Former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, left, awards Ken Salazar, former U.S. Interior Secretary, with a Wirth Sustainability Award June 10

Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar headlined a group of distinguished natural resource stewards at the 14th Wirth Chair Sustainability Awards luncheon, telling a capacity crowd that the nation’s energy portfolio is stronger than ever and that renewables and hydraulic fracturing are both here to stay.

The Monday event, which drew 300 people to the Four Seasons Hotel, was titled “20 Years of the Wirth Chair: Celebrating Innovators & Legacies.”

Seven leaders in sustainability were honored, including Salazar for his work as Interior Secretary as well as U.S. Senator and Colorado Attorney General, and the event celebrated notable milestones. School of Public Affairs (SPA) Dean Paul Teske said the Wirth Chairs in SPA have done stellar work in sustainable development for two decades, including current Wirth Chair Alice Madden, who served as event emcee. He noted that SPA and CU Denver are celebrating their 40th anniversary and announced a “surprise visitor” at this year’s luncheon — Marshall Kaplan, who 20 years ago as SPA dean “helped raise the money and put together the idea of the chair,” Teske said.

The Wirth Chair, named for former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, who was in attendance Monday, works on sustainability research with the goal of providing policy makers with clear and insightful information. “The School of Public Affairs is fortunate to be ranked No. 10 in the country in environmental policy among public affairs schools and the Wirth Chair, as well as our faculty, are a huge reason for that. They’ve done incredible work, and Alice is keeping that going.”

Luminaries who handed out awards included Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.

Hickenlooper presented a Sustainability Award to CU Regent Emerita Susan Kirk, who, along with Kaplan, played an instrumental role in the formation of the Wirth Chair and serves on the SPA Advisory Board. Kirk also has served on many boards, including the Women’s Economic Development Council and the Center of the American West.

Ritter presented a Sustainability Award to Jim Martin, former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Martin also served as executive director of Colorado departments of Public Health & Environment and Natural Resources.

“We’ve been so blessed in Colorado to have really forward-thinking people” in regards to natural resources and energy, Ritter said. “And many of them wind up being lead sponsors of some of the biggest bills in the state.”

Wirth and Salazar traded compliments. Salazar said it was Tim and Wren Wirth who first inspired him to seek public office, while Wirth tallied Salazar’s recently completed term as Secretary of the Interior. “Seven new national parks, nine new national monuments, 10 new wildlife refuges … You could go and say that if that was done in eight years it would be a significant contribution. This is one four-year term.”

Salazar said that the nation is importing much less oil than eight years ago, thanks to innovations in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. While the latter technology is controversial, he said it is an appropriate practice as long as:

  • the chemicals being injected underground are disclosed — with appropriate protections for trade secrets.
  • the wells have structural integrity “so that we’re not going to have contaminants going out into the water-bearing aquifers we depend on.”
  • and flow-back water is monitored to ensure that it doesn’t harm streams, surface water supplies and wildlife.

“When you look at the nation’s energy portfolio, yes, we’ll have oil, yes, we’ll have natural gas,” Salazar said. “But renewable energy is here to stay. … And the costs of both solar and wind have been driven down dramatically in the last four years.”

Salazar said it’s nice to be home in Colorado. Just this week he joined the international law firm of WilmerHale in Denver.

He spoke for all of the awardees when he said, “It is so true that we are all, in the things that we do, a manifestation of the people who have helped us get to where we are.”

Other awardees were:

  • James Balog (presented by Barbara Bridges): An internationally acclaimed photographer whose time-lapse study of glacier decline was examined in the documentary “Extreme Ice” and in the feature-length film “Chasing Ice.”
  • Dan Friedlander, posthumous (presented by James Balog): A successful serial entrepreneur, professor, artist and principal of CleanTech Consulting, who dedicated his life to forging a path to a clean energy future. His wife, Diane, accepted the award.
  • Mark Reiner (presented by CU Denver Professor Fred Andreas): Headed Non Sequitur Engineering Worldwide and International Centers for Appropriate Technology and Indigenous Sustainability and founder of Symbiotic Engineering and of the Sustainability Series.
  • Staci E. Gilmore (presented by Salazar): Founder and director of Environmental Learning for Kids.

(Photo at top: Former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth presents a Wirth Chair Sustainability Award to former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on June 10.)

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