State Rep. Curry sees a world of possibilities

Dennis Webb

A state lawmaker hopes a Colorado delegation’s recent visit to China can help lead to a partnership in the pursuit of renewable energy options.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, recently spent a week in Beijing as part of a group that included three other Colorado lawmakers along with representatives from several other states and Canadian provinces.The group is collectively known as the Energy Council, she said. Other council appointees from Colorado include state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village; state Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus; and state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction.Curry, whose legislative district includes eastern Garfield County, chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, and has sponsored several energy-related bills over the years. She said the group has been working with China for a couple of years to open a dialogue on energy issues.She said the Chinese government decided on short notice it wanted to schedule a visit by council members, and she, Schwartz and Isgar managed to participate.”It was a real whirlwind trip. It was only a week total but I found it fascinating,” she said.She said the group met with representatives from companies, governments and academic institutions “to see if we could open some partnerships and arrangements, or at least learn where they are at with a couple of major things.”Although the Chinese rely primarily on conventional energy sources, “they’re trying to move into renewables” and other alternative energy, Curry said. She said the country is interested in electric cars, wind and solar energy, and coal gasification.Curry thinks the efforts of Chinese researchers in renewable energy might mesh well with those occurring in Colorado, through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, universities, and other entities doing research and development work involving wind, solar and ethanol.”They’re so advanced with their research that if we can combine it with what we’ve done in this state then maybe we can help everyone make it more affordable,” she said.While the trip provided Curry with reason for hope, she also came away with cause for deep concern. The country uses mostly coal now and also is becomingly increasingly reliant on automobiles, and the pollution in Beijing was even worse than she imagined. The country’s interest in renewables and environmental protection is competing with a desire to grow the economy and standard of living at any cost.”They feel they don’t have the luxury of curtailing production in the name of environmental protection,” Curry said.She also was surprised to find that while the central government has set out environmental goals, it hasn’t been able to enforce pursuit of those goals at a local level. Capitalism has eroded the central government’s control.At the same time, the Chinese assumed that the U.S. government has far more authority over its states than is the case, Curry said.She said the Chinese also believe the U.S. government is overly protectionist, and they continue to be stung by backlash from Americans that occurred a few years ago when a Chinese company tried to buy Unocal, which eventually was purchased by Chevron.The Chinese constantly stated that they posed no military threat to the United States, and also believe Americans are being unfair in their criticism over the safety of Chinese food and products, Curry said. In addition, they feel that it’s hypocritical for Americans to criticize the Chinese on environmental issues, and that because of U.S. intervention in Iraq the United States has no right to question Chinese interests in countries such as Sudan.Curry said a Communist Party minder accompanied the group’s interpreter at all times. When they were visiting Tiananmen Square and someone asked where the protesters had been killed, the interpreter was instructed not to answer.”It made me really appreciate the freedom we have here to be critical of what we’re doing,” she said.Despite the country’s drawbacks, Curry said its people are well-educated and industrious.”I was really impressed with their culture and their history. They’re the most polite, clean, gracious people. I think they should be very proud to be who they are. I just hope that they don’t go to the point of no return on these environmental issues and in their rush to grow their economy,” she said.