Udall campaigns in Summit
Rep. Mark Udall, a two-term Boulder Democrat whose new congressional district would include Summit County if he is re-elected, practices what he preaches.
The energy-efficiency apostle campaigned in the High Country last Friday, transported by a Toyota Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid car.
The beauty of the Prius is the gasoline power cuts out at stop lights, on descents and at cruising speeds, increasing gasoline mileage to about 50 miles per gallon.
That’s better than Udall and others in Congress wanted for the U.S. fleet requirement embodied in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) legislation passed earlier this year. Udall backed a target of 36 miles per gallon, with light trucks and SUVs included.
Currently, the target for cars is 24 mpg on cars only.
Ultimately, friends of the car industry passed a CAFE provision that maintains the status quo.
Udall said the decision flies in the face of common sense for sane energy policy, the environment and the economy.
“We have the technology. We are not talking about everybody driving around in a golf cart. We can produce SUVs that are safe, roomy and get better mileage,” Udall said. “Toyota and Honda are at work on this. I am worried for domestic car companies that Toyota and Honda will eat our lunch.”
If ever there was a Front Range politician happy to be redistricted into an area that includes the High Country, it would be Udall. He faces Republican Sandy Hume, also of Boulder, in the Nov. 5 election.
While calling Boulder home, he knows the High Country from his early years as an instructor and former executive director at the Outward Bound School in Leadville. In his spare time, he likes to ski and hike in the mountains.
Udall promises to pay as much attention to Summit, Eagle and Grand counties in his newly constituted 2nd District as he does the Boulder and northern Denver suburbs he would also represent.
He said Frisco or Dillon would be ideal sites for a district office to serve Western Slope constituents and help with issues arising with the federal government.
Constituents services, such as helping people with Veterans Administration issues, are an important aspect of his work, Udall said.
Udall said he plans to become involved in Interstate 70 congestion issues, and the first task is to learn what the workable alternatives are.
One alternative is to add lanes. “That would be hard to do, but it has to be examined,” Udall said.
He also advocates a deeper study of a fixed-guideway system.
“Indications are that transit would not only be better for the environment but cheaper than adding lanes,” Udall said, adding that solutions will require the “building of consensus” along the corridor and then “looking for pots of money.”
Improving the Eagle County Regional Airport is another way to create incremental relief, Udall said. If more planes could fly directly to Eagle rather than Denver International Airport, traffic might be eased between the Eisenhower Tunnel and the Front Range.
“I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I am ready to get involved and work with the counties, Intrawest and Vail Resorts,” Udall said of transit solutions.
Drought and wildfire are also high on Udall’s list.
He said ranchers and farmers need some immediate, short-term relief, but in the long term, political leaders must address water policy and water storage.
Issues include repairing unsafe dams so reservoirs can be filled to capacity and expanding existing reservoirs, Udall said.
“Additional storage has to be on the table. It would be irresponsible not to discuss it,” Udall said.
Conjunctive water use is another issue. Conjunctive use means that in times of high runoff, excess water could be pumped underground into the Denver aquifer, and drawn out in times of drought.
He also said a “conservation conversion” is necessary, which means addressing the proliferation of turf grass in an arid climate through techniques including xeriscaping, water-efficient landscaping appropriate to the natural environment.
Udall said that doesn’t mean denuding the area of greenery, especially on the Front Range.
“We have to make sure we keep the urban forest healthy before worrying about turf grass,” he said.
Water is largely a state issue, although the federal Bureau of Reclamation plays a big role. Udall said he would hope to be a consensus leader.
Wildfire policy, on the other hand, is a big federal mandate because of the extent of national forest in Colorado.
Udall said he advocates cutting and thinning of forested areas in the urban interface.
“The goal is a healthier forest, not logging, per se,” Udall said. “We have to focus on reducing fuels and creating a healthier forest so fire does not occur in the catastrophic ways we’ve seen.”
He cautioned against wildfire being used as a Trojan Horse for wanton logging.
Udall said in recent years he has changed his philosophy on forest management.
“I’ve had to change my understanding. I used to think the more trees, the better, the thicker the trees, the better. I did not understand that 100 years of fire suppression had created an unhealthy forest.”
Udall said the national fire plan legislated two years ago gives the U.S. Forest Service “the money and the mission” to begin wildfire mitigation.
He said the work now is to find ways “to further define and, in some cases, expedite forest thinning.”
“I want to underline that the Forest Service has a lot of money and a lot of authority to begin this project. And there are few people who would stop projects in the Red Zone,” Udall said.
The Red Zone is the interface between development and the national forest.
Udall said the compromise on speeding up work does not mean the National Environmental Protect Act (NEPA) should be “undercut.”
NEPA requires environmental impact statements for major projects.
“Some people want to get rid of NEPA,” Udall said. “That would be a mistake. It has worked well. It is cumbersome, but it gives pause and consideration.”
“What has happened is that trust levels are low. That, in the end, is what I am trying to build,” Udall said, deploring the demagoguery this summer in which blame was doled out to the Forest Service, the logging industry and environmentalists as the causes for the fires.
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