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Senator Michael Bennett talks community policing, wildfire risk reduction and renewable energy ahead of midterms

Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to KVNF's Gavin Dahl by phone on July 13, 2022.
Olivia Bercow
Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to KVNF's Gavin Dahl by phone on July 13, 2022.

US Senator Michael Bennet is facing reelection this year and will face Republican businessman Joe O’Dea in the November midterms. Rocky Mountain Community Radio's Gavin Dahl recently spoke with Senator Bennet. They discussed various initiatives including his new SMART Community Policing Act, and successful efforts to fund Colorado Wildfire Risk Reduction, resilient forests, coal mine methane capture, and renewable energy.

Gavin Dahl, Rocky Mountain Community Radio: On Wednesday you spoke on the Senate floor in favor of a new bill called the supporting mental assistance, responder teams or Smart Community Policing Act, we've seen successful mental health co-responder programs take off here on the Western slope, including in Montrose and Grand Junction, what kinds of programs will be expanded or created by your legislation?

Senator Michael Bennet: Essentially what the bill does is respond to both the needs of law enforcement and communities. As you point out Colorado, places ranging from Grand Junction to Denver, and a lot of places in between, have had very good success with co-responder programs that allow police officers to focus on violent crime and dispatch mental health responders and other professionals to deal with issues that aren't violent crime. And, you know, Denver, for example, has dispatched thousands of people to do it. So these programs are working well and all my bill does is say that local communities and states ought to be able to use the federal cops money to fund these kind of partnerships.

GD: As for reconciliation, for folks who don't know, what does that mean and what are priorities for you in an upcoming package?

Sen. Bennet: So reconciliation is a description of a budget process that allows for something to pass the Senate with 51 votes, as opposed to the usual 60 votes. And in this package, what I've been most focused on is money for forest restoration, watershed protection and, for conservation, for farmers and ranchers. There's $27 billion in the package for the forest and there's $27 billion in there for conservation. And this would be the largest expenditure ever in our national forest. And what I've been pointing out to people here in Washington, DC, is we're spending the money anyway, we're just spending it fighting fires. And if we did the maintenance, not only would our watersheds be much better protected and not only would we create jobs on the landscape, but we might actually get to a point where, you know, there was less likelihood that we were having massive wildfires every single summer. So that's what we're working on right now.

GD: And then are you also able to make some effort around prescription drug prices with reconciliation?

Sen. Bennet: Yeah. Yeah. A big piece to that is we're trying to create a program where Medicare would for the first time be required to negotiate drug prices, which would reduce the cost of drugs for everybody. We also, if this bill is successful would be capping seniors' out of pocket costs on drugs at $2,000. So that's a big piece of the bill too.

GD: So going back to forests, Colorado legislators secured more than a hundred million dollars in funding for projects around the state this year. Thanks in part to your efforts, the Western slope will benefit from funding for the Colorado wildfire risk reduction and resilient forest project. What will that, I think it's $3.6 million, do?

Sen. Bennet: Yeah, it was $3.6 million that we were able to get passed, congressionally designated funding. And it's going to fund the treatment of 3,447 acres on non-federal lands in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, the White River national forest and Pike-San Isabel national forest to reduce wildfire risk to communities, and as I said to watersheds and critical infrastructure and diminish recovery costs, so I'm really glad that we were able to get that 3.6 million. It, it was one of 64 projects that we were able to get. Of the 64. I'm really proud to save 33 of those in over 20 communities are on the Western slope of Colorado for a total of $53 million. You know, I think people on the West slope, a lot of times feel like Washington's never paying any attention. And I, I'm very glad to see that they got a really good share of this funding.

Sen. Bennet: I mean, it's affordable housing projects in Craig and Glenwood Springs and Durango, were replacing crumbling, water and infrastructure and increased access to clean drinking water in Rico and Walden and Minturn. We got money to improve public transportation and create greener fleets of buses in the Eagle and Gunnison and Archuleta and La Plata County. And the bill that we were talking about earlier, we also were able to increase access to mental and behavioral health services in Summit county where that's one of the places they're doing, the kinds of stuff that our new SMART bill is based on.

GD: Well, and then I see that this also includes coal mine methane capture, right nearby us in Coal Basin. And then also renewable energy projects up in Rangely I believe. So I just wonder, you know, as the list goes on of all these Western slope projects, did you prioritize some of these rural projects based on your own travels?

Sen. Bennet: Absolutely. Literally every single one of those projects is a result of my being out in the state meeting with people and having them tell me, in Rangely, for example, that we need to have this project because we gotta make our economy more resilient here or in, you know, Minturn, listening to people say we're in danger of not being able to fight fires cause our water pressure is so low because of the old water tank that we have. We're now replacing that that's gonna cost $2 million, but a million of that is coming from the federal government. And it also, I have to say the applications from the West slope were phenomenal and people obviously put a lot of work into it. And we had a very rigorous process in my office and I went through every single one of them to get to a place where we fought for our priorities. And I think it was a, also a very transparent process as well. We've got the result of that is that we now have the applications for the next year's already in the office and we're already processing those.

GD: Most of our listeners are familiar with your CORE Act, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act you've been working on this for years. It was marked up in committee again recently, are you expecting to have the chance to include the CORE Act in some kind of a public lands package this year?

Sen. Bennet: If there is a public lands package this year and, and for there to be one and, and for be one that passes, it has, it would have to be bipartisan if there is one, I definitely hope the CORE Act is part of that. We've worked on the CORE Act for more than a decade. It has broad bipartisan support throughout Western Colorado and from the counties that are affected by the CORE Act, Democrats and Republicans have supported it. And it's been Washington's dysfunction that has made it impossible for us to get it passed. So I hope we're gonna find a way to get it over the finish line one way or another. You know, I think a lot about the veterans that were trained in Camp Hale, went over and pushed the Germans out of Northern Italy on their skis, cos that's what the guys learned how to do. Then they came back and they started our outdoor rec industry in Colorado. You know, these guys are not getting any younger and, and there aren't many of them, frankly, that are still living. And I would like to see them see Camp Hale made a historic national landscape, you know, before they move on. I just think the idea that it, that we're so dysfunctional, we can't figure that out. So in particular on that, we really gotta find some way to do it. I'll mention that the fugitive methane work that you talked about that also is part of the, you know, area, the Thompson Divide, which is in the CORE Act as well. So we're trying to work on this from every angle we can possibly work.