Colorado and Utah are both un­de­serv­ing of trade show

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Gretchen Bleiler

Igrew up snow­board­ing in two of the best states for the sport: Colorado and Utah. The world-class ski moun­tains in these neigh­bor­ing states were key fac­tors that al­lowed me to rep­re­sent our coun­try in two Olympics and nu­mer­ous X Games. But to­day, I have to own up to dis­ap­point­ment with these places I love so much. Now, the two ri­vals for ter­rain and pow­der are com­pet­ing again. This time, though, un­less some­thing changes, it’s a race to the bot­tom about who can be more en­vi­ron­men­tally back­wards.

In Utah, de­spite ex­plod­ing use of pub­lic land for recre­ation, top elected of­fi­cials want to elim­i­nate or re­duce in size the newly cre­ated Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment, fi­nan­cially starve fed­eral land-man­age­ment agen­cies and trans­fer pub­lic lands to state own­er­ship to pri­or­i­tize ex­trac­tive uses. As a re­sult, Peter Met­calf, the former CEO of Utah-based Black Di­a­mond Equip­ment, and Patag­o­nia founder Yvon Chouinard called for the Out­door Re­tailer trade show to move to an­other state. In what be­came a mas­ter class in how to wield power, the show, which brings in $45 mil­lion to the lo­cal econ­omy, will leave the state for good. Clearly, Utah, where elected of­fi­cials are so un­friendly to the very nat­u­ral re­sources that are the source of the out­door in­dus­try’s profit, doesn’t de­serve the show. So where should it go?

Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper said the gear show ought to come to his state. In­deed, Colorado is friend­lier to pub­lic lands than Utah is. Hick­en­looper launched an ini­tia­tive to im­prove pub­li­cland ac­cess statewide, as well as a $100 mil­lion plan to de­velop trails across the state. But Colorado doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily de­serve the show, ei­ther.

Sniff­ing the po­lit­i­cal winds just after Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, Hick­en­looper backed off a pro­posed ex­ec­u­tive or­der on cli­mate change that, while lack­ing leg­isla­tive teeth, set out a clean en­ergy vi­sion for the state. It ad­vo­cated for re­duced car­bon emis­sions and car­bon goals that ex­ceed those of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Clean Power Plan. He made this po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated move at the same time that other pro­gres­sive states an­ted up in op­po­si­tion to Trump’s ap­point­ment of cli­mate de­niers to key posts like the De­part­ment of En­ergy and the EPA. There is still an op­por­tu­nity for Colorado to lead un­der Hick­en­looper, but, as tem­per­a­ture records blow past norms and as Aspen hosts a balmy World Cup fi­nals, time is run­ning short.

Cli­mate change poses a far greater threat to the out­door in­dus­try than even the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the pub­lic lands. As just a small ex­am­ple of the im­pact, con­sider that in the un­usu­ally warm win­ter of 2016, prof­its at North Face dropped in part be­cause peo­ple re­ally didn’t need warm clothes. Never mind the feast or famine we’re see­ing in Cal­i­for­nia around snow­fall and rain, or the hor­rific starts to the Euro­pean ski sea­sons lately, with their deadly avalanches.

Colorado’s pro­posed ex­ec­u­tive or­der wasn’t a man­date, and it wasn’t even legally bind­ing. In­stead, it was a vi­sion of the pos­si­ble. But Hick­en­looper caved in to the same forces push­ing for pub­lic-land pri­va­ti­za­tion in Utah — the oil and gas in­dus­try.

Colorado and Utah have had a good run with oil, gas and coal. Those fu­els pow­ered our economies, cre­ated jobs and pro­vided the cheap en­ergy to make the snows­ports busi­ness thrive. We owe fos­sil fu­els a huge debt, and as a pro­fes­sional snow­boarder, I ac­knowl­edge this. But coal is fad­ing away of its own ac­cord, and oil and nat­u­ral gas face grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion from elec­tric ve­hi­cles and wind en­ergy. In fact, Colorado’s El­bert County just wel­comed a bil­lion-dol­lar wind de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing a new trans­mis­sion line, mak­ing the state a lo­cus for Amer­i­can’s fastest­grow­ing pro­fes­sion: wind tech­ni­cian.

The writ­ing is on the wall. The old ex­trac­tive or­der is be­hind us. We need to find new, lower-car­bon ways to fuel our economies — whether that means the snows­ports in­dus­try or the travel busi­ness, man­u­fac­tur­ing or high-tech. And the state that wins the prize of the Out­door Re­tailer trade show ought to be a clear and fearless leader on both land and cli­mate is­sues.

If Colorado and Utah are un­will­ing to adapt, both will lose out, not just to com­pet­ing states that cap­ture en­vi­ron­men­tally minded trade shows and the clean en­ergy econ­omy, but in the race to pro­vide vi­able na­tional po­lit­i­cal lead­ers for the fu­ture. Gretchen Bleiler is a con­trib­u­tor to Writ­ers on the Range, the opin­ion ser­vice of High Coun­try News. She is an Olympic sil­ver medal­ist and four-time X Games gold medal­ist who lives in Aspen and serves on the board of Pro­tect Our Win­ters.

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