Gardner, Udall vie for political credit during EPA Clean Power hearings

DENVER — There was a serious messaging battle this week in the Colorado Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner. While the Environmental Protection Agency listened to hundreds of westerners’ testimony on the agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030,  the campaigns and their supporters waged a digital battle about which candidate was turning their back on Colorado more.

An early strike from the Gardner campaign accused Udall of supporting the EPA’s government overreach after the senator was quoted saying that the rules were a “good start” towards tackling larger issues of global climate change.

“Senator Udall should reconsider his decision to privilege unelected federal bureaucrats over the people of Colorado,” Gardner is quoted saying in that release.

The Udall campaign was quick to respond with a lengthy press release detailing their candidate’s strong support of Colorado’s energy policy — a blend of renewables and natural gas in addition to coal which experts have said puts the state in a strong position to comply with the EPA’s new rules.

“From wind, solar, and other renewables, to the responsible development of clean burning natural gas, Colorado is leading the nation in creating an energy portfolio that drives our economy, creates good-paying jobs, and makes our country more secure,” Udall is quoted saying in that release, which goes on to note his advocacy of policies like a tax credit that created and protected thousands of Colorado wind-energy jobs. 

From there the two teams transitioned into a Koch-Steyer proxy battle by first accusing each other of being funded by either oil and gas’s Koch brothers, net worth est. $40.5 billion each, or hedge fund manager and environmentalist Tom Steyer, new worth est. $1.6 billion.

Gardner promised to “oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue,” by signing an Americans for Prosperity energy pledge, a Udall campaign release points out, adding that AFP is funded by the Koch brothers.

Not to be outdone by accusations of wealthy donors, the Gardner campaign rejoined with a litany of Udall’s green money from Sierra Club donations to big ad buys from the League of Conservation Voters. Udall, the Gardner release emphasizes, has received the second largest contribution from environmentalists in Congress, around $200,000.

After that the proxy battle began in ernest. AFP held a rally touting several hundred coal miners and industry supporters opposing the rules. AFP’s Colorado State Director Dustin Zvonek testified before the EPA warning that Coloradans will hold their elected leaders in Washington accountable if they do not stand up to the out-of-control EPA.”

Gardner1 (1)Outside the EPA’s downtown Denver offices, Tom Steyer’s outfit NextGen Climate set up a kind of Gardner diorama. A life-size cutout of the congressman stands beside two decorative  smoke stacks spanned by a sign reading “Congressman Gardner and polluters want you to pay to clean up their mess.” Meanwhile the decorative smokestacks belch realistic-looking fog into the air.

In what appears to be the final pivot of this week’s sparring match, the Gardner campaign turned the conversation back to Colorado’s favorite election-cycle hot potato: fracking.

“While he opposes Colorado’s anti-energy ballot measures as “clumsy tools,” Senator Udall endorses their crippling policies and believes current regulations are just a good start,” reads the release, referring to two ballot measures currently working their way towards voters this fall.

The first initiative would create a 2,000-foot statewide industry setback from occupied structures while the other would place a “environmental bill of rights” in the Colorado constitution.

Neither Gardner nor Udall support the ballot initiatives, which are largely funded by Boulder Congressman Jared Polis. That didn’t keep Gardner’s team from pointing out that many of Udall’s larger funders, from Steyer to the Sierra Club, have serious concerns about fracking and think, at minimum, that it’s a risky procedure in need of careful regulation. But that, dear reader, is a messaging battle for another day.

[Photos of children at pro and anti EPA rule rallies by Tessa Cheek. Cory Gardner installation photo via NextGen.]