Kamala Harris visits Denver area to discuss climate change

ARVADA — Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the complexities and interconnected challenges posed by climate change during a visit to the Denver metro area Monday.

Harris, a Democrat, spoke to an at-capacity, 500-person auditorium, and overflow rooms at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Dozens of state and local elected officials were in attendance. She was joined by newly elected Congresswoman Brittany Pettersen, of Arvada, and world-class rock climber Sasha DiGiulian, of Boulder.

The three Westerners — Harris is from California — noted the extreme threat climate change and the drought it drives pose to the region. Harris, who landed at Denver International Airport from Los Angeles, recalled the much-needed snow covering the California mountains as she left. But also the danger the snowpack posed if it melted into a flood. She called it a weather whiplash.

“We’re looking at everything from drought to extreme rain and snow,” Harris said. “Here in Colorado, I don’t need to tell you what that has meant.”

She did not tout any specific new proposals from the federal government but highlighted new technologies and ways of thinking about the challenges. Building off the flood example, Harris noted efforts to pivot from treating floods as pure disasters in need of mitigation as also opportunities to capture water before it rushes into the ocean. She also noted new satellite technology that helps track water sources from space and how it can help steer policy.

While acknowledging that water issues are interconnected — and highlighting the Colorado River as a specific example of that — she did not wade into the controversy and brewing fights over the rights to the West’s aquatic artery.

Pettersen, who has a young son, noted how much climate change has already changed daily life in the state. She recalled playing outdoors regularly as she grew up in Jefferson County. Now, air quality days cancel sporting events and lead to warnings to keep kids indoors, she said.

“We have to stop just talking about our obligation for the next generation — and believe me that motives me more than anything now, having a young son — but we need to talk about what is happening right now,” Pettersen said.

Two of the introductory speakers, Shere Walker-Ravenell of the Black Parents United Foundation and Olga Gonzalez of Cultivando, each talked about how climate change and pollution disproportionately affect communities of color and poorer communities. Gonzalez specifically cited pollution from the Suncor oil refinery.

“We ask you to join us in pushing for regulations that actually protect human health so that our children do not continue to be sacrificed for the sake of cheaper gasoline,” Gonzalez said.

The speakers nonetheless shared a sense of optimism as they celebrated the federal spending and programs stemming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and Democrat-passed Inflation Reduction Act, which many tout as the largest climate change package passed by Congress.

On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis’ office announced that Amprius Technologies will open a 775,000-square-foot factory in Brighton to help manufacture lithium ion batteries. The company was one of the first to receive funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to expand domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and the electric grid. Its investment in Colorado includes a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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