“I’ll be honest, I was crushed. When I got up the next morning I looked at my wife (Stacey), she looked at me and we just growled at each other because we didn’t even want to talk about it.”
— Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers about the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Last week Moffat County voters arrived at the polls and voiced, by an overwhelming majority, their desire for a new leader in the Oval Office.
Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney won big here, earning 4,695 of the 6,239 ballots cast in Moffat County and topped incumbent President Barack Obama by a more than three to one margin.
But Obama reclaimed the big prize by winning the Electoral College and carrying the national popular vote by almost 3.5 million.
For some local residents Obama’s re-election was a bitter defeat.
“I’ll be honest, I was crushed,” said Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers. “When I got up the next morning I looked at my wife (Stacey), she looked at me and we just growled at each other because we didn’t even want to talk about it.”
As an elected official of a county rich in minerals — namely oil, natural gas and coal — Mathers is worried about four more years of the Obama Administration’s policies against energy exploration and development on federal lands.
Approximately 65 percent of Moffat County’s landmass is public and is either managed by the State of Colorado or the federal government.
There was speculation, Mathers said Wednesday, that if Romney won the election Moffat County would see an increase in oil and natural gas activity — activity that could have brought significant revenue into the county and its taxing districts.
Mathers recently crunched the numbers with Moffat County Assessor Robert Razzano. According to those approximations, every well pad constructed in Moffat County generates about $30,000 in state assessed tax revenue, Mathers said.
In terms of royalties on production, and taking into consideration oil is currently trading at close to $100 a barrel, a well producing 100 barrels every 24 hours puts $200 per day in the county coffers.
“The oil industry is what was going to get us out of the hole in Moffat County, and it still can because they’re drilling on private grounds,” Mathers said. “I guess I could even thank our former governor (Bill Ritter) and the president for not drilling on public grounds because at least we’re seeing some local people benefiting from that.”
The only thing to further slow energy activity, Mathers said, is if the Sage-grouse becomes an endangered species.
If that happens, the proposed three to five percent disturbance rule would also apply to private landowners, Mathers said.
Even as a local bar owner who said he may have to close down his business if forced by Obamacare to pay for health insurance benefits for his employees, Mathers’ primary worry revolves around Moffat County’s largest industry.
“It’s the coal market that concerns me more than anything because Obama doesn’t like coal, and coal is the heart and soul of Moffat County,” he said. “Maybe it’s going to come down to opening markets overseas, but I’m just hoping its not another four years like the last four years.”
Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, echoed Mathers’ fears for the coal industry.
With Obama firmly in place in the Oval Office Sanderson expects the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue to propose and implement regulations to discourage coal use.
Though he also expects many of those battles to be waged in the courts, Sanderson said he is much more focused on Colorado’s implementation plan of Colorado House Bill 10-1365, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.
“We know the cuts mandated by HB10-1365 will displace 2.6 million tons of coal that were being sold to those (Front Range) generation stations that are now slated for conversion to natural gas,” Sanderson said. “And recent testimony before the (Colorado Public Utilities Commission) shows up to 4 million tons will be affected by HB10-1365.
“When you take away 2.6 to 4 million tons away from what has been an average historical yield of 10 million tons it constrains the market.”
Sanderson argues that not only has coal proven itself as the cheapest source of electricity, taking so much coal out of the Colorado market will force the state’s coal mines to acquire contracts with out of state and foreign buyers to stay in business.
“Even if we can find markets for that coal elsewhere, it takes away four million tons we could have sold here and that is a bad thing,” Sanderson said. “We want to continue to mine that coal because of on every ton of coal that’s mined, there’s a royalty paid and that comes back to support the state.”
Last year the federal government paid close to $60 million in royalties on coal mined in Colorado, Sanderson said. More than half of that revenue returns to the state, namely to the public school system.
But not all are discouraged by Obama’s re-election.
Chris Arend, communications director for Denver-based Conservation Colorado, believes the Obama Administration will be an important partner in pushing one of his organization’s main priorities, increasing renewable energy.
Obama doubled the country’s renewable portfolio during his first term in office, Arend said.
“As a state and as a nation we need to move more toward renewables,” Arend said. “It has incredible potential for the future, and we feel that with increased technologies and efficiencies it is cost comparable to dirty fuels.”
Colorado Conservation is a relatively new organization, created through a merge between the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters.
It’s a full-service conservation organization, Arend said, with a mission to protect the air, land and water for the people of Colorado.
In regards to the growing connection between the Sage-grouse and oil development, Arend believes a balance can be struck if the bird is added to the endangered species list.
In addition Arend doesn’t believe Conservation Colorado, the CEC or Colorado Conservation Voters has ever precluded the use of coal as an energy source.
“If there is a way to figure out how to use coal, and have it be clean and comparable to natural gas and renewables in terms of emissions we’re open to that,” Arend said. “But right now that technology doesn’t exist.”
Colorado Conservation endorsed 36 of the 37 candidates that won seats in the Colorado General Assembly during last Tuesday’s election.
The organization thinks there is now a pro-conservation majority and plans to build partnerships to move environmental and energy issues forward.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.