By Ramsey Cox - 10/24/11 09:15 AM EDT
It was as a young state legislator in Denver that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) discovered the extent of the federal government’s reach. That eventually led him to run for Congress to scale it back.
“I realized quickly at the [state] legislature that so much of what we were trying to do — out of an $18 [billion] to $19 billion state budget, half of it was federally funded — we were hamstrung by policies of the federal government,” Gardner said.
“So to keep along that goal of economic opportunity and fostering and strengthening businesses in Colorado and making sure that our government had the freedom to do what it needed to do at the state level, I realized this is a place where we’ve got to start making those changes.”
“I remember how nervous I was to go to the House floor for the first time on a bill of mine — arguing, defending, promoting — and it was a good bill,” he said. “I think for the purpose of job creation, it does the right thing for the country and it’s something that I can take home to the people of Colorado and [tell them] what it will do for them and for the price at the pump.”
Gardner’s bill, the Jobs and Energy Permitting Act, limits the Environmental Protection Agency to six months in making air-permitting decisions on oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Currently such decisions can be delayed by deferring the ruling to an environmental appeals board.
“The sad thing is that the time it is taking just one project in the Beaufort/Chukchi Sea area to get permits — and it’s been delayed now for six years — the same company has drilled more than 400 wells around the world, creating jobs around the world, but not in our own backyard because our government has been delaying it,” Gardner said.
The bill passed the House on a 253-166 vote and has been placed on the Senate calendar.
Gardner said he is optimistic it will pass with bipartisan support later this fall.
Gardner received some attention after a combative interaction with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. He questioned why the agency doesn’t consider the number of jobs generated as criteria on rulings and permits.
“I want [the EPA] to know that the people I represent are very concerned about the impact that regulations from any department of government have on their jobs and their ability to create jobs,” Gardner said.
Environmental, agricultural and land issues are key to his rural, eastern Colorado district, where ranching and farming are predominant professions. Gardner’s longtime family business has been farm equipment sales, symbolized by the toy tractors in his office painted in the red favored by farm equipment manufacturer Case IH.
Gardner said he expects farm subsidy cuts, but that farmers shouldn’t bear the brunt of budget cutbacks.
“I think agriculture understands when it comes to this deficit and budget issue that we’re in, that everybody is going to have to take their fair share,” Gardner said. “I think there are reforms that you can look at. I don’t think that [agriculture] should bear the responsibilities of everything, but I don’t think there is any farmer in my district who says, ‘Don’t change anything.’”
Water usage is one area in which Gardner believes states and the federal government should work together more. In all of Colorado, water shortages are a major issue.
Gardner quoted former Rep. Wayne Aspinall (D-Colo.), who held what is now Gardner’s seat from 1949 to 1973: “In the West when you touch water, you touch everything, and in no place is that more true than in Colorado.”
Gardner said states and the federal government should ensure that there is more water storage and conservation.
“We have critical shortages of water, and over the next 50 years we’re going to need a tremendous increase in our water storage in order to meet the demands of projected growth and industry,” Gardner said. “So we’ve got to store more water and we’ve got to put in place meaningful conservation practices.”
He said he hopes to work more on water issues while in Congress.
Another goal of Gardner’s is to see his second child born this fall. The baby is due Nov. 18 — the same day the continuing resolution expires and Congress will have to pass another to avoid a government shutdown. The previous two continuing resolution budget votes this year have come down to the wire.
If the vote is close and the baby comes on schedule, Gardner might not be able to help leadership pass the CR. “I’ve already informed leadership to be careful when they time that vote because the baby is going to take precedent,” he said.