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Schwartz, Tipton trade barbs over presidential race, collapse of coal industry

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September 14, 2016, 8:17 am
Schwartz and Tipton

Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Crested Butte, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz has repeatedly accused U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of being “bought and sold” by special interests such as coal mining and oil and gas companies, but now the Democratic challenger for Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District seat is doubling down by trying to link the Republican incumbent to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

“[Tipton’s] aligned himself with Donald Trump, saying ‘sell off our public lands and protect these [coal] jobs that have no future,’” Schwartz told RealVail.com Friday. “That’s the kind of stuff that is something we need to be very concerned with.”

Tipton has been careful not to explicitly endorse Trump thus far during the heated and controversial 2016 presidential campaign, and he was notably absent from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. But during a phone interview last week, Tipton made it clear who he’d be voting for on Nov. 8.

“Given our choice, I’m going to support the Republican nominee over Hillary Clinton’s job-killing agenda,” Tipton said, adding that Schwartz has accepted campaign money from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, someone he said does not fit well in CD3, which includes most of Colorado’s Western as well Pueblo on the Front Range.

Connecting Schwartz to Democratic presidential frontrunner Clinton could be just as poisonous on the Western Slope as a Trump connection for Tipton, and Schwartz seems to know that. She too stayed away from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

“I’m not happy with how emails have been handled, not happy,” Schwartz said of Clinton’s email scandal during her tenure as secretary of state. “But at least we can address that issue. We haven’t devolved into this rhetoric of Donald Trump. We need to stand up for civilized discourse and make sure we are a country we can proud of and a country that’s open to everyone.”

On a conference call with reporters last week, Tipton yet again attacked Schwartz for her record of supporting renewable energy standards and policies during her eight years as a state senator when former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter launched his “New Energy Economy.”

Schwartz defended her legislative legacy in the name of cleaning up Front Range smog, diversifying Colorado’s energy portfolio and protecting public lands for outdoor recreation. She launched her campaign in May by attacking Tipton for his campaign donor ties to an oil and gas company seeking favorable legislation for drilling in the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale.

Tipton’s PAC money donations have come from Arch Coal (which has filed for bankruptcy), British Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Koch PAC, Anadarko, Peabody Energy (another bankrupt coal company), Oxbow Carbon and Minerals, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro Petroleum, WPX Energy and The Williams Company. Schwartz’s PAC money comes from Nancy Pelosi for Congress, the League of Conservation Voters, Emily’s List, and labor unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Tipton last week accused Schwartz of answering to environmentalists in Denver and Aspen instead of coalminers in the economically devastated North Fork Valley in Delta County.

“We’ve got two economies in Colorado right now,” Tipton said. “Metropolitan areas, some of our resort areas are doing reasonably well, but as we move out into the rest of rural Colorado, and that’s primarily the 3rd Congressional District, we’re continuing to see communities struggle and we’re seeing policies that have actually helped create some of those scenarios.”

Tipton blames mandates from politicians like Schwartz for forcing coal-fired power plants to switch to natural gas and renewable energy.

“We’ve seen the devastating impacts of this legislation on real-life Coloradoans, and unfortunately Delta County, Colorado, has taken the brunt of Gail Schwartz’s tenure in the state Senate,” Tipton said of the more than 1,000 Colorado coal-mining jobs lost over the last several years as the global coal industry has collapsed.

Schwartz said less than 2 percent of the coal being burned for electricity in power plants converted or shut down by the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act in 2010 came from North Fork Valley coal mines. The vast majority of it came from Wyoming’s Power River Basin, Schwartz added, pointing out that Colorado still generates 60 percent of its power by burning coal.

“We can’t ignore the international collapse of the coal market,” said Schwartz, who points to the abundance of cheap natural gas and dramatic drop-off in demand for American coal in overseas markets like China.

BP, one of Tipton’s PAC donors, acknowledges that cheap natural gas has been coal’s biggest problem globally. Analysts point out Trump’s promise to return coal to its former glory in the U.S. does not mesh with his stated desire to continue expanding oil and gas production.

Tipton and Schwartz clashed over the weekend in their first and perhaps only debate at Club 20 on Saturday. Both candidates were working the phones with reporters before that debate.

This spring, Trump and his advisors told various news outlets the real estate tycoon plans to balance the U.S. budget over the next eight years if elected, and one of the ways he’ll do that is by selling off $16 trillion worth of U.S. government assets.

But Trump has also contradicted those statements, saying he does not favor selling off federal lands or turning over control to the states, a key plank of the GOP platform.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environmental, political, entertainment, outdoor and sports writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, LA Weekly, ESPN.com, SKI Magazine, Powder and People Magazine. He also regularly contributes to The Colorado Statesman and Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com.

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