Former Vice President Joe Biden has a strong chance of becoming our next U.S. president. Many people who, like me, are disaffected by Donald Trump’s leadership style and ego are eager for an alternative and are specifically looking to Biden to fill this role.
There is a fear that Biden may lose several key swing states, which in recent years have benefited from an energy renaissance – including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado – if he abandons his moderate and well-thought-out approach to energy issues. While it is tempting to try to attract the left wing of the Democratic Party (or to simply appear as different from Trump as he can) by moving to the left on the issue, it is an urge he must resist. Biden can’t get elected on the backs of Democrats alone – he must attract the support of independents and unhappy Republicans as well – and that requires a pragmatic approach to energy policy.
Extremists within the party are eager to see him move to embrace the Green New Deal. Sure enough, Biden recently released an ambitious energy and infrastructure plan that indeed features many of the tenets of the Green New Deal; and in Sen. Kamala Harris he has selected a running mate who previously introduced legislation to enact such a program.
While some of the goals are laudable – fighting climate change, working toward a carbon-free future, etc. – many are simply unattainable, at least in the near term. Others are only attainable by doing serious harm to Colorado’s working families. The hard reality that Democrats need to absorb if they are to win back places in the state lost to Trump in 2016 (and make up ground in rural parts of the country like Colorado’s Western Slope) is that unrealistic dreams, however worthy their intentions, cannot take the place of real policy decisions.
Colorado, for example, remains economically tied in great measure to oil and gas exploration and development. In places like Western Colorado, “all of the above” is not just the empty political slogan some have taken it as but reflects the reality of life and energy consumption. Coloradans have made great strides in the development of renewable energy resources, but that has come in conjunction with, not as a rash replacement of, more traditional energy resources.
Implementing the Green New Deal policies that Biden is flirting with – such as ending natural gas production on federal lands – would have a devastating impact on the economy of Colorado, especially rural Colorado. Our state holds the nation’s sixth-largest reserve of natural gas and accounts for more than 7% of national production. The oil and gas industry directly and indirectly supports nearly 90,000 jobs in the state – many, again, in rural areas – and added more than $13 billion to Colorado’s GDP in 2017.
In Colorado and elsewhere, the industry’s contributions to the local tax base generate the revenue needed to fund schools, fire protection, water infrastructure and many other public services that would require an alternative funding source in an economic environment that is short on funding options. Shutting down this industry is not only unrealistic, the consequences in human terms would be significant. A more feasible approach would be to support the development of both renewable and nonrenewable energy development that is conducted in a manner that is least harmful to the environment.
Colorado voters’ attitudes based on recent polling support this position. A Morning Consult poll found that “a majority of Colorado voters, including half of independents, would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports access to oil and gas produced in the U.S.” Additionally, 94% of Colorado voters urged Congress to pursue policies that reduce America’s reliance on foreign energy sources.
Wholesale elimination of natural gas production would not help the environment. A bridge fuel to a carbon free future, natural gas and its use has been cited by the EPA as a primary reason for the decline in nationwide production of greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2018. Colorado has done a remarkable job in ensuring its production is properly regulated, allowing it to continue to provide that vital link to the future. The myopic focus of the Green New Deal would sever this link and ironically set back the goal of widespread adoption of renewables.
Moving too far to the left on energy policy would threaten many of the things Coloradans, including Democrats and independents, have long cared about: good-paying jobs, revenue for strong public services, affordable energy, an end to reliance on global energy sources and a thoughtful transition to renewable energy. By embracing unrealistic policies that would undermine these tenets, Biden risks alienating the very people and groups he needs to get elected this November.
Kathleen Curry is the former speaker pro tem of the Colorado House of Representatives, and former chairwoman of the House Agricultural Committee. She served as state representative for House District 61 from 2004-2010.