Brenner, White split on oil |

Brenner, White split on oil

State Senate candidates disagree about industry regulation

Mike Lawrence

Republican Colorado Senate candidate Al White listens to Democratic candidate Ken Brenner speak during a forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club on Tuesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

State Senate candidates Al White and Ken Brenner disagreed Tuesday about how to manage western Colorado’s oil and gas development, with Brenner urging for more regulation and White saying that such efforts could “run these guys off” and hurt the state’s economy.

Uncertainty about changes to state regulations and tax rates for the industry could have already cost Colorado as much as $500 million, White said, citing his own talks with energy companies including EnCana and Liberty Pioneer Energy Source about investments planned for Colorado – $500 million worth from EnCana alone, he said – that have been moved elsewhere.

“Business and investment capital don’t like to hear the word ‘uncertainty,'” said White, a Republican state representative from Hayden. “And that’s what we have in Colorado right now.”

There is no doubt that regulations for oil and gas development in the state are evolving. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has undergone significant changes in the past two years, for example, and Gov. Bill Ritter is strongly backing Amendment 58 on this year’s ballot. That amendment would remove a severance tax credit for oil and gas, increasing state tax collections by an estimated $321 million by 2010 – money that would be channeled primarily into college scholarships for state residents.

Brenner, a Democrat and former president of the Steamboat Springs City Council, said increased oil and gas regulations are overdue.

“The oil and gas industry needs a lot more oversight than it’s had in the past,” Brenner said. “We’re not collecting the money we should be collecting from severance taxes.”

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The candidates touched on the issue during a Tuesday meeting of the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club, which hosted a luncheon candidate forum at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. Brenner and White are vying for the state Senate District 8 seat to be vacated by term-limited Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs.

The event largely consisted of the candidates’ familiar talking points: Brenner focused on preserving water resources and promoting renewable energy, while White stressed his work in the state House to boost funding for education and tourism.

After the event, White said he opposes Amendment 58 because an influx of scholarship dollars would not give Colorado’s universities operating revenue and likely drive up tuition costs. The amendment would also not return enough severance tax revenue to Western Slope areas impacted by energy development, he said.

Brenner said that while he has reservations about the reduction in local dollars, the ballot measure has many more positives than negatives.

“I’m supporting Amendment 58 – it’s time to end the tax subsidy to the most profitable industry in the world,” Brenner said, citing booming oil and gas profits. “We badly need the scholarship support for low- to moderate-income families in Colorado.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233

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