By Mark K. Mathews, The Denver Post |
Outlines of Donald Trump’s administration began to take shape last week, as a mix of political and business insiders joined his transition team or were mentioned as possible cabinet members.
What is clear from Trump’s campaign declarations, and from his early team-building moves as president-elect, is that he plans to make policy changes across a broad swath of the U.S. economy, government and culture.
The impacts on Colorado are likely to be felt in key industries in the state such as energy, health care, transportation and recreational marijuana, and on social issues including the environment and immigration.
In those areas, Colorado leaders are anxious about the changes to come. Trump could wipe away hallmarks of the Obama administration, from the Clean Power Plan to the Affordable Care Act, while emphasizing fossil fuel production over environmental protection and regulatory oversight.
“There’s a lot of work, a lot of work to be done, in a short period of time,” said Robert Blaha, chairman of Trump’s Colorado campaign.
Here are a few of the top economic and social issues in Colorado likely to see major policy shifts under the Trump administration:
Energy and the environment
Environmentalists and the energy industry both expect that Trump will rescind the Clean Power Plan, an initiative unveiled last year by President Barack Obama that places new carbon-pollution standards on power plants.
The move was aimed at addressing climate change and helping public health, but coal companies objected because the standards would make it harder for them to compete.
“One of the big winners on the energy side in Colorado is coal,” said Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for the Center for Regulatory Solutions, which is partially funded by the energy sector. “With the Trump administration, one of the first things to go will be the Clean Power Plan.”
Similarly, there’s a good chance Trump will undo the moratorium Obama placed on new leases for coal mining on federal lands, said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
“What I hear is a ‘Drill, baby, drill’ mantra coming out of the Trump folks,” he added.
Maysmith said one thing to watch is whether Trump accelerates permitting that allows drilling for oil and gas on public lands. Among the possible picks for Trump’s Interior Secretary are oil and gas executives Forrest Lucas and Harold Hamm.
Trump tapped energy industry lobbyist Michael Catanzaro to oversee “energy independence” on his transition team, news outlets reported Friday. Catanzaro’s clients have pushed against the Obama administration on issues such as how much methane gas can be released at oil and gas drilling sites, The New York Times reported.
During a meeting with energy industry executives in Denver last month, Trump said he would target environmental and safety regulations he said have “gotten out of control.”
Environmentalists also are concerned Trump could reverse efforts to grant new protections to wildlife and outdoor-recreation areas, such Browns Canyon in central Colorado.
Trump made immigration a central plank of his campaign, and his opening gambit includes plans to speed up the deportations of what his campaign described as 2 million “criminal illegal immigrants.”
Alyssa Reed, an immigration lawyer based out of Commerce City, said her phone has been ringing off the hook since Trump won the election.
“There’s been an uptick in calls, even from clients who already have legal status,” she said. “People are afraid. One woman asked when the deportations will begin.”
The issue is particularly important to Colorado, where Latinos make up more than one in five residents. There are an estimated 200,000 immigrants living illegally in the state, according to the Pew Research Center. Colorado legislators have fought over how much should be done to provide driver’s licenses to people living in the state illegally.
Trump has said he plans to cancel “every unconstitutional executive action” taken by Obama, and immigration activists are concerned about what that will mean for an initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shields from deportation immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children.
“As an attorney, I fear most for the kids who received DACA because they gave all their information to the Department of Homeland Security to see if they qualified for DACA and I don’t know what Trump will do with that program because it was Obama’s executive action,” said Katie Glynn, an immigration lawyer in Lakewood.
Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, have been longtime goals of Republicans, and now that Trump will soon be in the White House, that possibility looks more likely than ever.
But the “details of how this will go down, or would go down, matter greatly,” said Joe Hanel of the Colorado Health Institute.
GOP critics have raised concerns about individual rates and the program’s cost. The Colorado Division of Insurance said in September that average prices will rise 20 percent next year for residents who buy their health insurance themselves, and that fewer carriers will be offering plans on the state health insurance exchange.
But Hanel said there are popular parts of the ACA that could be hard to unravel — notably how it prohibits insurers from barring consumers with pre-existing conditions while allowing dependents to have coverage on a parent’s plan until age 26. On Friday, Trump told The Wall Street Journalthat, after meeting with Obama earlier in the week, he favored keeping those two elements of the health-care law.
Then there’s what to do with the state’s uninsured population, which dropped from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2015, he said. Many of the newly insured have signed up for Medicaid.
“If repealed, 466,000 people would lose health insurance,” he said.
There’s a macro cost too. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the ACA would cut the deficit by $124 billion from 2010 to 2019.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a recent analysis of Trump’s approach, expects the president-elect would “work with states to create high risk pools for individuals who have not maintained continuous coverage, (and) in place of refundable premium tax credits, Trump would provide a tax deduction for the purchase of individual health insurance.”
Highways and infrastructure
Trump has proposed using federal tax credits to raise $1 trillion from private investors to pay for improvements to roads, bridges and airports over the next 10 years. He repeated the pledge early Wednesday during his victory speech.
“We are going to fix our inner cities. … We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none,” he said. “And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
The plan faces questions about whether the tax credits would raise enough money, what would offset their cost and whether the model for privately funded infrastructure projects could get the job done. Some in his own party have warned that the plan too closely resembles a tax increase.
But Colorado clearly needs federal help in meeting its transportation infrastructure needs, and both parties say more needs to be done.
Half of Colorado’s $1.28 billion transportation budget is spent on maintaining existing roads, state officials say, which leaves little room for expansion projects demanded by a booming population. Colorado Department of Transportation officials estimate that revenues fall short of demand by about $1 billion a year.
The bulk of the CDOT budget, about $780 million, is federal and state gas taxes, which the agency argues are no longer adequate given fuel-efficiency improvements. The governor and legislative leaders agree this is a top priority for the 2017 legislative session.
A 2015 poll conducted for the Colorado Contractors Association put transportation at the top of voters’ list of priorities, on par with public education.
In talking about pot, Trump has said he’s inclined to let the states decide. But many of his allies, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have raised serious objections to legalization efforts and he recently singled out Colorado for further examination.
“I love Colorado and the people are great, but there’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know? That’s not going exactly trouble-free. So I really think that we should study Colorado, see what’s happening,” he said.
Those in the $1 billion industry in Colorado are closely watching how a Trump administration will approach the issue. Much could depend on whom Trump chooses for U.S. Attorney General.
But U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he expected Trump to keep his distance. “My advice to the new administration … states are intended to be laboratories of democracy (and) Colorado is deep in the heart of the laboratory,” he said.
Muslim travel ban
One of the most controversial pieces of Trump’s White House run was his call to ban travel by Muslims to the U.S.
On Thursday, he didn’t answer questions about the status of that plan when he visited Capitol Hill, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle are watching Trump to see whether, and how, he tries to carry out that proposal.
But Amanullah Mommandi, acting president of the Colorado Muslim Society, said he wasn’t concerned about the idea, at least not yet.
The reason, said Mommandi, was that he believed Trump would step back from that position once he began to receive intelligence briefings.
“I’m sure he will find the facts and reality and he won’t implement what he was threatening to do,” Mommandi said. Besides, “singling out one segment based on their religion or race is not constitutional.”
He added that his one concern, shared by many of Colorado’s other Muslims, which number between 20,000 and 30,000, is that efforts to ostracize Muslims could result in a cycle of violence between right-wing extremists and bad apples in the Muslim community.
But “Muslims are not a threat to this country,” he said.