U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., visited with area officials Friday to hear their concerns and feedback, most notably regarding energy development.
“I need to make personal appearances so I can listen and learn from elected officials and citizens,” Udall said after an open discussion with Moffat County, Routt, Rio Blanco and Jackson County officials at the Moffat County Courthouse.
Top issues local officials discussed with the senator included energy resource development, land use and protection, and health care.
Moffat County commissioner Tom Mathers said he was pleased Udall took time to visit Northwest Colorado.
“It means a lot that they take the time to come to Moffat County instead of like so many others that go to Steamboat,” Mathers said.
Mathers, however, said he hopes feedback from the county officials to the senator “doesn’t fall on deaf ears.”
“Hopefully some of the things we talked to him about will make a difference,” he said.
Mathers started the biggest discussion item of the meeting — coal.
“We are basically a community of coal miners,” he said.
Mathers referenced the recent passing of House Bill 10-1365, which he said will cost Moffat County jobs.
“What are we going to do with our coal miners?” Mathers asked. “We can’t retrain them. What job are we going to retrain them for? Who is going to make their house payment and keep their family alive while they’re going to school to be retrained?
“This looks to me to be a stepping stone for the rest of the nation.”
Tom Gray seconded Mathers’ thoughts on the subject.
“Natural resources, whether it be coal or natural gas or oil, are where our primary jobs are in this community and everything feeds off of that,” he said.
Gray also raised the issue of running vehicles on natural gas and said he didn’t understand why the idea hadn’t been brought up on the national or state levels.
The issue of pending Environmental Protection Agency regulations also was discussed and how those regulations affect the ability of coal mines to secure long-term contracts with power plants.
“I’ve been an advocate, contrary to what some may say about me, of investing in all of our fuels,” Udall said during the discussion. “Coal, oil and gas, nuclear, renewables … the answer isn’t in one of those areas — it’s in all of them.”
Jackson County commissioner John Rich asked about the health care reform bill and said his constituents don’t understand how it will affect them.
“In the streets of Jackson County and in the back roads, people are scared and people are worried,” Rich said.
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, brought up the recent document leaked from the Bureau of Land Management, which listed Vermillion Basin as a potential site for special management or congressional designation as a national monument.
“When it comes to top down designations, which is something that congress certainly has influence over, we really appreciate local control on those issues,” Comstock said.
The rest of the discussion panel echoed Comstock’s sentiments that they would like to see more local involvement in state and national issues.
After the discussion, Udall emphasized the importance of listening to local concerns.
“I think it is important that people know I care enough to make a trip to northwestern Colorado,” he said. “We didn’t solve any problems here today, but I heard a lot of concerns that local elected officials reflect on behalf of the citizens … that shouldn’t be underestimated.”