Gov. Ritter to be honored at EverGreen Ball in Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

Gov. Ritter to be honored at EverGreen Ball in Beaver Creek

Cassie Pence
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

Courtesy Colorado Governor's Office

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter considers himself and his team “stubborn stewards” for the environment – and with good reason. During his term, Gov. Ritter has signed 56 bills into law that propel Colorado – and the nation – closer to a clean-energy future. It was Ritter who passed ambitious legislation that requires 30 percent of Colorado’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. The EverGreen Ball, a fundraiser with a mission to raise awareness to preserve local land, to protect local watersheds and to live a more sustainable life, will honor Ritter Saturday at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek for his achievements in making Colorado’s New Energy Economy a national model for creating jobs, attracting companies and producing innovative clean-energy technologies. Here, he takes the time to talk about Colorado’s environmental strides and future.

1. The progress you made in renewable energy and your New Energy Economy platform will mark your term as governor. Specifically, name your proudest achievement.

My proudest achievement is that we, in the very early part of the administration, were forward looking enough to say that natural gas production is important to our state’s economy, but doing it in a way that balances the interests of preserving wildlife migration patterns, preserving a quality airshed and watershed, that all those things are important to us as Coloradans, and they should be important to us as citizens of the earth, and we can strike a balance between producing natural gas and protecting our environment.

The proudest achievement is that we acted in a bold fashion with a great deal of criticism and opposition to be stubborn stewards of our environment. That’s the proudest achievement – that we didn’t back down in the face of some fairly tough opposition, because I so believe that this is a state, where we do have abundant natural resources and fossil fuel natural resources, but we can act in a fashion that would still maintain a quality of life for Colorado residents and maintain a quality of life in terms of our air quality, our water quality and also to act to really conserve and preserve those things that are important where wildlife is concerned.

2. The EverGreen Ball’s mission is to raise money and awareness to preserve local land, to protect local watersheds and to live a more sustainable life. Why are these things important to you?

They are important to me for a variety of reasons. Certainly because I am a Coloradan, and have had the great fortune to have been born here and to have spent my life mostly in Colorado enjoying just these fantastic privileges we have because of the beautiful, pristine state it is.

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But more important than even that is because I have four kids, their ages 24 to 17, and I look at them and wonder what their lives will be like. And one of the things I want to leave them is a state better than the one I found. And that strategy is not self-executing. You have to develop that strategy. You have to be thoughtful about it. And you have to look at those trade-offs you’re willing to make, and those trade-offs you’re not willing to make so that my kids inherit a better Colorado.

3. Colorado is now home to the fourth highest concentration of renewable-energy and energy-research jobs in the country. Speaking as someone with his finger on the pulse of new-energy technology, what does Colorado’s energy future look like?

I tell you, it depends if you’re talking 10 years out or 50 years out.

The technology that our families will use for energy consumption probably has not necessarily been invented yet. It may have been, it may not have been. But I do think it’s imperative that the United States takes a leadership role in developing the next generation and the generation after that in clean energy technology. I suspect that it will involve a combination of a variety of things. I suspect that it will involve solar and wind and geothermal. I suspect also that it will be combined with cleaner burning natural gas. And maybe, the ability to sequester CO2 from burning coal and so it might involve that.

But, I bet is that in 50 years from now, we’ll reduce the CO2 emissions in this state by 80-90 percent, and I think nationwide – because we have to. Because we need to do that in order to get a handle on what are some of the climate and environmental issues.

4. The Senate did not vote on clean energy or climate legislation before the August recess. What do you think about this?

This is where it’s far better to be a governor than to be in the Congress or United States Senate. Because we laid out a new-energy economy agenda when I was campaigning, we surpassed even our own expectations in what were able to accomplish over four legislative sessions.

I have now signed 56 bills into law that some how impact our clean-energy future. What we’ve done here in Colorado is lay down a template of how it can be done at the federal level. I really believe that. Washington, it’s in a fairly tough place right now because of how difficult the political environment is. We’re in the throes of an election year, Mid-term, those are historically a difficult time for an administration, and so we look at it like this: We understand that energy legislation/climate legislation will probably not get passed this session, but we need to do this as a country. We laid down a template for the United States government to look at and say, so this is how you can broaden your energy portfolio. (This is) how you can address environmental challenges, and at the same time, grow jobs while doing it. It’s the new energy economy.

Congress is, I think, hopeful of being able to pass energy legislation in the near future, but it’s evident it won’t be done this year. That is just a political reality of Washington, DC, right now.

5. In February 2009, Colorado hosted President Barack Obama to sign The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an act to help spur economic recovery. In part, President Obama selected Colorado because of your new-energy economy platform. It’s serving as a model to show other states how to emerge quicker, stronger and healthier from the recession. What major factors contributed to your new-energy economy successes?

I think we had a vision, and if you always start with a vision – it’s what Stephen Covey (author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) says – he says start with the end in mind. We had a sense about what we’d like to get done in the first term, and so that’s fundamental to it.

The second thing is I have the cooperation of the legislative branch. I’ve got great partners in the Legislature, if you think about all the different people in the House and the Senate who have played a leadership role. Some of it we had to do in a partisan fashion, where there wasn’t any Republican support, but because we had Democratic majority and we didn’t have a 60 vote requirement, we were able to accomplish a lot.

Communicating the vision is certainly important. I would also add getting people to think differently about this issue has been important. So many people on the fossil fuel side thought that it was a zero-sum gain. If we move to a greater use of renewables, then we were going to end any use of coal or oil or natural gas. Quite frankly, that’s impossible to do. So I think some of our success lies in the fact that over time we’ve been able to convince some of the people in the fossil fuel industries that it wasn’t about trying to destroy them, it’s about trying to find ways in their industry to thrive, while at the same time, we were stubborn stewards of the environment.

6. The EverGreen Ball will purchase carbon offsets for every guest in attendance through your project, the Colorado Carbon Fund (Project C). Thirty four million pounds (and counting) of carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced thanks to Project C. Why should people purchase carbon offsets? Why is it important?

There’s two parts to it, I think. One is that by purchasing carbon offsets, you look for ways to reduce CO2 emissions in your everyday activities. And so there’s the environmental benefit to that. The second, more significant thing is that it’s part of the education process about what our carbon footprint is as an individual. The way we get to where we need to be as a country is by the people of this country beginning to understand the impact of carbon emissions on the globe, on climate issues, on the environment generally. And we all have a role to play in that. Each individual American citizen has a role to play in that, and one of the things that off-setting your carbon footprint does is give you a sense about your impact.

7. You have announced that you are not running for re-election. Will you continue to work in renewable energy?

I have some nice overtures and some intriguing conversations that I’m involved in right now, but I really have not developed a sense about what’s next. I certainly have a great passion for the issue, about establishing a clean energy future for America, and I would like to be a part of that, but I just don’t know where or how that will be.