“We Must Think Anew and Act Anew”: Rural Wealth Creation

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

A rural electric gathering decades ago

We’re often our own worst enemy.

It wasn’t always this way.

It was Democratic Socialist policies, rooted in The New Deal, that gave rural America the foundation upon which we built our network of thriving agriculturally-based communities.  Rural electrification made possible irrigation across the broad expanse of the Central Great Plains; powering factories, and providing modern conveniences for our grandparents and great-grandparents. Federally subsidized crop insurance and crop support payments, providing the ultimate safety net for farmers and ranchers. Cooperative-based telephone companies; community district hospitals and extended living care facilities.  Water systems and rural waste treatment plants.  Most of these funded by the Rural Utility Service department of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Rural electrification empowered a Green Revolution on the Plains

Far from being our enemy, federal and state governments have been full partners in creating rural wealth.  Yes, it took our vision, initiative, and entrepreneurship, but this was made possible because of our mutually aligned interests.

Policy, both federal and state, continue to provide us with new opportunities, but we’ve lost our compass and not realizing the full extent of the possibilities.  We’ve become paralyzed with the us v. them mentality, disconnecting logic from the broader, necessary discussion; one that sees everyone else, those people, as our customers.  The imperative equation for a capitalist system, rural or otherwise.  An equation best served when sound public policy is driving the market as it always has, even though we in rural American try to pretend differently.

Over the past two decades, rural Colorado has missed two significant opportunities to flourish from public policy, Amendment 37 and Amendment 64. As a broad critique, we were lied to by our representatives, our rural cooperatives, our local leaders.  I’ll dive into each one separately:

Amendment 37

(Co-chaired by Democrat Mark Udall – Republican Speaker of the House Lola Spradley)

First citizen-initiated renewable energy standard in the nation

Passed in 2004 in spite of massive spending and legal challenges by Xcel Energy, Intermountain Rural Electric, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Amendment 37 set the stage for Colorado’s New Energy Economy.  At the heart of the Amendment was a 10% mandate for green energy by 2015.  Also at the heart of the movement was to bring new opportunities to community-based energy systems.  Implementation of the amendment’s language was arduous, thanks to a concerted effort by the state’s various utilities.  A settlement was finally agreed to only after giving Xcel the green light to build the Commanche III coal plant in Pueblo, which has proven to be an anvil around Colorado taxpayer’s necks.

Almost without exception every rural county (read: where we have the wind and solar resources to produce the product) voted against the amendment; every urban county (read: consumers willing to buy the product) voted for the amendment.

What did exist at the time was the support of urban progressives and environmentalists to maximize the amount of rural ownership of these systems. In this case, we had Front Range consumers, willing to pay a premium for a commodity they were willing to mandate into their electrical grid.  A commodity we were drowning in: rural wind and solar.

What rural legislator in their right mind wouldn’t have set aside their prejudices of those people, urban ratepayers, and environmentalists, and taken that deal?  Is there anyone who doesn’t believe a coalition of rural legislators and environmentalists couldn’t have taken on anyone in their path to achieving their vision?

But fight, we did.

For a coal plant in Kansas. 

In spite of the fact the Obama Administration had allocated billions to a RUS fund that was written specifically for rural electrics to tap said funds and build energy systems for export to other utilities,  we fought. And fought. And fought.  God forbid we give any environmentalist or a Democratic POTUS a win on green energy.  This was about freedom from tyranny!!!

Well that tyranny, in spite of valiant efforts by our representatives, is today causing billions of dollars in rural investment in wind energy systems. Systems that could have been owned by our rural electric systems and indirectly benefitting each and every rural electric patron in the state.  Many, but not all, of our rural counties, are benefitting from the property tax revenues (often the largest source of income in some counties) of these wind farms.

Had we looked at this opportunity through the lens of rural wealth creation, we’d have chosen a different path. We’d have enjoyed both the benefits of the property tax – and the wealth created by the ownership of those systems by rural cooperatives – benefitting every member of the cooperative system.

Amendment 64

Amendment 64 results: majority “Yes” = green

Old lies die hard, and none harder than our eight-decades relationship with prohibition, Nixon’s preposterous War on Drugs, and the perpetuation of industrial hemp as a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Colorado became the first unit of government in the world to end Prohibition.  Soon thereafter it was dubbed “The Great Social Experiment” by then-Gov John Hickenlooper.  In fact, the “Great Social Experiment” was Prohibition, and it failed miserably under any plausible metric.  It took the leadership of a majority-informed electorate, and an army of passionate advocated,  to begin the unwinding of this long-standing federal law.

We’re not there yet, but in the journey to full US legalization (which we’ve accomplished with industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill), many great things have happened: Colorado has been the #1 state in industrial hemp development since its conditional legalization in the 2014 Farm Bill (thanks exclusively to the work of then-Congressman Polis) and we’ve managed to develop a regulated marijuana market that has generated over $10 billion in sales.

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“We Must Think Anew and Act Anew”, Colorado New Deal Edition

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Original Seal, USDA

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture and he later called it “The People’s Department.”  Lincoln believed in a robust, agrarian system.  Five days later he would sign The Homestead Act, bringing the opportunity of land ownership to over 400,000 families.  Six weeks later he would sign The Morrill Act, establishing our land-grant university system to “benefit the agricultural and mechanical arts.” 

President Lincoln created an ecosystem, one that ultimately gave birth to the greatest agriculture powerhouse in the world – thanks to political will and government resources. in 1922 Congress enacted the Capper-Volstead Act, giving “associations” of persons producing agricultural products certain exemptions from antitrust laws. It is sometimes called the Magna Carta of cooperatives

Dust Bowl, circa 1934

Less than a decade later those in the West would endure the hardships of two calamities: The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl.  FDR’s New Deal gave us rural electrification, price supports, a new soil conservation service, and the CCC.

Post-WWII was a time when we saw the vast expansion of our rural electrics, made possible through government resources; cooperative telephone companies, and farmer-owned cooperatives. The Eisenhower Interstate System gave way to a more robust transportation system to move our goods.

In the late ’50s, the development of groundwater resources brought a new wave of prosperity and production to not only our eastern plains, deriving its water from the Ogalla Aquifer but the San Luis Valley region.  The former becoming a powerhouse in corn and livestock production, the latter becoming one of the largest potato growing regions in the US, along with barley, and alfalfa.

San Luis Valley

San Luis Valley

Today, the future of both of these groundwater regions is at risk.  The eastern plains grappling with both dwindling groundwater resources and compliance obligations under the Republican River Compact; the San Luis Valley with very similar dynamics centered around the Rio Grande River.

For context, each of these areas contains approximately 500,000 acres of irrigated land; (collectively they represent approximately the same land footprint as Israeli farmland, a global, agricultural powerhouse).

Republican River Water Conservation District

The future for both of these critical agricultural areas, and our rural communities that depend upon them, is increasingly uncertain. Both districts, while collectively representing only something near 2% of Colorado’s population, also represent the majority of Colorado agriculture that depends on groundwater withdrawals.

Just like we did 159 years ago today (and every transition since), we face both our challenges – and – our opportunities with the requisite to couple government resources, research institutions, and our farming/ranching community with political will.

Building carbon-rich soils

If we’ve been taught anything over the last 159 years, it’s that within every crisis lies the seed of opportunity.  This September our legislature may have a generational opportunity to create the Colorado New Deal via its appropriation of stimulus funds; an opportunity to provide the necessary financial resources to transition Colorado agriculture into something designed with our Colorado values in mind. A generational opportunity to support the development of infrastructure that will bear generational fruit from our rural communities.  Significant opportunities abound in the growing US hemp sector; we’ve already piloted a successful fiber project in the San Luis Valley this past year. The Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of food and flowers, all accomplished with water-sipping, chemical-free production with 36,000 acres of greenhouses (3.6% of the combined groundwater district’s footprints).  Conservation opportunities to benefit from the emerging carbon credit marketplace will touch every farm and ranch in our state.

Next Generation Colorado Rancher

I’m writing this, knowing full well just how difficult our political divides make such a conversation. The legislators who will ultimately settle the allocation of these stimulus funds are characterized as the enemy by a vast majority of residents in rural Colorado. We’re in the midst of a third recall attempt of the Governor and it’s likely the very people, rural constituents, who could benefit from this discussion are amongst the first names on the latest petitions.   The stakes are high, high enough that it’s time for some earnest soul searching on our part.  For many irrigators, the proverbial wolf is at the door; many are wondering aloud Who Moved My Cheese? 

Next-generation food, feed, fuel, and fiber

If we look at the resources we have through the lens of Israeli and Dutch technologies there is little reason we, too, can’t be a global powerhouse in emerging markets, those driven in large part by Gen Z and Millennials who bring a new set of values and expectations to the global marketplace.  But this can only be done if we, rural Colorado, can humbly sit at a table and have this long-overdue conversation with our counterparts.  There is no them and us. We, rural Coloradans, are not independent, we’re interdependent.  

We can not and will not survive in a vacuum.

Let’s have this conversation.

 

“We Must Think Anew and Act Anew”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

I share the admiration of Abraham Lincoln with a majority of Americans; in surveys conducted since 1940, he has consistently ranked among the top 3, most often #1. Abe was the only president to hold a patent; he signed the first of the Homestead Acts, allowing poor people to obtain land. He established the United States Department of Agriculture in 1862 and nearly two months later signed the Morrill Act, which led to the creation of our land-grant university system. He established the progressive nature of income tax in the US. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the US. He established the US National Banking System, thus, a national currency. Apart from banks, Lincoln helped the economy flourish through canals, railroads & factories. He led the Union to victory in the Civil War; he laid the foundation for Reconstruction.

Lincoln kept us from being a ‘nation divided”, reuniting our nation rather than alienating the South.

Recently I had the chance to travel a significant portion of The Lincoln Highway (starting six miles north of Julesburg, ending in San Francisco),  America’s first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., by nine years. As the first automobile road across America, the Lincoln Highway brought great prosperity to the hundreds of cities, towns, and villages along the way. The Lincoln Highway became affectionately known as “The Main Street Across America”.  

Just east of Laramie a monument to our 16th President marks the high point of this Atlantic-to-Pacific highway, which begins in Times Square in NYC and terminates near Lincoln Park in San Francisco.  There, an imposing bronze of Lincoln occupies the Summit rest area under the vast Wyoming sky; a plaque reads:

“We Must Think Anew and Act Anew”

Those seven words set the tone for the next 24 hours of driving.  It was a time to reflect on our national priorities today through the eyes of Lincoln as I enjoyed the ease of traveling the Eisenhower Interstate System; I passed by farms and ranches established under the Homestead Act, have sustained themselves through the early research efforts in our land-grant university system and the Ag Extension network. The convenience of an ATM machine and electronic swipes at cash registers, tied to our national banking system.

Satellite radio.

Instant, global communication.

What would Lincoln be thinking today? Would he go big or go home?

As I scanned the radio dial I listened to Senate Minority Leader McConnell say he’s 100% focused on blocking the efforts of the Biden Administration; hardly a “we must think anew and act anew” moment for a man (and party) who claims to be the party of Lincoln.  Abe wouldn’t have been a shrinking violet, held captive by zealots.  In the face of the challenges that face us, he would have been uncompromising.  He’d go big.  He’d be uncompromising about infrastructure; he’d support a strong educational system.  He’d focus his priorities on those who built America: the middle class. He’d be unyielding in his belief that “labor before capital” was the only way to build a just, sustainable economic system. He’d believe that a nation that survived The Great Depression, thanks to progressives and The New Deal,  defeated fascism, rebuilt western Europe, eradicated polio, electrified rural America, put a man on the Moon and a spacecraft on Mars, is more than capable of meeting the challenges of a 21st-century economy.  He’d stand by his belief that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

This is our time to create.

Romanoff for Senate

We’re approaching the final sunset of a primary race to determine whom Colorado Democrats will choose to take on our junior senator this November.  As a fifth-generation rural Coloradan, I’ve come to the conclusion the best choice is Andrew Romanoff. 

I hail from Yuma County which over time has grown deeper and deeper shades of red for reasons I still can’t comprehend. It’s a popular myth in rural Colorado that Democratic values are rarely in alignment with rural values. You don’t have venture too far back in a time machine to refute that notion. In the early ’90s (then) Governor Romer’s Dome on the Range initiative was an effective bridge to our rural communities. Romer’s vision and implementation of the ‘Tri-State Initiative’ supported by (then) Democratic Governors Joan Finney (KS) and Ben Nelson (NE) gave our region the tools to create an economic and natural resource blueprint that may well have averted the millions we’ve spent on compliance issues related to the Republican River Compact had his successor sustained the effort.

Forward, 2005: the Colorado House has elected Andrew as its (at the time) youngest Speaker. During his tenure he was an early advocate for renewable energy and comprehensive immigration reform. I was a Republican at that time but my politics were never a barrier-of-entry with Speaker Romanoff.  Andrew, leading with an extended hand, mastered the art of bridging ideological divides. Open to compromise, a lost art by far too many today, he found ways to broaden, not minimize, participation in the critical discussions before the legislature and his constituents. 

An effective buttress for rural-friendly initiatives during the Ritter Administration, his leadership on the development of BEST reversed years of decaying rural education infrastructure.  If your rural community has built a new school in the last decade, thank Andrew.  His support in the Colorado House for the Ritter-era  New Energy Economy has delivered billions of dollars in investment in rural counties with ever-expanding wind and solar farms. 

Since then Andrew has devoted himself to roles in International development (a plus for Colorado farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs who want to expand our state’s goods into the international marketplace); he’s taken the helm of a mental health organization following a family tragedy.  If there is anything rural Colorado (and our country) needs more of now is a member of the Senate with the empathy, understanding, and drive it’s going to take to manifest the vast opportunities before us – and the societal plagues that haunt the least amongst us. 

Colorado is a special place: wind-swept plains, mountain vistas.  Rural entrepreneurs, farmers steeped in innovation, a second-to-none land grant university, research facilities, and an educated workforce. This isn’t an accidental fortune; it’s one rooted in intention, in part from the man I believe to be best suited to represent this state.  A man whose experience will help us continue to build a resilient, robust, 21st-century economy that can be the pride of all Coloradans: Andrew Romanoff. 

Yes on X

Six years ago Colorado voters shook the foundations of Prohibition with passage of Amendment 64.  As such, we became the first unit of government in the world to end the reign of ‘Reefer Madness‘.

What began with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, then enshrined in the Controlled Substance Act by Richard Nixon in 1970, left not only a shameful legacy of social injustices, it enveloped the agricultural sector, preventing American farmers from participating in a robust global market for hemp-derived products.

While the passage of A64 is most commonly known for its legalization of adult-use cannabis, the amendment also specifically addressed industrial hemp production.  With that, Colorado farmers became the first in the nation to have the legal right to bring this crop of our Founding Fathers back to our farms.

The beauty of our Democratic Republic is that states are the laboratories for change.  In our case what started as an ember became a virtual prairie fire.  Amendment 64 isn’t a ‘Great Social Experiment‘, it’s leadership.

The numbers speak for themselves: with Colorado as the first state to legalize hemp production, our nation has gone from one legal state to forty over the past five years.  Thanks to the vision of Congressman Jared Polis, the 2014 Farm Bill includes the provision to allow farmers to legally cultivate industrial hemp in states where such cultivation has been legalized and provides all land-grant universities and research institutions the right to conduct research without fear of federal interference.  (A special shout-out to Senator Michael Bennet is also in order in his role as conferee on the 2014 Farm Bill and his critical leadership in keeping the 7606 amendment language intact).

Today, Colorado is the shining star amongst the 40 legal states; last year we outpaced second-place Kentucky by almost a factor of three.  This success didn’t happen in a vacuum: it is a direct result of significant education efforts from the community, a very engaged and supportive legislature, a progressive state department of agriculture and a strong partnership with Colorado State University.  As a result of this expansive leadership, Colorado (and by default, American) farmers can now participate in an existing, nearly $1 billion domestic market that has historically been served by imports.

We’ve only just begun to understand and create the myriad of products that can come from this ancient plant – and how it will bring about new prosperity in a 21st-century economy.  Amendment X is a critical next step in opening these new markets, but our legislators hands are tied in how we go about demonstrating many of these new markets.

Under current federal law the amount of THC allowed in the hemp plant is 0.3%.  There is no scientific basis for that number; it was born of political decisions decades ago.  The problem for Colorado farmers is that the definition of hemp, mirroring the current federal standard, is set in our state constitution.  Farmers, growing hemp in good faith, may for reasons out of their control (many times simply environmental) grow a crop that may exceed the 0.3% limit.  In those situations the crop must be destroyed – a ludicrous, wasteful and unnecessary outcome rooted in decades-old, scientifically-unsupportable standards.  By removing the definition of industrial hemp from our constitutional language and putting it in the hands of our legislature we can create a new and empowering ecosystem for our farmers, land-grant universities and community colleges to remain leaders in creating new products for the global marketplace. With that, more jobs, more young people returning to our rural landscape and more opportunities for our farmers to shift production from subsidized commodity crops.

Vote Yes on X – and keep Colorado on the forefront of this new and exciting industry.

Davos and the 51st State

Agriculture is one of the largest global industries yet to be disrupted.  Less than a decade ago who would have recognized the names Moderna? General Assembly? Alibaba? Netflix? Grubhub? Square or Venmo? AirBnB?

We’re a conservative bunch, prone to the belief that we’re ‘different’; that somehow our way of life is immune to the global forces that are reshaping finance, retail, food, finance and hoteliers. We’d rather fight about a faux war than lead a discussion on innovation; rather celebrate a (mythical) independence than the (real) interdependence with the world that surrounds us.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a regional gathering in Memphis, ‘Davos on the Delta’ and while I didn’t expect that my experience would prompt a Pols diary, it has. The Mississippi Delta region is one not unlike many others across the county: a region searching for the keys to its future; a region drowning in resources and opportunities.  A region with a new crop of leaders committed to a big vision.

The Delta region has over 13 million acres of farmland, land almost exclusively devoted to the production of commodity crops: corn, soybeans, rice and cotton.  Lying beneath the Memphis region is an aquifer containing our 5 trillion gallons of fresh water.  Home to FedEx, world-wide, overnight deliveries of any product are a given.

The conference was based on a series of ‘what-if’ scenarios.  Designed to be an intimate setting, just 200 people comprised of farmers, investors, regional leaders and agricultural start-ups were in attendance.  Their questions: how do we take our existing resources and become the Silicon Valley of sustainable ag production?  How do we take advantage of what we know of the shifting marketplace, driven in large part by millennial buying patterns.  How do we adopt cutting-edge technology and entice outside investment into a sector not known for innovation?

They were absolutely asking the right questions.

The conference highlighted a number of statistics about our future:

  • 2/3 of millennial will pay a premium for good food.  Because of this, new platform models are emerging.  New entrants in this space aren’t improving the system, they’re changing the system
  • Sustainability is now a brand asset
  • The belief that ‘food is medicine’ is no longer a fringe idea; there is now a bi-partisan working group in DC devoted to this agenda
  • Indoor farming may be the largest, single opportunity in the entire agricultural sector.  We haven’t even scratched the surface on new food markets, but to do so will require a serious departure from our current Farm Bill platform.  There are over 30,000 edible plant species on the planet; our food system today relies on about 30.  66% of our calories come from five species and 99% of global calories come from 0.1% of all plant diversity
  • We are using 30% more fresh water than we are replenishing annually; 70% of all freshwater is used by agriculture

Whether we in the broader agricultural community lead or are drug into the future, there is one thing for certain: if you don’t like (and embrace) change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

As I mentioned in my lead-off paragraph, agriculture is the largest global industry that has yet to be disrupted.  The facts are that we’re headed to a consumer-focused agriculture that will deliver both demands and opportunities to those willing to make the leap. Farming has traditionally been organized vertically when what we need to address our current challenges are horizontal solutions.  Case-in-point: the Investment Corporation of Dubai has committed $220 billion to a fund that addresses food security; Wal-Mart has committed to eliminating a gigaton of carbon out of their supply chain.  Target is demanding sustainable cotton by 2022 and Tyson will reduce their emission by 30% over the next five years. While my fellow 51st-staters may laugh at the climate goals, the world is moving on.  Those who want the opportunity to participate in such supply chains will change their behavior.

Agriculture is also the least digitized of all US sectors.  As the adoption of technology increases, so will the disruption.  Like our energy sector, the future is best served by small, smart, distributed models.  Technology will also lead to specialization.  Remember the old days when your coffee choices were Folgers or Maxwell? When you could count your cereal choices on two hands?

Innovation in our sector will flow to the points of least resistance, to eco-systems where farmers, land grant universities, impact funds, private industry and government are locked arm-in-arm to convert their natural and human resources into new jobs and enhanced economic activity.  They’ll play smart, they’ll be nimble and they’ll be committed to holistic approaches.  They’ll enable technology democratization; ideas too small for the Goliaths but widely adopted in distributed models.

While this conference was held in Memphis, it could as well have been conducted in (Ft.) Morgan.  What will our future look like twenty years from now? Will coal-fired power still power our aquifer pumps to grow corn to feed a steer? Or will solar and wind power energize aquaculture systems using a fraction of the resources to produce a pound of protein? Will greenhouses replace the large swaths of farmland across the plains and those acres devote themselves to the role of ‘carbon sinks’?  Will we be a major exporter of food, or the technology to grow food? With our resources could we become the Netherlands of the Plains?  Will pivot irrigation be a thing of the past, replaced by precision drip systems?  Will our small, rural communities, like Memphis, recognize the generational opportunities in this space and re-invent themselves as a 21st-century hub?  Will we embrace the idea that good public policy and investments in research will drive this necessary transition?

Or, will we be asking 20 years from now: ‘Who moved my cheese’?

 

 

 

 

 

KeystoneXL and New Energy Strategies in an Era of Abundance

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Just over 40 years ago the US economy experienced a first: an oil embargo by (then) OAPEC that quadrupled the price of oil.  It was our first 'oil shock', to be followed by a second 'shock' in 1979.  The US response, in part, was the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  Our national response, rational for the time, was rooted a mindset of scarcity. 

Like relics of Cold War mentality, it's time to move ourselves from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance.  SRP has the pumping capacity to bring a maximum of 4.4 million barrels/day in to the market place in a national emergency from it's maximum holding capacity of 727 million barrels.  To put that in perspective, our national fleet of ethanol plants today produce an annual equivalent of roughly one-half the total supply of what is the largest emergency oil supply in the world!!

In the past there have been Congressional attempts to manipulate the SRP for various reasons:  Democrats have sought to tap the reserve to lower prices in times of high prices, Republicans have hinted at doubling the capacity of the reserve in anticipation of continued Middle Eastern conflicts.  It all depends on what your definition of 'strategic' might be on any given day through a political lens.  One on hand, using the supply to lower prices robs the unconventional oils from market prices high enough to establish a legitimate economic model for extraction; on the other, as we are experiencing today, low oil prices are putting hundreds of millions of dollars daily in new, disposable income in Americans pockets.  Given the interconnectedness of global markets and global energy production today, our definition of 'strategic' must be increasingly understood in a more comprehensive systems approach: the economy, our national security, rural development and our soft power in international diplomacy.

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Tilting the Keystone

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Webster defines keystone as "the central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends." Being an ardent opponent of the KeystoneXL in rural Colorado isn't a popular position. The vision for this 21st-century pipeline has been sold as a necessary component of our energy challenges and a massive job creator. Unfortunately, the pipeline is neither and would be better characterized, through the lens of American rural landscapes, as an assault as opposed to an asset.

Giving credit where credit is due, KeystoneXL is someone's vision; when political will combined with that vision the opportunity moved from 'paper to pipeline'. This grand scheme dictates the destruction of  the boreal forest, extracting hydrocarbons formed millions of years ago, forced in a pipeline and moved thousands of miles to Gulf refineries where the final product will be shipped to foreign lands.  It promises thousands of temporary construction jobs and a handful of permanent jobs; it holds the possibility of polluting the nation's largest underground fresh water supply, the Ogallala, and most economists predict the pipeline will increase the cost of gasoline in the Rocky Mountain region 10 to 20 cents per gallon.

From a Colorado perspective there seems to be little upside, and the proposed pipeline project only magnifies our own lack of commitment to a vision of a robust and resilient 21st-century American economy.  In the absence of our own vision, the void is being filled by someone else's.  

But lets for a moment revision the foundation of the Canadian project:  the 1,379 miles of pipe laid horizontal and pointing towards Texas.  Let's  turn it 90 degrees vertical and apply an American idea to the proposal.  Slicing the pipeline into 212 foot segments (the average height of a wind turbine tower, and turning the pipe upwards gives us 34,337 opportunities for wind development across our midwestern landscape.  Using a Colorado-made Vestas product, those sticks transform themselves into 72 gigawatts of wind energy potential, nearly enough generation capacity to displace the 329 coal plants in the United States that face retirement from age or inability to meet new air standards.  Instead of creating a carbon bomb, we've created the infrastructure to displace hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually.  

From a fresh water perspective, something important to each and every one of us in the West, displacing 72 megawatts of US coal generation could save over 1,000,000 acre feet of fresh water annually.  Through the lens of job creation,  converting Keystone to kilowatts is the real job creator.  Using industry statistics of an average, 250-megawatt wind farm, simply turning the horizontal pipe upwards would create 150,336 construction jobs, 124,416 positions in manufacturing, 23,040 jobs for planning and development and 7,776 permanent jobs in operations.  From an rural economic perspective, having this scale of infrastructure investment from North Dakota to Texas would give us the platform to create a real, lasting rural renaissance across the Great Plains.

As a part-time creature of Washington, DC mired in rural policy issues, I have little faith that grand visions are possible in today's poisoned political well. My example of slicing the pipeline into wind towers was merely illustrtive but to prove a point on how my personal perspective judges the Keystone plan quite differently from my neighbors. The structural challenges in todays money-soaked, two-party system are daunting.  January will bring us a new majority in Congress that conventional wisdom instructs us will be antagonistic towards alternative forms of energy.  For now I'll hold that criticism until it is earned: Teddy Roosevelt gave us the National Park System; Richard Nixon the EPA, George H.W. Bush gave us the nation's first cap-and-trade program (acid rain) and George W. Bush gave us our nation's Renewable Fuel Standard after putting in place, as Texas Governor, one of the most aggressive wind energy portfolios in the nation.  Unconventional wisdom might better instruct us that new opportunities are just around the corner.

I will remain the optimist.

 

Rural Votes, Fertile Soil

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

My grandfather, a depression-era farmer, knew the value of tending to his seedlings.  For him the seed needed a good beginning: fertile soil, nutrients, good soil tilth and cooperation from from Mother Nature. For the inputs he could control, he was indeed a stubborn steward.  He also had two staunch beliefs: there was no other tractor than a John Deere, and his planter of choice was his red, International Harvester wheat drill. With only an eighth-grade education as his foundation he understood, with great clarity, the value of making prudent investments in labor and inputs. His reward would be a full grainary.

Our children are no different than Granddad's tender wheat sprouts.  Without access to pre-natal care, a stable home, living wages, food security and a solid education there is no amount of money society can invest later in a child's life to successfully fill those voids.  As a fifth-generation Coloradan myself who grew up in the small farming and ranching community of Idalia (pop. 100), I got lucky.  "The Village" made sure we had all that we needed to become productive adults.  In those days our region was aptly-represented by rural titans like Bud Moellenberg and Bev Bledsoe – thoughtful men who not only earned the respect of urban legislators, but understood the important role and contributions of rural Colorado to the state's economy.

They represented the best of the human and political spirit.  

Unfortunately, their style of politics have become extinct.

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Rural Endorsement: Mark Udall For US Senate

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Ten years ago we went to the ballot box and passed the first-ever citizens-initiated renewable portfolio standard in the nation, Amendment 37.  Under the leadership of its bi-partisan co-chairs Mark Udall and Lola Spradley, the initiative put a solid foundation under what would emerge as Colorado's 'New Energy Economy'.  Today, Colorado enjoys the second-highest RPS in the nation, a 30% goal by 2020 (which will be met early).  Today, an estimated 4,000 Coloradans are employed our wind sector – almost 200 times more than the promised 22 permanent jobs that would be created by the Keystone pipeline – with nearly six billion dollars invested in wind projects across rural Colorado.

The net effects of those investments touch the lives of both rural and urban Coloradans each and every day: rural areas enjoy the bounty of the increased tax base, offering the opportunity to both lower local property taxes overall, and to provide new revenue streams for local economic development.  Urban consumers benefit from ever-decreasing costs of wholesale power to their investor-owned utility.  Rural counties are re-energized with the wind farm developments.

As an early supporter of the national agricultural alliance, "25x'25", Udall was instrumental in adding a 25% national renewable goal in to The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  In the headwinds of conservative opposition to clean energy (including Congressman Gardner on ideological principles), Udall now champions a national renewable standard, "25x'25", which would create an estimated 300,000 new jobs, mostly in rural America,  provide $13.5 billion to farmers, ranchers and other landowners in the form of lease payments and add $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues.

It's important to understand the merits of good public policy, and Mark Udall is at the tip of that spear.  Wind energy is the cheapest form of renewable energy today; in the case of the expanding Cedar Point wind farm near Limon, the Vestas turbines stand tall; "Made in Colorado" turbines, planted on the Colorado Prairie, creating rural jobs while simultaneously generating Xcel Energy's cheapest power.  Being an early adopter of clean energy coupled with our successes in the Ritter Administration's  "New Energy Economy",  Colorado is well-poised to meet the proposed EPA emission standards with ease.

It's a Win(d)-Win(d)-Win(d) situation.

So when our state newspaper of record asks, "What has Mark Udall done for us lately?", it's as simple as looking at your utility bill – or the revenue statements from your county treasurer.   It would be hard to find a single, political initiative that has touched the daily lives of more Coloradans in a more positive way.

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Zaki’s Journey – A Colorado Celebration

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

It takes a "Village".  Thanks to entrepreneurs, cannabis activists, a supportive state legislature, incredible support from the Colorado Department Agriculture, visionaries and federal representatives – today Zaki Jackson celebrates two-years seizure free.  It's hard to miss the irony that such an accomplishment is belng celebrated currently with election silly-season; perpetual political posturing about 'get tough' cannabis policies by our candidates for Governor (with the notable exception of Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon).

But not for the people leading this transition, it wouldn't be happening at all.  You see, the ending of cannabis prohibition in Colorado isn't "The Great Social Experiment".  The "Great Social Experiment" was "Prohibition".  A miserably-failed federal policy that has left a wake of perpetual poverty, unnecessary deaths and a trillion-dollar price tag.

My introduction into the life of Zaki Jackson, one of the first kids to use Charlotte's Web ( a therapeutic hemp oil to treat his seizure disorder) was from a phone call from his mother who had read the story of the industrial hemp flag being flown over the US Capitol Building on July 4, 2014 – Zaki's nine-month anniversary of being seizure free. Soon thereafter, Heather brought Zaki to the Colorado state capitol where we together celebrated the hoisting of the same flag here in the Centennial state.

Today, Zaki celebrates 2 years seizure free.

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The Chamber, a Con, a Watermelon Farmer – and Bad Math

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The US Chamber is out today with their latest schlep for Captain Cory…using the very same math our favorite watermelon farmer used last Spring when the Wray Republican's 'hair on fire' moment resulted in a blatantly false tweet concerning the Wray School District.  As anyone who travels to Wray would know, the wind turbine that stands as a sentinel to Wray's south gate is owned by the local school district. The turbine, the first school-owned, commercial scale installation in the state produces 100% of the school districts energy needs – and as an added bonus their excess production is sold to the City of Wray under a long-term contract.  In total, this community effort has stabilized the electricity rates in Wray – and given the contractual agreement between the city and the school, it would be impossible for the school's energy costs to rise a single penny; the sales of the excess production provide a new revenue stream for the district, a source of pride for the town and a hedge on future price increases of fossil-fuel generated electrons.

All of this because we invested in local, clean energy production. And this model of distributed energy production is the future.

But simple mathematical equations don't seem to slow down, nor interrupt, the (lack of) neuron activity of a devout Fossilonian.

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Why Federal Policy Matters to Rural America

On Tuesday of this week I had the opportunity to testify at the Regional Field Hearing on the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan.  Here is the text of my testimony:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify today.  My name is Michael Bowman and I am a fifth-generation Coloradan.  I am testifying today in support of the proposed rules.

I'd like to talk today about the importance of federal policy and its effect on rural America.  128 years ago my great-great grandfather, Charles Moore, homesteaded in Phillips County, Colorado.  He was afforded this opportunity for a new life as a result of the 1862 Homestead Act.  He came west seeking this new life via railroad, thanks to the Pacific Railroad Act.  His great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren would be educated at Colorado State University, thanks to the Morrill Act.

His descendants endured the Great Depression, and then benefited from rural electrification that emerged from the New Deal and the Rural Electrification Act. 

In the decades that followed our family has enjoyed the benefits of a national farm policy that created the foundation for unprecedented wealth creation on the eastern prairies of Colorado and across all of rural America.  In my home county of Yuma alone, our 3,000 farmers have been the recipients of over one-half billion dollars in subsidy payments alone in the past 12 years.

Decades of federal policy have, indeed, created "the possible":  the full faith and support of our federal treasury encouraging the entrepreneurship and creativity of our fellow man.

From a Colorado perspective we now have a decade of proven leadership on the "power" of sound energy policy.  Amendment 37 set in motion our nation's first-ever citizens-initiated renewable portfolio standard.  An effort that was vehemently opposed by our rural electric community – yet an effort that has yielded billions of dollars in wind and solar investments in our rural communities.  Under the thoughtful leadership of then-Governor Bill Ritter we tripled the standard – to 30% by 2020 – to the second-most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the nation.  In 2013 Colorado raised the renewable standard on our rural electrics to 20% by 2020.  Even though that effort was met with a disingenuous, rural electric-funded campaign "The War on Rural Colorado", it is a standard that will be easily met.

We didn't leave the Stone Age because we ran out of stones – and we won't leave the hydrocarbon era because we have mined our reserves to extinction.  We can and will transition for several reasons: the health of our fellow man, the demands for clean air and water for all our citizens, in the arid west, ever-shrinking fresh-water supplies – and because it is the most economical option before us.

For rural America, our farms and ranches, there is a natural marriage between the conservation goals embedded in our national farm policy and reducing carbon pollution.  Our vast soil inventory, managed for carbon sequestration, can become a carbon depository while simultaneously improving the production of our prairies and farmland.  Our vast biomass, solar and wind resources stand, waiting, to participate in the emerging opportunity.

But this will take bold leadership from our rural leaders – leaders who understand the power of their interdependence with their ever-increasing urban counterparts.

You will, no doubt, hear a lot of testimony over the next two days about the "War on Coal" and the "War on Rural America".  Let's be clear: the "War on Coal" is a geologic war, not a political one.  The only authentic "War on Rural Colorado" is the one that is self-inflicted.  One where we ignore the rich history that federal and state policy plays in our daily lives.

We have nothing but opportunity awaiting us; the chance to create a rural renaissance and fully participate in the Third Industrial Revolution.

To end I'd like to quote Maya Angelou:  "Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better."

It's time to "do better".

Holcomb, Holly, H20 and the Upstream Challenges of the Lower Arkansas

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

It's impossible to miss the irony: Lamar, the host community of Colorado's first commercial wind farm. A wind turbine blade exhibited proudly on Main Street, a testament to the coming 'New Energy Economy'.  Colorado Green represented all that was good about an economy in the midst of an energy transition. A revitalized downtown, emerging from the depths of the last agricultural recession.  Welcomed new jobs and tax base.

Today, Lamar faces a stormy and uncertain financial future.  A region drowning in Class 5 wind resources. Rich soils and river water. A community of souls who have endured, and to date prospered from nearly every Biblical plague one could imagine. Now with a $160 million coal -anchor around their neck – just blocks from the old Amtrak station that sports a wind turbine blade.  A city obligation that is a literal noose around the neck of Lamar residents. 

I wish I could share that this is the only challenge facing the residents of the Lower Arkansas River Valley.  It's not.  A short, 95-mile drive to the east will put you in Holcomb, Kansas, home to the proposed, multi-billion dollar coal plant that would be built to predominantly serve Tri-State Generation and Transmission.  A proposal that to date has reportedly cost the member coops of Tri-State in excess of $50 million dollars to date.  A project that has taken approximately 20,000 acres out of agricultural use, its associated water rights destined for the cooling towers of either the Holcomb plant, or the theoretically-still-in-play Holly nuclear plant.  If that wasn't enough, the regions multi-generational farmers and ranchers have been faced with a rogue state bureaucracy that had turned the admirable idea of agricultural conservation easements in to a virtual nightmare

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Secession, the Sequel

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

I received my first email today asking to join the "Restoring Colorado" movement.  In a perfect world this would be a great idea.  Being the fifth-generation of my family to live in rural Colorado, that 'blood' runs deep.  I personally believe in the mostly-untapped potential of our region to produce energy, local food and environmental services.  Statewide, we are a $40 billion industry; we have nothing but opportunity. 

But a trip down memory lane reminds me of what we've morphed in to: Amendment 37, perhaps the best public policy (in modern times)?  We fought it.  Embracing environmental services?  No thanks.  Childhood poverty?  Off the chart while we simultaneously remain a recipient of federal transfers AND claim to be independent.  Marriage equality?  Not on our watch.  Guns?  Dudley Brown as the face of our citizens?

Sadly, I have not yet exhausted "the list".

If you listen to the YouTube below by Jeffrey Hare, you could come to the conclusion he's making the case for Initiative 75 (Local Control), yet every nearly every major farm organization opposes the proposed constitutional amendment.  So I'm pretty sure he's not supporting I-75.

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The Colorado Keystone

Webster defines keystone as "the central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends".  Yesterday's announcement by our President set the stage for our nation to begin the process of addressing our carbon pollution, as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2007 – and now regulated by the EPA under their authority within the Clean Air Act, (also affirmed in that same 2007 Supreme Court decision).  Obama's announcement is, in effect, "America's Keystone";  it will be the foundation upon which we determine state and federal policy regarding energy for the coming decades.  It has taken over seven years to get from the historic 2007 court decision to the 2014 proposed rules – and it will be another 15 years, best-case scenario, before we would see full implementation of the regulations. 

The 'clutching of pearls' by the right-wing spin machine aside, meeting these new standards comes at a modest, if any, cost.  In fact, if one includes in the calculation the reduced health costs of the transition, the jobs created, and in the case of rural Colorado, nearly $6 billion in new tax base, only a Coprolite would conclude that the Colorado renewable standard, the second-most aggressive in the nation, was a bad idea.

Colorado has much to be proud of in our proactive approach by the Ritter Administration to begin the transition away from coal and tackling our state's emissions profile.  We often heard Bill talk in terms of 'being stubborn stewards" and "shared sacrifices".  Under his reign our state created the second-most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the nation; we passed in excess of 50 legislative bills that dealt with new standards, energy efficiency and sustainability.  We became know world-wide as the birthplace of the New Energy Economy and environmental leadership.

Since 2011 we have watched Boulder take on Goliath and create the foundation for a 21st-century municipal electric.  Fort Collins has implemented feed-in-tariffs within the confines of their jurisdiction.  We're fast approaching $6 billion of investments in wind farms on Colorado's eastern plains – and plans of new solar farms in the Pueblo County and the San Luis Valley. Five Front Range communities have rejected untethered oil and gas developments within their city limits, the LaPlata Rural Electric Association board of directors now has a pro-renewable energy majority.  We've begin the process to aggressively regulate fugitive methane in Colorado's gas patch. Captured methane gas is powering parts of Aspen, and a new small hydroelectric plant will deliver local power to the Delta-Montrose Rural Electric Association membership. Our rural electrics must now meet 20% of their energy needs with green energy. Vestas is considering moving its North American headquarters to the Centennial state.

We've come a long way in the past decade since the passage of Amendment 37.  We've built a foundation – projects and policy – upon the knowledge that we have an infinite amount of sunshine, wind and biomass.  We understand we don't have to settle for sacrificing our state's environment to have a robust economy.  We understand the economic opportunities in transitioning to the New Energy Economy – and the perils of the false prophets promoting a business-as-usual case for energy development.  

As Bill Gates is credited as saying, "we over-estimate what they can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what we can accomplish in a decade".  While we have only begun this long, tenuous journey of change over the past decade, it would be hard not to argue that our leadership owes a debt of gratitude to the bi-partisanship co-chairs of the 2004 Amendment 37, Mark Udall and Lola Spradley – and it would be even harder to overstate the accomplishments we have put under our belt since that historic victory.

All of this, I would argue, is our "Colorado's Keystone".  Not a pipeline – but a foundation for a  21st-century energy policy that is consistent with our western values and our conservation ethic; a foundation by which we can lead by example and buoy our national efforts to be a global leader.

What's next? Will Colorado voters make Local Control the centerpiece of this fall's election?  Will it be a proxy vote for or against those who embrace the concept? Can we construct a Renewable Thermal Standard, creating opportunities for reductions in the built environment? Perhaps we can build a virtual power plant, fueled only by energy efficiency.  Will we tackle the necessary regulatory changes to bring about a more transparent and free energy market? It's hard to say, but if history is any guide – we can all be assured the next decade will be filled with grand accomplishments while we transition to an economy powered by our clean, abundant resources.

There is nothing but lack of political will that will keep the creativity and entrepreneurship of Coloradans from entering this exciting marketplace – and providing global leadership.  That's the real 'Keystone'

The Pen, The Post Office and the Two Americas

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Pen, The Post Office and and Two Americas – a simple headline, and a case for our President and our Senate Majority to do something simple themselves: a call to turn back the rhetoric of a "failed US Postal Service", empower rural communities, narrow the inequality gap amongst rural residents, and push the envelope of innovation.

An action that can be accomplished without the contribution of a single Republican member of Congress.  

In the past year my political allegiances have been strained; my political beliefs have not.  Here at home I remain befuddled by our inability to tackle the challenges with the rampant expansion of the oil and gas industry, severance tax rates and the challenges to continue our leadership on the New Energy Economy.  For those, we have a remedy: ballot initiatives.  At the federal level I  understand the challenges in Congress over tackling issues of the least amongst us with the House majority).  Conventional wisdom is that nothing that could mitigate the economic challenges we face across rural America can be addressed in Washington absent almost certain obstruction from with the House majority.  

To that end I'd offer an alternative point of view: Executive Action, or "The Pen".

Conventional wisdom is the United States Post Office, in particular our rural post offices, are doomed to extinction.  This is a manufactured crisis initiated by a lame duck Congress in 2006 with the sole intent to privatize the service, even though they are constitutionally required to preerve and promote it under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution .  It should surprise no one that their first dalliance with privatization was with a Romney/Bain entity, "Staples".   Today, absent the pre-funding requirement imposed on the Post Office by the 2006 Congress, a requirement imposed solely on one government entity, they would have registered a $1 billion profit, not a loss of $354 million.  

The myth that USPS is a money pit is simply that:  a myth.  

Like many from my generation, I grew up in a remote, rural community served by a Post Office,  zip code 80735.  Still operational; how much longer yet no one knows.  Our Postmaster, "Shorty" Wilcoxen, a war veteran and whose family were homesteaders in our community, was a valued member of our community.  His wife, our school secretary for years.  Solid, middle-class citizens in a small, rural town.

USPS was – and still is – one of the greatest "common good" services put in place by our Founding Fathers.  Like the many great social programs that emerged a century-and-a-half later through from the New Deal – projects that brought us rural electrification and federal law establishing cooperatives for farmers – there was a magic in those approaches.  They made the impossible, possible. Every community was enriched by these public investments.

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Why Colorado Matters in National Policy Making

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Eight years ago I gave the commencement address for the Colorado State University – College of Agriculture Sciences graduates.  Colorado citizens had just voted to establish the first citizens-initiated portfolio standard in America, Amendment 37.  The initiative, an epic 'David v. Goliath' story that only came about after three failed attempts in the Republican-controlled state legislature in the years 2002-2004 to find a legislative remedy.  Initiated by activists in the Boulder corridor, the amendment has served to benefit urban and rural interests alike: Xcel customers have experienced a greater stability in their cost structure, rural Colorado is home to nearly $6 billion in wind developments – bringing with it a strong tax base and jobs – and the platform for the Ritter-era New Energy Economy was born.

But as I stood on that platform in Ft. Collins on that evening in December of 2005, little did I know that our recent success at the ballot box would, eight years hence, serve as a platform for the White House and our Department of Defense to accelerate a new energy future. Amendment 37 buoyed a then-nascent "25x'25" alliance – a group of agriculturally-centric leaders who saw the opportunity for rural America to both participate and lead the almost-certain energy transition.  A goal: 25% of America's energy coming from renewables by the year 2025 – a year that seemed light years away.

As a co-founder of the alliance, it became obvious to me that magnifying the Colorado success in to a national platform was a winning combination.  And Colorado stepped to the plate.  The Denver Post was the first major US newspaper to endorse our vision; the Rocky Mountain Farmer Union and Colorado Farm Bureau were the first groups amongst their national organization to give us a 'thumbs up'.  The Colorado legislature, in a bi-partisan resolution supporting the vision, lead by Senator Mark Hillman and Representative Wes McKinley, became the template for over 30 state legislatures to follow.  Colorado State University was the first land grant university in the nation to get behind us.  The Delta-Montrose Rural Electric Association was the first rural electric in America to officially endorse the cause. Tracee Bentley, a former Farm Bureau lobbyist and now Legislative Director for Governor Hickenlooper, served as our western states coordinator for state alliance development.

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Grass Roots Government – Greeley Style?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Chutzpah.

That's the first word that came to mine as I read my email from the Centennial Institute's John Andrews, introducing the Weld County Model of governance.  The first sentence was filled with the descriptors "big", "oil-rich", "self-confident",  "the birthplace of last year's secession movement". How could I possibly stop myself from perusing the bravado? Particularly when the letter head included the words *faith* *family* *freedom* *future*?

Weld County: the birthplace of the 51st state.  Bootstraps.  Independence.

If only it was that simple. Or true. If only this utopian style of governance could be replicated across every county in Colorado!  Although it would be mathematically impossible to achieve such a statewide fete based on the Weld County Model –  why be confused by facts when one can be seduced by the patriotic words of Mr. Andrews?

I tend to dismiss any narrative of independence in these contexts (in particular, neo-conservative institutes offering to sell me a $20 hard copy of their in-depth analysis).  The fact is, we live in a very interdependent world.  A world where Weld County beef finds its way to Japan, Weld County mozzarella adorns pizza pies from coast-to-coast, Weld County oil permeates a global market – yet Weld County severance taxes can't find their way from Greeley to Denver.

Not only does Weld County benefit from the largess of the federal treasury in its agricultural sector to the tune of $450 million in the years 1995-2012 ($146 million of those dollars paid to farmers to retire their land from production), they are part of a fabric of agricultural communities across the eastern plains (the proposed 51st state) that were the recipients of a collective $3.64 billion in that same time frame

Before you come to the conclusion that I'm anti-agriculture or anti-safety nets, let me say this: I believe in safety nets, whether those safety nets are targeted at farmers, struggling families or elderly. I'm simply unwilling to promote the faux idea that any one of us are authentically independent.  The magic isn't in our mythical independence, but in our rich history of supporting the commons.  Whether it's roads, interstate highways, the rural electric system, our hydro and water storage projects, education, public safety – to name a few – we built that.  And with that infrastructure came a bounty of opportunities for enterprising Americans to do what we do best: invent. create. solve big problems.

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An Open Letter to Chairman Call

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Dear Chairman Call,

I'm not your typical terrorist:  a fifth-generation Coloradan, a Yuma County native and graduate of a small rural K-12 school, Idalia High School.  Upon return from college I settled in Wray where I raised my three children.  I was active in local activities – a founding member of a team of community activists that reshaped our small town of 2,000 in the toughest of times: the agricultural recession of the 80's.  Through those times our small group of leaders built a multi-million dollar community center, a new school, hospital, community-owned daycare center, refurbished airport and extended living facility.  We were chosen as one of ten 'All-American City'  award recipients in 1993, the smallest city at the time to receive the award.  We were chosen as one of ten rural communities in the United State to participate in an intense, two-year leadership program funded by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, "The Search for Solutions".

We accomplished all of this through the toughest of times; we were successful because we created a vision for the community.  It's not that we didn't have our detractors, we did.  But their arguments against 'change' were no match for a solid road map that redefined our community.  In short, we knew we had to embrace change – or wither on the vine. 

We consciously made the choice to thrive, not just survive.

Yuma County has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources: our water resources from the Ogallala are second to none.  Fertile soil and significant natural gas reserves turned this vast prairie into one of the richest breadbaskets in the Great Plains.   At one time Yuma County was the largest corn producing county in the nation.  Today, the corn production feeds one of the largest feedlots in the world, originally built by the Monfort family and is now owned by Brazilian interests.  Our vast open space served as an ideal location for the explosion of pork production facilities.  Today, the majority of those facilities are owned by the Chinese Pork Giant Shuanghu.

It's unfathomable for me to imagine that some 20 years hence from these enormous achievements that Wray would be ground-zero for the secession movement.  I attribute the shift in mindset almost exclusively to how the party leadership has morphed over the last two decades.  Long gone are the rural titans once revered in the legislature: Bud Moellenberg, Bev Bledsoe and Fred Anderson.  Absent is a voice that reminds us that we aren't independent but interdependent with our urban counterparts.

We've come a long way from my 4-H and FFA days where I earned my State Farmer Degree with a modest 50-sow operation three decades ago. My parents and grandparents were Republicans.  The old kind.  Conservationists. The kind that understood math, that coveted local governance, that understand the importance of infrastructure investment and supporting the 'common good'.  The kind that encouraged personal initiative.  The kind that understood the value of the most socialist of organizations: the local farmers cooperative, the local telephone company, our community hospital and our rural electric association.

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The “Great Social Experiment” or “Leadership”?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"This is going to be one of the great social experiments of this century"
~Governor John Hickenlooper

 

Yesterday's senate hearing on SB14-177 and SB14-178 drew a standing-room-only crowd; one that ultimately demanded an overflow room for the observers and witnesses.  The attendees were a broad swath of Colorado citizens: mother and child, medical refugees desperate to find a remedy for their child's condition; attorneys, social workers, business owners, political activists, lobbyists, and myself as the sole farmer in the room. It was an afternoon of passionate testimony by medical marijuana activists who see the bill as a subtle, some may say "backroom" attempt,  to recriminalize the use and or possession of cannabis under section 18-18-102 of the Colorado statute.  The vague language of the proposed bill caused confusion even amongst the law enforcement and social workers who provided testimony for both the proponents and the opposition. 

I'm forever in awe of the breadth and depth of the human and social capacity that Colorado possesses.  The testimony by Jeri Shepard, a Greeley attorney, was compelling.  Jeri went point by salient point, deconstructing the myths around legalization, she offered to the members of the Judiciary Committee they read the book, "The New Jim Crow", an exercise she had participated in as a group Lenten exercise.  If one was measuring the prudence of Coloradans ending prohibition in 2012 by Jeri's testimony, you wouldn't describe our efforts as "a great social experiment".  You would call it "leadership".

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The Shifting Winds of Energy Policy – Angry Old White Man Edition

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Earlier this month the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) held its annual conference in Nashville. Jo Ann Emerson, former Missouri Congresswoman-turned-CEO of her top political donor, started the conference with an attack on the Obama administrations' environmental record.  She was followed by the alternative speaker Haley Barbour (who replaced Chuck Todd of NBC who was stuck in D.C. by the ice storm), the former governor of Mississippi.  Mr. Barbour spent half an hour attacking everyone but conservative Republicans.  Everyone in the room seemed concerned that the speaker had gone too far: the numerous, African-Americans, Democrats, unaffiliated voters and environmentalists felt unwelcome and uncomfortable with the harangue and showed it with very limited applause. 

It's hard to miss the irony that such a partisan witch hunt would be waged by an organization that exists only because of the vision of FDR and the New Deal – and today feasts at the trough of almost unlimited dollars doled out at treasury rates.

It didn't go over well; Ms. Emerson has been deluged by letters from the membership, prompting this response: 

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Our Coming Reality: The Trickle of the (Once) Mighty Colorado River

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Glen Canyon DamnThere is a coming war on the western economy.  Not the fake war promoted by our federally-subsidized rural electric system but a real one, waged by a formidable opponent: Mother Nature.

If there was ever an argument for a transition to a 21st-century energy infrastructure, look no further than our current challenges with the economies that have been built on the backs of the Colorado River. 

Glen Canyon Dam, a component of the Colorado River Storage Project, requires a minimum lake elevation of 3,450 ft to provide enough hydraulic head to maintain its generation capacity.  Today, that level rests at approximately 3,550 feet msl (mean sea level); it is projected to fall below the required minimum of 3,450 feet in 2015 and to remain below the operational levels beyond 2020. 

The once-mighty Colorado: a treasured, western resource that serves the water demands for the majority of Colorado's 5 million residents.  Glen Canyon Dam, located in the Upper Basin of the Colorado, supplies the electrical needs to 5.8 million people including a significant number of Coloradans.  Two of the top five, long-term energy purchasers of Glen Canyon hydro-power are Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Platte River Power Authority.  System wide, four million people rely on the Colorado River Storage Project.  Irrigators from Wyoming to Mexico tap the resource for crop production.  The combined metropolitan areas served by the project would be the 12th largest economy in the world with $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product. 

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The Bitter Harvest: Scarcity and Abundance

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"We cannot solve problems with the same thinking

we used when we created them"

~Einstein

I spent Father's Day of this year reflecting on the the challenges of Colorado's 4th Congressional District, a landscape of both abundance and scarcity.  A land where federal programs have provided an abundance for some; for others, only the prospect of increasing scarcity.  A land so rich in natural resources that it's hard to comprehend that any of its residents are challenged in the way they are today.

As we witness the growing chasm between the abundance for some and scarcity for others – it's mind-numbing for anyone paying attention.

Then in September the US House of Representatives, aided by the leadership of Cory Gardner, voted to systemically dismantle the safety nets for our country's most challenged residents; a $40 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance  Program that will not only further decimate existing safety nets – but eliminate 55,000 Coloradans from being eligible.  Just prior to the final House vote in September, Congressman Gardner had this to say:

“I’m anxious about it,” said Gardner, a few hours before the vote. “I’m glad we’re moving forward on a path that should complete the farm bill but the road has not been easy. I don’t want to be overconfident at any point.”

Next stop?  The 2013 Government shutdown: a brave act of leadership that cost the US economy just over half of the total amount of the House proposed cuts to the food nutrition program. 

It falls in to the category, "I wish I was making this up."

When Congress returns to finish this session on December 9, it will be the last opportunity to pass a Farm Bill, an effort almost ignored by the Press yet perhaps the most apt symbol of a dysfunctional Washington.

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The Cost of Free Speech? Five Grand if Lamborn Has His Way

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Talk's not cheap. Not if House Republicans led by Congressman Doug Lamborn get their wish.

Make no mistake, the sole purpose of the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, introduced by Congressman Lamborn, is to make it easier for oil and gas companies to drill on public land. In fact, so easy that a permit would be automatically approved if the Department of Interior failed to act in 60 days.  All this while recent polling reflects a much different mood in the West:  only 35 percent said that more public lands should be opened to “responsible energy development.”

It's what money buys today on Capitol Hill. 

The kicker?  If you want to file a protest, you'll have to pony up $5,000.00

But the Congressman didn't stop there: his bill also directs the Department of Interior to commence commercial leasing of oil shale – a practice banned since the days of Herbert Hoover – and not to be confused with the more common shale oil. 

Oh, how the Congressman longs for the days of Hoover.  It was just so much easier then for white men, hell-bent on burning that black gold formed millions of years ago to exert their dominion over the Earth. They poisoned an unsuspecting public the old-fashioned way then: with lead paint, PBB, PCB and dioxins, unencumbered by a skeptical and informed public or concerns over rapidly-depleting natural resources – or a collapsing climate. 

As our departed friend Randy Udall often said about the resource:

“there is three times more energy in a ton of Captain Crunch than there is in a ton of oil shale."

Political fortunes built on the back of oil titans and snake-oil schemes. Have we learned nothing in the last 30 years?

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