Legislators decry energy rules
White, Baumgardner speak about experiences this session
Two Republican state representatives and two Republican state senators bemoaned the actions of a Democratically controlled state Legislature Friday, and the local politicians tried to explain some of their tougher moments this year.
Moffat County’s legislators, Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, and Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, were joined during the second day of the Fueling Thought Energy Summit 2009 by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Yampa Valley Partners hosted the event at the Holiday Inn of Craig.
Each of the legislators spoke out against new energy industry regulations created by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and approved this year by the Legislature.
The COGCC created new rules for drilling permits in 2008 after the Legislature voted unanimously to have the agency design better protections for wildlife and public health.
White, Baumgardner, Penry and McNulty each said the new rules’ effect on statewide industry cannot be mistaken.
It discourages investment now, and will discourage future industry investment when the national economy recovers, they said.
“To suggest these rules have no impact on the precipitous decline of oil and gas on the Western Slope is to ignore the realities that are there,” Penry said.
Permit applications are down, rig counts are down, just about every indicator associated with the energy industry is down, he said.
The “most frustrating” part, Penry added, was that there was no compromise among legislators, even those from the Western Slope, who normally stand together. The vote broke along part lines.
Luke Schafer, northwest campaign coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, a statewide lobby group, said the comments of Penry and other Republican legislators were untrue.
Economic conditions have more to do with the industry’s fall than regulations, he said. Low commodity prices that force poor returns on investments, the small amount of regional pipeline capacity that causes a local supply buildup and the lack of available cash loans are the worst problems.
“I think it’s a pretty spurious claim,” he said. “They’ve said the same thing about every (Bureau of Land Management Resources Management Plan) since the 1970s. They’re still thriving.”
Schafer cited the mining industry, which has mandatory land reclamation and health standards, as an example.
“If they can do it, why can’t oil and gas?” he said. “Either that’s a falsehood or they’re an industry that can’t compete. I think they can compete. I think they can thrive, and they will again when the market comes back.”
White and Baumgardner also told stories about their experiences in the recent legislative session.
Baumgardner, a rookie in the House this year, said that although many of the bills he carried failed, he could look back on the best moment of his tenure so far and not get discouraged.
“That was when the people in my district decided they had enough faith and confidence in me to send me down there (to Denver) to represent them,” he said.
He spent most of the last session learning hard lessons.
“You get down there, and a lot of things you’d like to change you can’t, because they’re fixed in the Constitution,” Baumgardner said, adding he knows the system better now and expects to have a bigger direct impact in the next session.
Although some of his efforts failed – such as giving most of the state’s severance tax revenue directly to local governments – he thinks he knows what he did wrong.
The system is set up so the burden of proof for new legislation is put on the legislator carrying the bill.
Next year, Baumgardner said he’d do a better job of calling residents, business owners, lobbyists and others to testify on behalf of his bills.
White, an eight-year veteran, said he went through the toughest, most controversial session of his career.
“If Randy’s high point was being elected, mine was happy hour,” he joked.
As a member of the Joint Budget Committee, White was tasked with helping write three to four budgets this session, which began in January.
For the first, White had to help cut $600 million from state spending halfway through the 2008-2009 fiscal year. One of his last tricks was to cut a more permanent $400 million from the next fiscal budget, which begins July 1.
Some of the losses were important, White said, such as the one-year suspension of Colorado’s senior property tax exemption.
There were some wins, too, he added, such as saving $2 million for senior programs such as Meals on Wheels and free transportation.
White said the session brought a lot of criticism his way, he said, and served as a reminder that no one is celebrated all the time.
“In politics, one day you’re a hero, one day you’re a heel,” he said. “Now I’m trying to convince you all that I’m not as bad a guy as you think I am.”
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