Emphasizes need for energy independence
The audience at the Crested Butte Public Policy Forum on Saturday, July 12 wanted to talk seriously with United States Senator Kenneth Salazar about stopping the proposed molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons and reforming the 1872 Mining Law. The Colorado senator was willing and able to talk about more than a dozen issues, but wanted to focus on the need for America to become energy-independent.
“I want to ask a simple yes or no question and please be honest,” said 14-year-old Crested Butte resident Jackson Melnick. “Will it be a priority for you to help reform the 1872 Mining Law or pass other legislation that would help save the Red Lady from mining?”
“Yes,” was the simple response from Salazar that put him on the record and drew applause from the 150 people attending the program at the Crested Butte Community School.
Salazar was asked repeatedly about reforming the mining law of 1872, which essentially gives away patented mining claims for $5 an acre and gives enormous clout to mining companies.
“There is no doubt that a law that has been in place for more than 125 years needs to be revisited,” Salazar said. “It is not the same American West anymore. There is no doubt in my mind that the law has to be reformed and a number of reforms are needed for the law,” he said.
“It’s archaic and doesn’t fill the needs of the present time,” Salazar said.
The senator was not confident that any reforms would take place this year but promised to keep trying. He said any reforms to the law should include environmental protections along with opportunities for state and local input. He did defend his friend, Senate majority leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who is not a supporter of quick reform. “He understands the importance of protecting the environment and he has used his power as leader to bring things like global warming legislation to the floor,” Salazar said. “But reform of the 1872 Mining Law is a priority of mine.”
Salazar began the evening speaking about the need to focus on looking at energy in new ways. “For too long, America has been asleep over the energy issue,” he said. “Richard Nixon said we needed to be energy-independent. President Carter said we had to get to energy independence with the moral equivalent of war. And what’s happened? We have gone from importing 30 percent of our energy to 67 percent. When I hear people say alternative energy is a fad, I say they are wrong. It won’t be a fad because moving to a new way of thinking about energy is important for national security, it is important for environmental security and it provides economic opportunity.”
Sen. Salazar explained that extremist organizations like Hezbollah are funded by $147-a-barrel oil. “It’s coming from you and me when we fill our gas tanks,” he said.
Salazar said the dispute over global warming is essentially over, so the need for environmental security was a no-brainer. “We are frying the planet today and we need a new path.”
Salazar said Colorado is already starting to become a leader in the alternative energy field and jobs are being filled as a result. “We are harvesting the power of the wind on the eastern plains. We are harvesting the power of the sun in the San Luis Valley and by Denver International Airport. We now have three bio-fuel plants up and operating in Colorado. I have a dream for Colorado to be the renewable energy capital of the world and the United States.”
The senator sees the four cornerstones to energy independence as conservation, utilization of new alternative fuels, development of new technologies, and being smart about the use of conventional fuels. “We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that we will use oil and other fossil fuels while transitioning to a new way,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean every inch of land should be open to drilling.”
He also stated he would be open to exploring the use of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source but said that comes with many questions and concerns, including how to dispose of the waste.
When asked by an audience member how far government should go to monitor energy use “because there are some people up here with 10,000-square-foot homes that leave the heat on at 70 degrees all winter, while other people can’t afford to keep their little condos warm,” Salazar said he wasn’t an advocate for “Big Brother overlooking the thermostat”
He explained, “I think it is best for us to make the world understand the benefits of fuel efficiency. There are some things we can do. Appliances, for example, now have national efficiency standards that will save a huge amount of energy. That’s the low-hanging fruit but it works.”
Salazar said oil and gas drilling in Colorado should be monitored with enough regulators to make sure the environment is protected. He said he remains opposed to letting big corporations lease land with the intention of extracting oil shale, especially since there are so many questions about the process, and no viable method to mine the oil shale has been proposed.
Questions on his recent vote for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), his views over government incompetence, his feelings about Iraq and Iran, John McCain versus Barack Obama and even Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s expansion plans onto Snodgrass Mountain were addressed.
When one questioner asked the senator how his energy views jived with Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s idea to expand lift-served skiing to Snodgrass Mountain, Salazar said he simply didn’t know enough about the project to have an opinion. “I know there is a split opinion about the expansion in the area but I don’t know enough about it,” he explained. “I opposed the Wolf Creek expansion proposal but I can’t say anything about this one. I will continue to study it.”
On his recent affirmative FISA vote, Salazar said the law has essentially been in place without change since 1978 but the world has changed with the Internet and cell phones. “I think there is a way for surveillance to take place with judicial oversight,” he said. “I know there is criticism for the legislation giving immunity to the telecom companies that cooperated, but my view is if the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief came to you asking for help, you’d probably say yes. But this legislation makes clear that immunity doesn’t go to the President or all the President’s men. I think it protects the civil liberties of Americans and will help protect us against attacks like 9/11.”
As for Iraq, Salazar thinks it is the Iraqi government that is “not getting its act together.” He supports an orderly withdrawal of troops from that country much as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has outlined. Salazar is confident tensions with Iran can be resolved through diplomacy and thinks it would “be a strategic mistake to engage in any kind of war with Iran.”
Salazar said Hurricane Katrina showed how incompetent the United States government could be, especially departments run by political appointees instead of professionals. “While that situation was inexcusable, I think FEMA and the government have learned lessons and gotten better,” he said.
The immigration policies of the United States need to be addressed, he said. He told the audience some fresh news about the Army’s attempted take-over of Pinion Canyon in Colorado, which could be coming soon, and offered his support to Democrat Mark Udall, who is running for U.S. Senate this fall.
Given the plethora of questions over the proposed molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons, Salazar touched on the topic several times. “I will watch it carefully,” he promised. “I will work with your community to help preserve the beauty of this place for generations to come. We drove by the Climax Mine on the way here today and you can see the issues. What will the EPA say about the water quality issues, the tailings issues? What will the Army Corps of Engineers say about the wetlands crisscrossing the area by Mt. Emmons and what is the interface with the local ordinances?”
Salazar continued, “While there is no specific proposal on the table yet. I will work with you to make sure that what makes Crested Butte a special place will remain in 10 or 50 or 100 years from now.”
Check page 46 for an interview with Ken Salazar.