Bennet, Olympic athletes take on Trump over environment

Author: Tom Ramstack - April 25, 2018 - Updated: April 26, 2018

From left, Winter Olympians freestyle skier David Wise, biathlete Maddie Phaneuf, halfpipe snowboarder Arielle Gold, Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, and alpine skier Stacey Cook speak about the negative impact climate change is having on winter sports, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sharply criticized Trump administration environmental policy Wednesday during a briefing on climate change in the nation’s capital.

“The president is creating the kind of uncertainty that we don’t need in Colorado,” Bennet said.

He was joined by five U.S. winter Olympic athletes — including one from Colorado — who said climate change was making natural snow more scarce on the slopes where they compete.

Bennet predicted severe consequences in Colorado if climate change is not halted through political policies that limit air pollution emissions.

“Our economy is going to depend on getting it right on climate,” Bennet said.

In Colorado, winter sports aren’t “just an avocation; it’s a vocation,” he said.

The Trump administration has rolled back many air pollution standards in recent months to help industries that complain about environmental regulatory burdens.

Environmentalists warn that easing of pollution standards will increase airborne mercury, benzene and nitrogen oxides produced by some factories and chemical plants.

Colorado has tried for years to enforce tougher air pollution standards than Environmental Protection Agency requirements, particularly for the greenhouse gas methane.

Bennet attended the climate change briefing in a Senate office building minutes after listening to French President Emmanuel Macron address a joint session of Congress in which he also criticized U.S. environmental policy.

Macron asked that the United States contribute more to “a planet that is still habitable in 25 years.” He said he disagreed with people who believe protecting industry and jobs are more important than a low-carbon economy.

President Donald Trump announced last June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement intended to stop climate change. In years past Trump referred to global warming as a “hoax”; his positions more recently have varied.

Bennet said he agreed with many of the French prime minister’s comments. “We have to build a durable, sustainable political coalition” on environmental policy, he said. He suggests wider use of renewable energy sources.

He described global warming as an issue that crosses political boundaries.

“Republicans at home believe climate change is real,” said Bennet, a Democrat.

A spokeswoman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made similar comments this week.

Regardless of any revised air pollution standards by the EPA, “Colorado already enforces tough pollution standards,” Hickenlooper spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery told Colorado Politics. “Working with all stakeholders, we have adopted some of the most protective air quality requirements in the country. Our climate plan sets clear goals for Colorado.”

Winter Olympic halfpipe snowboarding bronze medalist Arielle Gold speaks about the negative impact climate change is having on winter sports, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Olympians who spoke during the climate change briefing in Washington included 2018 bronze medal snowboarder Arielle Gold of Steamboat Springs.

She wore a sling on her right arm as a result of a chronically dislocated shoulder — a conditioned that she blamed at least partly on the effects of competing in conditions created by climate change.

Warm weather during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, meant the machine-made snow that coated the mountaintops would sometimes start melting after as little as half an hour, she said.

“The half-pipe would completely fall apart,” Gold said.

As a result, she said, snowboarders like Gold took risks during their practice runs to ensure they completed their daily training before the snow melted.

During one training run, Gold took a hard fall that dislocated her shoulder, leaving her with a chronic injury.

But then she won the bronze medal in the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Jessie Diggins, who won a gold medal in cross-country skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, said, “Nobody’s counting on natural snow anymore.”

Instead, snow-making machines make up for the natural snow dissipated by global warming.

The Boulder-based climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters estimated in an economic report last February that winters with small amounts of snow cost the U.S. economy about 17,400 jobs and $1 billion in losses.

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack