Wintertime Park ski train wont run this period as a result of coronavirus readied to return in 2022

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Passengers on Amtrak's Winter Park Ski Train soak in a sunrise in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The <a href=Colorado Sun)”>

By Thomas Peipert, The Associated Press

A train that takes skiers and snowboarders from downtown Denver to Winter Park Resort won’t run this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Amtrak and resort officials said Wednesday.

“Amtrak and Winter Park Resort evaluated seating options on the Winter Park Express and agreed that with social distancing requirements, it was not possible to operate the train successfully this season,” the partners said in a joint statement.

The service, which typically runs on weekends from January through March, won’t return until 2022. Amtrak and resort officials said that in the meantime they would explore ways to improve the experience.

The train’s hiatus this season is another blow to Colorado’s ski industry, which is trying to figure out how to safely reopen resorts this winter amid the pandemic. Resorts in Colorado were shut down in mid-March just as spring break was ramping up.

For decades, the train chugged into the Rocky Mountains west from Denver, snaking through 29 tunnels and crossing the Continental Divide before delivering eager skiers to the base of the resort at an elevation of 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). Insurance woes doomed the service in 2009, but — with some help from Amtrak — it was resurrected in 2017.

Skinning uphill at Winter Park. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Powered by diesel-electric engines, the train runs from Denver’s historic Union Station about 60 miles (96 kilometers) and 3,700 vertical feet (1,128 vertical meters) into Colorado’s snow-swept mountains. It drops passengers off about 100 yards (91 meters) from the lifts after passing through the 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) Moffat Tunnel, which was finished in 1928 and is credited with opening Denver up to western commerce.

The Winter Park Express features Amtrak’s Superliner double-decker cars, which are designed for longer distances and are roomier than normal passenger train cars.

The train, which shares tracks with Amtrak’s California Zephyr that runs between Chicago and San Francisco, has been a draw since it started running in 1940, the same year the ski resort opened. After the service was discontinued for a few years during World War II, it ran almost every ski season from 1947 until 2009, when billionaire investor and then-owner Philip Anschutz shut it down because it became too expensive to run when insurance rates went up.

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The following four weeks will certainly identify if Cory Gardner keeps his work. Heres just how he prepares to move the tide.

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Cory Gardner is touting his legislative accomplishments in the U.S. Senate and his work responding to the coronavirus crisis. He is getting praise from President Donald Trump and big financial help from national Republicans. And the GOP lawmaker from Yuma is relentlessly attacking his Democratic opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, for violating the state’s ethics laws for public officials.

And yet, Gardner is still behind in his reelection bid a week before ballots hit the mail. 

Every poll since October 2019 shows him trailing Hickenlooper, and the closest he’s looked is a 5 percentage point loss. Hickenlooper holds an average 7.8 percentage point lead over Gardner.

MORE: How Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper are polling in the 2020 U.S. Senate election

If Gardner wants to keep his job, he must significantly shift the trajectory of the race in the next month, starting with the contest’s first debate Friday. The Republican’s campaign and his allies see the debates as one of their best chances to close the gap — an opportunity to trip up Hickenlooper and show he’s the wrong fit for a U.S. Senate seat. 

“I think they are critical,” said Kelly Maher, a Republican consultant.

The two candidates — who are running tightly controlled campaigns with limited in-person voter interactions because of COVID-19 — will confront plenty of unanswered questions heading into the home stretch, including about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, the coronavirus crisis and allegiance to their respective political parties.

John Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner have both leveraged the economic success of Colorado on the campaign trail. (Hickenlooper photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons; Gardner photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

But the pressure is most felt by the incumbent. Gardner’s seat is considered one of the most vulnerable for Republicans in the 2020 election, and top political prognosticators agree that it either leans Democratic, or is at best a toss up.

Veteran Republican strategists are becoming nervous about Gardner’s reelection chances as the clock ticks closer to Election Day. And the numbers for President Donald Trump, whom Gardner has endorsed, remain negative in Colorado, where he is deeply unpopular. 

MORE: Colorado doesn’t appear to be a presidential swing state in 2020. That could spell big trouble for Cory Gardner.

“The headwinds,” said Allen Fuller, a Republican strategist in Colorado, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Gardner and his backers believe they still have time to move the needle and claim victory. Even those who look warily at his campaign say that if anyone can pull off an upset, it’s Gardner.

In addition to showing a clear contrast to Hickenlooper in the debates, the campaign says its strategy, currently playing out in television and online advertising, to cast Hickenlooper as corrupt has worked and helped move the race to within striking distance. They plan to stay the course, even if public polling shows the contest remains stalled with Hickenlooper in the lead.

“This was always going to be a close fight until the end,” said Casey Contres, Gardner’s campaign manager, in a written statement. 

Hickenlooper’s campaign strategy is a similar one of staying on track. “It’s going to be pretty much what we’ve done for the last 13 months,” said Ammar Moussa, a Hickenlooper spokesman. “We are staring down the barrel of this horrible crisis that has been made worse by Donald Trump’s negligence and enabled by Cory Gardner, and more than ever, Washington needs a problem-solver to get it through this crisis.”

The debates

The first debate Friday, hosted by The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper and sponsored by AARP, will set the tone for the other three debates and the final push to Election Day. 

The most notable contrast expected to emerge, according to political observers from both parties, is the differing personalities and qualifications of the candidates. 

Gardner is considered the more effective debater, well known for his ability to sidestep tough questions and stick to his talking points. Hickenlooper, meanwhile, has struggled at times to communicate a clear, succinct message and he is prone to misspeaking and contradicting himself on issues, as he did a number of times in Democratic primary debates in June.

Republicans see an opportunity to take the offensive in the debates if the Democratic challenger stumbles again. Hickenlooper “has the worst case of foot-in-mouth disease of any politician I’ve ever seen,” said Fuller, who worked on the Republican gubernatorial campaign against him in 2014.

Back then, Fuller said, the campaign’s debate strategy was designed to keep Hickenlooper talking, because “if he’s talking, he’s explaining and it’s probably going to veer into some unknown territory.”

Gardner’s supporters see the debates as the Republican’s best chance to show Colorado voters how much he contrasts with Hickenlooper in leadership style and the issues. 

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner speaks at a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Colorado Springs. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

At the Club 20 political event in Grand Junction a few weeks ago, Gardner offered a preview of his debate message. He made the case that he is the guy who gets things done while Hickenlooper entered the race after saying he didn’t even want to be a senator. 

“Gardner’s job is to make Hickenlooper not acceptable as an alternative,” said Lori Wiegel, a Republican pollster in Colorado.

Gardner has also criticized Hickenlooper’s embrace, albeit tentative at times, of policies put forward by far-left members of the Democratic Party and pointed to the former governor’s shifting stance on oil and gas, suggesting it could hurt the state’s industry. 

MORE: John Hickenlooper’s conflicting record and rhetoric on fracking a point of dispute in U.S. Senate race

GOP operatives are looking for Hickenlooper to make a mistake that can be used in television commercials in the final weeks before Election Day, just as they did in 2014 against U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

“I think the thing for Cory is just that people need to continuously be reminded of where he has really delivered for the people of Colorado,” said Maher, the GOP consultant. “He’s trying to put that out there. … But the reality is when you have the debate you have the opportunity to talk directly to the people.” 

For Hickenlooper, his goal is to tie Gardner to Trump as often and as tightly as possible. And his supporters want the Democrat to stand his ground and remind voters in the final weeks about his record as governor.

His allies acknowledge that debates are not his strong suit, but Alan Salazar, a former Hickenlooper political strategist, said the candidate should still stick to his personality. Vintage Hickenlooper, he argues, is the best path.

“Honest, direct and a little of the self-deprecation,” Salazar said. “I don’t think John should be anything but himself.”

Outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper jokes with his wife, Robin, and son, Teddy, before the inauguration of Gov. Jared Polis at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Gena Ozols, a Democratic strategist and member of the Hickenlooper campaign’s Women’s Leadership Council, said she expects the candidate to do better than the primary debates earlier this year, where he appeared shaken. She’s noticed a difference as the candidate hit the campaign trail in recent weeks.

“What we are seeing is they are unshook, and he is coming out of that,” she said. “And we are seeing John for who he is. And I hope that’s exactly who we see during the debate: An honest, affable guy who is doing his best to be upfront about things.”

His Democratic supporters also believe Hickenlooper must communicate a clear vision of what he would do if elected, as a way to contrast against what they see as a stalemate in Washington on key issues such as coronavirus aid and climate change. 

“We’ve seen inaction on one side from Cory,” said Alice Madden, a former Democratic lawmaker and U.S. Senate candidate, “so I think John talking about what he most wants to get done would be incredibly helpful to the cause.”

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Ethics violations, U.S. Supreme Court also big debate focus

Beyond the battle of the personalities, Hickenlooper’s ethics violations and Republicans’ hasty efforts to fill the vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat are expected to take center stage at the debates.

Democrats expect Gardner to boast about his own record but also misconstrue his positions on issues like health care, all the while going on the attack against Hickenlooper, especially concerning the two ethics violations handed down against the governor earlier this year. How Hickenlooper explains the ethics situation and responds to the attacks will speak volumes, observers said.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper turns in his signatures to secure his spot in the 2020 U.S. Senate Democratic primary on Feb. 19, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Salazar, who worked for Hickenlooper during his time as governor, argued that Gardner’s negative approach in the campaign will eventually sour voters. “I think John should let Cory Gardner be as mean and nasty as he’s capable of being,” Salazar said. “And that’s not going to show well.” 

Hickenlooper is expected to go on the offensive against Gardner for reversing his stance on whether to replace a U.S. Supreme Court justice in a presidential election year. In 2016, Gardner supported blocking President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia because of the election nine months away. But after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September, Gardner quickly said he would vote to confirm a “qualified” nominee.

Gardner met Tuesday with Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg, Amy Coney Barrett. In a statement, he said she is “highly qualified.” He also voted to place her on the federal bench, for a different role, in 2017.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, left, meets with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. (Handout)

Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election prognosticator that recently moved Colorado’s Senate race into the “leans Democrat” column from “toss up,” sees Gardner’s support for replacing Ginsburg before a new president is sworn in as perilous. Jessica Taylor, the Senate editor for Cook Political Report, said the decision may well “seal his fate.”

MORE: Cory Gardner says he will vote to confirm a “qualified” replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg

There are also looming questions for Hickenlooper about the Supreme Court. On the presidential campaign trail, he said he was open to increasing the size of the court if it becomes too conservative. He also said he wanted to implement a rule about how quickly the Senate has to consider a nominee. 

When asked by The Colorado Sun last week about those positions, however, he declined to answer.

MORE: Here’s what John Hickenlooper thinks about a U.S. Supreme Court expansion and what makes a good justice 

In the end, the question remains open about whether the debates will change the game.

“Historically, you don’t see a lot of changes coming out of debates, and particularly this election cycle people seem very locked into their choices,” said Craig Hughes, a Democratic consultant working with the Senate Majority PAC, a political committee working to elect Hickenlooper. “It will be hard for Gardner to break out given his voting record for Trump and the embrace they have had for each other. A debate performance just doesn’t change that.”

Paul Teske, the public affairs dean of the University of Colorado Denver, agreed that the political landscape appears set. “Just like the presidential race, my sense is it’s fairly baked in.’ 

“I feel like there’s limited range for both of them, maybe some room at the margins to change minds,” he added.

The television war 

Beyond the debates, the airwaves war between the two candidates continues to escalate as the election approaches. 

So far this year, more than $54 million has been spent or reserved by the candidates and outside groups on the race. The spending is fairly evenly split between supporting and opposing the two candidates.

But the messages have begun to shift. Gardner is still attacking Hickenlooper over his ethics violations, but he’s now started to directly pitch voters on being the safer candidate to represent them in Congress.

“You and I may not always agree,” he says in one TV ad. “But you know I honestly work hard for Colorado.” In another ad, Gardner is labeled as “bipartisan” and “effective.”

The change is notable because Gardner’s campaign strategy for weeks has been to erode the support Hickenlooper built as a two-term Denver mayor and two-term governor. Even with Hickenlooper’s image ratings down, Gardner is still trailing in the head-to-head contest. 

“Even if they don’t like (Hickenlooper) as much as they used to, he’s quite clearly the better alternative,” said Andrew Baumann, senior vice president for Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling and political strategy firm.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, has doubled down from relentlessly attacking Gardner’s support for Trump to also criticizing specific aspects of his recent congressional record. In a new TV commercial, Hickenlooper stands between two cardboard cutouts of Gardner on a debate stage and highlights the senator’s conflicting record on health care, the environment and Trump.

“This Cory voted to roll back protections for air and water,” Hickenlooper says, pointing to one cardboard cutout, “but he’s posing as an environmentalist,” he says while gesturing to the other.

Gardner’s record of passing legislation and working across party lines is a key pillar of his reelection campaign strategy as the senator tries to court unaffiliated voters. David Flaherty, who leads the Republican-leaning polling firm Magellan Strategies, said Hickenlooper’s latest ads are meant to cut Gardner’s efforts off at the knees and serve as a closing argument.

“He’s attacking the foundation of what Cory is trying to make himself to be,” Flaherty said. “The contradictions are so easy for voters to understand.”

EARLIER: Does Cory Gardner have a breaking point when it comes to Trump? The political climate suggests he better not.

Flaherty said unaffiliated voters don’t like any whiff of partisanship, which could make Hickenlooper’s ads potent. He said Gardner’s change of heart on the Supreme Court is especially clear-cut and damning. 

Gardner’s campaign argues the race is still competitive by pointing to the ongoing spending by Democratic groups supporting Hickenlooper. This week alone, Rocky Mountain Values dropped $1.5 million in Colorado opposing Gardner, and Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund added another $1 million. 

Another sign Gardner’s tactics may be working: Hickenlooper also has run his first-ever negative ads in this campaign. He also has responded to attacks on his character with an ad highlighting how he helped one of his then-employees at Wynkoop Brewing through a medical crisis. 

Combined, some are still feeling very confident about Gardner’s chances. 

“I’m more bullish,” said Greg Brophy, a former Republican state senator who is one of Gardner’s biggest cheerleaders, of the senator’s reelection chances. 

But Brophy, like other Republicans, is also aware that the political headwinds may be too much for Gardner in 2020, just as they were for many in the GOP two years ago when the party suffered blistering defeats in Colorado. He could run a flawless race and still lose. 

“The obvious weak spot is: ‘What if 2020 is a replay of 2018?’” Brophy said. “It’s not going to be. But if it is, it won’t matter that Cory is the best Republican candidate in the history of Colorado.”

Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.  

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  • The next four weeks will determine if Cory Gardner keeps his job. Here’s how he plans to shift the tide.
  • Julian Assange may end up at Colorado’s Supermax prison, U.K. court is told
  • Winter Park ski train won’t run this season because of coronavirus, set to return in 2022
  • $5.6 million grant awarded to help pay for work along Southwest Chief route
  • “Bigger than a trail”: Grand Valley’s Palisade Plunge set to open after 10 years of planning, partnerships

via Straight News

Colorado releases its strategy to reduce greenhouse gases leaving some ecological teams wanting more

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The road to curbing Colorado’s greenhouse gases runs through heavy cuts to emissions from power plants and oil and gas operations, but also winds across ambitious reductions in pollution from cars, buildings and cows, according to a state plan released Wednesday.

The Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, released by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration after nine months of work, quickly drew flak from some environmental groups. It failed to set a timetable for specific actions and some of the reduction estimates are overly optimistic, they said.

“The roadmap is missing the most essential element for progress: concrete regulatory policies to be proposed swiftly, that taken together are fully capable of guaranteeing climate pollution goes down,” said Pam Kiely, senior director for regulatory strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund. 

The state, led by the state Air Quality Control Commission, is charged under House Bill 1261 passed last year to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, which are linked to climate change, by 26% from 2005 levels in 2025; 50% by 2030; and 90% by 2050.

MORE: Oil and gas companies must monitor fracking emissions as Colorado adopts first-in-the-nation rules to reduce air pollution

Hitting those targets is “feasible with existing technologies, but will require actions and policies beyond those Colorado has taken already,” according to the roadmap, which is the product of a collaboration among the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and consultant E3 .

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us to address the climate crisis, and we’re going to continue moving forward with a rigorous, data-driven process,” John Putnam, CDPHE director of environmental programs, said in a statement.

It is, however, the pace of movement that critics question. “I don’t see anything new that the administration hasn’t already presented,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a senior climate policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “We need a sense of urgency.”

Still, the analysis did draw some praise. “There are a lot of ideas in the roadmap, a lot of work on emissions analysis and that’s important work,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “We just need specifics.”

Transportation, largely as a result of auto traffic, has become the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases, followed by emissions from power plants and the oil and gas industry, according to the roadmap.

Getting to the 2030 target will require across-the-board cuts including an 80% reduction in electricity sector emissions, a 50% cut in oil and gas and 50% cut in transportation, according to the roadmap modeling.

There will also have to be reductions from buildings, primarily through energy efficiency and switching to electrification, as well as cutting methane emissions from agriculture, landfills and sewage plants.

In 2005, Colorado had nearly 140 million tons of carbon-equivalent emissions. (All greenhouse gases, such as methane which has 30 times the heat trapping effectiveness as carbon dioxide, are translated into their CO2 equivalent to get a global carbon number.)

Meeting the 2030 target will require curbing 70 million tons of carbon emissions, including 32.9 million tons from the electricity sector.

MORE: Is Colorado leading or lagging on climate policy? It depends on which states you’re comparing us to.

Utilities are already rapidly decarbonizing, in part to meet federal regional haze standards and in part because of the falling prices for wind and solar generation, leading to 14 Colorado coal-fired units closing by 2030 and cutting carbon emissions by 21.7 million tons.

In 2005, oil and gas accounted for 20 million tons of carbon-equivalent emissions. To meet the state 2025 target emissions, need to be cut by 6.7 million tons in 2025 and 10 million tons by 2030, according to the roadmap.

“Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is essential to achieving the state’s goals, as these make up the largest source of non-combustion emissions in the state,” the roadmap said.

Key to reaching those cuts will be identifying and reducing leak rates in both upstream operations and downstream distribution of oil and gas, the report said.

The industry, which is already dealing with rulemakings at the AQCC and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, offered a measured reaction.

 “This roadmap appears to be a modeling exercise, and while such an exercise can be a useful tool, the state must answer foundational policy questions before adopting sweeping rules with the potential to transform Colorado’s economy,” Lynn Granger, executive director of the API-Colorado, a trade group, said a statement.

Transportation accounted for 30 million tons of emissions in 2005. In 2020 transportation emissions were 24.5 million tons – about 500,000 tons more than the utility sector – with projections to decline to 14.5 million tons in 2030.

There have been a number of initiatives in Colorado to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, such as electric or hydrogen-fueled cars,  including the adoption by the AQCC of the California ZEV rule, which sets goals for the sale of clean cars, and commits $37 million to develop electric vehicle infrastructure from settlements the state received in the Volkswagen class-action lawsuit.

A Chevy Bolt gets a charge at an Electrify America fueling station outside the I-70 Diner in Flagler, Colorado, on Sept. 27, 2020. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

In April 2019, the Colorado Energy Office awarded ChargePoint, a private charging station company, $10.33 million to build high-speed charging stations in 34 communities along interstate, U.S. and state highways in Colorado. Xcel Energy has also proposed a $100 million program to develop charging stations in Colorado.

The projections in the E3 models for meeting the 2030 targets include what some critics describe as ambitious assumptions for ZEVs, as well as for some other sectors such as buildings and agriculture.

E3 assumes a ramp up in sales of ZEVs to 70% of the market by 2030. EVs account for about 2% of Colorado auto sales in 2019. The projections also assume that the nascent zero-emission truck market will account for 40% of annual sales in Colorado in 2030.

“This level of transformation will require continued effort from the state to remove barriers to consumer adoption, install robust EV charging infrastructure, and plan the electricity grid to accommodate new levels of electrification,” the roadmap said.

Similarly, the roadmap scenario calls for 60% sales share for electric heat pumps in space heating and water heating by 2030, and that methane emissions from cows and other farm animals will be cut by 25% by 2030 with changes in feeding practices.

On Monday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, released its own modeling study on meeting Colorado greenhouse gas emission targets, which focused more on reducing power plant emissions by 98% and relied less on so many sector cuts.

“I’d say our plan is very ambitious and the roadmap plan is extremely ambitious,” said Ariana Gonzalez, NRDC director of Colorado policy, climate and energy programs.

The challenge with the state’s approach is that so many of the reductions relied on the aggregate decisions of large numbers of people and markets doing things like buying cars, building or renovating homes, and changing practices farm by farm. Going after big carbon emitters, Gonzalez said, is more cost effective and efficient.

The roadmap doesn’t indicate when or what comes next. 

“This is not a plan,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians climate and energy program director. “It’s like a brochure of a travel destination. It looks awesome, but how do I get there? I don’t see it.”

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  • Colorado releases its plan to slash greenhouse gases, leaving some environmental groups wanting more
  • Bicycle retailers are seeing unprecedented sales. But the supply chain is tight and new bikes are hard to find.
  • The next four weeks will determine if Cory Gardner keeps his job. Here’s how he plans to shift the tide.
  • Julian Assange may end up at Colorado’s Supermax prison, U.K. court is told
  • Winter Park ski train won’t run this season because of coronavirus, set to return in 2022

via Straight News