Cory Gardner, Colorado’s brand-new Republican U.S. senator, has had a charmed career. The “cherubic” legislator from the Centennial state’s eastern plains rose in about nine years from obscurity to one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
He got there because he’s likable, because he had the good fortune of running against an incumbent U.S. senator who ran a less-than-stellar re-election campaign, and because he promised Coloradans that he would be a different sort of Republican – one more attuned to the changing priorities of a politically moderate Western state than are many of his GOP colleagues in Washington and elsewhere.
This week, as the Senate debated a bill to green-light the controversial KXL oil pipeline, Gardner had the chance to prove that his words were sincere. He failed to do that and, in the process, reinforced fears that he will give more priority to the desires of fossil fuel interests than to the imperative of a cogent national response to anthropogenic climate change.
Gardner had four chances to acknowledge, with his vote and, maybe, with his voice, that humans are causing Earth’s climate to change. When he had the opportunity to vote for amendments to S.1, the KXL pipeline bill, offered by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Brian Schatz, D-Haw., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that forthrightly recognized that indisputable fact, Gardner blew it. In each case he voted “no.”
To be fair, few of his GOP colleagues voted any differently and, during his campaign last year, Gardner never took a clear stand on climate change. Nevertheless, the senator represents a state that stands to be severely impacted by climate change, with a serious potential of lower winter snow pack, earlier snow melt that reduces summer flows in the state’s rivers and streams and the volume of water in its reservoirs, and increasing drought on the senator’s native Great Plains. Colorado is a state that depends heavily on tourism, as people from all over the world travel to its mountains to ski, snowboard, and otherwise revel in the wintry white, and its burgeoning high technology sector draws talented employees who value the state’s equable climate and four-season playground far more than they do the parochial desires of oil company executives for increased profits at the expense of a warmed planet.
Environmental policy is central to Colorado’s economy, quality of life, and culture. Gardner’s votes this week indicate a surprising willingness to overlook that reality. It is difficult to believe that Gardner is not familiar with the clear scientific consensus that climate change currently causing rapid and dramatic change all over the planet is anthropogenic in origin. It is likewise difficult to believe that Gardner does not know that the widespread and ever-growing combustion of fossil fuels accounts for the heating of our atmosphere and oceans.
The senator’s votes this week are a sad reminder that even those politicians who cannot count on a consistent trend of support for one party or the other are willing to disregard their constituents’ justifiable and genuine concern for the future of their state, the nation and civilization itself. They also tell every Coloradan that Cory Gardner is not a leader. He has not shown a willingness to be honest about humanity’s impact on the air we breathe and the oceans upon which we depend and, apparently, is comfortable with policies that will only add to the harm caused by our society’s intentional and destructive chemical experiment in the atmosphere.