Colorado is a state that prizes the outdoors and prioritizes environmental concerns. But it’s also a state with a petroleum industry that employs 90,000 people, directly and indirectly, and allows extensive fracking activity along the Front Range.
That makes the state both a receptive audience for the 2020 Democratic presidential field’s appeals to tackle climate change — and, depending where candidates visit, a skeptical one.
Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and self-funding billionaire candidate, made climate change a key focus of his visits to the Front Range, though he dropped out of the race Feb. 29. And U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren used an Aurora visit last spring to release her plan for protecting public lands, a key concern in a state where a third of property is federally managed.
Trump has pursued policies viewed as friendly to businesses and industries that pollute. He portrays his moves — particularly in regard to the coal industry — as motivated by the need to protect jobs and rural economies.
The president withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, which has been ratified by 187 countries. President Barack Obama had committed the United States to a set of carbon-reduction goals and other targets by signing an executive order, which Trump reversed after taking office in 2017.
The Trump administration also has expanded access for oil and gas drilling on public lands and reversed a moratorium on federal-land coal mining that was issued in 2016 by Obama. And it is finalizing plans to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah.
The Democrats seeking this year’s nomination largely agree on the goal of turning back most of Trump’s actions, which also have included rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, loosening methane limits and relaxing vehicle emission standards.
Ahead of Colorado’s March 3 primary — mail-ballot voting started in mid-February — here is a look at where the candidates are staking their positions.
The six remaining major candidates for the Democratic nomination share many common goals and critiques of President Donald Trump’s environmental positions, but there are distinctions. Still in the race are former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren. Besides Steyer, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also has dropped out in the last few days before the Colorado primary.
Two environmental goals unite nearly all of the current candidates.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of oil and gas extraction used by producers in Colorado, and it has proved controversial in some communities.
A large fracking operation becomes a new part of the horizon in Loveland, with Mount Meeker and Longs Peak in the background, in this photo from December 2017.
Climate activists long have advocated for a tax on carbon as a key way to reduce demand for pollution-causing fossil fuels and speed up the transition to renewable sources. But the idea sparks controversy among some, in part because it would increase costs disproportionately for lower-income families, and some now favor other strategies. Most candidates are at least open to a carbon tax, though some prefer to call it a “price” on carbon.
Most candidates see a role for nuclear power — which generates about 20% of electricity in the United States — in their clean energy plans, since nuclear plants don’t directly emit carbon dioxide. But even supporters differ on whether new plants should be permitted, given their high costs and the environmental impact of nuclear waste. Fewer than 100 reactors are in operation in the U.S.
Sources: Candidate websites, Denver Post research and The Washington Post.