Thu November 15, 2012

A New Brand of Politics in Northern Colorado

The re-election of Rep. Cory Gardner and the victory of Rep. Jared Polis in a newly drawn district that now includes Northern Colorado promises to bring the region closer in some ways -- and further apart in others.

KUNC's Erin O'Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report.

Jeff Nuttall discusses northern Colorado's new brand of politics.

Erin O’Toole: What will the redrawn districts mean for Northern Colorado?

Jeff Nuttall: Well, as we know Polis is a Democrat, and Gardner is Republican, so it’s no surprise they may be at odds on some key issues important to Northern Colorado, including water projects and oil and gas development.

O’Toole: Northern Colorado hasn’t escaped the partisanship that has deeply divided the country. Will having Polis represent Larimer County while Gardner represents Weld County help heal divisions? Or will that just mean even more political conflict in the region?

Nuttall: The simple answer is yes, in some cases. Polis and Gardner seem to differ most sharply on the controversy over hydraulic fracturing near urban areas.

O’Toole: What are their positions on oil and gas?

Nuttall: Gardner has generally expressed a more favorable attitude toward the oil industry than Polis. Gardner believes the federal government should take care not to over-regulate drilling.

By contrast, Polis once introduced an amendment to extend buffer zones between hydraulic fracturing activity and schools to 1,000 feet -- nearly three times the distance of current setbacks. He also believes cities should be able to decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing.

O’Toole: Setting aside their differences -- what do the congressmen agree on?

Nuttall: Polis said they agree about the importance of extending a wind production tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year. As you know, Vestas, the Danish wind turbine maker that runs factories in Brighton and Windsor, has cut jobs in both congressional districts partly due to congressional inaction on renewing the incentive this year.

Congress so far has declined to renew the credit.

O’Toole: Water is another big issue in Northern Colorado. What do the congressmen think?

Nuttall: Actually, their opinions vary on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to more than a dozen Northern Colorado cities, towns and water districts by building two new reservoirs.

An acre-foot, by the way, is the amount of water required by about four typical suburban families for a year.

O’Toole: That’s quite a lot of water. What are their thoughts on that particular water-storage project?

Nuttall: Basically, Polis has remained largely silent on the matter. He believes the project would benefit Weld County as well as some areas he represents. But he also believes the proposal deserves a close analysis by the federal government based on concerns about water quality and the environment.

Gardner, on the other hand, has supported the project at every turn, attending rallies and promoting it on social media. He believes it has important consequences for Northern Colorado’s agricultural industry.

Polis told us he doesn’t intend to attend rallies [either] in support or opposition of the project.

O’Toole: Where have the congressmen made progress?

Nuttall: The good news is that they have both voted in favor of providing funding to Larimer County for High Park Fire restoration efforts.

O’Toole: That’s good to hear. How might they collaborate on transportation?

Nuttall: The congressmen have expressed frustration about a major transportation bill that was criticized for covering just two years in funding. They also sharper thinking is needed to address future transportation needs. But that measure is mired in a broader partisan battle over spending, so don’t hold your breath for progress anytime soon.

O’Toole: It could be a while! So Jeff, how would you sum up the political atmosphere in Northern Colorado following the election?

Nuttall: As Polis himself put it, Larimer and Weld counties’ interests align most of the time, and when they diverge, Rep. Gardner will be on one side and Polis will be on the other.

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