Issue: January 2013
Tags: Tom Clark, Teri Ripetto, Susan Barnes-Gelt, Robert White, Nora Pykkonen, Michael Hancock, Masai Ujiri, Karin Sheldon, Jonathan Vaughters, Jim Schanel, Jim Deters, Harvey Steinberg, Dede de Percin, David Wineland, Daniel Junge, Christopher Hill, Charles Burrell, Alan Salazar
Ever wish you could ask the mayor about urban development, or a battalion chief about fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, or a Nobel Prize winner about the nature of reality? In our first-ever Interview Issue, we asked 18 of the city’s brightest, most outspoken leaders and personalities those questions, and many more. Turn the page to hear them speak out—in their own words.
The president of Western Resource Advocates (WRA) on being defined by the outdoors, fracking, and working for Ralph Nader. Interview by Julie Dugdale
Was there a particular incident that sparked your passion for environmental issues and brought you back from the East Coast?
The way I grew up, in eastern Washington: camping, hiking, being at rivers and lakes. One is defined by landscape; the experience of being in wild country really sunk in. I am today the product of those experiences.
What does WRA actually do?
We’re focused on promoting clean energy, moving away from coal, and conserving water to have alternatives other than dams and reservoirs. We try to protect the land from inappropriate development. We’re solution-oriented and multidisciplinary: We’ve got economists, ecologists, hydrologists—all to figure out the best way to do all of this.
Tell us about a big project WRA is working on.
We’re on the leading edge of working on the nexus between water and energy. The water industry isn’t looking at energy, and the energy industry isn’t looking at water use. So we are thinking about the value of water in Public Utilities Commission proceedings. The lights seem to be going on; I’m proud of that project because we are way out in front.
Has working in the West changed your perspective?
There’s a big difference in water issues, per geography. The East doesn’t have the legacy of public lands that we do. I’m glad I’ve worked on both sides of the country. It’s given me an understanding—that Colorado is already a leader. What we want is for it to continue being a leader under Governor [Bill] Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.” We think Colorado can be a model for the rest of the country, but it’s going to take all of us.
Fracking is a hot-button issue in the Centennial State, and especially along the Front Range, right now. What are your thoughts on the practice?
The reality is, because of technological improvements, it’s here to stay. An approach that says “no natural gas” is unrealistic, but our ability to get the stuff out of the ground has gotten ahead of us. What do we do now to control it with an appropriate regulatory regime? If we’re going to have natural gas, it needs to be a properly used fuel—a transition to renewables. How do you do it right? It includes paying attention to health impacts, aesthetics, setbacks.
Is it frustrating trying to get through to people about the environment?
Yes, sometimes I feel like we [environmental advocates] talk only to each other. That’s a worry. Often when you’re dealing with something like climate change, the reaction is always gloom and doom. That’s a challenge. Life’s so busy. Most of us are just trying to get through the day and figure out what’s going to be on the dinner table. But you have to read; you have to understand. We need a literate, civic-minded population. No one person can solve climate change, but together we can do things that whack at it in a meaningful way.
You were one of Ralph Nader’s original “raiders”—young activists who investigated government corruption in a variety of fields under Nader’s direction.
It was my first job out of law school. Ralph’s idea was to have us work for him for a year or so, then fan out into broader society. I did environmental stuff. I was part of the original Public Interest Research Group. Today’s PIRG movement stems from that. All of us are still doing something in public interest. And Ralph is still going.
You’re probably familiar with the artist Christo’s controversial Over the River project, a proposed fabric installation above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado that’s mired in lawsuits.
I have trouble understanding why people are so upset about it—why there’s so much opposition to it. I’ve seen Running Fence, The Umbrellas, and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park; these are incredible. They don’t permanently destroy anything. It’s just astonishing. Then it’s gone. It’s evanescent, like sound.
*Editor's Note: A earlier version of this article included the terms "water team" and "energy team"; that text has been amended to clarify the meanings of those terms as the broader water and energy industries.