Polis responds to RBC questions

Gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis made a quick stop in Meeker Sunday. Caitlin Walker | Herald Times

MEEKER | Jared Polis, Democratic candidate for Colorado governor, made campaign stops across the Western Slope during the Labor Day weekend, including a stop at the Meeker Café early Sunday. Between 20-30 voters—Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated—were in attendance to ask Polis questions about his platform.

Polis is a Colorado native and an entrepreneur. His parents, an artist and a schoolteacher, started Blue Mountain Arts, a greeting card company, which Polis eventually took online. He has also started several companies, including a dial-up service provider in the early days of the internet, ProFlowers, Techstars for mentoring other entrepreneurs, and Patriot Boot Camp which helps veterans start their own small businesses. In 2000 Polis was elected to the state board of education and served six years. In 2009 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Colorado’s Second Congressional District.

Because he was on a tight schedule Sunday, the Herald Times agreed to have specific reader-submitted questions answered via email in order to give those in attendance time to ask questions.

During the meet and greet, Polis responded to questions about water rights, energy development, education and healthcare.

On water rights

Polis said he opposes any further trans-mountain diversions of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Asked how the extraction industry fits in to his water policy, he replied, “You can’t give everything to only one industry,” adding that there has to be balance.

On education

Polis said the disparity between rural and urban early childhood education is one of his top priorities. He’s advocating for fully funded all-day preschool and kindergarten statewide.

On the energy industry

Asked if he is a “totally keep it in the ground guy” when it comes to the energy industry, Polis responded, “No, of course not. We talk about how we want to work towards building a renewable energy economy, but we all drove here in a car that uses gas, the grid is only about 30 percent or so renewable now, so it’s about how we can create good green jobs over time, make sure Colorado is at the center in solar and wind, but of course we also are blessed with many natural resources. Again it’s always that balancing act.” His campaign platform is promoting taking Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. He acknowledged the need to replace jobs and provide training.

“Coal is kind of the front end of this transition. We have to make sure there’s a bright future for people who work in coal. There’s not going to be any less jobs in energy in 10 or 20 years, there’s going to be more because our population is growing.”

“I think there are too many politicians who come in and say they’re going to bring it (coal) back without a plan. If you’re 26, how can we take the skills you bring to the table working in coal and make sure you have a good job.”

On Jordan Cove

Jordan Cove is an LNG project which could provide an outlet for the vast reserves of natural gas in the Piceance Basin has only recently been approved in Oregon. “I would use my position as governor to make sure it makes jobs for Colorado,” Polis said.

On healthcare

Polis acknowledged that Western Colorado, with the exception of Mesa County, pays 30-40 percent more in premiums on the healthcare exchange, calling the disparity “completely wrong.” His plan is to go to one statewide pricing zone, or three or four zones with minimal differences, to bring down the cost by about 40 percent. Such a step would not require cooperation with the state legislature. “The pricing disparity can be addressed administratively, and we can do that within the first 100 days,” Polis said.

Asked how to support rural hospitals, Polis said keeping the Medicare expansion would help protect rural healthcare, since more than half of their income comes from Medicare and Medicaid.

On wolf reintroduction

Polis said he has been generally supportive of the idea, but is receptive to learning more about the potential impacts. “Here’s how we would approach it. I would want to bring in some people, some landowners, some ranchers and others (from areas that have wolves) and let’s hear about the pros and cons and how it’s changed things.”

On transportation

“I’ve been very skeptical of that project,” Polis said of a planned project on I-70 near Denver. “We would reexamine all those CDOT projects and take a fresh look at all of that if I get to be governor.”

On climate change

“We’re seeing warmer, drier conditions and a longer fire season,” he said, adding that fire prevention could come from removing dead timber. “In the absence of national leadership, it is important for states and counties and municipalities to take the lead in renewable energy.”

Q&A

HT submitted reader-generated questions via email to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis after his visit to Meeker on Sunday, Sept. 2. The questions and answers are as follows:

There were several questions submitted relating to the energy industry: What’s his vision for the future of oil and gas in the state of Colorado if he becomes governor? What are his thoughts on Initiative 97/Proposition 112 on the ballot? How does he propose to replace the incomes to both families and counties that currently are generated by the oil and gas industry?

(The oil and gas questions are all issues discussed at length in Polis’s speech before the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Here are relevant excerpts:)

“In spite of the challenges we face, Colorado’s economy remains today the envy of the nation. And if we want to keep it that way, we can’t ignore the role that the oil and gas industry has played in our growth, or the significant wages and tax revenue it creates in our state. But neither can we ignore the conflicts between homeowners and operators, between surface rights and mineral rights, between state government and local government. And we must all unite in putting health and safety ahead of profits and in protecting for future generations the amazing outdoor spaces that make Colorado so special.”

“Too often, when these conflicts arise, we retreat and deflect instead of confronting the challenges head on. When oil and gas workers providing for their families say they’re afraid that new regulations will cost them their jobs, the response cannot be indifference. When environmental advocates say that our existing laws aren’t doing enough to keep Colorado families safe in all instances, the response cannot just be “overregulation.”

“I’m not approaching these issues just as an elected official. I’m approaching them as an entrepreneur and businessman. […]”

“Colorado is and must continue to be a state that respects the dignity of work, where we value the skills, responsibility, and tireless work ethic that our oil and gas workforce brings to the table. No one’s dignity or livelihood should ever be dismissed or belittled, even in the name of a cause as noble as the health and safety of our communities.”

“But that doesn’t mean health and safety aren’t legitimate and important concerns, or that we’re always doing enough to protect Coloradans. […]”

“Governor Hickenlooper has taken commendable steps to identify and fix pipeline defects that pose a safety risk. And it was equally commendable how successfully industry leaders and environmentalists came together on a major step forward to combat climate change by crafting the first-ever methane emissions rules. I will be glad to build upon all this good work as governor. I’m heartened that the Pipefitters Union, which represents many oil and gas workers, endorsed me early on in this race, as a testament to my commitment to protecting both the livelihood and safety of their members.”

“Sadly, the same old pattern of talking past and belittling each other is very much dominating public discourse in Colorado today. It’s even on the ballot. And let me be very clear where I stand on this: As I said during the Democratic Primary, I oppose Initiative 97, just as I opposed a nearly identical measure in 2016. And I oppose Initiative 108. Both are the wrong solution for Colorado.

The conflicts that, presumably, spurred each of these initiatives comprise only a fraction of oil and gas development in our state. And yet the reach of these measures would be much broader. Initiative 97 would all but ban fracking in Colorado—a position I have never supported no matter how much Walker Stapleton wishes I had. Initiative 108 threatens our very way of life and is wrong. It would prevent any guidelines that help ensure our neighborhoods remain livable, enjoyable places to raise your kids. It would have far-reaching ramifications well beyond oil and gas development. Does anybody in this room really believe that local government or state government should not be able to zone for hog farms, cannabis or strip clubs? Regarding setbacks, certainly we should work in a bipartisan way to enact stronger ones — but as a backstop for when the landowner and operator can’t reach a surface use agreement. These agreements are a common source of income for farmers and ranchers, and give them a say over where surface impact occurs on their land so that it doesn’t interfere with their main livelihood. Encouraging homeowners and operators to reach these agreements when conflicts arise is a best practice that should be honored.”

How does he intend to fulfill a campaign promise of 100 percent renewables without storage capabilities to make renewables dispatchable and a viable replacement of base load generation?

Creating a renewable energy economy will lower the cost of Coloradans’ electricity bills and create thousands of good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced. We must stop ignoring our coal workers and focus on building a brighter future for them. With a real workforce transition and development plan, we will honor the skills that energy workers in fossil fuel industries have worked hard to earn and make sure that they thrive in the new energy economy. My plan is based on market-based solutions, not mandates, and we can clear regulatory burdens that are holding the clean energy economy back from growing and creating jobs.

Meeting our baseload power demands can be accomplished through the strategic adoption of a diversified energy portfolio, taking advantage of rapidly improving storage technology, and working with utilities to efficiently meet fluctuating energy demands at all times of the day. The rapid pace of technological improvements in both energy development and storage is a modern marvel, and Colorado can be the home for companies looking to innovate in ways that drive down battery costs and increase accessibility for renewable energy adoption. Ensuring that Coloradans have access to jobs at these companies will be a top priority of mine. In fact, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have endorsed me because they know I will be a champion for good-paying jobs that come as a result of this transition, and I will be eager to partner with workers in making sure that this transition works for them and lowers utility bills for customers across the state.

In fact, a recent Bloomberg NEF forecast predicts that battery prices will drop 67 percent by 2030, and we can expect those prices to continue dropping as technology advances. By pairing this increased affordability with market-based solutions, we can create thousands of jobs and be the home of clean energy innovation in the United States.

Polis did not provide a response to a question submitted about funding education should Amendment 73 fail to pass on the November ballot.

What are his plans for hunting and fishing in our state. And gun rights.

Colorado’s ample hunting and fishing opportunities not only help make our state such a great place to live, but they are important economic drivers. I’m committed to expanding access for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities in Colorado. My “Keep Colorado Wild” plans calls for protecting the public lands that power our outdoor economy, preserving access to our lands for hunters and fishermen, and creating new opportunities for hunters and fishers by incentivizing private land owners to voluntarily open up their land for outdoor activities, if they choose. Colorado has a rich tradition of hunting and angling, and I will be a governor who prioritizes access to our public lands, and the health of our rivers.

Additionally, we will protect homeowners from dispersed shooting in the outdoors by constructing and maintaining designated shooting ranges that serve to increase gun safety. We will also increase the availability of secure lockboxes for guns stored on premises, and I will work closely with gun safety advocates and organizations that sportsmen and sportswomen belong to, such as Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to accomplish this goal.

I believe we can keep our communities safe from gun violence while also respecting every Coloradan’s Second Amendment right to use guns for defense, recreation and sport. I’ve outlined a gun-safety plan for Colorado that respects Second Amendment rights while also enacting commonsense reforms to take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, crack down on black-market gun sales that take place without a background check, and ensure our police officers have the equipment they need to stay safe from gun violence while doing their job protecting our communities.

– How do you support both your voter base, the Denver Metro area, and the rural communities hundreds of miles from there?

For too long, we’ve suffered a rural-urban divide in Colorado. When you read about Colorado’s great economy in The Denver Post, left out are rural Colorado’s high health care costs, the impact of President Trump’s trade war on our farmers and ranchers, and the wildfires and droughts that climate change is making worse and worse. As someone who has created hundreds of jobs and met payroll, I have a plan to bring our economic success to every corner of the state.

I’m proud to have represented parts of rural Colorado in Congress, and I’ve worked hard to solve problems that are close to home for these families—like access to health care, a lack of high-speed internet and high housing costs. As governor, I will support every aspect of our rural economies—from affordable housing, to good schools, to a modern infrastructure, and of course defending our public lands. I have a comprehensive plan to bring universal high-speed internet access to Colorado, which is one of the most important things we can do to bridge our state’s urban-rural divide and make sure every kid in Colorado gets a great education, or that entrepreneurs can start the business of their dreams no matter where they live.