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Opinion: A positive start turns sour

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It was heady days for the Colorado climate movement in 2019. Jared Polis, with a history of climate action, replaced John Hickenlooper after eight years of oil and gas industry loyalty as governor. 

The new chairman of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee (COGCC) was Jeff Robbins, taking over from Matt Lepore, who’s shown his stripes since moving to the private sector by working for Insight Energy Law, a firm fighting oil and gas regulations.

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Early in 2019, Senate Bill 19-181 changed the role of the COGCC from an organization that primarily promoted the oil and gas industry to one that protected public health, safety, welfare and the environment through regulations. The bill did that by setting guidelines, like the 2,000-foot setback from all dwellings for oil and gas operations.

I’m sorry to report that these early days of sunshine have turned cloudy. What SB 19-181 lacked was enforceability. It established some outstanding goals for the industry to meet, but no consequences for noncompliance. Should we expect the oil and gas industry to meet these sometimes expensive requirements out of a sense of public responsibility? We need a mandate.

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So, SB 21-200 was introduced this year which would’ve put some teeth into rules set forth in SB 19-181. But Polis called it governmental overreach and threatened to veto it. The Democratic caucus dropped it. 

Remember, Polis is a businessman and no friend of the climate. He’s accustomed to concerning himself with financial matters, and putting public health and safety ahead of dollars and cents goes against his instincts. 

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As a U.S. Congressman in 2014, Polis proposed a setback initiative, but was coerced into a very one-sided deal with Hickenlooper which caused him to withdraw the ballot issue. In 2018, Polis opposed Proposition 112 which would’ve established a 2,500-foot setback. 

Incredibly, it’s been almost three years since SB 19-181 was passed and the COGCC still hasn’t established the new rules. They’re working on it, but they continue to issue permits under the old rules, 4,408 since Polis took office and 3,296 since SB 19-181 was enacted. And the COGCC has still never denied a drilling request.

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During the rulemaking process, the COGCC seems to be listening only to the industry and ignoring the climate and environmental groups. They won’t agree to hear a motion from 350 Colorado to pause well transfers until after the rulemaking process is completed, which will probably be some time next year.

High among the climate and environmental demands is single well financial assurances put down by the drillers to pay for capping orphaned wells which are currently leaking methane. The preliminary rules call for “blanket bonding” which lets the operators off at less than full price, with the taxpayers picking up the balance.

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There are currently over 26,000 wells in Colorado producing zero to five barrels of oil per day that’ll soon be abandoned. Workers unemployed by the collapsing fossil fuel industry can use their skills temporarily by plugging these wells.

The outlook on the federal front is no rosier. Climate mitigation is contained in two massive infrastructure bills currently stalled in Congress by two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV), who is heavily invested in the coal industry, and Kristen Sinema (AZ), who’s declared she wants all the remedial climate features of the legislation removed, as well as the threat of a Republican filibuster.

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Apparently, the Democratic legislators believe climate action isn’t worth abolishing the filibuster. What that leaves us with is what we had in the previous administration — minority rule. The Senate is a very undemocratic institution. The 50 Democratic senators represent 41 million more Americans than the 50 Republicans do. Fifty-seven percent of the population accepts that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

I don’t like these big catch-all pieces of legislation that include everything from the smallest consequence to the future of life on this planet. Let the Democrats put forward an all-inclusive, stand-alone climate remediation bill. If the Republicans shoot it down, they can explain their reasons to their constituents while they’re mopping up the mess after a flood or hurricane or soaking their homes to try to save it from a wildfire.

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President Joe Biden supports some potentially effective climate countermeasures, but he’s a politician who characteristically talks out of both sides of his mouth. In last year’s campaign, Biden told the climate geeks he’s in favor of a fracking ban, but to the voters from Western Pennsylvania, who’d be economically impacted by such a ban, Biden said he wouldn’t consider it. 

With all the evidence slapping them in the face the last couple of years, how can our elected representatives be incapable of doing anything to prevent the coming catastrophe? Obviously, the system is broken. It better get fixed real soon or there’ll be nobody left to govern.

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One action we constituents can take is to let our elected officials know their climate-related efforts are insufficient. Contact Gov. Polis at Governorpolis@state.co.us and COGCC Chairman Robbins at jeff.robbins@state.co.us. Remind them the COGCC’s mission is “to protect public health, safety, welfare, and the environment.”

Tags: #350 Roaring Fork #climate #Fred Malo #politics
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