Environmental records of the two major party candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado have been one of the hot button issues since the campaign began.
Republican Wayne Allard is seeking a second term facing a rematch with Democrat Tom Strickland, who he beat narrowly in 1996.
The candidates’ environmental records differ greatly, and Allard has been challenged on his record as a congressman by the Strickland camp.
Meanwhile, Allard’s supporters have questioned Strickland’s environmental record because he has lobbied for companies that have been fined for polluting.
Strickland has admitted to involvement in defending the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation and Bio Waste Services, Inc., a company that was fined millions for polluting. However, he is also both a founding member and a current board member of the Rocky Mountain Advisory Board of Environmental Defense.
A decade ago, Strickland also helped launch the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund. GOCO has awarded grants for the preservation of more than 350,000 acres of open space in Colorado.
On the other hand, Allard has had a history of voting against environmental legislation, according to many environmental interest groups.
He received a zero percent rating on his environmental record for his votes on environmental legislation during the 1999 and 2000 Congressional sessions by the League of Conservation Voter’s scorecard.
Allard’s record, combined with the Bush administration’s pro-oil and natural gas development platform, sparks concern among the environment focused electorate. This concern could very well translate into increased voter turnout.
He has voted against funding to allow toxic waste sites to be cleaned up more quickly, to weaken laws that require all toxic materials to be removed, and to use taxpayer’s funds to reimburse polluters for cleaning up their own waste.
There are more than 20 Superfund sites in Colorado, with the price tag for cleanup costing several hundreds of millions of dollars. Superfund is the name given to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which imposes liabilities on parties who have disposed of hazardous substances.
Allard has also voted to roll back clean water protections that protect and improve the quality of water in Colorado lakes and streams, against an amendment to improve fuel efficiency in cars and trucks, and to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.
“While Tom Strickland can be trusted to protect our environment, Wayne Allard proved yet again with his vote to drill in the Arctic Refuge, and his history of voting to dig, drill, and destroy that he is out of step with Coloradoans,” said Peggy Malchow, Political Chair of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“With the Rocky Mountains next on the Bush Administration’s list for drilling, and the pro-environment majority of the Senate hanging in the balance, this election has national importance,” Malchow said.
According to Allard’s Deputy Campaign Manager, John Swartout, Allard has voted no because he does not favor unfunded mandates.
“Allard supports incentives, putting up hard cash to support programs,” he said.
“Allard supports something real, that you can touch, not amendments to appropriations bills.”
For example, Swartout said, Allard led the fight to create the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area in Southern Colorado.
“Those are real things,” he said. “Allard’s goal is to work with local communities and elevate protection of the environment consistent with local communities.”
Swartout said Allard’s partner is the Nature Conservancy, a group that differs from the Sierra Club because they are interested in protecting land, not in politics.
“The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to protect special places, not to run ads against political campaigns,” he said.
The Sierra Club has run ads critical of Allard’s voting record in their most recent environmental education campaign.
“It is fair to criticize Allard’s record but Strickland has a record too,” Swartout said.
The Allard campaign has been running negative ads attacking Strickland’s involvement in Louisiana-Pacific.
“Strickland was personally profiting from lobbying for the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation which was fined millions of dollars for polluting Colorado’s air,” said Allard’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams. “While Allard fought to remove waste from Colorado, Strickland was being paid to bring medical waste into a north Denver neighborhood.”
When it comes to environmental concerns versus growth and development, Strickland said he wants to protect private property rights and mitigate economic impacts to farmers and ranchers.
Allard said that while this sounds good, it is painting the dilemma with the usual politically correct broad brush.
“Allard’s specific look at individual rights and needs is what is appealing,” Wadhams said. “It was Senator Allard who championed the Overland Park community in Denver to remove low level radioactive waste from the Shattuck site in the middle of their neighborhood.”
By many accounts, the seat is still up for grabs.
A new poll released Thursday shows that the Democratic challenger has gained on the Republican incumbent. This poll, conducted by the Rocky Mountain News surveyed 500 registered voters from Oct. 3 to Oct. 9 showing Allard at 39 percent and Strickland at 35 percent, with the remaining voters undecided.
-Edited by Vince Blaser and Ben Koerselman