Colorado’s new Public Health and Environment director still hedging on climate change science

In the end, after some false starts and rhetorical meandering, the question was simple: Do you believe that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change and therefore poses a serious health threat to humans? Al Gore and an overwhelming majority of climate scientists the world over answer a straightforward yes to that question. Most of the Republicans in Congress, however, answer no. Oil and gas climate “researchers” also answer no. Dr. Chris Urbina, the new Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment didn’t seem sure how to answer the question, or at least didn’t know how to answer state Republican senators asking him the question at his confirmation hearing Thursday.

“Lots of things contribute to air pollution,” Urbina told Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell. “Things that we produce naturally are contributing to air and water pollution. Human waste. Lots of things … all of those things contribute to that pollution … natural products [like carbon dioxide] do contribute to pollution … whether one of those products contribute more than any others, I would be happy to come back to talk about this very issue….”

Mitchell wasn’t satisfied.

“Will it be your direction in the office that carbon dioxide is a harmful agent that needs to be restricted in output?”

Urbina wasn’t confident to speak on the matter at the moment.

“I need to look more at the detail of the science. I would like to get back to you on this question.”

The carbon dioxide interrogation started with questioning from Republican Sen. Kent Lambert and ended with questions from Mitchell.

Can’t see the audio player? Click here.

Can’t see the audio player? Click here.

Urbina is not a climate scientist. He is a trained medical doctor and has earned impressive degrees and has even more impressive experience in the field of public health.

Mark Salley, spokesman at the Department of Public Health and Environment, told The Colorado Independent that in the short time he has been working with the new director, the two have not had the time to discuss climate change science. Four hours later, neither Salley nor Urbina has called to answer Mitchell’s yes or no question, this time asked by The Colorado Independent.

Americans are used to seeing politicians back each other down on this issue. They’re not used to seeing professionals back down on this issue or cast about for answers when their work lives are based not on public posturing and rhetorical flourishes but on science.

From the governor’s website announcing Urbina’s appointment to the Department:

Urbina earlier worked in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of New Mexico, holding positions of Associate Chair and Associate Professor. He also worked for the New Mexico Health and Environment Department as a district health officer.

Urbina continues to teach in introductory public health courses at the Colorado School of Public Health and at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He is the current president of the Colorado Public Health Association and serves as a board member for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Denver Metro, the Denver Foundation and at Clinica Tepeyac, in addition to being involved in numerous other local health organizations.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and a medical degree from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He completed a family practice residency at the University of New Mexico and earned a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Urbina is board certified in Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine.

Hat tip to Colorado Pols for the audio.

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