Colorado interview: Obama discusses water, energy, climate change
September 29, 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said Monday his energy policies would focus on renewables, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve methods to extract the hydrocarbons that have helped sustain Colorado’s economy.
In an interview Monday with the Greeley Tribune, a sister newspaper of the Sky-Hi Daily News, Obama praised Gov. Bill Ritter for championing a “new energy economy” that creates jobs and energy solutions.
“Obviously, our top priority should be to replace our reliance on fossil fuels. And so investing heavily in solar and wind and biodiesel, hydro-power and geothermal, those are areas where we need to make a lot more progress than we have been making,” he said.
He said doing so in an environmentally sensitive way was critical, and that he wanted to invest $15 billion annually on alternative energy and technology that could “mitigate some of the environmental consequences of extraction.”
“We are going to need natural gas, we are going to need additional domestic oil production. And I think if we can do it right, there’s no reason why that can’t create millions of new energy jobs all across the economy,” he said.
In the brief telephone interview, Obama also said he would not consider re-negotiating the Colorado River Compact, which governs water flow through seven Western states.
His rival, Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, was quoted saying in August that he would consider revisiting the compact, drawing fire and brimstone from Republicans and Democrats alike. McCain later clarified his comments and said he meant that he hoped negotiations would continue as they have since the compact was forged 86 years ago.
Obama said McCain erred in broaching that subject.
“That was a very difficult negotiation that balanced the interests of a lot of parties. The idea that we should reopen that, I think, makes no sense, and I don’t foresee reopening that compact when I’m president,” he said.
The compact dictates how much water goes to California, Arizona and Nevada and how much is kept in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. Growing communities in Arizona and southern California have clamored for more water, especially in the past decade of drought. But farms and cities on the Front Range and Western Slope want to keep the water they already have.
Pressed on whether he would ever consider reopening the compact, Obama stayed firm.
“What we need to focus on is water conservation, and spend a lot more time figuring out how we could use a whole variety of technologies to reduce the amount of water that is being used, period. That helps everybody,” he said. “But, you know, wading into a whole new process with winners and losers over what’s the most precious resource in the West, I think would be a mistake.”
Obama also talked about the failure Monday of a $700 billion bipartisan plan to bail out ailing financial firms, saying Republicans and Democrats need to come together.
“I am convinced that in fact the situation is sufficiently urgent that we’ve got to take action, frustrating as it is, because we shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place,” he said, adding that people were “asleep at the switch.”
“But having said that, now we’re in a position where we’ve got to avoid the possibility of a complete meltdown that prevents small businesses from making payroll, (that) over time could threaten people’s jobs and retirement accounts,” he continued. “My hope is that partisan politics is set aside at least for a time and that we go ahead and take this difficult but necessary action.”
He addressed a crowd at a Westminster school moments after the House of Representatives completed voting, saying the crisis was “an outrage.”
In the phone interview, Obama also discussed his plan to battle climate change, which could hurt mountain ski resorts and is already impacting forest ecology as the mountain pine beetle ravages drought-stricken lodgepole pines.
“Look, the fact is you can’t mitigate the impacts unless you have a serious plan to deal with climate change,” he said, outlining his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and to increase fuel efficiency standards for passenger
vehicles. “So there’s a lot that can be done, and again, what we need is a comprehensive energy strategy that also recognizes the consequences of doing nothing when it comes to climate change.”
Obama also addressed oil shale, including a provision that died in the Senate last week that would have continued a ban on oil shale leases on the Western Slope.
“What I think is important is that local communities that are impacted by this are consulted, and that the extraction is justified by the amount of output that would actually be involved. And I’m not sure that the formula that was arrived at was the right one,” he said. “What we need is a comprehensive energy strategy, not a piecemeal energy strategy.”
McCain Colorado spokesman Tom Kise said Obama was wrong on energy, noting that last week, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, said there should be no new coal-fired power plants in the United States.
The Obama campaign quickly clarified those comments, saying an Obama-Biden administration would include clean coal technology in its energy plan. But McCain’s campaign and other Republicans continue to make political hay of it, hosting media conference calls with several GOP figures, including former Gov. Bill Owens.
Kise said Obama was being inconsistent.
“The fact that the Obama/Biden ticket has talked about the elimination of coal as an electricity source shows that they have absolutely no understanding of the West and its economy,” he said, noting that the Colorado Mining Association estimates coal is worth $329 million in state taxes and wages.
Kise said Obama and Biden are “out of step” with Western values.
He added that McCain has clarified his Colorado River Compact statement, and that McCain understands western water issues.
“Sen. McCain inherently understands the West, western issues and specifically water. He understands the compact allows for conversations to be held amongst all the parties and encourages these parties communicate,” he said. “Sen. Obama is not a western senator and does not understand these issues. To say that he does would be an injustice to the people of Colorado.”
Several polls over the past few weeks showed Obama maintaining an edge over McCain in the Centennial State. Last week, he was ahead by four points, 49 to 45, in a poll by Quinnipiac University. Another firm, Public Policy Polling, but Obama ahead by seven, 51 to 44.
Yet another poll, released Monday by Rasmussen Reports, shows the edge shrinking somewhat poll ” Obama leads 49 percent to 48 percent. The same poll last week had Obama at 50 percent, compared with 47 percent for McCain; in fact, the two candidates have been within three points of each other in the past five polls from that firm, showing Colorado’s importance as a swing state.
Highlighting matters more was the news Monday that McCain would also return to Colorado later this week, followed by a private fundraiser hosted by his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Obama, who was elected to the Senate in 2004, was forged in the fires of Chicago politics and often talks about his mother’s humble beginnings in Kansas. He spent much of his childhood in Hawaii and went on to Harvard Law School.
Given that multi-state pedigree, how does Obama think he’ll connect with Western voters?
“Now, keep in mind I’m somebody from the West first ” Hawaii is about as far west as you can get,” he joked. “So, you know, I just connect with the sensibility of people here in Colorado. I think people tend to be very pragmatic, non-ideological, not interested in a lot of bickering, and just want to get things done. That’s been my approach to government and my approach to politics and will be the approach to my presidency, so hopefully it will have some appeal here in Colorado.”