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'Colorado Has A Large Role To Play': Rep. Joe Neguse On Protecting And Conserving Our Public Lands

A view of Rocky Mountain National Park from Trail Ridge Road at sunrise.
Andrew Russell
CC BY 2.0
A view of Rocky Mountain National Park from Trail Ridge Road at sunrise. The federal public lands are located in Colorado's second congressional district.

On Monday, the Senate passed a $1.9 trillion bill to provide financial relief to Americans impacted by the pandemic. The bill is now headed back to the U.S. House of Representatives for a final vote, which is expected Wednesday.

One of the bill’s proponents is Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s second congressional district. You may remember him as one of the house impeachment managers who received recognition and praise for his presentation during the trial of former President Donald Trump. He was recently elected as chair of a subcommittee where he plans to legislation to protect the environment and public lands.

Rep. Neguse spoke with Colorado Edition about some of his legislative priorities for the coming year.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.
Franmarie Metzler / U.S. House Office of Photography
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

Interview Highlights:
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O’Toole: I’d like to start with your election last month as chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. You're the first Coloradan and the first African American to hold this position since it formed more than 200 years ago. What you would like to accomplish in this role and what do you hope to bring to the position?

Rep. Joe Neguse: I'm very excited about serving in this capacity in the 117th Congress. I'm grateful to my colleagues for selecting me to serve as the chair of the Public Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is a critically important committee and in particular, very relevant to the issues that face our communities in Colorado. As you know, Colorado is home to very diverse, rich ecosystems and treasured public lands. About 36% of our state is public land and over 50% of my congressional district is federal public land.

So, Colorado has a large role to play when it comes to the discussions around protecting and conserving our public lands and protecting our environment. And I'm very excited to get to work as the chair of this subcommittee in that regard. To bring the Colorado voice to some of these issues, to do what we can to lead on issues like wildfire resiliency and mitigation adaptation, particularly after the terrible wildfire season that our state experienced last year.

In February, you held a virtual wildfire summit with scientists, firefighters, emergency managers and others. What were some of the big takeaways from that? And how will that shape your work in Congress over the next year or two?

Well, I'm grateful to the almost 1,000 constituents and stakeholders who joined us for that wildfire summit, really the first of its kind. Bringing together Gov. Polis, both of our United States senators, Sen. Bennett, Sen. Hickenlooper, forest management officials, local law enforcement officials, various stakeholders, scientists, all of whom have a vested interest in making sure that we do everything we can to beat back the terrible wildfire seasons that grow longer and longer with every passing year. And we heard a lot of really interesting and informative, meaningful feedback that will help shape some of the policy prescriptions that we pursue here in Washington.

And you are also reintroducing legislation to form a 21st century Conservation Corps. For people who aren't yet familiar, can you explain what this idea is about and how it’s intended to help support jobs as well as the environment?

The 21st century Civil Conservation Corps, in my view, is a bold, comprehensive plan that would address the confluence of multiple crises that we're facing as a country. One, of course, is the reality of the economic disruption that our country continues to experience as a result of COVID-19 with an unemployment rate that at one point was in double digits.

And then also the challenge, the crisis of climate change, which I believe is the existential threat of our time. And what our proposal does is attempt to address both of these crises simultaneously by investing $9 billion in a 21st century Conservation Corps — reimagining the Civil Conservation Corps of the 1930s, which was wildly popular and incredibly successful when implemented by President Roosevelt as part of his New Deal.

I'd like to talk to you about another of your priorities, that is helping Colorado recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Can you talk about some of the bills that you're proposing?

The biggest by far is the American Rescue Plan. President Biden's American Rescue Plan will save lives, it will save livelihoods. It will help us put more vaccines in arms and meet the president's ambitious goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration by scaling up dollars in vaccine distribution. It will help put children safely back in school. The bill puts money in people's pockets again. That significant economic disruption that folks across Colorado have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic warrants the action and attention of federal lawmakers. And we are responding.

Despite the fact that polling showed most Americans supported this bill, no Republican senators voted in favor of it. I’m wondering what that says to you about divisiveness in Congress — and do you expect that most of President Biden's legislation will only receive support from Democratic lawmakers?

I certainly hope not. I was disappointed that so many Republicans chose not to support this bill when it is so broadly supported by the American public. Some empirical studies suggest that up to 70% of Americans, including many Republicans, support President Biden's American Rescue Plan. So, the fact that so many of them would choose not to negotiate in good faith and instead simply vote “no” on such an important proposal was disappointing. But that being said, we're going to move forward with respect to this plan, and then we will turn to the other pressing issues that face our country. And I will always work in good faith with anybody who's willing to have a conversation about trying to solve some of these problems.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you one question about the recent impeachment trial of the former president in which you served as an impeachment manager. Now that that is behind us, I'm wondering what was the most surprising thing to happen that you learned, or the most interesting or shocking reaction that you received.

Obviously, I was honored to be selected by the speaker to serve as a manager in the Senate trial, to vindicate our Constitution and defend our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. To the extent there were any surprising moments or perhaps moments that stood out for me, it would be that ultimately the end of the day, I think a significant majority of the United States Senate reached the same conclusion that we did there, with respect to the president's conduct. And I think that was evidenced by both the 57 senators who voted to convict, as well as the statements made by several other senators in regards to the ultimate outcome.

Well, after that trial, your name recognition skyrocketed. Many news publications now regard you as a “next generation star.” And all of that is to ask what is next for Joe Neguse, promising Democrat on the rise? Can we expect you to run for Senate or perhaps a higher office in the future?

[Laughs] I am singularly focused on representing the people of my district, and it's a great honor for me to be able to have the privilege to represent and serve the people of Boulder and Fort Collins and Broomfield and our central mountain communities. So that's where my focus is — and on the very busy legislative agenda that we have charted out for our office and for our constituent representatives.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for March 9. You can find the full episode here.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.