I had the opportunity to attend a campaign event for Mark Udall Friday afternoon, when he stopped by the Montezuma County Democratic headquarters for a short stump speech and Q&A.

Udall is a sitting representative in the House who is running against Republican Bob Schaffer for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Wayne Allard. Udall, a tall, rangy, candidate who sported the requisite Western dress of cowboy boots, denim, and a button-down, only spoke for about 20 minutes, but his understanding of and dedication to Western and national environmental issues quickly shone through.

Udall said he wanted American policies to “trigger a green energy revolution,” and called Colorado the “ground zero” for a reformed energy policy. The state’s been hit hard by the oil and gas boom, and the southwestern part of the Colorado that Udall toured today, which included Dolores, Montezuma, and La Plata counties, is no stranger to the boom-bust drilling cycle and its associated economic and environmental impacts.

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During the talk, Udall stated that he supports the “Gang of 16” (formerly the “Gang of 10“) proposal, a compromise piece of legislation that allows select states the option of offshore drilling in exchange for the extension of tax breaks for renewable energy development. The bill would also provide billions of dollars to U.S. automakers to fund development of automobiles that run on non-fossil fuel alternative energy.

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Udall’s support of offshore drilling in the Gang of 16 proposal is a politically expedient shift from his earlier, no offshore drilling position. I can give him that — he’s running a campaign, after all, and the proposed legislation leaves the decision to drill or not to drill to the states. The man is clearly committed to renewable energy — sitting about six feet from Udall I could see his animation when he spoke on the topic.

Although I didn’t get to ask a question during the brief Q&A session, I did run up to Udall after the event and ask him about his plans for bringing the renewable energy industry to rural and economically depressed areas like Montezuma County, where we have 300+ days of sun a year, a population in need of mid-level wage jobs, two pollution-belching coal-fired power plants located just across the state line, in New Mexico, and a new one in the works.

Udall’s short but animated answer, as he was herded out the door by an anxious staffer, was that he would put the dollars saved by eliminating oil and gas subsidies into things like the production tax credit and investment tax credit for renewable energy companies that would help jump start these industries. If you go to his website, there’s a pretty comprehensive energy plan outlined, which includes the credits, among other items (including a short bone thrown to nuclear).

I left the short event with two strong impressions: First — people in Montezuma County, a traditionally “red” county in Colorado, are excited to hear from a Democratic candidate. At least 70 people filled the small Democratic HQ, an astonishingly high number for any event around here.

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Second — Udall’s ability to speak with common sense about environmental issues will serve him well in a competitive Senate race for the state of Colorado.

“You all know in this part of the world that Mother Nature bats last,” he said during his talk. That kind of statement, a respectful acknowledgment that our lives are built around natural resources, makes sense to Westerners, conservative and liberal alike.