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State Sen. Don Coram often crosses the aisle to work with Democrats but he calls the state’s climate goals asinine and unachievable

by Allen Best

With a strong majority in both chambers, Democratic legislators in the last three years have passed energy and climate legislation that has gained national attention. But what if they lose that majority in one or more chambers?

In other words, what would the Republican response in Colorado be to the fast-rising mounds of evidence that climate change must be reckoned with—soon. The latest alarm was sounded by 240 medical, nursing, and public-health journals from around the world that collectively called for urgent action for the sake of public health.

Don Coram

State Sen. Don Coram

State Sen. Don Coram has a reputation as a moderate Republican, capable of working across the aisle. He calls himself a free-thinker. “I don’t know how the hell to describe me,” he says. “I just try to do what is right.”

“Centrist Republicans and centrist Democrats aren’t that far apart,” he says, but there is a difference. “Democrats seem to fall in line better and take instruction from leadership. I wouldn’t have been a very good soldier.”

But what should the Republican response to climate change be? How would it be different from that of the Democratic majority?

In a half-hour interview after an Aug. 4 interim legislative committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol, Coram was asked that question several times. He never answered except in the broadest terms.

“I think we could move forward on a long-term plan, but this is a marathon and we are treating it like a sprint.”

Coram brings up many of the sore points of those resisting the rapid transition of energy systems. He cites American dependence on unpredictable Chinese supply lines, electrical car policies he believes are impractical, and an overstatement about the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural production has actually increased because of emissions, he points out, as the optimal carbon dioxide concentration for plants is 400 parts per million. (It is now at about 420 ppm).

On several occasions, though, Coram has teamed up with one of the General Assembly’s most enthusiastic proponents of an energy transition, Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver. “He’s a great guy,” says Coram of Hansen.

Coram and Hansen teamed up as prime sponsors of SB21-072, which created the Colorado electric transmission authority. In the House, the prime sponsors were Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican from Montrose, and Rep. Alex Valdez, a Democrat from Denver. Among the bill’s strong supporters was Delta-Montrose Electric Association.

Chris Hansen at Botanic Gardens

State Sen. Chris Hansen makes remarks in June prior to signing of SB21-264, a transmission bill.

Hansen says the key to gaining the support of the Western Slope legislators was the prospect of local economic development and the need of Delta-Montrose Electric for improved transmission access without being reliant upon its former wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

“That was a very important piece that I heard from both of them,” says Hansen. “They wanted to support their local coops and their local coops badly needed transmission access.”

On another bill, SB21-264, which seeks to curtail emissions from natural gas, Coram started out as a sponsor but ended up voting against the bill in a Senate committee and then on the Senate floor. The so-called clean-heat law focused on a provision to recover methane such as from dairies and coal mines but morphed in the legislative process with broader ambitions. As Coram saw it, the bill over-reached.

Coram says he likes working with Hansen and others in the Colorado Senate because of its collegiality. “We can disagree, but we don’t get disagreeable.”

In the Legislature, more broadly, though, he sees overreach by Democrats. He’d like more compromise, as would be necessary if one of the two chambers were controlled by Republicans.  Or, perhaps, by more people with gray hair.

Democratic legislators are remarkable for their youth and intelligence. But also, says Coram, for their utopian thinking.

“They never have been through the tough times, and they don’t understand how to adjust when it is not going your way,” he said. He describes successful ventures and failed ventures, as defined in financial terms. He thinks some of Colorado’s legislators would benefit from having failures in their pasts.

See also: How Kevin Priola became a reliable vote for climate & energy legislation in Colorado

 

Bills that had broad bipartisan support

These bills that focused on climate and energy passed the 2021 Colorado General Assembly with broad support across the aisle in both the House and the Senate:

  • HB21-1180 Measures to Increase Biomass Utilization (House 55-8 and Senate 31-4)
  • HB21-1242 Create Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office (House 46-18 and Senate 35-0)
  • HB21-1284 Limit Fee Install Active Solar Energy System (House 55-8 and Senate 25-10)
  • HB21-1286 Energy Performance for Buildings (House 41-24 and Senate 35-0)
  • HB21-1324 Promote Innovative and Clean Energy Technologies (House 61-4 and Senate 34-0)
  • SB21-272 Measures to Modernize the Public Utilities Commission (House 40-24 and Senate 28-6)
  • SB21-020 Energy Equipment and Facility Property Tax Valuation (House 42-21 and Senate 31-2)
  • SB21-072 Public Utilities Commission Modernize Electric Transmission Infrastructure (House 49-15 and Senate 34-0)

Compilation courtesy of Sen. Chris Hansen

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