“Standing alongside Clear Creek...Senator Michael Bennet delivered his pitch for $60 billion in new spending to protect the state’s forests and watersheds against recurring fires and their widespread impact”
Denver – On Saturday, the New York Times highlighted Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s “Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act” (ORPA) Tour through Colorado communities to push for the passage of his legislation to invest $60 billion in forests and watersheds in the Build Back Better Budget.
Bennet’s legislation has broad, bipartisan support in Colorado and will boost local economies by investing $60 billion in forests and watersheds across the Mountain West to reduce wildfire risk. Leaders from water, agriculture, state, local, and federal government agencies, and the business community joined Bennet for the tour, stressed the need for funding, and highlighted ORPA’s support for locally-led efforts to restore forests, protect water supplies, and build climate resilience.
The full article is available HERE. Excerpts are below.
New York Times: Democrats Hit the Road to Sell Big Spending Bills as Republicans Attack
Lawmakers seek to win the backing of voters by emphasizing the tangible benefits of sweeping legislation that Congress will consider in the coming weeks.
LAWSON, Colo. — Standing alongside Clear Creek, a popular white-water rafting destination in this gateway to the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, Senator Michael Bennet delivered his pitch for $60 billion in new spending to protect the state’s forests and watersheds against recurring fires and their widespread impact.
“It sounds like a lot of money,” conceded Mr. Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, as a group of officials and business leaders nodded in agreement. “But it is what we spend in five years fighting forest fires.”
While $60 billion is indeed a big price tag, $3.5 trillion is much bigger. That is the total cost of the budget blueprint Democrats muscled through the Senate and House last month, and hope to transform into a bill President Biden can sign in the coming weeks as they fight off Republican attacks on the size and scope of the measure — and some sticker shock on their own side as well.
Calculating that voters might be more receptive if they understand the tangible benefits of the emerging measure, Democrats have embarked on an elaborate nationwide sales pitch for the expansive budget plan and a related $1 trillion bipartisan public works measure to win over their constituents and others around the nation.
In Mr. Bennet’s case, he is emphasizing the local benefits of the hulking bill. In particular, it calls for the Senate Agriculture Committee to allocate $135 billion for an array of federal efforts, including “forestry programs to help reduce carbon emissions and prevent wildfires.”
While Colorado has so far been spared a wildfire crisis this summer, last year was a disaster, with extensive losses both in destroyed homes and overall economic damage. This year, disruptive mudslides from the scars of the multiple fires and runoff in burned areas has turned segments of the Colorado River and other waterways black.
And though Colorado might not be experiencing many fires this summer, the smoke from blazes elsewhere in the West has obscured the mountain views that draw many to Colorado in the first place, leaving Denver with some of the worst air quality in the world at times.
Mr. Bennet, who is up for re-election next year, said that the $60 billion that was currently spent on firefighting covered only direct costs and did not include other aspects, such as the lost tourism and the effects of air pollution. He said understaffed and chronically underfunded agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service needed an infusion of money to take steps to lower the threat of fires, rather than just battle them as they occur.
“Our entire state is affected by the lack of federal investment in our forests,” he told his Clear Creek audience.
Local officials said that they recognized the magnitude of the spending bill but that the needs were huge, particularly considering the losses experienced with devastating fires, closed parks and disruptions like the mudslides that closed Interstate 70, the state’s main east-west highway, for parts of the summer.
“The scale of the problem has become enormous,” said Randall Wheelock, the chairman of the Clear Creek County Board of Commissioners, who said “billions and billions of dollars” of real estate was at risk from fires and climate change, along with the health of the state’s waterways and economy.
“It is a big one,” he said of the cost, “but we have spent that kind of money before on things we care about.”
Mr. Bennet also took his appeal to a more conservative part of the state in sprawling Grand County, straddling the Continental Divide. He met with ranchers experimenting with ways to better protect the suffering Colorado River, which is vital to local agriculture, and to more efficiently irrigate their pastures. The ranchers, while leery of Mr. Bennet’s political affiliation, welcomed his interest in the river.
If Democrats can demonstrate the concrete benefits of the budget plan to people like them, Mr. Bennet said, it could help them make inroads with conservatives.
“Every single rancher downstream from these places will benefit from this,” he said as he stood in a sunny hayfield along the Colorado River just outside the town of Kremmling. “They may never vote for Joe Biden, but I do think it gives Joe Biden the opportunity to come to these communities and say, ‘You were not invisible to me.’”
As for the overall cost, Mr. Bennet does not believe that is an insurmountable obstacle for voters who see major needs in their communities.
“I think the normal person is a lot more interested in what the money is being spent on,” he said. “We’ve had 20 years of two wars in the Middle East that cost $5.6 trillion. We have since 2001 cut taxes for the richest people in the country by almost $5 trillion. Now, finally, we are investing in the American people.”