FEATURED VOLUNTEER: Jane Ard-Smith, Political Committee Chair

By Mary Coday Edwards

Not only does Jane serve the Chapter in the above-noted role, but for the last six years she’s also been Chair for the Pike’s Peak Group (PPG) in Colorado Springs. Given Jane’s penchant for political activism, serving as Political Committee Chair was a natural step in her ongoing commitment not only to the Rocky Mountain Chapter but to Colorado’s environmental issues. 


Jane Ard-Smith, Hoover Dam
Jane Ard-Smith, underneath the Hoover Dam.

Endorsing Candidates

In a nutshell, the Committee looks for political candidates who support the Club’s goals, “for candidates who will help us [RMC] over the long term as well as the short term. We make endorsements in races where our endorsements can make a difference. We don’t endorse in every single race but we do in as many races as we think we can help,” Jane said. To represent a broad perspective in the Club, “we look at issues statewide and national – not just local - and we try to represent a geographic diversity,” Jane added.  

Working with Groups

The Committee helps groups implement the endorsements by “getting their members involved in helping elect the candidates we support and then in following through on this endorsement.” To get this assistance, “just send an e-mail to me,” Jane said. “I’m happy to talk with anybody about what they might do . . . at the group level, the chapter level or any other level.”

Particularly in the metro/Denver area where the Chapter doesn’t have an active group “we are trying to energize members, to get them involved politically and support candidates who are favorable to the environment during this 2012 election.”

Action Item: Member Input

The Committee needs member assistance in another area, Jane added. “We’re in the process of revamping our survey for state candidates for Colorado’s House and Senate races. We think we have a pretty good idea of what issues are important to the Sierra Club, but if folks have something specific they want to know, or issues they want candidates to address, send me an e-mail. Make a suggestion for a topic and we’ll see if we can cover it.”


Saying “No” to a New Coal Plant

Besides politics, Jane focuses her attention within the Club on energy and urban issues. An activism highlight was working as part of a coalition that stopped the Colorado Springs Utilities from building a new coal plant in 2004.

“We were somewhat successful in that venture, as plans for the coal plant got shelved due to a combination of factors, such as pressure from us but also because our [Colorado Springs’] energy demands weren’t as great as they were forecasted to be. So, we dodged that bullet and didn’t get a new coal plant,” she said.

From that endeavor emerged an ad hoc group which includes the Sierra Club and other individuals and organizations interested in energy issues.

“We started thinking how we might move our utilities toward more renewable energy. Springs Utilities has not been a leader in renewable energy or embracing renewable energy technology.” When the coalition began having renewable energy conversations with Spring Utilities eight or nine years ago, it was essentially told by Springs that “we will never invest in renewable energy”.

“Well, here we are eight to 10 years later and Spring Utilities is not only meeting 10 percent of its energy demands from renewable energy but is also setting a goal for itself of achieving 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.  We’re a little behind the investor-owned utilities - like Xcel Energy that have a goal of 30 percent renewable energy which it is meeting - but we’re definitely moving in the right direction and starting to diversify the types of energy we’re investing in,” Jane said.

“For example, Springs Utilities is on the verge of putting its toe in the water of wind energy and we have the state’s first solar garden up and running in our community. I think it’s just taken a lot of different folks approaching it from different angles to move the community to a more sustainable energy future.”  

Shaping a Regional Sustainable Energy Plan

The second is related. The PPG, along with its coalition members, has joined with Fort Carson to develop a regional sustainable energy plan. “We’ve partnered with Fort Carson because Fort Carson has a goal of achieving net zero energy, water and waste by the 2020. It’s very ambitious. Fort Carson has been a leader down here in terms of sustainability. It had originally set a goal of being 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2027 but they just upped that to net zero energy by 2020 as part of the Department of Defense (DoD) push. Fort Carson was one of the installations selected to figure out a way to meet those goals with the idea being that the rest of the DoD would follow suit.

“Our plan is to examine what the barriers are to getting sustainable energy in our region - from both a political standpoint and from a technical standpoint, to evaluate the different types of energy for their sustainability over the long term and then recommend solutions to those barriers and how we might move forward as a region.

“We have at least five electricity providers in our region . . . . It’s a hodgepodge of different utilities, and bringing them together to create a common vision as to how we move forward as a region is where we’re headed.”


Energy Matters

“The most frustrating issues are the same as my most favorite - working on energy issues. It’s a long-term commitment and I sometimes get frustrated with the seemingly slow pace of our progress.

“It seems like you move two steps forward, one step back. We’re constantly battling the same issue down here, just like everywhere else: Costs, and how we look at costs. . . . We’re really focused on looking at life-cycle costs as opposed to what’s on your next utility bill,” Jane said.

In addition, the region hasn’t escaped the fervor over hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the region finds itself “in this ‘jobs vs. the environment’ rhetoric that serves no purpose. We’re trying to fight the image that we’re all about defeating jobs. That’s always a frustrating battle and a battle we’ve seen for decades,” she added.

Hierarchical Snail’s Pace

And while working within the confines of a national organization means one has the clout of a national organization, it also comes with “the hoops that you have to jump through, trying to work at various levels – whether it be from National with the Political Committee or at the state level working on oil and gas development.”

For example, “El Paso County [in PPG’s region] has already adopted some lukewarm regulations for oil and gas development; our city is considering whether or not to adopt any regulations on its development, but at our Chapter level we’re still talking about a plan and what we might do. . . .  But by the time that ‘plan’ gets developed, whatever’s going to happen in El Paso County will have already happened.”

But having said that, “we’re also lucky, in that down here we’ve got some of the folks who are involved in those state-wide and national conversations over these issues. Other groups don’t have the benefit of that,” Jane added.


Developing RMC Policy on Oil and Gas Issues

“I would approach it similarly to what the Chapter is doing now. The challenge for the Club is that it’s primarily run by volunteers – some of the best in the world – but it means that we have limited time to devote to issues,” Jane said, whose job as a legal editor with Nexis/Lexis provides her some flexibility.

“One of the things we’ve [PPG] done when we’re working on issues that are bigger than we can take on is look for coalitions - reaching out to the other organizations and entities that are also working on these issues. We try to come up with a campaign or a strategy or a goal that is complementary to these groups – not independent.”

In addition, “down here [Pike’s Peak region] we often play ‘bad cop’ because the Sierra Club has two things that other organizations and environmental groups we work with don’t have:  we have the ability to endorse candidates so we can ask tough questions of those running for office; and we have the ability to bring lawsuits against entities.

“Therefore, when we coordinate on a particular issue with other groups, we look to see how the Club – with its strengths – can play a role. I think we haven’t done that as effectively at the Chapter level – from my perspective down here.”

Jane believes there may be times when the Chapter needs to be the “bad cop” in state-wide conversations and “fracking [hydraulic fracturing] may be one of those issues where we’re going to be out front of the other entities.”

Guru to the Next Generation

Jane’s already thinking about who will follow in the footsteps of today’s activists.

“After this next election cycle is over, a [PPG] goal for 2013 is put together a plan for reaching out and bringing folks in,” Jane said.

“My long-term goal is to find and develop the next generation of environmental leaders in our community. We try to do so on an individual basis, but locally and at the Chapter level we need to develop a plan for cultivating volunteers and leaders.”

Jane is an exemplary leader in today’s environmental world, in that she doesn’t wait for someone else to take the lead but works to elect officials who believe in the same future; she builds coalitions with others with similar passions; and she’s taking the necessary steps to prepare for the future. For how you can be involved, contact Jane.

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