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Bennet, Gardner split on vote for Pruitt to lead EPA

February 17, 2017 Updated: February 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm
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In this Sept. 29, 2014 photo, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic Senator Mark Udall, speaks at a political rally at Heritage High School, in Littleton, Colo. Democrats defending their Senate majority this year are increasingly relying on an issue once seen as a wash with voters: reproductive rights. Udall has made it a centerpiece of his campaign to stave off a strong challenge from Gardner. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado's two senators voted with their parties on the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator Friday. The Oklahoma attorney general who has gone to war with the EPA over climate change issues was confirmed, 52-46.

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, argued Pruitt is averse to what Coloradans believe on climate change and renewable energy. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner from Yuma said it's time to shake up the EPA.

Gardner hammered the way President Obama's EPA has handled the Gold King Mine spill in southwest Colorado in 2015.

"This is a river in Colorado, enjoyed by thousands of people each and every summer," Gardner said of the Animas River. "This is a picture of that same river under the Obama EPA. This was caused when 800,000 pounds of mineral, of lead, of waste, excuse me not lead, but of other waste going into the river, because of a mishandled EPA project. This wasn't Scott Pruitt. This wasn't Donald Trump. This was the Obama EPA that did this, and I only wish that my colleagues who have come to the floor for the past several hours had shown similar outrage when the Obama EPA did this to Colorado, inflicted this kind of damage on people in Southwestern Colorado in the Gold King Mine spill.

"You want to talk about protecting states? Why didn't we stand up and protect this river?"

Bennet took the Democratic view in opposition to Pruitt when he spoke Thursday evening.

He pointed out that Pruitt has been a leading doubter on whether man-made climate change is real. Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but Pruitt said last month he does not believe it's a hoax.

"How we address it is what we need to debate," Bennet said. "Not whether it is real."

Bennet said Coloradans believe in a healthy economy powered by renewable sources of energy.

"For the sake of our climate and for good-paying American jobs all over this country but particularly in Colorado I am compelled to vote no on the president's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency," he said.

Jessica Goad, a spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization, said the organization was disappointed in Gardner's vote, and noted the junior senator was supported each of Trump's nominees before the Senate so far.

"Scott Pruitt is an incredibly reckless choice to lead the agency that is tasked with protecting our air, water, and public health. Goad said. "Not only does Mr. Pruitt deny the science of climate change, but he has sued the EPA more than a dozen times. It's a classic, textbook example of the fox guarding the hen house."

State Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville, the point man for the caucus on environmental issues. He said he was disappointed in Gardner, too.

"Scott Pruitt has not demonstrated he will support Colorado's values as EPA administrator," Jones said. "This just shows that in Colorado, we must go our own way to advocate for policies to protect our clean air, water, and public lands, and not follow the lead of Washington, D.C."

Gardner painted a grim picture of Obama's EPA by talking about the Gold King spill's effect on southwest Colorado tourism.

"Status quo at the EPA is not acceptable because broken promises, that's the status quo," he said. "I've had earnest conversations with Mr. Pruitt over the past several weeks about my sincere disappointment about those broken promises, and what we had to go through in Colorado, and what businesses had to go through in Colorado, as a result of the EPA spill. And you can imagine, in an area that is reliant on tourism, what photographs of this and headlines across the country and nightly news stories can do to a tourism-based economy.

"Those kayakers we saw - show the other chart. Those kayakers that we saw in this chart, they had to shut the river down. Outfitters weren't allowed to be on the river. Dollars lost because guides couldn't get out there. Books and trips had already been paid for had to be canceled. People didn't go because of the EPA's spill. Their refusal to pay - the EPA's refusal to pay for lost property, lost economic opportunity, and lost business opportunity - is simply unacceptable, and the earnest conversations that I have had with Scott Pruitt, he has promised to make it right. He has promised to stand up for the people in Colorado. He has promised that he will make amends and pay for the damages that the Obama Administration refused to pay for."

Gardner said Pruitt would make the Gold King mine problems right.

"He agreed to come to Colorado shortly after his confirmation to make sure that the people of Colorado know that he will fulfill the promises that were failed under the Obama Administration."

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