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On energy, Colorado politicians emphasize jobs

What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican in Congress these days? In one key aspect, not a lot. They’re both talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.

That much became apparent in a session last week in Denver when aides to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter met with members of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society.

From the proposed pipeline to bring tar sands from Alberta into the United States to the framing of climate-change legislation, the aides kept using the same four-letter word: jobs.

“My boss stands for job creation. My boss stands for prosperity. He stands for environmental protection,” said Aaron Greco, a Perlmutter aide who focuses on energy issues.

An energy bill, said Becca Montgomery, state policy director for Bennet, should be framed as an economic stimulus. “But you wouldn’t call it that,” she added. “Jobs are just a first.”

Perlmutter, said Greco, could end up not opposing the Keystone pipeline from Alberta. Hotly opposed by some environmentalists, the pipeline would bring the tar sands to refineries to be constructed in the United States – and create jobs. Nothing revealed so far has provided grounds to oppose it, he said. He reminded his audience of about 60 people that they, too, likely were driving the demand. “Didn’t most of us drive here tonight?”

In fact, although he didn’t say it, it’s likely that a large proportion of the audience had reached the event using Canadian tar sands. A pipeline from Fort McMurray extends to the Suncor refinery in Commerce City. The refinery provides about a third of the petroleum sold in Colorado.

Should later evidence emerge about unacceptable environmental impacts, said Greco, Perlmuter might oppose the authorizing legislation.

“One thing I tell my friends in the environmental community – and I have lots of friends in the environmental community – is that it’s your job to advocate for the environment. It’s my job to advocate for everything,” Greco said.

Greco also warned against applying too much of a litmus test to Democratic politicians. “The Democratic Party is a big tent,” he said, going on to note suggestions that the AFL-CIO will withhold money for the re-election of President Barack Obama because of disagreements over his policies. But if Obama goes too far left and gets defeated, said Greco, “The policies that happen after he loses are really horrible.”

Aides to both legislators expressed support for renewable energy, but admitted to difficulties. Greco, the Perlmutter aide, said they see marketing uncertainty to be the biggest challenge. “We want to be the global leader… we’re not the global leader.”

Montgomery said Bennet wants improved market certainty for renewable energy within a long-term energy policy.

Both aides agreed that there is no overt opposition to renewable energy. The opposition is more nuanced.

“They say it’s not a real step forward,” said Montgomery. “The more data you can give us, that always helps. The more fire we have, the better.”

Climate change is not a compelling argument with most people.

“They’re not climate change deniers,” said Greco. “They just don’t see it every day.”

As such, he said, the messaging matters entirely. The debate needs to be framed in terms of choice.

And that provides a challenge, he added, because few Americans understand where their water comes from, who pays to fill the potholes, and the sources of their electricity.

But Perlmutter’s aide was clearly wrong in at least one respect. He said that a bill introduced in the House of Representatives by a Democrat right now will not pass.

In fact, a bill that would break the logjam over the so-called PACE programs, such have been enacted in Boulder, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in Colorado, as well as in other states, has a lengthy list of both Republican and Democratic supporters in Congress. Such programs use local government to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Any bill that champions local self-determination – as the PACE programs do – is far likelier to gain Republican support, said Montgomery.

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