Kennedy: Stalemate over Colorado’s air quality is unacceptable

Sean Kennedy

Finding common ground in arguments can be difficult, especially when money or politics are involved, and oftentimes we can find ourselves stubbornly clinging to the views we entered the debate with. However, if you knew that someone else would lose their job if you failed to come to an accord in a disagreement, would you be more willing to compromise?

With the jobs of 95 state workers on the line, Colorado lawmakers don’t be appear to be.

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According to the Denver Post, Colorado legislators on the Joint Budget Committee approved a bill that would shut down our state’s air quality division.  Reportedly, Republicans on the committee objected to the state’s work on the new environmental regulations and pollution standards proposed in President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  While this is an understandable division in ideology, it does not excuse the absolute bullish extreme to which this contrast is being taken.

Per the report, Democrats on the committee blocked a Republican proposal to cut the department’s budget by $212,000, which is the amount of money necessary to work on the environmental regulations. Republicans, in turn, voted a Democratic proposal to fully fund the department’s $8.5 million budget. Both sound like reasonable moves, until one considers that if an agreement is not made, then the department will receive no funding whatsoever and be forced to shut down.

The level of immaturity being displayed by these lawmakers in this situation is disgusting, and something I would expect more out of do-nothing senators in Washington than officials in our own state. Stubborn politicians are nothing new, but the reason this behavior is so egregious in this case is because the refusal to compromise as it stands will have hugely negative impacts around Colorado, even in state government. 

For one, the state of Colorado will not actually save any money if lawmakers continue to refuse to settle funding for air quality regulation. Per the Denver Post, the $8.5 million in funding that the department currently receives is not funded by taxpayers, and will literally sit in an account untouched if not allocated. In other words, the state of Colorado stands to sit on $8.5 million and leave the 95 employees of the Department of Public Health and Environment out of work because the six  state lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee couldn’t do the jobs they are paid to do and come to a compromise. Why should 95 people suffer because six others couldn’t perform their jobs effectively?

In their report, the Post seemed to shed most of the blame on the Republicans on the committee, but I believe the Democratic lawmakers should hold equal responsibility for the consequences of this current impasse. If there’s one clear, bipartisan fact in this matter, it’s that Colorado needs an air quality division. Air is a resource shared by everyone, and while our state’s environment might not fall into immediate disrepair without regulation by the state, to even run the risk of doing so is ridiculously irresponsible and risks federal legal action, as the EPA will intervene in states with inadequate air quality control to enforce Clean Air Act standards. I firmly support greater environmental protections as a voter, but I also recognize that having unimproved air quality regulation is better than having no air quality regulation at all. Concessions may have to be made in order to keep these important protections intact.

That being said, the Republicans involved in this situation should not be taking their disagreement with air quality regulations this far when concern for the environment is a sentiment shared by a majority of voters. According to Gallup, over 60 percent of Americans now have “fair” or “great” concern about the impacts of global warming. While public polls are not always the most consistent, it should be noted that Gallup’s measure of public concern for climate change has not dropped below 50 percent since before 1990.

Global warming is believed to be a credible threat by the public, and to oppose these higher standards for air quality and pollution is to oppose the will of voters and the evolution of public opinion. Don’t threaten other people’s jobs and important protections for our air with your fighting for a losing ideological battle. Listen to Colorado voters. Make an agreement. Do your jobs. 

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.