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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Udalls Campaign on Green Credentials

Air Date: Week of

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Jeff Young interviews Mark Udall on a tour of Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. (Photo: Lana Hoff)

Cousins Tom and Mark Udall come from one of the most storied families in Western environmental politics - their fathers helped craft the nation's landmark conservation measures. Now, the cousins are both running for the U.S. Senate - Tom from New Mexico and Mark from Colorado. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports from the campaign trail.


CURWOOD: Coming up – When Western green politics are your family’s business, you name is probably, Udall. Their story is just ahead on Living on Earth!

ANNOUNCER: Support for the Environmental Health Desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman fund for coverage of population and the environment...and from Gilman Ordway for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[MUSIC: Todd Sickafoose from Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone Records, 2008)]

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. The Democrats chose Denver for their convention in part because of what they see as a shift in the politics of the mountain regions of the West.

No longer is a Democrat a lone maverick in a state like Colorado. In fact as the issues of water, energy and the economy grow in importance, Democrats are corralling increasing numbers of voters who have cut themselves out of the Republican herd.

Two candidates for the US senate from Colorado and New Mexico hope to make the most of those trends. Living on Earth's Jeff Young tells us that's not all they have in common. They also share a last name and a family brand of conservation.

YOUNG: Four years ago I spoke with Stewart Udall about the 40th anniversary of the wilderness act, which has protected nearly 100 million acres of the country's most treasured landscapes. As Interior Secretary for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Udall helped create that act. And he and his brother, the late, legendary Arizona congressman Mo Udall, had a hand in nearly all the landmark environmental laws of the 60s and early 70s.

STEWART UDALL: Protecting endangered species, cleaning up the nation's rivers, clean air, clean water. It was a wonderful time, kind of a golden age of the environmental movement.

YOUNG: But Udall wasn't in a mood to celebrate. He thought the political climate had changed such that those environmental achievements would be impossible today.

STEWART UDALL: It has become an ideology that more conservation is not good for the country and it makes me sad. I’m a saddened person compared to what I was in the 1960s. But maybe it'll turn, there are cycles in history, maybe it'll turn again in the direction it was.

YOUNG: Now at 88, Stewart Udall is the surviving patriarch of the Udall clan, probably the most storied family in western Democratic politics. And he's watching closely this election year to see if the next generation of Udalls can help bring about that change in direction he talked about. His nephew, Mark Udall of Colorado, and his son, Tom Udall of New Mexico—who won seats in the U.S. house ten years ago, are both running for the U.S. Senate.

TOM UDALL: My father instilled in me the idea that if you take care of the land it will take care of you.

YOUNG: That's Tom Udall, New Mexico Congressman and candidate for the senate seat left open by the retirement of Republican Pete Domenici. Udall and his cousin are both strong supporters of clean energy, pushing for renewable electricity standards, higher fuel economy for cars and earning nearly perfect voting scores from the league of conservation voters. It's a record in keeping with the family tradition but one that might be at odds with new public support for increasing the oil supply.

Congressman Tom Udall. (Courtesy of Udall for US All)

TOM UDALL: It’s very important what my father and Mo did. It's a very significant legacy. I appreciate it and I think that the American people appreciate it, and I think they’d like us to expand on that.

YOUNG: Has concern about energy prices, particularly gasoline prices, made it more difficult to maintain a conservation-focused agenda when it comes to energy and the environment?

TOM UDALL: There’s no doubt that we need to have a strong domestic industry. I believe in that and I support responsible drilling. New Mexico, in fact, is a producer state—we’re one of ten states in the United States that produce energy and export it to other places in America. And that’s something that I’m proud of that I’m going to continue to support. But the future is about alternatives. This isn’t a big quest to do something very ethereal this is about the jobs of the future.

YOUNG: Most polls show Tom Udall with a comfortable lead over his republican opponent, congressman Steve Pearce. But recently Pearce has gained some ground on the energy issue. Pearce took to the House floor last month to pin the blame for pricey gas on Democrats.

PEARCE: I believe in my heart that the majority does not want to drill today. I believe that they are understanding that it is not the oil companies who lack the diligence, but it is instead that roadblocks by people who have hijacked the energy policy of this country.

YOUNG: A similar dynamic is emerging in the Colorado race, where republican candidate Bob Schaffer, a former congressman, worked for an energy company that mostly drills natural gas. Schaffer and some pro-drilling groups have hit Mark Udall hard for his opposition to offshore drilling and western oil shale development.

[AD SOUND: Udall stood with extremist groups and voted to block bipartisan energy reform that could lower gas prices.]

YOUNG: Some polling shows Schaffer's message getting traction and the race has tightened. Like his cousin, Mark Udall has adjusted his message. He now emphasizes support for domestic drilling as well as alternative energy. At a campaign rally in Fort Collins he said he'll throw the kitchen sink at the country's energy problems.

MARK UDALL: We need everything. We need oil and gas executives, we just don't need them in the White House or the United States Senate writing our energy policy.

YOUNG: Udall toured a Colorado State University facility that's working on diverse energy solutions, including these bubbling vats of algae that could become an economical source of biodiesel.

MARK UDALL: So, there are just so many wonderful stories here in this building and across the parking lot and this is the future right here in front of us.

Congressman Mark Udall. (Courtesy of Udall for Colorado)

YOUNG: Udall is clearly passionate about renewable energy. At one point he corners one of the project engineers to tell him about the solar panels on the Udall family home. Later, I asked him the same question I put to his cousin: will the pressure of high-energy prices force him to back down from his conservation goals?

MARK UDALL: No I’ve been working on this 12 years, by that I mean a new energy policy for the country and I always held that we have to do everything. What's exciting now is people are focused. Four dollar a gallon gas, people want to do something now. It’s been my motivation for running for the senate is to continue to lead the country in this direction. I've had to rethink some of my outlook

YOUNG: Like what?

MARK UDALL: Like nuclear power, for example. I grew up watching what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and I thought the technology was dangerous and could cause great human harm and was probably one we shouldn’t invest in. but given the options that we have and if we’re serious about becoming energy self sufficient in our country and need to reduce carbon emissions, I think nuclear has to be part of the mix. in the long run though people know that renewable energy and all the new efficiency technologies are the way to go. And what we mean by that is 100 mile-per-gallon cars, plug in hybrids, providing incentives for people to trade in their old gas-guzzlers for new kinds of vehicle technology. Let's do it. Let's go.

YOUNG: Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer are vying for a seat left open by the retirement of Republican Wayne Allard. Allard says Udall, who represents the state's liberal Boulder area, is out of the mainstream for most Coloradoans.

But the state recently elected a Democratic governor and legislature. Former Colorado Democratic Senator and environmental policy expert Tim Wirth says that's largely due to changing attitudes in the region about how people will make their living on the land.

Jeff Young interviews Mark Udall on a tour of Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. (Photo: Lana Hoff)

WIRTH: Well there's a broad shift in the Rocky Mountain West. And now there is a resurgence of much more progressive forces who are not involved in extractive industries but much more involved in attractive industries. You know, attracting people there with tourism, managing land in a very different way. And the two Udall cousins are wonderful forces for change.

YOUNG: Both Mark and Tom Udall appear to be hedging their bets a bit, talking up domestic oil production while still pushing the clean energy agenda that seems to be closer to their core values. And if that doesn't work, Tom Udall says there's always the old family slogan.

TOM UDALL: You have these Udalls in Colorado and New Mexico and Arizona and I just said, “Vote for the Udall nearest you.” (laughs)

YOUNG: There's a lot of change afoot in the Rocky Mountain West, especially on energy issues. Election day will tell if the Udall family fits the kind of change voters’ want. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Denver.



Check out the League of Conservation Voters environmental scores for the Udalls

To listen to Steve Curwood’s 2004 interview with Stewart Udall, click here

Check out Living on Earth’s previous election coverage here


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