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RANGELY | According to Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius, “it’s been a long time since a U.S. Senator came to Rangely.” U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo), changed that last Tuesday with a visit to the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir site between Meeker and Rangely and an economic development forum held at Rangely District Hospital.
Gardner is a fifth-generation Coloradan who was born and raised in Yuma, a small town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado where his family has owned a farm implement dealership for more than a century.
“I’m very glad to be in Rangely,” Gardner said, comparing Rangely to his hometown of Yuma, “…but with more scenery.”
The senator said that for the last two years his office has been visiting all four corners of Colorado and talking about “things we can do to help promote economic development in rural areas.”
“I do a construction crane count every time I go to (Denver),” he said. “They’re doing great. That I-25 corridor is booming, and I’m glad for it, and we should all be glad for it. But the challenge is there are more parts of Colorado than just I-25 and what are we going to do to make sure all four corners of Colorado are succeeding?”
Gardner opened up the forum to those attending, including representatives from the town, the county, Rangely District Hospital, Colorado Northwestern Community College and the Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Gardner said he expects to see dramatic changes in energy policies with the new presidential administration, which is good news for Rangely and Rio Blanco County. “I see fairly soon within the administration an overturn of various regulations that were passed in the last eight years,” Gardner said. “Right off the bat Congress will have the opportunity to address between 40 and 60 major regulations that have affected our economy that are subject to the Congressional Review Act.”
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress vote to disapprove a regulation within 60 days of that ruling becoming final.
Gardner said some of those regulations may include aspects of the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, regulations on mercury emissions that have impacted the coal mining industry and more.
Gardner said regulations that were intended to reduce air pollution ignored Colorado’s clean air act, which was already in place.
“Colorado set its own plan and was meeting those standards,” Gardner said.
Asked about the Endangered Species Act, which has been a source of contention for ranchers and for the energy industry, Gardner said, “The Endangered Species Act awas created with noble intent. But it has been abused and used to lock up large areas of land to use. The idea was to recover the species, not just lock up the land.”
Gardner also commented on the Equal Access to Justice Act, established in the 1980s with the intent to “help small businesses or veterans who couldn’t afford to pursue an action against the federal government.”
Groups like WildEarth Guardians have “abused” the act to bring lawsuits against mining operations without having to pay full legal costs.
“At a minimum they should be forced to do an economic impact study before they can sue or try to shut down a power plant,” Gardner said. “We should have opportunities to grow our energy industry.”
Gardner also responded to questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and what he expects to see change under the Trump administration. The ACA has created challenges for small rural hospitals like Rangely District Hospital, where community members can’t afford ever-increasing insurance premiums and deductibles, and so delay care, which eventually raises costs.
“The vast majority of people who are now ‘covered’ came in under Medicare. No one has made a sustainable path to fund those social safety programs,” Gardner said, adding that areas like the Western Slope have seen not just a 20 or 25 percent increase in insurance premiums, but 100 percent increases. “It’s unsustainable. You can only fix the engine and overhaul the engine so many times before you need a new engine.”
Gardner said, “We fought tooth and nail to repeal it, and we did it, but the problem is it was vetoed. Now it won’t be vetoed.”
According to the senator, a replacement bill is being worked on by a group of congressmen who are also physicians who understand the system.
Asked about the growing federal deficit, Gardner said Congress has worked hard to reduce spending.
“Over the last several years we reduced discretionary spending to 2008 levels. The problem is, the entitlement spending is growing unchecked, and the only way we can change that is if the president signs a law to stop it. Two-thirds of the spending is done through five programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, interest payments and then things like food stamps.”
Entitlement spending is “out of the hands of Congress,” Gardner explained.
He also spoke in favor of a constitutional balanced budget amendment, single-subject bills, ending the policy of sanctuary cities, and ending illegal immigration by creating an entry-exit system that works.
“I look forward to the next several months,” Gardner said.