Tiffany Dickenson and Mark Hinaman discuss the economic struggles of northwest Colorado, the challenges for communities associated with closing coal mines and coal fired power plants, and how nuclear energy can be a viable replacement during the energy transition.
[00:00:00] Tiffany Dickenson: I’m looking at it from the policy aspect and from the economy, right when you’re set to lose 50 percent 70 percent of your economy.
I mean, that is what creates ghost towns. People have to move to get the jobs period. You will not survive and, to the front rage, it’s like they just don’t care. They don’t see it. And you’re right. It’s just gonna work itself out. Well, I’ll tell you, it is going to work itself out, but that’s only because of the spirit of the people in Northwest Colorado.
We are pioneers. We love our region.
We think that nuclear has a place in this. As we investigate it, I’ll tell you, I’ve become incredibly interested in nuclear. I think that nuclear provides all kinds of opportunities for our region.
When you look at nuclear, we are looking at that because not only is it the jobs, but it’s firm. It’s clean, it’s reliable. You know, we’re going to actually get the energy, most of the energy that we produce from it. And it takes very little amount of fuel.
[00:01:10] Intro: Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly, soberly. And to engage people that are in energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone. If there is a single country.
Of course the world cannot meet it without America. That is willing to. We’re gonna need you. The next generation to finish the need scientists to design new fuels. And focus on net public benefit. We need engineers to invent new technologies. Over absurd levels of radiation. Entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.
And we will march towards this. We need workers to operate a. Assembly lines that hum with high tech, zero carbon components. We have unlimited prosperity for all of you. We need diplomats and businessmen and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip past the dirty phase of development and transition to sustainable sources of energy.
In other words, we need you.
[00:02:14] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Welcome to another episode of the Fire2Fission podcast. My name is Mark Hinaman, and I’m joined today by Tiffany Dickenson, the executive director of associate governments of Northwest Colorado. Tiffany, how you doing?
[00:02:25] Tiffany Dickenson: Doing well. Thanks for having me, Mark.
[00:02:28] Mark Hinaman: Okay, Tiffany, for our guests, why don’t you give just a brief, like, 30 second intro to yourself and I want to learn a little bit about your background and then we can chat about Northwest
[00:02:36] Tiffany Dickenson: Colorado. Sure. Again, I’m Tiffany Dickinson. I’m the executive director for Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.
It’s a long name, so we just call it a G and C. We are the Council of Governments for Northwest Colorado. I’ve actually I’m sixth generation and I’m raising the seventh generation here in northwest Colorado. It’s actually rumored that my great, great, great, great grandfather was the first white child born in Lake City.
So has some pretty deep ties here. You know, went to school here, graduated from high school, graduated from college, moved away for a minute, came back. So I’ve got three kids, a granddaughter and, you know, we just love our life over here.
[00:03:20] Mark Hinaman: That’s great. Yeah, where’d you grow up? I mean, I’m also from the area So I feel I’ve got a special place in my heart for Northwest Colorado and Western, Colorado the Western as we call it Yeah, yeah,
[00:03:32] Tiffany Dickenson: so I actually I grew up in Grand Junction.
It’s the largest city on the western slope. Excellent
[00:03:38] Mark Hinaman: And have you always worked for A G N C or were you doing something before you entered that?
[00:03:43] Tiffany Dickenson: So I’ve been with A G N C for seven years now. Prior to that I actually worked for the phone company. I worked with small businesses helping them out with paying their bills getting some credit issues, worked out with them and.
And that job actually ended up closing down here in Grand Junction and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. So I thought it’s a great job, I’ll go with it and moved down there for 11 months, couldn’t make it to a year, I had to get home.
[00:04:18] Mark Hinaman: Phoenix isn’t the same as Western Colorado. Absolutely not. Okay. Awesome. Well, Tiffany, why don’t you give us some perspective on what AGNC is and what services you guys provide.
[00:04:33] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, absolutely. We are the Council of Governments. We have four counties in our core region, so that’s Mesa Moffitt, Rio Blanco, and Garfield County. We also serve as the economic development district for Northwest Colorado, which includes those four counties and an additional county of Route County.
And then we’re also the enterprise zone. Strader that’s a program through the state of Colorado, and I serve eight counties on that one. We also have two additional associate member counties. Our, our biggest role is really to advocate for our members, which are the counties and municipalities within the region, and to help out with economic development efforts.
You know, we’re just here to help in any way we can to make our economy the best that it can be and make our lives the best that they can be.
[00:05:27] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. So that’s, I mean, that’s a group of what 13 counties or I should have been paying closer attention. Yeah, in total it’s 13. Haha. Yeah. Okay. But there’s kind of different sectors and groups.
I mean, can you kind of step through what, what each one does?
[00:05:44] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah. So the core Council of Governments, that’s just that four counties and that really is, you know, the most northwestern corner.
[00:05:52] Mark Hinaman: So those four were Moffitt, Rio Blanco, Route, and Garfield County.
[00:05:57] Tiffany Dickenson: No, so for the core counties, it’s actually Moffitt, Rio Blanco, Mesa, and Garfield. Okay. And then for the Economic Development District, and so let me jump back. For the Council of Governments, the advocacy piece of it We absolutely are out there actually in the communities talking with our constituents, talking with our, our elected leaders.
But we also have a legislative affairs team that during the legislative sessions, they go and actually advocate for us and work with the senators and the, the Congress people as well as every single meeting we have. Which we have one meeting every month, and we’ll have the federal or representatives of the federal delegates at all of our meetings.
And so essentially we have Bennett’s and Hickenlooper and Bert’s office all present at our meetings. They give us an update every single month as well, and we let them know what concerns that we have. And then for the enterprise zone, that’s the eight. It’s an eight county region, so that one’s gonna be.
Moffat, Rio Blanco, Route, not Mesa, but Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Gilpin and Clear Creek. So I mean, it spreads all the way from the Utah border border out to you know, central Cities and Black Hawk over there in Gilpin. So it’s a pretty large swath. And then we do also have Delta and Montrose as associate members.
So we definitely make up a large area. And that’s a tax credit. program so businesses can qualify for tax credits. We work with a lot of non profits and government entities through that as contribution projects because those types of organizations can’t use tax credits because they don’t pay taxes.
What we allow them to do is fund raise by giving addi for donations. They do ha development projects. And of those throughout the r from everything from healt
We are, you know, working with food banks. We work with just about anybody who calls us. We will always find a way to help out and you know, it doesn’t matter who calls us. You know, we work with businesses. We work with governments, everybody. It’s just let us know what your issue is and we’ll see what we can do to help you out with it.
And then the economic development district. So that’s actually a federal designation through the economic development administration. Which is under the U. S. Department of Commerce. And this is something that we obtained the designation for back in 2019. It took about 2. 5 years to get the designation.
But what it did is it actually opened up the possibility to more federal grants within our region. A lot of the federal grants, especially the Economic Development Administration, EDA they require that your area falls under what’s called a SEDS. It’s a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.
And the Economic Development Districts are the ones. that create the SEDs. And so that’s the first thing we did was create a SEDs and then apply. And now we have access to those EDA grant opportunities. We have access to more USDA opportunities. And even the state will ask on their grant applications if you’re under a strategy or a plan like a SEDs.
And so you can reference that and be able to apply for more funding, which, you know, just helps us.
[00:09:41] Mark Hinaman: That’s really cool. Yeah, you sound incredibly well organized which is impressive. I sound what? Incredibly well organized, which is good. Thank you. How long has this organization been around and why did it form?
[00:09:58] Tiffany Dickenson: So, as a Council of Governments, right, there’s actually 14 of them across the state or 14 Colorado planning and management regions, and they were actually set out by the, the legislature and the governor, and it was back in 1972.
And so we’ve been around for about 50 years. We’ve we’ve had a few name changes. We’ve had some boundary changes here and there. The four counties that we have right now are the same four counties that we started with. We used to be the Colorado West Council of Governments. But yeah, I mean, it was absolutely formed by the government as a, a way for these communities to come together, to have a voice at the legislature to advocate for their region.
You know, they’re in all of these regions, typically they have a lot of similar problems. And so it’s, it’s best to form these groups and work together to solve those issues. So yeah,
[00:10:57] Mark Hinaman: got it. No, that’s really helpful and insightful. I mean,
[00:11:00] Tiffany Dickenson: and I wanted to throw that out there to that under the colorado constitution.
We are actually considered a local government as well.
[00:11:06] Mark Hinaman: Oh, interesting. Yes. So how, how big is the team?
[00:11:13] Tiffany Dickenson: I have two employees. Okay, so we do a lot for three people.
[00:11:20] Mark Hinaman: Small but mighty. Right?
[00:11:21] Tiffany Dickenson: Yes, absolutely. We really rely on partnerships and collaboration. You know, we in all of the economic development projects that we work on, there never are projects necessarily, right? We help drive forward other projects because we can’t own any of these projects. And especially because we’re, you know, we have such a large area that we cover that, you know, I can’t, I don’t live in all of these communities. And so I need the communities to tell me what it is that they want so that I can help them with that because I’m not going to tell them what they need to do.
That’s not my place.
[00:12:01] Mark Hinaman: But to have a focal point and a single contact and a liaison that can interface with the state at a bigger level and then be kind of a single point of contact for these communities to interface with, like, it seems really, really helpful.
[00:12:15] Tiffany Dickenson: Yes, absolutely.
[00:12:17] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Well, on this podcast, we talk about energy dense fuels and how they can better human lives.
Western Colorado is and historically has been prolific in my opinion, and it’s a energy development for oil, natural gas and coal you know, over the past 100 years, there’s been tons of that development in that part of the world, and it’s, it’s changing now, right? So that’s how we got connected to talk about how it’s changing.
And I guess for our audience, why don’t you give kind of an overview of these industries? Yeah, let’s, let’s start there.
[00:12:53] Tiffany Dickenson: So in our region, we have a lot of oil and gas and coal and just natural resources, right? We’re very abundant in them. We do on the Western Slope have a history of uranium mining.
We don’t do that any longer, but fun fact our uranium was actually used in the Manhattan project. So we’ve had a lot of recovery from all of the uranium and then we’ve got our oil and gas that has, that’s really driven our economies especially down in Mesa and, and Garfield and Rio Blanco counties We’ve really seen that cut down a lot in the last several years, you know, probably the last 15, 20 years, they’ve been looking at the climate change and doing more and more of these regulations.
And so they have pulled back. We’ve lost a lot. You know, we’ve always dealt with the booms and busts over here. So when oil is, is You know, hi, then we’re doing great and when the price drops, then our economies have really suffered over here for it and we’ve known for many years, many decades that we need to diversify our economies so that we’re not as susceptible to the booms and busts, but you know, that’s that takes a long time.
And these are generational jobs that, you know, many, many You know, families throughout the generations, they’ve been doing these things and that’s all they know how to do. Or, you know, it’s, it’s all they want to do. Anyways, it’s good money. It really is the coal is same deal. Right? And so now legislation has been passed and the state will tell us that it’s not that they’re forcing coal out. It’s just the companies that deal in coal refuse to meet the regulations.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. But the regulations are so, so overbearing that we If they’re even possible, right? They’re completely unaffordable. And so it’s not that they’re refusing, but unfortunately, it will shut down the coal.
We have 2 coal fired power plants and 3 mines that are scheduled for closure. The 1st, 1 starts in 2025 and everything’s. It’s closed by 2030. So in these communities, it is a lot of jobs. These are small communities. So these jobs make up a large percentage of the jobs that are available. The wages are great wages, but they’re a little top heavy.
And so it makes the economy, you know, a little bit wonky In that it’s a disproportionate amount of the economy that is made up by these wages. And so that actually impacts it a little bit more when we lose these jobs, if we can’t replace them with comparable wages. So, when we talk about that, we’ve done some reports. We’ve had an economist at Colorado, me University do a few reports for us to actually identify what this is going to look like. And he’s identified that in Rio Blanco County we have with oil, gas, and coal, we will lose 71% of the G D P, the gross domestic product. A lot of people say basically, right, that’s 71% of your economy you’re losing.
In Moffat County, it’s 46%. So our job at the moment is to figure out how we replace the jobs that we’re going to lose and how we do that with high paying jobs so that we don’t end up, you know, in a bad situation where people are having to work multiple jobs. One of the things that we notice with oil and gas when we end up in a bust situation here in Colorado, there are typically other states that are still drilling.
And so we always see our oil and gas folks go to other states and they’ll, you know, serve a couple weeks over there and come back home for a week. But it really draws on them, you know, and so eventually. The question becomes do they move completely? Do we lose our population or do we just have a bunch of absentee fathers that are out there?
You know, because it mostly is men that are working in these industries. You know, if we’re sending them away for work, then what does that do? And what does that do to the family with the financial stressors if they choose to stay and have to get multiple jobs? I mean, these are people that we’re talking about.
They’re not just It’s not just dollars and figures. They’re people.
[00:17:38] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that’s one of the harsh realities of the oil and gas industry, is you have to go where the oil is. And there’s, with the shale revolution over the past decade, there’s been I’ll say more prolific plays and better rocks than what Western Colorado has had to offer.
And so, yeah, you’ve seen kind of a drain of the workforce and talent from those areas to go and chase those higher capital investing areas. So, I mean, I’ve seen it myself. I, I left to go to school and I didn’t go back. I know I’ve got friends that are in New Mexico now and North Dakota that I grew up with that, you know, they left and they’re working in those places now.
So, but with, with coal, it’s kind of a more static staple of the community. I mean, the mines right there, many of these mines are mined mouth, right? They directly feed the power plant that utilizes the coal.
[00:18:28] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, absolutely. Especially in Craig, they have Trapper Mine literally across the street from the, the power plant there.
So it takes it right over there. But of course, you know, they’re both closing.
[00:18:39] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, so give us some perspective, Tiffany. Why are these plants closing? Let’s talk about the coal specifically.
[00:18:47] Tiffany Dickenson: Well, it comes down to the greenhouse gas emissions. Colorado has become very concerned about the air quality.
They’ve done a lot of legislation about that and so legislation came down saying You know, you have to cut it by this amount. You know, where you’re not allowed to go above this amount and the metric times of emissions and all of this. And it’s not just impacting coal. It’s that’s going to be our hardest impact is coal right now, but we’re seeing that it’s going to impact all of our manufacturing sectors. They’ve created a group under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. This group is called the Air Quality Control Commission or AQCC. We use a lot of acronyms. But the AQCC, you know, they’ve kind of got carte blanche to make a lot of rules that are impacting these air quality issues.
The problem is, though, is they create these rules for the front range, and they’re not considering that these are rural areas that we don’t have the air quality issues that they actually have over there. So while they’re dictating to us that they’re saving our health, they’re saving our lives because we’re going to breathe in less pollution, right?
The fact of the matter is is that it has nothing to do with us. Our communities are already at the attainment levels that they require because we care about our communities to begin with and we always have and we’ve always taken care of them and any chance that we get to do things more efficiently, right?
We choose to do that because we, we understand that we want to keep this land beautiful for our Children and our grandchildren. And that’s what we’ve done for generations here. And yeah, they are static jobs up there for coal, right? They’re generational jobs. You know, we have. Grandfathers and, and their sons and grandsons that are working here that all of a sudden we’re just taking this opportunity away from them and I will throw it out there, you know, Senator Rankin, he used to be a senator in our area and he would always say they gave us a date, not a plan.
And that’s 100 percent correct. They said, get it done by 2030 and they did not tell us how we’re going to do it. And then they come in and they give us groups like the Just Transition that you know, give a little bit of money. It’s a little bit of virtue signaling, right? But it’s not going to help us.
Yeah. Not in the ways that we need.
[00:21:30] Mark Hinaman: I, there’s a bunch to unpack there. And I, I think this will consume a lot of this interview. Sure.
Let’s start with the legislation. I mean, this idea of shutting something down without a plan, right? Like, this sounds good from the front range, but, and from the population centers in the state, but then when you apply it to real lives in western Colorado, like, you’re going to decimate these communities, right?
And I, I’ve had, I have a friend that has characterized this and actually post a blog about it on our website, but as a replacement before retirement, right? Meaning we need to have sources of energy and generation before in place and a plan to replace them before we retire these generation sources.
Which we didn’t do, right? The state just said, nope, carte blanche, you’re going to close the coal plants and, and you’re done, right? Which, in my mind, I mean, it’s almost Hunger Games esque, right? Where you’ve got like this urban population and then the coal community that literally they’re dictating and shutting down and taking these people’s jobs away.
[00:22:34] Tiffany Dickenson: Yes. Absolutely. But you know, we see this happening across the board. It’s not just with coal, right? It’s so often these policies are to impact something right now today, and we’re not thinking about what happens down the line. So, you know, we see, we see globally too, right? So the U. S. Convinced Germany that you guys need to cut your emissions.
And so they shut down all their coal plants and Now they’re in big trouble, right, with Russia.
[00:23:07] Mark Hinaman: Well, they shut down their nuclear plants, and now they’re restarting their coal plants.
[00:23:12] Tiffany Dickenson: Right, right, okay, there you go. So, did
[00:23:15] Mark Hinaman: that make
[00:23:15] Tiffany Dickenson: sense? No. Which, right, because, you know, compare the emissions between the two, and which one’s dirtier.
And obviously, that’s going to be the coal. So, in California now, they’ve shut down their nuclear. Now they’re talking about opening one of their nuclear power plants back up. So, I mean, we see it happening. Gavin Newsom comes out and says, Okay, we’re going to get rid of all gasoline powered vehicles by, I think his date might have been 2030 again, or maybe 2035.
And I think it was literally the next day after he said that last year, that he said, Okay, everybody has to get EV, but you can’t charge your EV any other hours except for 11 p. m. to 5 a. m. because it’s too much demand on the grid. So we’re going to continue to take all of our power plants off of the grid.
And then what? You know, how are we supposed to charge our EV vehicles?
[00:24:11] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. So, it, it, this was timely actually, you mentioned Just Transition or the Office of Just Transition just last night actually I attended a discussion with a member of the Office of Just Transition with the Colorado Energy Office, so I’ll give some background and then I want to kind of get your perspective on this also.
Thank you. This is an office that the state of Colorado in their infinite wisdom created and said, okay, well, we’re closing these cold communities and so we need to, like, help them transition and, you know, help the workforce find new jobs and diversify and create better opportunities for them. But then it went to funding.
And they, they were awarded 30 million, essentially once, right? So it sounds like a lot of money if you just say 30 million, but you mentioned there are these high paying jobs, not big communities, large percentage of their GDP. For perspective, I mean, there’s between 200 and 900 jobs in each of these communities that are directly funded by coal projects.
The, the mines and the power plants and each of those jobs might pay over 90, 000 a year. So just the income from those jobs alone is like 20 to 100 million in those communities. And I think that’s what the study that you referenced from Mesa University actually dives into detail. And so if listeners are curious, we can link to that study.
But, so you’ve got this Office of Just Transition that has a 30 million budget and yet we’re taking away hundreds of millions of dollars of income and income tax and property tax from these communities. And so it… How does your community and communities in Northwest Colorado view really the branding around the Office of Just Transition?
Do you guys think that this is just, or does it feel more like a distraction and political move? Oh, maybe
[00:26:07] Tiffany Dickenson: that’s
[00:26:08] Mark Hinaman: a hot take. Maybe
[00:26:11] Tiffany Dickenson: you know, there, I think the feeling is up here that it’s political. You know, we kind of see, we see it happening on both sides, what’s going on. And we see that there is one side that more than the other that’s pushing, pushing the closure of all of these things, right? But again, they don’t, they don’t look at the impacts of the people. When you say 2 to 900 jobs in a community that’s, yeah, that’s, we’re looking at 2500 jobs, direct jobs that we’re going to lose just in northwest Colorado. Just direct. When you start adding in your indirect jobs, we’re talking about about 7,000.
When you’re looking as a
[00:26:55] Mark Hinaman: percentage of the population, that’s huge, right? So I think about Rangely, for example, the mine, Dera, mine and Rangely has 180 to 200 workers in the mine, and the community has about 2000 to 2,500 people depending on. I, I often say the price of oil, just like you said, boom, bust, right?
It’ll have an influx if it’s higher or not,
[00:27:14] Tiffany Dickenson: right? But cut out a little there. What was that?
[00:27:17] Mark Hinaman: That’s, that’s okay. But in general, those coal jobs are there to stay. They’re consistent. They pay well, you know, they can, they afford a great livelihood for the people that work at that facility and that mine.
But if you take them away, then yeah, you, you lose a lot in that community as a percentage of the population and the income and somebody’s ability to earn a living there.
[00:27:41] Tiffany Dickenson: Right. So what do you do? How do you keep your population?
[00:27:45] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s the challenge with these rural communities that the wealth generation is really kind of this resource extraction and, you know, it, Western Colorado is tough.
It is. In a rural part of the world, the transportation to these areas is kind of limited. There’s not big trade networks. There’s some rail, but yeah. How are you guys thinking about that?
[00:28:11] Tiffany Dickenson: So, as far as the Office of Just Transition, like I said, that was, that was virtue signaling, right? It’s like you said, they’re closing down these jobs and…
What are we going to do about it? And so they give us, I, I thought it was only 15 million. I know that they did put a little funding in it a second time.
[00:28:30] Mark Hinaman: But you’re correct. It was two tranches of 15 million for kind of different purposes, which one more factoid and the presenter of the last night at the speech that I was at had.
The stat that the property tax from all the mining and power gen in Colorado is about 32 billion. Like, that’s just going to disappear.
[00:28:55] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, yeah. And again, they don’t think about it. They’re not thinking about how does this actually impact the entire state’s economy. And again, we do have that that information is in that report as well.
So, I mean, you know, they’re the grants through because you do have to apply for grants through just transition to get any access to this money. They’ve divvied it up across the different communities. We have communities that are prepared because they have Excel that kind of came out when this all happened and said, we’re going to commit to keeping these jobs.
And then there were the communities that had other utilities and then that we’re still trying to figure out what the utility wants to do and how we can work with them and in order to replace those jobs, you know, so they’re competitive grants. It’s a small amount of money. There’s really just not going to be a big impact from it.
And so we have organizations like mine that are coming in and saying, you know, how can we help? How can we actually come up with a plan? You know, because we don’t have time. And that’s another thing is the governor has actually said out loud and as well as just transition that we don’t need to worry about the jobs until 2027.
It’s not correct.
[00:30:19] Mark Hinaman: Which is totally false. Totally false.
[00:30:22] Tiffany Dickenson: How can we come in after the fact, right? And then try and fix it. We have to be worried about these jobs, like, yesterday. And we have been. You know, A, G and C was aware that this was going to happen. You know, the writing was on the wall. So we had been looking at this, which is why we applied to become an economic development district.
And we got that designation in 2019. And it was about two months after we got the designation that they went ahead and did that legislation and announced that they’d be closing those coal facilities. So it’s like, give us give us a little bit of time to actually work on these efforts first. But again, give us a plan, right?
What are we going to do? And how is the state going to do this? Because we’re making a sacrifice. And that’s what they don’t understand is we are making a sacrifice on the western slope because they have air quality issues over on the front range. They’re designing all these regulations again for the front range.
And We have other ones that are coming up through the AQCC right now that are going to be hindering manufacturing. And we have some current large employers that it’s going to impact, but they’re coming out with more that’s going to impact new. How do we attract business if they keep shutting everything down due to the emissions?
And, even worse than that, you know, these large companies… Some of them have expansion plans. Why are they not working with them on their expansion plans to help get more jobs? Instead, what they’re doing is giving us more rules. It will cause us to either, you know, it’ll either kill the business or we’ll definitely lose some jobs from that.
When you guys could have used this as part of your strategy to get the job replacement.
[00:32:17] Mark Hinaman: So you’re identifying the, the regulatory burden that the state is inflicting on itself. And, I mean, that’s primarily driven, for those that aren’t familiar, the, the front range of Colorado has kind of an atmospheric inversion that creates, it, it locks in pollution, essentially, around Denver and the metro area.
And so it creates a non attainment zone that’s… That’s the technical term by the Clean Air Act that, you know, there’s too much ozone in the air and it’s predominantly from emissions, but also from some industry. But they apply these rules and it’s applied statewide. And then that becomes a regulatory burden for smaller communities that don’t have the same emission problems like those in the Western Slope.
Did I characterize that better? Correctly or say it back to you?
[00:33:00] Tiffany Dickenson: Absolutely. We say they give us one size fits all solutions for our state and it just does not work in Colorado.
[00:33:08] Mark Hinaman: So with the loss of these high paying jobs, right? I mean, resource extraction, that industry has been kind of the root of wealth in many of these communities.
You listed a number of topics that you were interested in ahead of time. I’ll just list kind of some of these off. And then you can talk about how kind of when you lose these high paying jobs, how are these other things impacted? So you had. Aging population or migration of retirees, affordable housing, mental health lack of child care, like these things are all impacted if you lose these high paying jobs, right?
[00:33:45] Tiffany Dickenson: Absolutely. You know, all the different pillars of economic development, they really feed into one another. So when we talk about the fact that we have an aging population and we have an in migrant population, retirees. And so these are don’t need jobs. You kind of living out their they come to the western have 300 days of sunshine gorgeous.
It is sunny on It’s much sunnier
[00:34:15] Mark Hinaman: than th
[00:34:21] Tiffany Dickenson: We have about 70 percent of our lands is open public lands out here. So, you know, we’re not like these big cities where we’re all sitting on top of one another. And so they love to come out here, people on the Western slope, you know, we’re friendly, we’re helpful, we’re inviting, we’re accepting. So they come over here and they, what happens is you have aging people who aren’t paying income taxes.
And they’re drawing on the services and they spend their money for services. And so that money you know, doesn’t get spent on primary products. And so that’s, you know, it affects the fact of having primary jobs. It impacts our, our government and we lose these cold services. Coal jobs and or, you know, as you said, the high paying jobs and what ends up happening is that, you know, we don’t have anybody paying into the system and we do, you know, kind of have a socialist system as that, as it goes with our government in a lot of areas.
And so if they’re not paying taxes and they are drawing on services and we don’t have anybody replacing them.
[00:35:31] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that makes it really tough.
[00:35:33] Tiffany Dickenson: The affordable housing issue, you know, we saw mass migration to Colorado during the pandemic. We still see there’s a mass exodus from places like California and Oregon and Washington.
And a lot of them want to come to Colorado because it’s a similar atmosphere. One of the issues that we noticed, though, is we have people that are coming from other areas. of the, the country and they want to turn our state into the state that they just left. They didn’t like their policies, but then they want to bring them over here and ask us to start implementing those same policies.
You know, we, we see the way that those policies work out and we’re not interested. Unfortunately when we’re in rural Colorado, rural means that we don’t have the numbers. And so. You know, when it comes to who’s voting, that’s all happening over on the front range. And it’s basically a five county region over there by Denver that are deciding everything for the state of Colorado.
[00:36:36] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Yeah. It’s truly this rural urban divide. While we’ve been chatting, I’ve had We’ve kind of covered a couple issues, but I think about economy, environment, and politics and if we had to rank those in order of importance, it sounds like a lot of the state thinks that, well, politics, they would rank it as politics, environment, and then economy, or they just assume that economy will sort itself out, but I imagine in western Colorado, it’s, your priority might be jobs or economy, then take care of the environment, then address the politics.
I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but is that apt ranking?
[00:37:14] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. So, first of all We’re a nonpartisan organization. As a government, we can’t be partisan. And so, you know, politics for us is kind of out of it. The lobbying part of things is really about what’s best for our economies.
People do look at AGNC as being a conservative organization, but the reason why is because our members are conservative and that’s because our local elected officials are conservative, but. I’m looking at it from the policy aspect and from the from the economy, right when you’re set to lose 50 percent 70 percent of your economy.
I mean, that is what creates ghost towns. People have to move to get the jobs period. You will not survive and to the front rage. It’s like they just don’t care. They don’t see it. And you’re right. It’s just gonna work itself out. Well, I’ll tell you, it is going to work itself out, but that’s only because of the spirit of the people in Northwest Colorado.
We are pioneers. We love our region. I mean, when you talk to people, when you first meet them in Northwest Colorado, one of the first things they tell you is what generation they are in Western Colorado, because that identifies to you that this is in our DNA. I mean, we really care about this. Nobody. We didn’t just move here yesterday and want to make this look like something else.
We want to keep what we always had, what we grew up with, what our parents and our grandparents grew up with. And so our people, they’re pioneers, they’re rugged, and you would not believe how smart and innovative these people are. And so we will, we will figure it out. But it’s unfair to put it on us. to require us to figure it out for us to make this sacrifice and to just say, well, you can get other jobs.
[00:39:16] Mark Hinaman: that’s pretty naive of those policies, right?
[00:39:20] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, and these people have served Colorado. You know, these are dangerous jobs that they have been involved in for many years, and that’s why they get paid so well. But they have served us and we should recognize the service and we should respect them.
[00:39:39] Mark Hinaman: I, I love that. That’s so well said. It’s also a good segue. Pioneers innovative, smart, right? Proactive people. When, when looking towards the future, what are some of the technologies ideas that people have floated around and not saying that any of these are coming to fruition, but what are, I mean, we’ve, we’ve chatted about a couple of them offline, but I’m, I’m just curious to ask the question broadly and see how you respond.
[00:40:06] Tiffany Dickenson: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s, there’s a ton of opportunity in Northwest Colorado you know, especially Craig and There’s the trapper mine up there. We’ve talked about doing a redevelopment of that and turning it into a business industrial park. You know, that could be an R and D. It could just be in manufacturing, you know, we just.
The people up here are the ideas. You have no idea how crazy and they’re just able to do it, you know, and so we have some great businesses that could do a lot. And we’re, we’re actually talking with the Colorado Space Business Roundtable and some of the organizations that they’re involved with. We’d love to see aerospace manufacturing come to Northwest Colorado.
We do have some links to aerospace as it is. They did pass a bill this last session it’s HB 23 1247, and that’s to direct the Colorado Energy Office to do a feasibility study, and It’s on advanced energy replacement sources. And so they made this a very, very broad feasibility study. They’re going to include several different types of energy.
Nuclear is included in there specifically, which was a huge win for us. We didn’t think that we would be able to keep that word in that bill as we worked with the senators and the representatives to get it passed. And so.
[00:41:30] Mark Hinaman: in there, right?
[00:41:31] Tiffany Dickenson: Wanted it in there. Absolutely. Because I want to look at nuclear.
So agency has been involved with a group called Northwest Colorado Energy Initiative. And the purpose of this group, the original purpose was to investigate nuclear as the replacement for coal in Northwest Colorado. We are going to pivot now that 1247 has passed and we are going to be looking at all of these energy options.
But we would like to do a lot of community engagement. One thing that you’ll know. In in northwest Colorado. We don’t just say one type of energy is better than another. We don’t believe that, you know, and that creates all kinds of bottleneck issues when whenever you put all of your eggs in one basket, right?
So we say all of the above is the right approach to this. We think that solar and wind have a place in this. We think that nuclear has a place in this. As we investigate it, I’ll tell you, I’ve become incredibly interested in nuclear. I think that nuclear provides all kinds of opportunities for our region.
So again, These things may or may not come to fruition, but you know, we do have, we have uranium in the region. If we were allowed to mine it, then we could provide, potentially process, the HELEU to run the small modular reactors, right? I get really excited about the idea of the small modular reactors because of the byproducts that they come from.
And how… That can actually help us to help the environmentalists with their primary goals, right? And so, I just learned about this earlier this year there is the nitrogenized fertilizer. And apparently this is becoming a big issue. And so we’ve talked, you know, our, our world has kind of been talking about, well, do we just go to vegetables or do we keep meat in our diets?
You know, how, what’s the most sustainable option for us? And so as we talk about those things today, everybody on a mixed diet, we can feed the 8 billion people on this planet. But if we ever decide to go just to plants, We’re only going to be able to feed 3. 3 billion people, so it’s a huge population that’s just going to die off because we don’t have enough fertilizer to grow the plants for them to eat.
So, the nitrogenized fertilizer, they use coal or they use natural gas, and so it emits CO2 and all of these issues. But with the byproducts from the SMRs, we could create the ammonia or the hydrogen needed to… To do that without the emissions, and so I think that that is a huge opportunity. We have a ton of ranching and ag up in northwest Colorado, and I think that it’s something that would benefit as they could bring costs down.
And what it also allows us to do is, if we were able, if we were able to process Haley, then the market right now for Haley is only in Russia.
[00:44:55] Mark Hinaman: So it only exist in Russia.
[00:44:57] Tiffany Dickenson: Exactly.
[00:45:00] Mark Hinaman: So I’ll say it back. I mean, when, when I get asked sometimes, like, well, do people actually want nuclear in their communities? I mean, who, who actually wants to host these things? And what I’m hearing from you and what I’ve heard from you previously and other members of the Western Colorado community is yes.
Jobs? Sounds great.
[00:45:21] Tiffany Dickenson: But, right, when you look at nuclear, we’re, we are looking at that because not only is it the jobs, but it’s firm. It’s clean, it’s reliable. You know, we’re going to actually get the energy, most of the energy that we produce from it. And it takes very little amount of fuel. And you know, the biggest concern, the first concern that always comes up is, well, what are you going to do with the waste?
Well, do we even realize what the waste looks like? Because I don’t think that most Americans do, right? So it, it, All the waste for the past 60 years could fit into one football stadium or and that’s 10 meters high. So there is some depth in there. However, another way of putting it is it could fill a Walmart.
Yep. That’s it. You know, and even better, if America would let us reuse the fuel, we, which you can absolutely do, and we are one of the only countries that does not allow it, it would even further reduce the amount of waste.
[00:46:28] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, I, it just, it sounds so optimistic to me. I get excited about it when I think about like, wow, we could vertically integrate.
in western colorado, like literally mine the uranium converted to a form that’s useful, enrich it to make it and build the fuel in western colorado, burn it and then even export it to the rest of the country, right? There’s rail lines that you could take and you have approved D. O. T. Containers and you could send it to the nuclear power plants across the country and then export it even internationally across the world.
And you could all, you could do it all there. And you’ve got a community that’s intelligent, innovative, and happy and willing to host this, right? Like, sounds like a great opportunity.
[00:47:13] Tiffany Dickenson: Now, can we get Colorado to allow us to do it? And that’s going to be the question.
[00:47:20] Mark Hinaman: Well, I’m working on that, Tiffany, and we’ll see if we can help.
Thank you. It’s conversations like this, right? Hoping to help make them more public and accessible to more people, so. Absolutely. Well, Tiffany, I really enjoyed this discussion. Why don’t you leave us on kind of an optimistic note? Leave us with your view of the future. If we could push the development of western Colorado and northwest Colorado in this direction, what would it look like by 2030, 2035, 2040?
[00:47:53] Tiffany Dickenson: I think that a lot of our communities Just want to stay the same. They don’t really want to change, you know, and so this is a change for them that they’re being forced to go through and they will figure it out. But I think at the end of the day, our communities will still be those communities. And that’s, I think, the best thing that we can hope for out of all of this, right, is that they get to keep their identity.
They get to keep living the lifestyle that we live over here because it is a fantastic lifestyle. You know, we’re not busy, busy, busy like they are in the cities all the time. We might always be working, but we’re not always rushing to do it. We’re going to be fine, you know, this is God’s country and we have the smart people, we have the go getter, you know, attitude. And we’re going to do what needs to be done in order to, to thrive. And so I think that in 20 to 30 years, you’re going to come back and you’re going to see these communities are probably pretty similar to what they are today because we’re going to keep them the way that the communities want to be kept.
[00:49:04] Mark Hinaman: I like that. Thriving. Thriving then. Absolutely. So, well, Tiffany, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. This has been wonderful.
[00:49:12] Tiffany Dickenson: Thank you.