Colorado’s newest senator visits Rio Blanco County

RBC — Rio Blanco County residents who showed up to hear what Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet had to say also had a chance to make their voices heard.
phmkbennet18They hope Colorado’s junior senator was listening.
“I really hope that he heard what was said and will actually take it to heart and act upon some of the issues,” said Elaine Urie, a member of the Rangely Town Council.
But Urie, for one, doesn’t have a lot of confidence that will happen.
“My heart tells me he was chosen because he is just like the rest of them,” Urie said of Bennet, who was the surprise choice by Gov. Ritter to replace Ken Salazar, after Salazar was nominated by President Obama to become the interior secretary. “That is, far left. It goes in one ear and heads out the other, and he is back to doing the agenda of the far left. Our governor chose him, and I am sure that choice was for a reason — for his agenda. My hope is that he is for the people, and not some of the people. Time will tell.”

Still, even in Rio Blanco County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a more than four-to-one margin, the fact a U.S. senator would pay a visit to remote northwest Colorado was appreciated.
Bennet made an appearance April 14 at Kilowatt Korner in Meeker during a tour of the Western Slope that included stops in Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Craig and Glenwood Springs.
“We certainly appreciate Sen. Bennet making himself available for questions,” said Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius. “He made all of us feel very at ease as he took questions from the group and did his best to provide us with honest input on several topics.
“I was, however, disappointed with the senator’s understanding of the technologies that have the promise of being the answer to Colorado’s revenue shortfalls. If the senator is looking for a shovel-ready project for Colorado and the nation and is serious about energy independence that satisfies environmental concerns and our needs for energy independence, Rio Blanco County and northwest Colorado have some answers.”
Brixius asked one of several questions posed to Colorado’s junior senator dealing with energy development.
“We’re an optimistic group here in Rio Blanco County,” Brixius said. “We believe we have a lot to offer, in terms of what makes Colorado great. There have been millions of dollars spent on research here in this county on oil shale and clean coal technologies. I just want to get your take on how they fit in (with the administration’s energy plans).”
Bennet’s response followed the company line that more research was needed.
“I think that we should continue to support research into clean coal technology,” Bennet said. “I don’t think we’re there. We have, potentially, enormous assets, and it’s worth the investment into research.
“On the oil shale, I think even the energy sponsors themselves say we’re 10 years away from knowing some pretty critical answers, like how much water we’re going to have to use to develop it, and how much energy it’s going to take to develop it. I support the current research and development work that’s going on. Secretary Salazar put some of that work on hold in order to have the opportunity to examine it, which I think was the appropriate thing to do.”
The senator’s comments did not represent the sort of enthusiastic endorsement for oil shale development some in the audience would have liked.
“I think some would argue that clean coal technology has already arrived and that the technological hurdles of oil shale have all but been resolved,” Brixius said. “If the U.S. government would stop putting roadblocks in place and start clearing the road, as three countries in the world already have, oil shale production would be a valuable commercial enterprise.”
Dick Welle, general manager of White River Electric Association in Meeker, said there is a difference between oil shale research and development now and what happened in the 1980s, when the industry came to a screeching halt, resulting in a mass exodus of jobs from the area.
“The difference … we all need to remember that was artificially supported by funding from the federal government,” Welle said. “That’s a lesson I don’t think we need to go back to. These guys today are spending hard dollars in the Piceance Basin. I don’t support that the federal government artificially support them in the marketplace, or we will go back, possibly, to the bust-boom cycle in the ‘80s.”
Bennet said he didn’t want a repeat of what happened before, either.
“In one day, virtually, in 1982, 2,100 jobs were lost, the consequence of what happened the last time this came around,” the senator said. “We need to be mindful of that. This cyclical nature … I don’t live here, and I don’t presume to know, but I know enough about how these economies works, that the more cyclical it is, the higher the highs and the lower the lows, the harder it is for people to live their lives. We need to figure out how to construct an energy policy in this country where we are much less susceptible to those fluctuations.”
Michelle Hale, chairwoman of the Rio Blanco County Democratic Committee, said she liked “most” of what the senator had to say about Colorado’s energy sources.
“I liked the fact that he said we need to use what is available, while in the transition to green energy,” Hale said. “He also stated that he would like to see continued research on oil shale. I didn’t hear that he was not for oil and gas. I think we need to add coal to that as well.”
Hale would have liked to have seen more people turn out for the senator’s visit. About 40 people attended the one-hour session.
“I was disappointed by the lack of people who were there,” Hale said. “Regardless of where they stand (politically), this is a representative who gave his time to hear what our concerns were. There were more high school kids than town or county representation, and it’s a block away from the courthouse. There cannot be complaints, if there is no participation.”
John Strate, who teaches social studies at Meeker High School, brought some of his students to the meeting with the senator.
“I think overall my students were impressed that he took the time to come to Meeker,” Strate said. “Oftentimes both students and voters here feel like they are not represented, because we live in such a small, rural location. The students told me that they were impressed that he gave his views, despite the fact he was most likely aware his views would not align with many of his constituents in our community.
“My reason for taking students was that I am a firm believer that apathy is one of our primary issues as a nation,” Strate added. “If we want to fix that, there is no better place to start than with students. Anytime I can involve students in the democratic process firsthand, I feel like I am doing something to address the problem.”
Rangely’s town manager said he hoped the views expressed at last week’s meeting made an impression on the senator.
“I hope that Sen. Bennet realized from this visit that the residents of our county are respectful, but anxious to be a part of the dialogue that is both give and take,” Brixius said. “We want many of the same benefits of a clean environment with a strong economy. I hope that he will realize that you can have improvement in renewable energy development, without killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”