump would adhere to the debate rules and focus on issues and policy.

    Late into the hour-and-a-half debate, Welker asked the candidates how they would tackle climate change, while also supporting job growth.

    Trump began by reprising what has been his stock response to questions about climate change, citing the “Trillion Trees Program”—in the previous debate he erroneously referred to the program as a plan to plant a “billion” trees—and adding, “I do love the environment.”

    He went on to say,”We have the lowest number in carbon emissions,” an apparent reference to emissions falling during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seemed pleased with his mastery of the term, taunting Biden about whether he was familiar with the concept.

    “I’m not sure he knows what it means,” Trump said.

    The Trillion Trees Program has been broadly embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, but scientists have said the plan is inadequate for addressing climate change, that it will only put a tiny dent in emissions and is a distraction from a necessary shift away from fossil fuels.

    Emissions dropped during the pandemic, but are now on the rise again, continuing an upward trend that has continued since the beginning of the Trump presidency. The most recent full-year figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, for 2018, show that fossil fuel emissions drove a 3 percent rise in overall greenhouse gas emissions in that time period.

    As he has throughout his bid for the presidency, Biden emphasized a shift to renewable energy, saying his $2 trillion clean economy jobs program would create more than 18 million jobs.

    “The oil industry pollutes,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time…. I’d stop giving federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry.”

    Trump, sensing an opportunity to appeal to voters in battleground states with strong fossil fuels ties, pounced on the comment.

    “That’s the biggest statement,” Trump said, turning to look directly into the camera. “Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”

    Trump also reiterated a trope of the fossil fuel industry, calling a shift to renewables a “pipe dream” and saying that wind turbines kill “all the birds.” In a muddled response, he misleadingly suggested that the construction of wind turbines “is more than anything that we are talking about with natural gas.”

    Biden responded, “Find me a scientist who says that.”

    Trump also attacked Biden’s climate plan, falsely saying it would cost $100 trillion.

    “They want to take buildings down because they want to take bigger windows and make them smaller windows,” Trump said, referring to the proposal. “Little tiny windows and many other things.”

    The proposal says nothing about shrinking windows.

    Trump also attacked Biden on his statements on fracking and natural gas, falsely accusing the Democratic candidate of supporting a ban on fracking and changing his position to court voters in Pennsylvania, a natural gas-intensive and critical swing state, won narrowly by Trump in 2016.

    Biden corrected Trump, saying he would only ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands, but supports fracking elsewhere as necessary while the country transitions to a clean energy economy—a position that has been criticized by some climate advocates in the progressive wing of the party.

    Biden framed addressing climate change as an ethical matter and part of a broader shift to rejoining global peers

    “We have a moral obligation to deal with it,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”

    “We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear,” Biden said, saying that he’d advance an economy “motivated” by clean energy. “We can grow this economy,” Biden said. “What’s on the ballot here is the character of our country.”

    Environmental activists largely applauded Biden’s performance, even as many vowed to push him to take bolder steps.

    “We are committed to holding a Biden administration accountable to stop fracking and protect our communities,” said 350 Action North America Director Tamara Toles O’Laughlin Black. “Indigenous, and communities of color continue to bear the brunt of Donald Trump and his fossil fuel lies. It’s time for a just transition for workers across the industry. The planet can’t take four more years of Trump’s deadly mismanagement and plain incompetence.”

    #Denver’s unique sales tax to fight #ClimateChange could be a blueprint for future action nationwide — The #Colorado Sun

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    From The Colorado Sun (Evan Oschner):

    Denver voters this year could give the city a unique tool for fighting climate change that is unlike strategies pursued by other U.S. cities. Across the nation, local authorities are taking on responsibility for fighting the warming planet amid gridlock at the federal level.

    Denver’s idea is different because ballot measure 2A would use the proceeds from a dedicated sales tax increase to raise roughly $40 million a year to invest in renewable energy, clean transportation, energy efficiency and more.

    If voters approve the tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, it could serve as a model for policy options in other cities. “We truly are pioneering this,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, who sponsored the measure to get the issue on the ballot. Clark said two other municipalities have reached out to Denver to talk about implementing a similar proposal themselves.

    As fires torch the West and hurricanes slam the East, the threat of a changing climate has become more pressing, and cities are more urgently taking action. The situation is so dire that local governments are more likely to try to tackle this intractable problem, said Cooper Martin, an expert in sustainability policy at the National League of Cities…

    Denver’s idea is inspired by action in some other cities, Clark said, pointing to Boulder. And action by cities, regardless of the strategy, is generally driven by the lack of federal action to address the climate crisis. President Barack Obama joined the Paris climate accords and put in place emissions cutting measures through executive action, but President Donald Trump has waged a yearslong campaign to repeal many of his predecessor’s environmental policies.

    The inaction at one level has led to action at another. “Local effort is really what we’ve had for the last 10 years, and I think that it’s been valuable,” said Mark Smith, an economics professor who studies environmental policy at Colorado College.

    For Denver, that means raising the sales tax to 8.56% from 8.31% to support green projects in the city. If approved, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The money raised would be divided among six categories covering a range of environmental issues.

    The categories prioritize environmental justice and include training programs to empower people to work in clean energy as well as investment in renewable energy.

    Other funds will be dedicated to making the city’s infrastructure cleaner by reducing reliance on cars and improving mass transit. According to the city, transportation is responsible for 30% of the city’s emissions. Another 50% of the city’s emissions are attributed to new and existing buildings, and the tax funds would be used to upgrade the energy efficiency of office and residential spaces.

    Proponents say many of the elements of the bill are intended to offset a reality of the proposal: It is fundamentally a regressive tax. That’s because sales taxes are regressive, meaning they require lower income individuals to pay a higher proportion of taxes.

    The bill that put the measure on the ballot says city officials must try to invest half of the funds it raises directly into the community and prioritize efforts to steer funds toward under-resourced communities.

    Clark says these stipulations are designed to ensure lower income and marginalized communities receive more benefits from the tax than they pay into it.

    Hick on Western Slope water: ‘Don’t divert … unless it’s absolutely necessary’ — Real Vail #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

    RealVail.com also checked in with Hickenlooper — a Democrat who’s leading incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in most polls in the Nov. 3 election – on the topic of transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope drainages of the dwindling Colorado River Basin to the Front Range cities where most of the state’s people live.

    The former Denver mayor, brew pub owner and oil and gas geologist said that, as much as possible, Western Slope water should stay on the Western Slope.

    “When we created the Colorado Water Plan, one of the real focuses there was to make sure that we don’t divert water from one basin to another unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the things we set up in the water plan is the process by which we debate that and when people get crosswise over water, you don’t just go to a fight.”

    The context of the question was a proposal by Homestake Partners, comprised of the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, to conduct test drilling in the Homestake Creek drainage near Red Cliff to determine the best site for a new dam for the proposed Whitney Reservoir, which would provide the cities up to 20,000 acre-feet in average annual yield.

    Local towns, politicians and statewide conservation groups oppose even the test drilling, which was delayed in the U.S. Forest Service permitting process by the record wildfire season…

    Climate Change Amplifies Colorado’s Water Diversion Debate

    Nearly 5 million people live on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, along what’s known as Colorado’s “Front Range,” where communities established on semi-arid prairie land need more water to keep expanding.

    Now a water battle is brewing over whether the booming population centers of Aurora and Colorado Springs, with nearly 900,000 residents combined, can claim water from a remote valley on the other side of the Rockies, collect it in a new reservoir and pump it across the Continental Divide.

    For many residents of bucolic Eagle County on the “Western Slope,” where Homestake Creek meanders through mountain meadows, lush wetlands and ancient fens on its way to the endangered Colorado River, it’s time to end transmountain diversions once and for all as the climate warms and drought intensifies.

    But officials in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Colorado Springs, argue they can collect the water in a new reservoir and make use of it without drastically disturbing the surrounding wilderness. More to the point: they’ve owned the rights to 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield since 1952 and say it’s time to start exploring if they can use it—for drinking water and on suburban lawns.

    “Because water is the lifeblood and it’s so important, we have been doing a relatively good job of having collaborative conversations that are getting us to a point, but the issue is growth and climate change are both happening now so fast and historically these collaborative conversations take a really long time,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

    “Are we going to be able to address that at the scale and speed that the problem is moving?” Scherr added. “So, you hate to see this end up being essentially a war for water, but if we don’t figure out how to do it in a holistic way, that could be our future.”

    Proposition 117 explained — The #Colorado Sun #VOTE

    From The Colorado Sun (Brian Eason):

    It’s the rare point of bipartisan agreement in Colorado politics where public spending is concerned: Since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took effect in 1992, state lawmakers have increasingly turned to fees to fund government operations.

    But how you feel about that development, depends on your politics. To the left, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the state’s strict restrictions on taxation. To the right, it’s a sign that TABOR, the state’s landmark constitutional amendment governing public spending, didn’t go far enough to restrain government growth.

    This November, that debate goes to voters, as it so often does in Colorado, in the form of a complicated ballot measure that demands an up-or-down vote on the future of the state’s fiscal policy.

    Proposition 117, supported by conservative anti-tax groups, would require voter approval for the creation of certain fee-funded state government programs known as “enterprises.” Traditionally, these are public entities, like water utilities, parks or toll roads, that operate like a business because they are funded primarily by user fees rather than taxes.

    Existing enterprise programs would be exempt from the new requirements, and the referendum would apply only to new fees that generate $100 million over their first five years, or an average of $20 million annually. And unlike the voter-consent requirements found in TABOR, local governments would be exempt from additional requirements.

    Nonetheless, if the proposition passes, it would represent a major expansion of voter control over Colorado fiscal policy that would reshape future budget fights and further limit the ability of state lawmakers to create government programs.

    A nonpartisan legislative analysis found that had Proposition 117 been in effect previously, it would have triggered elections on seven of the 16 government-run state enterprises Colorado had in place in 2019, affecting as much as $7.6 billion in annual public spending by universities, state parks and prisons. It also would have required voter approval for a reinsurance program pushed by Gov. Jared Polis that imposed new fees on health insurance plans and hospitals.

    Here’s an overview of what you should know about Proposition 117 and enterprise funds.

    What are state enterprises, and why do they matter in Colorado?

    State and local governments all over the country rely on so-called enterprise funds to pay for essential services. These are effectively government-run businesses that mostly operate with the fees they charge to users. In Colorado, state and local taxes can’t make up any more than 10% of an enterprise fund’s revenue.

    Common examples include public water utilities, municipal airports and the entities that operate toll roads. But enterprises take on a special significance in Colorado because of the state’s unique restraints on taxation.

    TABOR, added to the state constitution in 1992, does two key things that have contributed to the proliferation of enterprises.

    One, TABOR requires voter approval for all new taxes — but not fees, which are legally distinct from taxes in that they can’t be used for general government services. Instead, courts have said they have to fund something that’s reasonably connected to the fee itself. For instance, toll fees can pay for road maintenance, and park fees can pay for parks upkeep, but neither could be used to pay for health care or courts. And because voters have rejected most new statewide taxes in the TABOR era, lawmakers tend to view fees as a more politically feasible way to boost spending on public services. Not all government fees are tied to enterprise funds, but that’s the purpose for many of them.

    Two, TABOR prevents general government spending from increasing faster than a revenue cap, which limits the growth of the state budget to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Historically, this limit has not allowed the state to keep up with the growth in expenses such as Medicaid caseloads or schools. So to pay for new initiatives without cutting funding to other areas of the budget or asking for new taxes, lawmakers effectively have to set up programs as an enterprise, which TABOR explicitly exempts from its spending limit.

    A legislative analysis published in the Blue Book ballot information guide shows examples of recent enterprise fees in Colorado that would need voter approval if Proposition 117 wins approval in November 2020. (Screenshot)

    State lawmakers also have used this mechanism to prevent existing programs from crowding out other services. College tuition and student fees, for instance, were reclassified in 2004 and now make up the state’s largest enterprise, generating $5.1 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. More recently, lawmakers converted a hospital-bed fee that helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to an enterprise fund; it now generates around $1 billion a year.

    The case against Proposition 117

    Opponents view Proposition 117 as an unnecessary restraint that will make it that much harder for lawmakers to fund public services. And they balk at the notion that lawmakers have turned to fees to circumvent TABOR. The constitutional provision explicitly allows lawmakers to create fee-funded enterprises without the same restraints it imposes on taxes.

    Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, blames TABOR’s restrictions for the chronic underfunding of K-12 education, higher education and transportation — all in a state where, before the pandemic, the economy had consistently been rated among the nation’s strongest. He fears that placing new restrictions on enterprises will make matters worse.

    And, he says, it’s simply not good government to continually put esoteric fiscal policy questions — like the $34 million petroleum storage tank enterprise, which charges fees to fund environmental clean-ups — on the ballot.

    “Why do we want to make these very specific, technical, user-based issues politicized fights, where big money can come in and really distort the issue?” Wasserman said during the debate.

    “This is why we send people to the state Capitol who are trying to operate government on our behalf,” he added.

    State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, also urged voters to reject it, saying that Proposition 117 would limit the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing financial crisis created by the coronavirus.

    “Our teachers, doctors and nurses can’t afford more cuts and cannot be shut out of this recovery,” Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said in a statement. Proposition 117 and the Proposition 116 measure to cut income taxes “would stall our recovery and permanently harm our ability to provide critical state services.”

    Notably, unlike TABOR and some of Colorado’s other constitutional fiscal constraints, Proposition 117 is a statutory change, meaning that lawmakers could override it by passing legislation. But there would be political risks in doing so if voters approved it on the ballot.

    The case in favor of Proposition 117

    To supporters, Proposition 117 is a natural extension of the voter protections provided by TABOR — protections that they argue lawmakers have undermined by leaning so heavily on enterprises.

    There’s no doubt that the growth of enterprising has been staggering. Just after TABOR took effect in the 1993-94 fiscal year, enterprise funds generated $742 million, which was just a fraction of the state’s total budget. In 2017-18, according to an analysis by Colorado Legislative Council, they generated nearly $18 billion. But not all of the total comes from fees. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to a separate legislative analysis, fee revenue collected by state enterprises only made up around 20% of the state’s roughly $29 billion budget.

    A graphic from a December 2018 state report from the Joint Budget CommitteeColorado Legislative Council shows how state revenue has shifted to sources outside TABOR in recent years. (Screenshot)

    Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, said during a recent debate that enterprise funds were “used for good things in the beginning,” such as college tuition, the state lottery and state parks.

    “What we’re concerned about is the things that it’s moving towards,” he said in the forum moderated by PBS12 and The Colorado Sun. “If you’re going to create a new program, you need buy-in from the people.”

    One enterprise that Fields suggests goes too far and should have received voter approval is the state’s new reinsurance program, which lawmakers decided to fund through health insurance fees after the coronavirus pummeled the state’s coffers. Legislative analysts expect it to generate $94 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year and more than $100 million annually after that.

    Colorado is more reliant on government fees than the average state, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, ranking 9th nationally in the percent of its budget that comes from service charges. Still, comparing fees and taxes across states is tricky. For one thing, Pew’s analysis excludes insurance funds, like Colorado’s unemployment trust fund, which is among the state’s largest enterprises. For another, Colorado’s “hospital provider fee” is considered a “bed tax” in many states, illustrating the degree to which TABOR has shaped even the words lawmakers use in creating policy.

    “The legislature has been going around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Fields said. “If they label something a fee, they don’t have to go to voters for approval.”

    Anxiety Mounts Abroad About #Climate Leadership and the Volatile U.S. #Election2020 — Inside Climate News #VOTE

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

    “The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate.”

    Whenever artist Michael Aschauer returns home after an extended stay in the United States, people here pepper him with questions about the direction America is heading.

    With gallows humor typical of the city, they often ask, “Will it fall apart slowly, or very fast?” he said, adding that Vienna has plenty of experience with how rising and falling empires can destabilize global systems.

    Aschauer is married to an American and keenly watches climate and energy politics on both sides of the Atlantic while trying to imagine a post-carbon future. In an informal social media art project, he documents gas stations that have been abandoned or converted to other uses.

    He said it’s hard to imagine that Americans would re-elect the incumbent president, but that it can’t be ruled out, either, given the current volatility of U.S. politics. “The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate,” he added.

    Carbon budgets detailed in recent climate reports show that four more years of pro-fossil fuel policies in the U.S.would make it much harder for the world to reach the Paris climate agreement goal of preventing catastrophic global warming, he said. On the other hand, Biden’s decarbonization plan would accelerate demand for renewable energy in the world’s biggest consumer economy and speed the global shift to a zero-carbon economy.

    He also said he’s noticed a brain drain away from the U.S. in fields like the arts and technology, and expects that to continue if Trump is reelected. Vienna, Berlin and other European cities are already full of American political refugees, he added.

    In terms of climate policy, four more years of Trump would be damaging indeed, said Austrian-born Gernot Wagner, a climate economics professor at New York University. “We don’t have another presidential term to waste,” he said. “A Trump win would be devastating, especially since it’s not about emissions in any given year, but about the trajectory.”

    And what happens in the U.S. affects China, Europe, India, Nigeria and elsewhere, he added. “A lot around climate policy is about momentum: ‘If you do something, then I will, too.’ A race to the top, rather than the bottom,” he said. “That’s what Paris was all about and still is. It’s also where a Biden victory can have the biggest impact.”

    But China’s recently announced carbon neutrality goal could be a game-changer for global climate policy, he wrote in a recent commentary.

    Political commentators in Europe say people care deeply about the American election because they understand it affects them, and not just because of climate policy. Some fear Trump, in a second term, could be prone to rogue actions that would trigger widespread economic and political instability.

    There are also concerns about malignant U.S. influence in spheres like social media, trade and energy policy. Iran sanctions and differences over a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany are potential flashpoints. Recent polling shows America’s reputation has sagged under Trump.

    Debate Debacle

    But it’s not all fear and loathing—people here say they feel a cultural, social and economic affinity with the U.S. And the interest is even more intense this year, after extensive international media coverage of the escalating cycle of police violence and destructive protests, as well as wildfires, hurricanes, the botched pandemic response and potential election chaos all painted a picture of a country in turmoil.

    Last week’s presidential debate reinforced global concerns about the direction of the U.S., said Reimund Schwarze, an environmental economist with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Trump’s recent statements questioning the legitimacy of the election process raise the specter of widespread unrest, he said.

    “It’s much deeper than environmental concerns. The motherland of democracy is stumbling, and this is a scary time,” said Schwarze, who has collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years, and whose daughter is currently a student at the University of Washington.

    During the recent civil uprisings in Seattle, he said his daughter described scenes of arbitrary law enforcement actions that reminded him of the totalitarian regime in East Germany back in the 1980s. Through his contacts with the EPA he’s also seen how Trump is undermining government institutions at the deepest level, another warning sign of incipient authoritarianism, he said.

    To explain why Germans perhaps are especially interested in the American election, he described the shared sense of elation in both countries at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as well as the intense alliance that formed in the preceding Cold War decades.

    “We felt this would bring a period of prosperity, of freedom to the world, at least our part of the world,” he said, adding that the direction of the U.S. under Trump puts that security and stability at risk, just as his abandonment of international commitments, like withdrawal from the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement, threaten international order.

    Global Governance

    Those worries were underlined by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in a Sept. 22 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, warning that the withdrawal of the U.S. and other countries into national shells does not bode well for pressing international policy questions.

    Addressing climate and other environmental challenges requires more, not less, international cooperation, he said. The builders of the U.N. 75 years ago had lived through a global depression, a pandemic, genocide and world war, and “knew the cost of discord and the value of unity.”

    In terms of climate, the future course of the U.S. is important because the country has emitted more total greenhouse gases than any other nation—29 percent, as much as the next four nations—China, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

    If the U.S. is not a big part of the push to limit the global temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, that goal seems even farther away than it is already, regardless what the rest of the world does.

    The world needs a U.S. president “who will value the lives of people across the world more than fossil fuels,” Ugandan youth climate activist Vanessa Nakate posted on Twitter recently.

    Equally important, European analysts note that American technology and science are critical parts of the global push to limit global warming. But the past four years of anti-science rhetoric and efforts to suppress climate science by the Trump administration suggest that the U.S. at the national level has abandoned that goal, they say, making it easier for other countries to do the same.

    Climate Finger-Pointing

    “The number-one question I get asked is, why should we do something if the U.S. isn’t doing anything,” said climate scientist Cara Aisling-Augustenborg, a lecturer at University College Dublin who has also been a climate activist and climate adviser to the Irish government.

    “Global climate policy is eking out an existence, barely, as it is,” she said. The lack of U.S. commitment and leadership may have encouraged other countries that already have motives to delay climate action. Australia wants to mine and export coal, and Brazil wants to slash forests so it can sell palm oil and cattle feed to Europe. “You can see why they would have an agenda,” she said.

    The American withdrawal from the Paris agreement garnered a lot of media attention in Ireland and helped build climate consciousness in a way that may have been perversely beneficial. No politicians wanted to be associated with Trump’s outright climate denial, which led to more climate action from the Irish government, she said.

    But if Trump is re-elected, the pendulum could swing further toward gloom, with an attitude of “we’re all going to hell anyway,” she said. “When you hear about how fast the ice is melting, and birds falling from the sky, it might be hard for me to continue advocating for climate action,” she said.

    New Zealander Kevin Trenberth, a long-time climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, is gloomy about U.S. prospects if Trump is re-elected. Climate policy is one thing, but he thinks survival of U.S. democracy is at stake in the election, he said.

    “I don’t think the U.S. can survive four more years of Trump and there could be a civil war of sorts,” he said. “Democracy in the U.S. does not work, dark money dominates, the whole system is corrupt, and major changes are needed. Science priorities are wrong, and that is why I am in New Zealand.”

    Global climate policy can’t take another four years of Trump, he added.

    “No. After Paris in 2015, there was hope but it has been downhill ever since and no countries are meeting their goals,” he said. ” Real leadership is required from the U.S. and China. There are no penalties in the Paris agreement and so it is only peer pressure that matters.”

    Trenberth said the “utter failure of the President and administration” in response to the pandemic was astounding, and a clear sign that the rest of the world can’t look to the U.S. for leadership as it once did.

    American climate scientist Jason Box, a Greenland ice expert working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, considers himself part of the brain drain from the U.S. He moved to Europe in 2013, partly spurred by a tax break that is part of Denmark’s “brain gain” policy, he said.

    He wouldn’t move back to the U.S. if Trump is reelected, he said. “But that’s not the only reason. Others would include too many guns in the U.S.,” as well as general security and environmental concerns. “I mean, there was looting around where my folks live after the fire evacuations. I think too many folks are desperate,” he said.

    Public interest in U.S. affairs is high, and the general reaction in the scientific community is a mixture of “shock and pity,” he said.

    Cavalry No More?

    The effect of the U.S. election on global climate policy can’t be separated from other policy areas, especially economic and energy policy, said Susanne Dröge, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

    U.S. policies the past four years have rattled transatlantic relations more than any time since the post-World War II realignments, including the end of the Soviet Union, and interest in U.S. affairs in Germany remains high “due to the general interest in the little world order we still have,” Dröge said.

    Even before Trump, the U.S. was signaling that Europe should take on more of a global leadership role, she added. “But even with that, there was a strong reliance that the U.S. will always be the cavalry that comes in when things go bad.”

    Obama helped lead the charge for the Paris climate agreement, she said, in what turned out to be a “very short, exceptional period” for cooperative climate policy. She fears that with four more years of Trump, it could be very hard to find a way to return to a cooperative path forward.

    In climate policy, Trump’s “u-turn in all dimensions” was not unexpected, but stunning nonetheless. And in spite of all that, to add complexity, U.S. emissions have generally declined the last few years, she added.

    U.S. antipathy to global climate policy, in any event, is like an ill wind that spreads mistrust and triggers disengagement by other countries.

    “Russia, China, Turkey, the Saudis are all saying, if the U.S. is not participating, why should we,” said Dröge, who closely monitors and analyzes global climate policy. “The bad example from the U.S. is more critical because it has such high leverage,” with the country still being a major economic power. If U.S. markets were to turn strongly to clean energy, it would help propel the rest of the world in the same direction.

    Climate Blues

    The U.S. has, for many years, determined war and peace at the global level. At the moment, the country’s policies are “moving the world towards climate disaster and possibly nuclear war,” said Helga Kromp-Kolb, director of the Global Center for Change and Sustainability at the University of Vienna.

    “No wonder Europeans have a deep interest in the results of the U.S. elections, as do the people the world over. I believe a significant part of the scientific community sees the threats clearly and is deeply concerned, not only regarding what the U.S. does, but also who will take over if, or when, U.S. leadership is lost,” she said.

    Trump’s emergence magnified an anti-science undercurrent that has always been part of U.S. culture, she said, adding that the real problem is that science has been misused, not only in the U.S., to support commercial products, like fossil fuels.

    “Of course climate science is hit especially hard by the denialism of the present U.S. government at the time when the world needs all the data and the expertise it can get,” she said.

    But a Biden win wouldn’t be a panacea for global climate policy, she cautioned.

    “With the U.S. back as part of the effort, the world would no doubt be on a better path in the climate issue,” she said. “But to reach the climate goals takes more than Mr. Biden has so far committed to.”

    Other Europeans also see a stormy political horizon for the U.S.

    “The U.S. system is struggling right now, and it’s not too big a frame to ask if democracy itself is at stake,” said Austrian political scientist Paul Schuierer-Aigner, who became interested in U.S. politics when Barack Obama became president. Trump’s tilt toward authoritarianism is all the more frightening because the U.S., for whatever its other failings, used to be a bulwark against such political tendencies, at least in Europe, he said.

    Now, just a few hundred miles east of Austria, Trump’s example has emboldened authoritarian leaders in Hungary and Poland, he said. “There are a lot of mini-Trumps in Europe, and we can learn a lot from those who are trying to defend democracy in the U.S. right now,” he added.

    For Schuierer-Aigner, Trump is more a symptom of the root problem, which he says is growing existential stress caused by late-stage neoliberal capitalism, including wealth disparity and economic insecurity. He’s encouraged by strengthening backlash led by young people in the Sunrise Movement and the leadership and policy alternatives presented by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat.

    “From what I see in the Democratic Party, there is a lot of movement, a lot of mobilization from the other side.” Even with time running short for meaningful climate action, he said, there is a hopeful scenario that a generational shift in politics in the U.S. could upend the political landscape for many years to come, leading to fundamental changes in U.S. policy.

    All over the world, people are waiting in suspense to see if Nov. 3 marks the start of that shift.

    “I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone,” Austrian ecologist Sarah Höfler posted on Twitter recently, “but the American election will, in my opinion, decide whether humanity has still a chance in the #ClimateCrisis. It is as simple as that.”

    Energy dominance or climate action: Trump, Biden and the fate of public lands — @HighCountryNews #VOTE #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Book Cliffs and Mt. Garfield (on right, approximate altitude 6,600′) in Mesa County, Colorado. By User Skez on en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here03:31, 2 March 2006 Skez 992×708 (137,232 bytes) (Near Grand Junction, CO Taken by Sean Davis http://flickr.com/photos/skez/32161524/), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=835434

    From The High Country News [This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) October 1, 2020] (Paige Blankenbuehler):

    In Grand Junction, Colorado, the presidential election is a choice between two distinct energy futures.

    On July 13, in Grand Junction, Colorado, a day after the coronavirus pandemic hit a local three-month peak, 45 elderly women flouted the state’s “safer-at-home” directive and withstood temperatures that reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit to meet at the Grand Vista Hotel for the Mesa County Republican Women’s Luncheon.

    Officially, the event was meant to spotlight an issue on this year’s ballot in Colorado, a contentious measure on wolf reintroduction in the state. But as the women milled about the hotel’s conference room, discarding their masks and embracing each other, the scene looked more like a reunion. Although the group, which was founded in 1944, typically gathers monthly in Grand Junction, Mesa County’s largest city, the meetings had been on forced hiatus since March, and the women were excited to be together, excited by their shared disobedience.

    The featured speaker was Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, but the true star of the day was Lauren Boebert, a feisty MAGA Republican who had just beaten a longtime incumbent, Rep. Scott Tipton, in the Republican primary. Boebert moved from table to table for introductions, handshakes and hugs, a sidearm holstered at her hip. At 33, she was the youngest there by decades. In Rifle, Colorado, where she has lived since the early 2000s, Boebert owns the Shooters Grill, where waitresses in tight flannel shirts and denim serve burgers and steaks with loaded handguns strapped to their hips or thighs. The Grill was shut down in May for repeatedly violating public health orders restricting in-person dining, but the publicity Boebert received from the conflict — and a GoFundMe petition for the Grill that raised thousands of dollars — assisted her bid for Congress.

    After a lunch of barbecued chicken, potato salad and corn muffins, the group’s president officially began the meeting. She recited a prayer, quoted Abraham Lincoln, and led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then she introduced key people in the room: candidates for the county commission, a representative from President Donald Trump’s Mesa County campaign office, and Boebert.

    Speaking to the room, Boebert described a conversation she had had with Trump, who called her after she won. “President Trump said that he was watching this from the very beginning,” Boebert said. “He said, ‘I knew that something big was going to happen with you, and now I get to call and congratulate you.’ He said, ‘Every day I’m fighting these maniacs, but now I have you to fight them with me.’”

    Her audience laughed and applauded. Boebert smiled brightly. “We are going to win this fight against the liberal socialist agenda and restore the potential for our community to develop our rich natural resources right here in the ground in Mesa County,” she said.

    Boebert is partly right; this election could mean a change in how much fossil fuels are extracted from public lands. Currently, a quarter of the crude oil produced in the United States comes from federal lands, and almost three-quarters of Mesa County is federally owned. Public land also accounts for 20% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making it key to any national energy (or climate) policy.

    If he wins in November, Trump promises to further his agenda of “energy dominance,” which has already opened millions of acres of federal land across the Western U.S. to energy extraction. But if his opponent, Joseph Biden, wins the presidency, he’ll bring with him the most progressive environmental platform ever proposed by a major party candidate. And, as with so many issues in this election, the stakes are high for communities that rely on public lands — and nowhere are these themes more amplified than in Grand Junction, the home of the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters.

    The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    THERE ARE 1,260 OIL WELL SITES scattered throughout Mesa County. The scene is not apocalyptic; the sites don’t dominate the landscape, and the machinery is tucked away from highways and out of view from the city center. In the rural communities that orbit Grand Junction, pumpjacks, compressors and pipes sit amid a mosaic of farms and ranchland, orchards and winery towns, and numerous biking and hiking trails.

    Some 63,000 people live in Grand Junction, more than 80% of them white, and around 15% Latino. The city is named for its location at the junction of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, and has a long history of mining, including uranium. In the 1970s, thousands of homeowners were warned that their homes had been built on non-mediated radioactive sites, marked by gray, sand-like waste from a defunct uranium mill downtown.

    Over the last decade, Grand Junction has developed a reputation for outdoor recreation and wineries. It is a city defined by two distinct identities: new liberal-leaning outdoor enthusiasts and a more rooted, conservative population. The different groups coexist amid the expansive public land with all its multiple uses: hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, motorized off-roading and skiing, as well as ranching and the extraction of oil, gas and coal.

    Downtown Grand Junction is home to more than 20 outdoor gear stores. Photo credit: AHolidayAway.com

    There are nearly 20 outdoor gear stores in the downtown vicinity alone, reflecting the myriad approaches to life here. Brochures, maps and pamphlets at places like Hill People Gear — a family-run institution that sells hand-sewn goods and promotes gun rights on its website — and Loki Outdoor gear — where an 18-year-old sales associate told me she was “definitely” voting for Biden — tout the many nearby places where one might recreate. About 73% of Mesa County is public land, but only 18% of it is protected from natural resource development. So far, Grand Junction has had enough room for a variety of perspectives and competing interests. Since Trump took office, however, he has offered more land for oil and gas development in his first two years as president than Obama did in his entire second term, auctioning off more than 24 million acres of public lands. If Trump is re-elected and continues to lease land at the rate of the last few years, opponents fear that land that could be managed for recreation, wildlife or conservation will wind up under the control of energy companies. At best, it will remain idle, but be inaccessible to the public. At worst, it will be immediately developed and directly contribute to greenhouse emissions in a world that is already nearing the critical threshold for the climate crisis.

    Even as Grand Junction has changed, the Trump years have widened the political and cultural divide between liberals and conservatives here. Multiple use and the concept of space for all have given way to sharpened political ideologies and divisiveness, and attitudes have hardened around the pandemic and its restrictions, while protests have arisen concerning police brutality.

    The Lunch Loops Trail System on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado, was developed on public land by the Bureau of Land Management and the local mountain bike trail association. About 73% of Mesa County is public land, and about 18% of it is protected from natural resource development. Photo credit: Andrew Miller/High Country News

    AFTER I LEFT THE REPUBLICAN WOMEN’S Luncheon, I drove west to the trailhead of Lunch Loops, a popular mountain biking trail network just outside Colorado National Monument. I was there to meet Sarah Shrader and Scott Braden, two of the town’s most prominent conservationists.

    Shrader and Braden represent an alternate vision for Grand Junction, a future in which a sustainable economy is built around abundant access to public lands. Both are relative newcomers to the area, but they’ve invested their personal and professional lives in the Colorado canyon country.

    I waited for them by a picnic table in the sweltering heat. Behind me, a rocky mesa hulked over the system of singletrack trails, extending out from narrow ledges and scarcely visible breaks in the canyons — the kind of landscape whose scale outflanks the mind’s ability to absorb it.

    The area is managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the city of Grand Junction. The local BLM office, with the help of the city and a number of other land-use agencies, is extending a connector trail all the way to the monument. Once it’s finished, a person will be able to bike from the heart of downtown Junction all the way to the monument in about 25 minutes.

    Soon, Braden arrived and shared some relief: iced black coffee sweetened with agave nectar, which he poured from a glass jar into a tin mug for me. Braden is 44, with a friendly smile and a dark goatee. He has worked for many conservation organizations and served a stint on a resource advisory council for the BLM. Now, he runs his own firm where he provides advocacy-for-hire for Western environmental and conservation groups.

    “Grand Junction is really the perfect place to be for me,” he told me as we drank. “This is a place with an economic identity built around cattle and sheep, oil and gas, uranium mining. But you look out on places like this, and you see the ability of outdoor rec as an industry to transform it.”

    Just then, Shrader drove up, parked, and walked towards us. Shrader is the head of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition, a local interest group she founded in 2015 to help outdoor recreation businesses work together to market the area as an international destination.

    The three of us stood on the sandy pavement drinking our coffee, using the picnic table to reinforce social distancing. The trails were empty except for one mountain biker, who was climbing a steep ascent to the edge of the ridge; we watched, half in awe, half concerned that the rider might collapse from heat exhaustion. Shrader thought she recognized the cyclist as a pro she knew. “I was riding my bike up the monument the other day, and she lapped me going up,” Shrader said, “and she lapped me again going down.”

    Shrader’s cheeks were moist with perspiration above a royal blue bandanna that she pulled down to drink her coffee. She moved from Prescott, Arizona, to Grand Junction in 2004 with her husband. In addition to running the coalition, Shrader owns a company called Bonsai Design, which builds adventure courses — hard-core mountain playgrounds with ziplines, obstacle courses, Indiana Jones-type bridges — for resorts, state parks and adventure-recreation companies. She started it in her basement in 2005, and her business grew quickly. She bought a building downtown, but outgrew that space, too. Just recently, she broke ground on a new location by the Colorado River — part of a revitalization project that features a water park designed to accommodate low-income families and encourage them to recreate on the river.

    Shrader said the Outdoor Recreation Coalition was formed to grow adventure-based industries and the higher quality of life that goes with them. “I did that to really start talking publicly and visibly about the outdoor rec economy here and to shift focus on primarily getting our wealth from the surface of the land, instead of underneath it,” she said.

    Recently, the president of Colorado Mesa University asked Shrader to develop and head a new outdoor rec industry program, which offers students experience and coursework on adventure programming, guide services and the fundamental accounting and finance classes needed to run an outdoor recreation business. This fall is its first semester. Shrader serves as the program’s director and also teaches a few classes. “It came from the demand of so many outdoor industry businesses here saying, ‘We need a talented and skilled workforce,’ ” she said. “I really created the program classes to be a reflection of what businesses need and what businesses want.”

    She envisions training a new workforce for outdoor-recreation businesses in what has become an $887 billion industry — creating stable, green, good-paying jobs in fields tied to conservation and landscape preservation.

    Shrader views the coming election as a crucial moment for Grand Junction. “When we’re talking about the economy, we’re talking about creating a quality of life that is bringing people here,” she told me. “Location-neutral workers, doctors, manufacturing companies — they don’t have to work in the outdoor rec industry, but they’re coming here and raising their families here, buying houses, buying commercial property here, paying their employees here because of this” — she motioned to the rocky mesas surrounding us.

    Braden and Shrader worry that Trump’s desire to develop more natural resources here could significantly alter the local landscape. “This place — along with Book Cliffs, Dolores Basin, Grand Mesa, the national monument — is the critical infrastructure of our community, if you’re thinking about creating that quality of life,” Braden said. “If an oil well and a surface oil truck is one picture of an economy future, this place would be the picture of the other economy future. We have a choice as a community, which one we want to run towards.”

    As Shrader drank her iced coffee, Braden continued. “Grand Junction is an avatar for this choice,” he said. “This is a place that, not too long ago, our picture of our economic future was an oil field. Now we have a choice.”

    FOR DECADES, the Bureau of Land Management has struggled to disentangle the two contradictory directives that make up its mission: management of the landscape for conservation, and a quota for sustained yield of that landscape’s natural resources. Its direction sways back and forth, reflecting the interpretation of the administration currently in charge of the agency’s mandate for multiple uses. The idea is that the political appointees who run the agency have a responsibility to take a balanced approach that keeps in mind the public land’s many resources — timber, energy, habitat and more — and its various other uses, including recreation, mining and grazing. The BLM’s mission, in its own words, is to balance these at-odds uses “for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

    But ever since the BLM was formed in 1946 by President Harry Truman, to act as the guardian of the public lands, it has served as more of a purveyor than a preserver of land, water and minerals. It was established to administer grazing and mineral rights, and it largely benefited ranching interests, officially combining the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service — both of which aided in the exploitative conquest of the Western United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    The agency has never found its balance. In 1996, President Bill Clinton made history by designating the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, the first national monument to be overseen by the BLM. Then, under George W. Bush, millions of acres of public land were leased for oil and gas drilling and logging, and “Drill, baby, drill!” became a 2008 Republican campaign slogan. Barack Obama’s tenure over Western public lands was marked by the implementation of policies meant to rein in extraction and focus on preservation. The result was a record of compromise and small gains: He delisted 29 recovered species, but weakened the Endangered Species Act; he designated over two dozen national monuments, more than any other president, but left other important public lands unprotected; he promoted tribal sovereignty, but failed to address systemic inequalities in Indian Country. And even though Obama is considered the first leader to seriously address climate change, he also oversaw surges in oil and gas production.

    Neil Kornze, who served as BLM director under Obama, told me that the agency acted as crucial connective tissue in addressing climate change. “As we think about climate solutions and the way that plants and animals are reacting to these really strong changes in our environment, the BLM becomes the bridge to other areas of refuge,” he said. “Questions about sustainable use and conservation are going to be really, really important for the next administration.”

    But while the Obama administration’s policies were aimed at protecting more public lands from energy development, the rollout of those regulations was difficult for Bureau of Land Management field offices across the West. Jim Cagney, the BLM’s former Northwest district manager, based in Grand Junction, told me that the administration was too ambitious, and it overreached. Effective land management, he said, happens over decades, not over the course of a single administration.

    “I don’t want to burst any environmentalist bubbles or anything, but those guys were really calling the shots from up above,” Cagney said. “My feeling at that time was that we can’t take on this many battles and win them. We’re going to get more pushback than we can handle. Can we slow down and bring this along at a sustainable pace? The Obama administration would have none of that.”

    Cagney, who worked for the BLM for three decades, retired before Trump became president. “It’s plainly obvious that (the Trump administration’s) public-lands approach is rooted in the denial of any science that conflicts with their extractive agenda,” Cagney said. “I’ve spent my lifetime trying to maintain a balanced, unbiased approach to public lands. I think both parties overplay their hand, and the ever-increasing pendulum swings associated with administration changes are making management of the public lands unaffordable and impractical.”

    SINCE HIS INAUGURATION IN 2017, Trump has worked hard to undo Obama’s legacy, especially when it comes to the environment. I interviewed more than a dozen former Interior Department employees, BLM directors and staff, conservationists, environmentalists and Washington insiders, and by most accounts, Trump has narrowed the vision of the beleaguered agency far more than any of his predecessors. “Energy dominance is not the same thing as multiple use,” Nada Culver, vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel for the National Audubon Society, told me. “It’s a very, very radical tug on the balancing act. There is a thumb on the scale.”

    Back in October 2016, I attended a campaign rally for then-candidate Trump on the tarmac of the Grand Junction airport. Ten thousand people waited more than four hours outside the arena. The scene was rowdy, joyous, like an energized fan base at a music festival. Although public lands account for nearly three-quarters of the land inside Mesa County’s limits, a place known as the gateway to the canyonlands and the home of Colorado’s first national monument, Trump never mentioned them explicitly. But he knew that energy development would resonate with his constituency. “We’re going to unleash American energy, including shale, oil, natural gas, clean coal,” he told the crowd. “That means getting rid of job-killing regulations that are unnecessary. … We’re going to put the miners right here in Colorado back to work.

    “We are going to dominate,” he said, as his audience whistled and whooped.

    Trump won Mesa County by 64% — 28 points more than Clinton. And so began what critics call his “frontal assault” on regulation and public-lands protections, and a chaotic remaking of the Bureau of Land Management. Just one week into his presidency, in his second executive order, Trump took aim at the National Environmental Policy Act — the bedrock environmental legislation that safeguards public land and resources for future generations by requiring thorough environmental impact analyses — and ordered expedited environmental reviews for high-priority infrastructure projects. A few months later, Trump ordered public-land agencies to remove regulatory burdens that blocked projects to develop the “nation’s vast energy resources,” giving agencies 45 days to review ongoing projects.

    According to an analysis by The New York Times, in the past few years, Trump has reversed 68 environmental rules; more than 30 similar rollbacks are currently in progress. Many of these moves impact the BLM. In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order to review all designations under the Antiquities Act; later that year, he shrank the boundaries of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. In December 2017, he scrapped a rule that required mines to prove that they could reclaim their mines; a month later, he ordered Interior to expedite rural broadband projects on public lands. Trump has exempted pipelines that cross international borders, such as the Keystone XL project, from environmental review. In April 2019, he lifted an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands; that summer, he nixed a ban on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    The new headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction, Colorado. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

    Trump has also refused to hire a BLM director. Instead, he selected William Perry Pendley, a controversial conservative with a history of lobbying to transfer public lands to local private interests, to serve as acting director in 2019. Trump sidestepped the nomination process altogether until this June, when he formally nominated Pendley to lead the agency in an official capacity. After months of outrage and opposition — notably from vulnerable Western politicians like Colorado’s Republican senator, Cory Gardner, who is up for re-election this year — Trump withdrew the nomination. Still, Pendley remained at the helm of BLM until a federal judge in Montana ordered Pendley to leave his post in late September. The judge concluded that Pendley served unlawfully as acting director for 424 days.

    By most accounts, Trump has been successful in advancing his agenda of energy dominance. Though American energy production set records during Obama’s tenure, according to the Interior Department, the revenue from federal oil and gas output in 2019 was nearly $12 billion — double that produced during Obama’s last year in office. The courts — and the uncertain economic situation — have acted to temper abrupt change, but Trump has done everything in his power to clear the way for development.

    “Four more years of Trump means a steady stream of oil and gas lease sales and locking in leases and fossil fuel emissions when we can’t afford it,” Kate Kelly, public-lands director for the Center for American Progress, an advocacy organization for progressive policies, told me. “We will continue to see every acre that could potentially be leased, leased, and the hollowing out of the agencies that are there to protect these landscapes.”

    In late summer, Trump revealed one of his most extreme changes yet: Amid the widespread economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, his administration finalized a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of NEPA. Trump’s change would fast-track infrastructure and result in shorter reviews and a narrower comment process, thereby limiting what the public is allowed to scrutinize. Already, 17 environmental groups have sued. “(NEPA) is a tool of democracy, a tool for the people,” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the firm representing the groups, wrote in the suit. “We’re not going to stand idly by while the Trump administration eviscerates it.”

    And Trump has promised to continue what he started if he’s re-elected in November. He remains skeptical of climate change, calling the crisis a “make-believe problem,” a “big scam” and a “Chinese hoax.” In countering Trump on the issue, Biden has been able to make his most compelling argument for the presidency yet: “There’s no more consequential challenge that we must meet in the next decade than the onrushing climate crisis,” he said at a virtual town hall in July. “Left unchecked, it is literally an existential threat to the planet and our very survival. That’s not up for dispute, Mr. President. When Mr. Trump thinks of climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs’ — green jobs and a green future.”

    Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the public lands are the battleground for the climate crisis. The United States is the world’s largest emitter of fossil fuels after China, meaning that the country must play an outsized role to curb the climate crisis. In order to keep rising temperatures within the critical 2 degrees Celsius threshold that scientists deem necessary to prevent the worst environmental impacts, the U.S. must decrease its total emissions by 25% by 2025. We are not on track to meet this benchmark, but reducing the 20% of emissions that occur on public lands would significantly help the nation to limit catastrophic ripple effects from the worsening crisis. The fight between Biden and Trump is really a fight over keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

    IN LATE OCTOBER 2019, Joe Biden traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a campaign rally. There, he encountered Lily Levin, an 18-year-old climate activist with the Sunrise Movement, an international coalition of more than 10,000 young people fighting for immediate action on climate change and skyrocketing inequality. “I’m Lily from Sunrise,” she said as Biden turned around to face her. “I’m terrified for our future. Since you’ve reversed and are now taking super PAC money — ”

    Biden held up a phone, pointed it toward himself and Levin, and took a selfie, as Levin continued: “How can we trust that you’re not fighting for the people profiting off climate change?”

    “Look at my record, child,” Biden responded.

    A few days earlier, Levin had learned that Biden was walking back an earlier promise that his campaign would not accept dark money from super PACS — interest groups that influence politics without regulations to require disclosures of the identities of their donors. “This lack of transparency is a problem, because young people simply cannot trust that politicians — who have kicked the can down the road for decades when it comes to climate change — will be on our side, unless we also know that they’re not taking a single dollar from the merchants of our planet’s destruction,” Levin wrote in an op-ed for BuzzFeed News a few days after the encounter.

    Biden has struggled to capture the support of the progressive arm of the Democratic constituency, and his exchange with Levin deepened the doubts of the Sunrise Movement, which, since its creation in 2017, has become an influential force in Democratic politics. The group was an early champion of the Green New Deal, which was initially mocked by politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, as being overly ambitious and impractical. By 2019, however, 16 of the Democrats running for president had endorsed it. Biden was not among them.

    A few days earlier, Levin had learned that Biden was walking back an earlier promise that his campaign would not accept dark money from super PACS — interest groups that influence politics without regulations to require disclosures of the identities of their donors. “This lack of transparency is a problem, because young people simply cannot trust that politicians — who have kicked the can down the road for decades when it comes to climate change — will be on our side, unless we also know that they’re not taking a single dollar from the merchants of our planet’s destruction,” Levin wrote in an op-ed for BuzzFeed News a few days after the encounter.

    Biden has struggled to capture the support of the progressive arm of the Democratic constituency, and his exchange with Levin deepened the doubts of the Sunrise Movement, which, since its creation in 2017, has become an influential force in Democratic politics. The group was an early champion of the Green New Deal, which was initially mocked by politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, as being overly ambitious and impractical. By 2019, however, 16 of the Democrats running for president had endorsed it. Biden was not among them.

    When Biden released his initial climate plan in June 2019, it fell far below what youth climate activists demanded, focusing more on market-driven changes rather than federal mandates to limit emissions. It shied away from a carbon tax, for example, instead favoring policies that finance emission-cutting efforts by the private sector. That December, the Sunrise Movement gave Biden an “F” rating, deriding his plan for its lack of specificity and saying it fell far short of promises made by other presidential candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Polls from the time showed that Biden lost more than three-quarters of voters younger than 45. “We don’t have to beat around the bush,” one Sunrise member said. “Young people ain’t voting for Joe Biden.”

    But in the months following the primaries, Biden abandoned his moderation in favor of a bolder, more progressive climate stance, largely as a result of pressure from the Sunrise Movement. In late July, Biden released a radically progressive, $2 trillion climate plan, the most ambitious blueprint ever released by a major party nominee and the culmination of months of collaborating with members of the Sunrise Movement.

    Just days after releasing his plan, Biden held a virtual fundraiser. “I want young climate activists, young people everywhere, to know: I see you,” he said. “I hear you. I understand the urgency, and together we can get this done.”

    In his plan, Biden calls for the complete elimination of carbon pollution by 2035. He also promises to rejoin the international Paris climate accord, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2017. While Trump continues to dismiss the science behind climate change, Biden’s plan uses climate science and the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a foundation. Biden’s plan will focus on investing in renewable energy development and creating incentives for industry to invest in energy-efficient cars, homes and commercial buildings. Biden has pledged to end new oil, gas and coal leases on public land and has said he will emphasize more solar and wind energy projects on BLM land.

    Despite their initial reservations, many environmental organizations and climate activists have been won over by Biden’s new approach. In August, the Sierra Club officially endorsed him. The Sunrise Movement, which agonized publicly over the choice, said that though it would not formally endorse Biden — the group has an endorsement process with specific benchmarks, including requiring candidates to sign a “no fossil-fuel money pledge,” in which lawmakers promise not to accept money from PACs or from donors in the extractive energy sector — it would campaign for him. “What I’ve seen in the last six to eight weeks is a pretty big transition in upping his ambition and centering environmental justice,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the group, told the Washington Post.

    In August, Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate — a signal to his constituency that she would bring accountability to the promises he has made regarding climate action. Harris, who has a strong record of environmental action, made it a centerpiece of her own failed run for the presidency. She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive congresswoman from New York, introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would establish an executive team and an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to police the impacts of environmental legislation on low-income and communities of color. Harris has also said that she wants to eliminate the filibuster — which is a tool most often used for hyper-partisan gridlock — in order to clear the way for the passage of the Green New Deal, a progressive package that aims to mitigate the worse impacts of climate change while transforming the U.S. economy toward equity, employment and justice in the country’s workforce.

    If Biden is elected, his nomination to lead the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management will have great significance for his climate agenda. Potential nominees include Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; Ken Salazar, Obama’s Interior secretary; and John Podesta, a lifelong Democratic operator and former chief of staff under Obama, who is credited with envisioning that era’s most memorable conservation and environmental achievements, such as the Climate Action Plan and an economic recovery bill that invested $90 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

    Biden has signaled that he’d name a preservation-minded Interior secretary. When Trump withdrew William Perry Pendley’s nomination, Biden responded on Twitter. “William Perry Pendley has no business working at BLM and I’m happy to see his nomination to lead it withdrawn,” Biden wrote. “In a Biden administration, folks who spend their careers selling off public lands won’t get anywhere near being tapped to protect them.”

    FOLDED NEATLY ON THE COUNTERTOP that divides Tye Hess’s kitchen from his living room was a large navy flag decorated with stars and a bright red stripe and the declaration: TRUMP 2020, NO MORE BULLSHIT. It was a sunny afternoon in July in Redlands, a suburb of Grand Junction. The streets and culs-de-sac in Hess’ neighborhood are named after the local wine scene; Hess lives on Bordeaux Court.

    “How many flags have you sold this week?” I asked. He exhaled loudly. “Quite a few, probably like 20,” he said.

    Hess has short brown hair, bright blue eyes and a small gap between his teeth. He was wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt and casually sipped a ruby grapefruit White Claw as we spoke.

    “On Friday, I’m getting much more in, and I’m just going to start handing them out to people saying that if they want to donate to buy more, they can,” he told me. “I feel guilty, ya know?” He laughed. “It’s just something I believe in, so I don’t feel like charging for them. I’ve made plenty of money off these, and I can afford to give some away. But if somebody wants to donate money to buy another one, I’ll do that. Just keep it going.”

    Hess typically sells the flags for $25. When I met him, he had already sold more than 200, hand-delivering each one, and setting up the deals through social media. Previously, he worked for a coal mine, overseeing methane flaring outside of Paonia, Colorado, and then working as an independent contractor, installing granite countertops, carpet and tile. He supplements his income by running his own e-commerce store. He views his flags project as a personal campaign trail. “We have to do everything we can to get him re-elected,” he said. Hess, who is 42, only registered to vote a few months before we met, and this election will be his first.

    We were waiting for a customer named Eric Farr, who was picking up today’s flag. Hess threw away the White Claw, opened his refrigerator, and grabbed a Coors Light. The doorbell rang.

    Farr seemed surprised to see me, even though Hess had told him a reporter would be at the handoff. “You’re not some super liberal lady who is going to spin everything I say, are you?” he asked. I promised him that I wouldn’t. “OK,” he said.

    Farr was born in the mid-1980s at St. Mary’s Medical Center, in Grand Junction. He grew up riding a Yamaha YZ125 motorbike, honing a talent and a love for motocross on the dips and yaws of the town’s bluffs, managed for motorized use by the BLM. He had traveled widely, competing professionally on his Yamaha and sponsored by Jägermeister. “I have been all over the world, but never wanted to live anywhere else,” he told me. “I just want to keep the public lands open, like the BLM area. It’s just free and open space. I just want to keep a lot of it open for the motorcycles and side-by-sides.”

    As we talked about the land, I asked Farr what he thought of Trump’s refusal to fill the position of director at the BLM. “With everything going on, I haven’t seen anything about (Trump’s) approach to public lands,” Farr replied, referring to the pandemic and the ongoing demonstrations for Black lives. “It seems like Trump is about letting the states do what they feel is best with their public lands. So I think he’s got enough on his plate that he doesn’t really have time. As important as public lands are, there are a million other things that are just as important that he’s focused on.”

    I asked whether Farr was worried about future generations being able to mountain bike, e-bike and dirt-bike the rocky plateaus and canyons, the same lands that have been such a large part of his own life.

    “I get real upset when people dump their trash out there, because that’s going to get them shut down quicker than anything probably,” he said. He thought Trump was the country’s best hope for a return to aspects of his childhood he values: “constitutional values,” he said, “what the founding fathers tried to instill into our country.” He told me that he wants his children — he has two children under 7 and a baby on the way — to experience the same freedom that he feels he grew up with. “I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican,” Farr told me. “I’m a patriot. Trump is like our savior basically. He’s our only hope.”

    “Yep, I just barely registered (to vote) because of Trump and seeing these idiots,” Hess said, referring to the social justice activists protesting in Grand Junction following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. “I’ve had plenty of disagreements, and I never seen such rude comments (on social media). Then you fight back and they play the victim.”

    Hess took another Coors out of the refrigerator and handed it to Farr. “It’s just ignorance and — like you said — victim mentality,” Farr said to Hess, taking the beer.

    I tried to steer the conversation back to the Interior Department, but they wanted to focus on what they called the gall of the “radical socialist left.” Though both Hess and Farr’s lives have been intimately connected to the public lands in the Grand Junction area, the fate of those landscapes has not factored into their calculus for November’s election.

    Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.

    About a week later, a lightning bolt 18 miles north of Grand Junction ignited the Pine Gulch Fire, a blaze that became the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history. By early September, it had burned around 140,000 acres, mostly on BLM land. It pushed northwest, forcing evacuations for residents who live next to abandoned wells in the town of De Beque, down the road from Rifle, the home of Shooters Grill.

    For weeks, Grand Junction was shrouded in wildfire smoke. Since we first talked, Hess and his fiancée had moved to the rural edges of the county. From Hess’ home, he could barely make out the rows of peach trees just beyond his property line under the dense sepia-toned sky. In a photo he sent me, the sun burned an electric scarlet; he told me he was worried for the wildlife.

    I imagined what someone standing in the new headquarters of the BLM might be able to see. When I visited the office in July, the sky was bright blue and clear, with mere scraps of clouds offering a respite from the heat. From its north-facing windows, you could see the Grand Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, where Farr loves to ride. To the southeast was the place known as Lunch Loops, the mountain biking area that Shrader can pedal to in just minutes from her front door, and the entrance to Colorado National Monument.

    Due to the pandemic, most employees were telecommuting, and very few people were there, save for a few construction workers fixing electrical issues on the third floor. They were from Shaw Construction, one of the BLM’s neighbors in the building. The BLM also shares the building with Chevron, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Laramie Energy and ProStar Geocorp, a mapping company. In the middle of a move, the BLM headquarters was a scene in flux, a place still trying to realize itself.

    Along the halls of the BLM’s office, large murals of iconic scenery — Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison — leaned against bare walls, waiting to be hung. I remembered talking to Hess about his city as a new nexus for public-lands management, and asking him what he thought about moving the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction. Hess just laughed: “The BLM headquarters is here?”

    The Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A

    From the Gunnison River Basin News:

    The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A. This measure from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, asks voters to approve a mill levy increase to continue it’s vital work protecting Colorado’s westslope water resources.

    “We recognize the value of the River District as a voice for western Colorado water issues of importance to the Upper Gunnison River basin,” stated Sonja Chavez, General Manager, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

    Resolution

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Grand County backs #ColoradoRiver District Ballot Question 7A #COriver #aridification

    From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden):

    The Grand County Commissioners voiced their support on Tuesday for a ballot measure that would finance water projects on the Western Slope.

    Voters of the 15 counties on the Colorado River Basin, including Grand, will be asked in November to approve ballot question 7A for a mill levy increase of 0.248 mills for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. This would bring the total mill levy for the district up to 0.5 mills, equaling a yearly tax increase of $1.90 per $100,000 in assessed value for homes.

    Mike Ritschard, the Grand County representative on the Colorado River District board, explained Tuesday that the district collected $169,388 from Grand in 2019. If passed, the measure would roughly double that amount and pump almost $5 million more per year into the entire district.

    The district has not asked for a mill levy increase since it was created. Ritschard explained that reduced tax revenue from the energy industry and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, combined with the reduction in assessment rates from the Gallagher Amendment, has led to financial challenges for the district.

    Of the $5 million that could be raised, Ritschard said that 86% would go toward projects identified as priorities by local communities and basin round tables. The remaining 14% would fix the district’s financial deficit, but absolutely none of the funds would go toward creating staff positions.

    While these funds cannot be committed to certain projects, they would go toward at least one of five categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. Ritschard highlighted the Windy Gap bypass as an example of such a project…

    Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the district, added that the fiscal implementation plan for the funds would ensure they are distributed equitably across the geographic region based on need, not just population…

    While the commissioners expressed support for the ballot measure, Grand County makes up only a small portion of voters for it. The river district includes all the counties in the Colorado River Basin with the largest of the population being in Mesa County with Grand Junction…

    The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the ballot measure, joining Delta, Eagle, Garfield and Summit counties.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Pitkin County’s opposition to tax follows pattern of ‘misalignment’ with #ColoradoRiver District — @Aspen Journalism #COriver #aridification

    Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. The River District has said the tax revenue would be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, but commissioners said the ballot language was too ambiguous. The headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, near Independence Pass, are shown here. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In a reflection of long-simmering mistrust of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Pitkin County is opposing the organization’s proposed tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot.

    Pitkin County commissioners in a special meeting Tuesday passed a resolution that said that without an identified use for the revenue, a tax increase is irresponsible and not in the best interests of county citizens.

    The ballot question tells voters in the 15-county district that the money will be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation. But commissioners said the language was flawed and too ambiguous.

    “It’s not that we don’t support the efforts of the water district, it’s not that we don’t support protecting water on the Western Slope,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “It’s just that I would like more clarification, more specification in the ballot language as to the benefits to the Pitkin County taxpayers.”

    The resolution opposing the River District tax hike passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Greg Poschman and Steve Child voting against it. Both said they would like to hear from members of the public and the River District before making a decision.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller wasn’t happy with the way the meeting was noticed or that the draft resolution wasn’t included in the packet materials for the public to see. In a last-minute request to postpone Tuesday’s vote, Mueller asked commissioners in a Monday night email for an opportunity to engage in direct communications with Pitkin’s five-member Board of County Commissioners about the ballot measure.

    The BOCC did not take any public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. In order to vote on the resolution, the BOCC came out of Tuesday’s work session and went into a “special meeting.”

    “The fact that they refused to allow public comment and input, and that they held it during a really strangely noticed meeting is really disturbing,” said Mueller, who learned Monday about the county’s resolution to oppose the tax measure. “The public in Pitkin County deserves a hell of a lot better.”

    Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said the BOCC discussed in August all the different questions on the ballot this year and whether the elected officials should bring in presenters both pro and con.

    “The board decided at that time that we didn’t think it was necessary and there was enough information out there for us to make a decision rather than put time on the schedule, which we frankly don’t have, to allow these groups to come in and present,” McNicholas Kury said. “I know the River District would have liked the opportunity to present. (Pitkin County Attorney) John Ely sits on that board, and he’s given us the accurate picture. He’s been fair in his summaries.”

    In July, the River District decided to move ahead with Ballot Issue 7A, which will ask voters to raise its property taxes from a quarter mill to a half mill. That works out to an increase of $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value, and will raise nearly $5 million annually.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy for Pitkin County’s median home value would increase from $18.93 per year to $40.28. Pitkin County’s median home value, at $1.13 million, is the highest in the 15-county district. The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which was created in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

    Ely, the Pitkin County representative on the River District board, was the lone “no” vote against the ballot measure in July, saying that the district’s fiscal implementation plan — where it outlines how the tax money could be allocated — is not directly tied to the ballot language, so there’s no commitment on how exactly the money will be spent.

    On Tuesday, Ely told the BOCC that environmentally minded Pitkin County has been a proponent of enhancing streamflows and improving riparian ecosystems, while the River District has been more “traditional” in seeking ways to develop the Western Slope’s water, meaning dam and reservoir projects.

    “The district has not been aligned with many Pitkin County directives,” he said.

    After learning of Tuesday afternoon’s impending vote on the resolution, environmental groups American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, which support 7A, scrambled to rally their members in an attempt to stop, or at least postpone, the vote.

    “Pitkin County representatives need to understand that this issue is bigger than them,” Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, wrote in an email. “The most progressive communities and the most conservative communities, conservation organizations, agricultural associations, ranchers, water providers, business leadership, etc. are putting their differences aside and coming together to do what needs to be done for the Colorado River. None of us are getting everything we want nor are we going to agree on everything in the future — but we know we have to do something now.”

    Other counties, including Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Delta, have passed resolutions supporting the River District’s ballot measure.

    Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Historic mistrust

    Pitkin County’s opposition to a River District tax increase is just the latest in the historically antagonistic relationship between the two entities, a dynamic that Poschman noted Tuesday.

    “I know maybe there’s a necessary and justified amount of suspicion and mistrust that the money could be spent against our interests, because we do have a misalignment with Pitkin County and the River District,” he said.

    Some of that mistrust can be traced to a River District-led project that included conditional water rights for 200,000 acre-feet of water storage on the Crystal River. The water rights for what is known as the West Divide Project were tied to three dams and reservoirs, including a dam just downstream from Redstone, which would have created the 129,000-acre-foot Osgood Reservoir.

    The River District abandoned these conditional water rights in 2011 after being sued in water court by Pitkin County, but the memory is still raw for some.

    “The timescale is still fresh in the minds of those people up the Crystal,” said Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Laura Makar.

    The River District and Pitkin County have also been on opposing sides of designating the upper Crystal as “Wild & Scenic.” The River District has opposed the federal designation, saying it would end water-development opportunities in the valley, but Pitkin County still supports the move.

    The narrows on the Crystal River just below Placita where a dam big enough to store 62,009 acre-feet of water was once planned by the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The Pitkin County BOCC passed a resolution opposing the River District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Competing water studies

    The county is also going its own way on an analysis of water needs in the Crystal Valley. It recently hired hydrologist Kristina Wynne of Englewood-based water consultants Bishop-Brogden Associates to study backup water-supply options for Crystal River water users instead of relying on a study already underway by the River District and Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District.

    2018’s summer drought revealed a water shortage on the Crystal that may not leave enough for both agricultural users and residential subdivisions. Irrigators south of Carbondale placed a call on the river, meaning that upstream junior water rights holders — including some homes that use wells — would have to stop using water so the downstream senior irrigators could get their full amount.

    The River District, which often advocates for the interests of agricultural water users, was awarded state grant money to study the issue.

    Mueller maintains that his organization is no longer the dam builders of yore and emphasizes his desire for collaboration. Last week, he told members of the Crystal River Caucus that the River District will commit to not damming the mainstem of the Crystal and will emphasize solutions to the water shortage other than storage.

    “I recognize our district has a lot of trust-building to do in the valley,” he said. “I think, frankly, the River District has evolved and realized that damming anything on the Crystal is not a good idea.”

    But it’s a hard sell for some in Pitkin County.

    “It’s pretty alarming we didn’t get a heads up from the River District,” said Kury, the county commissioner, regarding the district’s Crystal River study. “We’ve had to fight the River District before. We were taken off guard by the outreach to our constituents about shutting off their wells. I have some hesitancy in that relationship.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 17 edition of The Aspen Times.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A growing coalition is getting behind a Colorado River District tax-hike proposal intended to bolster its struggling balance sheet and strengthen its role in advocating for Western Slope water interests and helping fund projects.

    However, opposition to the measure also emerged this week from Pitkin County commissioners, after their representative on the district board also was the only board member to have voted against the tax proposal. And while some other counties in the district have been formally endorsing the measure, so far there’s no indication that Mesa County commissioners will follow suit.

    Pitkin County traditionally has been one of the largest sources of tax revenues within the 15-county district because of its high property values. As for Mesa County, it has by far the largest population and largest number of voters that will help decide the fate of the proposal.

    The district board has placed a measure on the November ballot to boost the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The district’s levy is now capped at 0.252 mills and its effective current rate is 0.235 mills.

    The move would raise the district’s annual revenue by an estimated $4.9 million and cost an additional $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value. For business property, it would cost another $7.70 per $100,000 in assessed valuation…

    The river district measure also proposes relieving the district from TABOR’s limits on how much revenue it can collect and spend in any year. The district still would have to go to voters for any further hike in its tax rate.

    It is proposing to use just 14% of the new revenues the tax measure would raise to address its financial troubles. It plans to use the rest to partner with others on projects focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, conservation and efficiency.

    BACKERS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN

    This week, supporters of the measure launched their campaign to support the district proposal, Question 7A.

    “Water access is non-negotiable in the West,” Kathy Hall, chair for the Friends of the Colorado River District campaign group, said in a news release. “Nothing is as central to our area as water. Question 7A will ensure that Western Slope water gets used on the Western Slope instead of being diverted to the Front Range or the West Coast states.”

    […]

    Among others stepping up to support the measure are Club 20, local peach farmer Bruce Talbott, local rancher Carlyle Currier, Moffat County rancher and former river district board member T. Wright Dickinson, and groups ranging from American Rivers to Business for Water Stewardship.

    Matt Rice with American Rivers said during a Zoom meeting of supporters of the measure that the Colorado River is at risk due to factors such as drought and demand from cities outside the river basin and Lower Colorado River Basin states…

    He said the tax proposal is critically important, as evidenced by the diversity of support.

    “We have conservationists standing next to ranchers standing next to water providers to get this done. It’s never ever been more important,” he said…

    COUNTY SUPPORT SOUGHT

    Some county commissions within the river district — among them Garfield, Delta and Summit counties — have endorsed the tax measure, and supporters are continuing to pursue endorsements from other counties.

    Steve Acquafresca, who serves on the river district board as the Mesa commissioners’ appointee to it, said he and the district’s general manager, Andy Mueller, recently visited with Mesa commissioners. He said he didn’t specifically ask for an endorsement of the measure, but asked them to speak out on it individually if they favor it…

    The tax measure’s ballot language includes a clause Acquafresca requested, saying Mesa commissioners had said they wouldn’t consider backing the measure without it. The language commits the district not to use any of the new tax revenue to pay for fallowing of agricultural fields. Temporary, voluntary, compensated fallowing is being considered as one means of Colorado cutting its water demand to bolster water storage by Upper Basin states in Lake Powell during drought, to help ensure they can meet their delivery obligations to downstream states and Mexico…

    Acquafresca said with Mesa County being particularly politically conservative, a lot of local residents are tax-averse and probably a fairly constant number of people are going to vote against any tax proposal. But he thinks some Mesa County residents are listening to the river district’s concerns about the greater competition for and threats to water resources at a time when the river district’s revenues and staff are shrinking.

    CD3 candidates agree on protecting Western Slope water, reservoir enlargements — @AspenJounalism #CWCVirtual2020

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, pledged cooperation and Lauren Boebert, her Republican challenger, promised to fight — the Front Range, neighboring states and the federal government — to protect Western Slope water.

    The two candidates on Thursday tackled water-related questions at this year’s Colorado Water Congress. Typically among the largest annual gatherings of water managers, policymakers and scientists, the 2020 series of panels and workshops has gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsch Bush answered questions live via Zoom, while Boebert sent in a prerecorded video. She was attending President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech at the White House on Thursday night.

    Mitsch Bush touted her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and three-term state representative, and framed herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who uses science, not ideology, as the basis for decisionmaking. From her history of working with the basin roundtables, she said the best ideas come from listening to one another.

    “I’ll work diligently with our delegation and the other Western states to ensure our Western voices are heard and our needs as a headwaters state get met,” she said. “To do that, I will work with colleagues across all the divides: the aisle, basins and states to rebuild our infrastructure so our communities can flourish now and in the future.”

    Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, made headlines earlier this summer when she beat Rep. Scott Tipton, an incumbent endorsed by Trump, in the District 3 Republican primary. The upset has thrust the conservative gun-rights activist and mother of four into the national spotlight.

    Moderator Joey Bunch, of Colorado Politics, posed the question of how the burden of drought and a potential Colorado River Compact call could be shared equally by the Front Range’s populous urban center and the rural, agriculture-dependent Western Slope.

    Western water managers desperately want to avoid a compact call, which could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) can’t deliver on the amount of water they owe the lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). A compact call could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use for Colorado, known as “curtailment.”

    This scenario reveals an interesting intrastate dynamic: Many of the oldest and most valuable water rights are on the Western Slope, meaning the cutbacks wouldn’t affect them because they predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    But the state’s population center and deep-pocketed municipal water providers are on the growing Front Range. Some worry that Front Range interests will try to secure these senior Western Slope agricultural water rights so they can avoid cutbacks. Cities’ purchasing of agricultural water rights is sometimes derided as “buy and dry.”

    Mitsch Bush said, “My top principle is: We cannot let curtailment lead to buy and dry of agriculture.”

    Boebert agreed and played up the urban/rural divide, saying she is against more transmountain diversions to the Front Range and is primed to fight for Western Slope water. The burden for compact curtailment cannot fall solely on District 3, she said.

    “I’m 100% committed to fighting this out with Denver and Boulder and making sure they don’t push all the work and all the costs onto us,” Boebert said. “Rural Colorado must have a voice, and we must have someone willing to fight for us in D.C.”

    Both candidates agreed on the expansion of existing reservoirs to increase water storage as an alternative to building new reservoirs.

    “The enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage,” Boebert said. “Increasing water storage capacity is key for Colorado’s future.”

    Mitsch Bush agreed.

    “Enlarging existing reservoirs is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer and for water users and much less environmentally challenging than building new reservoirs,” she said. “The best sites are already occupied by dams and reservoirs, so increasing the reservoirs’ capacity makes sense.”

    After the candidates spoke, political commentator and former Colorado GOP state chair Dick Wadhams gave his analysis on where water issues fit into the campaign.

    “Water is one of the most important issues we have in Colorado going back since statehood, and yet it’s the most obscure and least understood and least prioritized oftentimes by voters,” he said. “I do think with our dramatic increase in population that we are headed to a calamity at some point if we have a horrible drought.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative journalism organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story appeared in the Aug. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, and Steamboat Pilot & Today.

    Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

    Diane Mitsch Bush touts experience in U.S. House race

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    Says her leadership can help bring jobs and tame health care costs

    Congress needs to take action on soaring health care costs, a faltering economy and public lands, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Diane Mitsch Bush said.

    Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who also served in the State House from 2013-2017, is making her second bid for the U.S. House. She faces Republican nominee Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-time incumbent for her party’s nod.

    “At the very whole-nation level, our democracy is clearly in some danger,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday. “We need for us, the people of the 3rd Congressional District, a representative who has the experience to lead. We need a representative who actually listens to us, looks at the data and the evidence, and really knows how to legislate. This is not a time to have inexperience.”

    The current COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans and spawned an economic downturn, is only the most current crisis, she said, citing fires and the past recession. Dealing with those issues requires leadership and bipartisanship, she also said.

    “I have those skills. I want to use my skills at bringing people together across the aisle,” Mitsch Bush said…

    People in the 3rd District have to spend a lot to obtain health coverage and prescription medication, she said. In Montrose County, few insurance carriers offer plans on the state’s public health exchange, where people without coverage can purchase it. The exchange also provides subsidies for those who qualify.

    Mitsch Bush said she will work to reduce premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs; end surprise medical billing practices; allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase coverage for mental health.

    “Health care costs here are just so difficult for people. We pay some of the highest premiums in the country,” she said.

    Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

    Colorado Water Congress Day 2 recap

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.

    The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.

    Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…

    “It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.

    Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.

    Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…

    Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.

    The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.

    #Colorado Water Congress Summer Meeting Day 1 recap #CWCVirtual2020

    Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch):

    U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado can’t conserve its way out of a deep drought and a decades-long struggle over the state’s water, as he spoke to the state’s water managers Tuesday…

    He said he had passed more water legislation than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined during his six years in the Senate and four years in the U.S. House before that. Gardner also is a former state legislator.

    “We have such diverse water needs in our state,” Gardner said, noting his Yuma County community depends on groundwater and that a canoe would dam up the nearest river 30 miles away. He also cited his work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver fresh water to the parched farm region east of Pueblo, a project on the books since 1983 that only this year got federal funding, as well as other funding for endangered species recovery on the Colorado River.

    He spoke of the complexity of solutions given the diversity of users and suppliers, plus the Front Range’s dramatic and steady growth.

    “No. 1, we have to have more water storage, that’s an absolute,” Gardner told the Water Congress. “We have to have conservation, No. 2. We cannot conserve our way out of our water shortfall, though.”

    […]

    Former Gov. John Hickenlooper began his recorded statement by noting he’s spoken in-person to the Water Congress before. He then spoke of the challenges created by COVID-19 “made worse by the reckless action of the United States Senate,” before he pivoted to climate change and wildfires.

    Hickenlooper spoke of his time building bridges with Denver and the rest of the state, recalling how he visited the Western Slope soon after he became mayor of Denver in 2003 and received a standing ovation for his remarks.

    “Unfortunately today’s politics almost begs us to be partisan, assuming the worst in each other, raising suspicions between neighbors on either side of the Continental Divide,” Hickenlooper said. “At the federal level Washington is as dysfunctional as a broken septic system.”

    He said water provided grounds to put partisanship aside.

    Hickenlooper spoke of water often during his eight years as governor and adopted the Colorado’s first statewide water management plan. Hickenlooper did not acquire legislative or public support for funding the plan – an estimated $100 million a year – during one of the state’s strongest period of economic growth…

    Pollster Floyd Ciruli interviewed Republican strategist Cinamon Watson and Democratic strategist Rick Ridder after the two candidates spoke.