U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., speaks to Moffat County residents Thursday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion. Salazar came to speak about the 2008 Farm Bill and answered questions ranging from energy policy to immigration.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., speaks to Moffat County residents Thursday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion. Salazar came to speak about the 2008 Farm Bill and answered questions ranging from energy policy to immigration.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar makes Craig visit

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Salazar: Renewables will not affect local jobs

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said no part of Colorado is out of the way for him.

"I'm here in Craig in large part because I want everyone in Colorado to know that I represent them," he said.

The 2008 Farm Bill, which the senator helped write and is touring the state to promote, includes several provisions to encourage renewable energy development.

Moffat County residents should not be concerned that encouraging renewable resource development will in any way dampen the viability of local energy markets, such as coal and natural gas, Salazar said.

"Coal has a great future," he said. "Coal is to us what oil is to Saudi Arabia."

Although the economy likely is the most important challenge facing Colorado and the nation - with rising costs for food, health care and gas - the senator said no one has a quick fix.

"There are some cornerstones to the economy that are suffering, such as housing, which is a problem we need to address soon," Salazar said. "With gas costs, we don't have a short-term answer to that because we've been working with failed energy policies for 30 years."

The highest experts in the federal government do not know where oil prices will go, Salazar said, adding they couldn't say if prices would go up to $200 or drop to $60.

There are several factors in high oil prices, he added, including the growing Asian market, speculative trading and a weak dollar.

One thing the senator said several times is that America will need to develop all energy sources to get out of the shadow of foreign oil producers.

The country and consumers could benefit from cheap nuclear energy, he said.

"France gets 80 percent of their domestic energy from nuclear power," he said. "We ought to not shut the door on nuclear energy here."

— Colorado and the nation face difficult challenges, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar said.

He added that Northwest Colorado could be a valuable part in addressing those issues.

Dressed in his requisite cowboy hat and blue jeans, Salazar gave a short presentation at the Moffat County Fairgrounds on Thursday before taking audience questions.

"I want to come to Craig to simply say we should be celebrating the freedoms of America," Salazar said to the crowd.

Food security and energy security, the senator said, are freedoms that the recently passed 2008 Farm Bill addresses.

"We have our necks in the noose of (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and countries like Venezuela. We enjoy a great independence in food. It's been because we have such great farmers and ranchers in America."

So, Salazar said, the 2008 Farm Bill makes it easier for farmers and ranchers to access disaster money so their industry is safer from catastrophic fallout, encourages renewable resource development and dedicates $300 million to rural communities.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said getting disaster money to agriculture producers should be a top priority.

"We have over 70 farmers here still waiting on crop disaster money, and it's a year late," he said. "And it's all because these (U.S. Department of Agriculture) offices are understaffed."

Salazar said before this year's Farm Bill passed, it would take an act of Congress to allocate disaster relief money. The bill simplifies that by establishing a $4 billion USDA trust fund agriculture producers can access right away once the president declares a disaster.

The afternoon forum didn't focus only on agriculture, however.

Residents questioned Salazar's and the Democratic Party's stance toward domestic energy development.

Dean Gent, 76, asked why liberal politicians would work against energy companies when they are the only ones in a position to help the country achieve energy independence.

"Who do you think is going to make this country energy-independent?" he said. "Who has that capital? It's the oil companies."

Salazar said that is absolutely true, but promoting renewable resources is not the same as working against energy companies.

"To say it's either an 'A' or 'B' choice is a false choice," he said. "We need oil and gas drilling on-shore and off-shore."

The senator added he supported 800 miles on the Gulf of Mexico coast to drilling and supported a plan to drill in the Roan Plateau in phases.

"I feel we need to go there and see what's available," Salazar said. "I support our coal industry. I think we need it all."

Salazar added he wants the federal government and private industry to make cheap, accessible energy a top priority.

America has made the seemingly impossible happen before, he said.

After launching the Manhattan Project, the country had an atomic bomb in four years.

America landed a man on the moon 10 years after President John Kennedy declared we would before the Soviet Union, Salazar said.

"It's going to take all we have," he said, "but we can do it."

Lynne Herring, who runs Colorado West Bottled Water & Ice, said America will never be independent from foreign oil as long as the environmentalists control the discussion.

"The big point here is we will never be energy independent as long as the (Environmental Protection Agency) controls this country," she said. "I love my environment. I want my environment clean for my grandchildren.

"But I don't want my grandchildren growing up in a teepee because we're the only country in the world that won't drill in our own country for oil."

Salazar said the federal government has leased 66 million acres of public land to energy companies, but only 20 percent of it is being developed.

There are about 5,000 oil and gas wells in Northwest Colorado, and there are projected to be about 60,000 wells by 2015, he added.

"We're doing a lot already as it is," Salazar said, adding that people who say the country is not developing its own resources are "flat wrong."

Commissioner Tom Gray said that although Salazar's numbers are correct, it's not a completely accurate picture.

The government "won't let them drill in the high-potential areas, where we know there is natural gas and other resources," Gray said, citing Vermillion Basin as an example.

"That's why companies aren't developing all the land they have leased."

Salazar said it is in the country's best interest to pay attention to renewable resources and continue to develop domestic fossil fuels responsibly.

"I think our reliance on fossil fuels for the long-term is essentially what put our necks in the noose of OPEC powers in the world and countries like Venezuela. If we simply continue the way we got here, with both Republican and Democrat presidents, we're going to end up exactly where we are today.

"The road to nowhere."

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