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Opinion: Retreating snowpack is a threat to Colorado skiing, and to Colorado brewing

A climate-forward federal budget can help abate the trend, and grow the energy sector

A professional skier and the CEO of a brewery might seem like an unlikely pair to co-author a plea to our elected representatives. But skiing and brewing each rely on healthy snowfall, thriving natural ecosystems, and abundant clean water – whether it’s the snowpack Connor needs to explore the backcountry or the snowmelt New Belgium Brewing uses to make Fat Tire, America’s first carbon-neutral beer.

Connor Ryan, left, and Steve Fechheimer

The climate crisis, which poses an immediate threat to both of our crafts, has brought us together to ask Colorado’s Senators to champion climate-forward provisions during this fall’s budget reconciliation process.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report vividly illustrates a world warming at an alarming pace, and things will get worse before they get better. Here in Colorado, temperatures are reducing snowpack and shortening ski seasons. Devastating and deadly wildfires keep getting hotter and more severe, choking our landscapes and lungs with ash and soot.

This not only means less access to world-class hiking and mountain biking trails, but also degraded quality of the pristine mountain air and water that define life in Colorado and supply craft beer’s primary ingredient, drawing 12 million visitors to our slopes and taprooms each season.

This isn’t a warning about the future, it’s our current reality.

Connor was born and raised in the Boulder area, and over the years has watched the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains—which his Lakota ancestors named “He Ska” or “White Horns” due to their year-round snowpack—melt earlier across the Rockies.

Last year’s Cameron Peak Fire contributed to this summer’s mudslides, resulting in tragic loss of life and polluting the water New Belgium uses for brewing. Historic drought conditions further threaten water supplies – and New Belgium’s barley fields – across the West.

We need immediate and systemic change in how we power every aspect of our lives if we are going to have a chance at protecting our beloved outdoors. Individual actions, such as choosing sustainable products and voting for climate leaders, are critical.  And corporate action is, too, such as Steve committing New Belgium to net-zero emissions by 2030. However, only ambitious federal legislation will move the needle far and fast enough to escape the worst of the climate catastrophe.

That leaves Colorado’s elected officials in Congress – led by Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper – with the opportunity and responsibility to build on their legacy as climate champions by delivering climate-forward policies at this critical moment. We applaud the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s investments in American jobs, small businesses and communities and are hopeful that it passes the House and is signed into law by President Biden – but we need much greater investments if we are going to protect our snow, our beer and our way of life.

Senators, we need your leadership more than ever.

The budget reconciliation process is a vital and unique opportunity to steer our climate future away from catastrophe and toward equitable prosperity. We ask that Colorado’s senators prioritize modernizing  how we make energy, and the grid it travels through, with policies that protect the pocketbooks of families and enable businesses to generate clean power for American manufacturing. This transition can be achieved with renewable energy incentives, a clean electricity payment program that complements state energy standards, and placing a price on carbon and methane.

To reach the climate goals set in Paris and by the President, we also must reduce emissions through rebates on electric vehicles and an expanded charging infrastructure. We must lift up American farmers, like those New Belgium relies on, as climate leaders by expanding funding for USDA drought resilience, conservation and regenerative agriculture programs. 

Public lands are the source of nearly one-quarter of our country’s greenhouse-gas emissions. We should ensure our wild places, watersheds and forests are healthy and resilient enough, not only to get out and enjoy, but also to absorb millions of tons of carbon, make them less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires, and support their ability to filter our water supplies, through full funding of forestry investments. 

And let’s put people to work in the places that are losing fossil fuel jobs with the establishment of a Climate Corps, in partnership with local governments that will work on conservation, forest management and other climate-related tasks. Then, create millions more jobs through programs that enable a just transition to an economy powered by renewables by expanding domestic manufacturing of clean tech, and capping abandoned wells and mines.

Crafting and implementing a climate-forward budget also requires listening to and implementing tribal perspectives like Connor’s. Climate solutions should reflect their expertise, ensure justice for communities most affected by climate change, and account for how this global crisis impacts the people who have inhabited it longest.

Investing in these policies will ensure Colorado’s $19 billion energy industry remains a global leader and job creator as the world transitions to renewables. The Clean Electricity Payment Program alone is projected to add 7.7 million jobs, generate $1 trillion in economic growth and drive the U.S. electricity sector toward 80% clean energy. 

These actions also will help protect the state’s $37 billion outdoor recreation economy while shoring up clean water for the state’s $11.4 billion beer industry. Climate investments will create good jobs while allowing our children the experience of flying down our favorite runs, hiking our favorite trails, and – one day – tasting our favorite beer.

Standing up for climate action in budget reconciliation is a chance to do something truly historic: secure Colorado’s prosperity for future generations, strengthen America’s economic competitiveness globally and take the most consequential step yet in solving the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced. It’s about choosing a bright future where everyone benefits, over a dimming past with just a few wealthy winners.

We’re counting on you. 


Connor Ryan is a Hunkpapa Lakota professional skier, an ambassador for Natives Outdoors and a Protect Our Winters Alliance member. Steve Fechheimer is CEO of New Belgium Brewing, and a member of the Protect Our Winters Brand Alliance.



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