Colorado Supreme Court Rules Against Cities on Fracking

UPDATE #2: Rep. Jared Polis sounds like he’s ready to fight:

I am extremely disappointed with the bad decision today to overturn the will of the voters in Longmont and Fort Collins. It’s a blow to democracy and local control,” said Polis.  

“While at least the courts found today that local government land use authority and regulations can coexist with state regulations, the communities being hurt by unregulated fracking are looking to enact stronger measures to protect homeowners, and this case doesn’t help.

Now that the law has been interpreted, it’s up to the state legislature or the people of Colorado to act to protect our neighborhoods and homes. I look forward to continuing to help advocates in these efforts to protect our communities.”

—–

UPDATE: Rep. Mike Foote (D) remains hopeful despite the setback of today’s ruling:

“I’m disappointed that the people of Longmont and Fort Collins will be unable to implement measures that they deemed appropriate to address oil and gas development within their borders,” said Rep. Foote, D-Lafayette, whose district includes part of Longmont. “But a careful reading of the rulings shows that these are actually very narrow opinions. Local governments’ land use authority was reaffirmed, including for oil and gas development.”

Rep. Foote also noted that the court, in the Longmont ruling, did not dispute what it described as “the propriety of local land use ordinances that relate to oil and gas development.”

“Cities and counties may need to modify their approach somewhat,” Rep. Foote said, “but it’s clear that the Court has reaffirmed that local governments do have a seat at the table when it comes to oil and gas development.”

—–

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

KDVR FOX 31 reporting, a big ruling today that sets the stage for the next battle over oil and gas development along Colorado’s rapidly urbanizing Front Range:

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that individual cities cannot slow or ban fracking near residents because it’s a matter of state law.

In 2012, Longmont voters voted to ban fracking and in 2013, Fort Collins voters approved a five-year moratorium. The oil and gas industry sued both cities in 2013, and won rulings against Fort Collins and Longmont in summer 2014…

In its Monday ruling, the court said local cities’ attempts to stop fracking is “invalid and unenforceable.”

Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith responds to today’s ruling in a statement:

We’re still evaluating the specifics of these decisions, and the Fort Collins decision appears to be particularly narrow. But, at first glance, they are disappointing.

We believe that good policy-making happens from the ground up and that local communities are best-suited to make decisions about what happens with oil and gas drilling within their borders. Local governments should have the ability to call a timeout on drilling in order to better understand its impacts and ensure safety and public health, just as they are allowed to do with other industries.

We will continue to stand with the communities that are being dramatically impacted by oil and gas drilling. Their concerns have not gone away with today’s rulings.

These decisions also show that the oil and gas industry’s threats of litigation are a hammer that the industry has no qualms about wielding against local governments if they decide to engage in land use planning. In order to combat this hammer, local governments must be empowered with better tools to protect their citizens from heavy industrial drilling.

There’s no question this is a setback for the local communities who sought better control over land use within their boundaries, but the fact is it was not an unexpected ruling. Colorado’s split-estate management of surface and subsurface development rights, a holdover from a era when Colorado was a mineral extraction hinterland and not a burgeoning urban population center, is simply not written to balance the needs and rights of today’s urban populations vs. mineral rights owners.

These local communities who fought back for a better deal knew they were up against long odds under current law. As much as anything, these moves were intended to provoke a statewide discussion on how to better protect neighborhoods, businesses, and schools from a heavy industry with a unique right to run roughshod over local land use authority. The response from the industry, Republican politicians, and yes, many Democrats including pro-energy Gov. John Hickenlooper, has ranged from denial to outright contempt for the concerns of opponents of “fracking” in residential areas. Rather than working toward a solution that acknowledges the problem, supporters of the industry in both parties have brushed off concerns–often offensively–and hid behind the legal status quo.

After today’s ruling, the battle shifts back to the ballot box. We’ll have to wait until August to see what energy ballot measures we’ll be voting on this November, but bigger setbacks between energy development and surface populations and a constitutional statement clarifying local control rights are major possibilities. Energy industry surrogates prefer to steer this debate into extremes like a total ban on “fracking” statewide, from which they can make more effective counterarguments, but more realistic measures may well prove much more popular. If funders like Tom Steyer and Jared Polis decide that 2016 is the year to throw down, today’s ruling against Front Range cities could become the battle cry that changes everything.

Because it’s evident now that something has to change.

Who is Scott Tipton working for? Not you

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

This weekend, a devastating report in the Denver Post confirmed something many in western Colorado already knew: Rep. Scott Tipton is the tool of an oil and gas company that has given his campaign tens of thousands of dollars. Tipton takes his orders from the energy industry–not the citizens he represents in Congress.

Tell Scott Tipton to return SG Interests’ money–and stop letting them write his bills.

The Denver Post reported this weekend that Rep. Scott Tipton introduced legislation regarding a controversial energy development issue in western Colorado which “was written largely by an energy company that is also Tipton’s largest campaign contributor.” [1] The bill leaves out any plan for long-term conservation in the Thompson Divide area. The Post reports that Rep. Tipton admits to taking language for the legislation “word-for-word” from lawyers for the energy company that owns mineral rights in the Thompson Divide.

And it’s the same energy company, SG Interests, that has given almost $40,000 to Rep. Tipton’s campaign. Ordinary citizens in Tipton’s district can’t compete with the industry’s lavish support for Tipton, and the results are obvious. Western Colorado’s representative in Congress answers to the highest bidder.

Send a message to Tipton now: tell him to return SG Interests’ money, and stop letting the oil and gas industry write “his” legislation. We’ll make sure Tipton gets the message.

Thanks for standing up for western Colorado when it matters most.

Tax Day, Tipton, and the Tired Rhetoric of an Entitled Industry

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Two things come with certainty we are told, and one of those comes with an annual deadline: Tax Day.  And without getting into the many issues of public spending, and tax policy, and philosophies of government–there is still a thread that connects them all: fairness. Who pays what for public resources, public benefit, public good.

“Only little people pay taxes.” Leona Helmsley ~ This year Tax Day is April 18.

So here is something to think about as you dig around for that last receipt hoping to save another $50 on your 1040.

Last year alone oil and gas companies, already profiting off developing resources from public lands, wasted enough methane gas that it could have put another $50 million or more into the U.S. Treasury, according to a report prepared by the Western Values Project.

That’s money that American taxpayers have to make up, even though the resources being wasted already belong to us.

So not only are we robbed of the royalty that gets vented and flared along with the gas, we lose a valuable energy resource too. The Durango Herald (covering a public  hearing held in nearby Farmington, New Mexico) reports:

“Oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands are now wasting more than $330 million worth of natural gas nationwide,” Salazar said. “And in New Mexico, that’s $100 million a year, each year, through the wasteful practice of venting, flaring and leaking. In fact, New Mexico is No. 1 in the country for the amount of natural gas being lost.”

Oil and gas executives think paying Americans for the waste of their public resources could be “crippling.”

Which brings us to another thing to consider this Tax Day. The Bureau of Land Management, which administers most of the public’s onshore minerals, is finalizing an updated rule to stop this disregard shown by oil and gas companies for our energy resources and for the American taxpayer.

Under the proposed new rule more money could be returned to the U.S. Treasury, less of America’s energy resources would be wasted needlessly, and methane emissions would be cut significantly, the Herald reports.

BLM officials estimated the tougher regulations would reduce methane emissions – a gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide – about 169,000 tons per year, and decrease volatile organic compound releases by 410,000 tons per year.

“The announcement … is consistent with the Obama Administration’s goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2015,” the Department of Interior said in a Jan. 22 statement.

The BLM rulemaking is a necessary and prudent update to regulations that predate the shale boom and the widespread deployment of fracking and horizontal drilling, practices that can release large amounts of methane.

(more…)

Hickenlooper: Between a Frack and a Hard Place

John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the perennial battle over tighter regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado heats up again this election year, three news stories from the weekend help illustrate the trouble Gov. John Hickenlooper finds himself trying to thread the needle between longtime support for the industry versus the substantial segment of Hickenlooper’s Democratic base increasingly concerned about the environmental and public health effects of drilling near population centers. Over the weekend, as the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reports, Gov. Hickenlooper took fire for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about a pipeline to export natural gas overseas from Colorado’s Piceance Basin:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has sat on the sidelines as western Colorado officials have tried to marshal support for an appeal of a natural gas pipeline out of the Piceance Basin, state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, said Saturday.

Hickenlooper needs to persuade Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a fellow Democrat, to support the pipeline, Scott said during Club 20’s spring meeting on Saturday at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The proposed Pacific Connector pipeline would carry natural gas collected in northwest Colorado to Jordan Cove on Coos Bay in Oregon and then to markets on the Pacific Rim…

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Salazar is giving voice to Democrats disaffected by the Hickenlooper administration’s perceived bias toward energy producers. The Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland:

The Adams County representative announced via Facebook that he intended to ask for an amendment to hire more inspectors to investigate oil and gas operations.

He could have chosen thousands of areas to cover the $370,000 cost. But he went directly after Hickenlooper’s budget.

“I think the Governor has swallowed too much of the fracking fluid Kool Aid,” Salazar wrote. “I am prepared to send a message to the Governor that his comments are ill-founded and we are tired of his attempts to minimize what Coloradans are feeling about oil and gas operations.”

Rep. Salazar’s budget amendment to fund more oil and gas inspectors out of the Governor’s budget wasn’t successful, but definitely was not received positively on the First Floor of the Capitol.

At the same time, Hickenlooper hasn’t done much to prove Joe Salazar wrong: a paywalled story in the Colorado Statesman today has Hickenlooper defending the status quo drilling regulations alongside Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute.

As we have discussed in this space for the nearly six years John Hickenlooper has been in office, the split within the Democratic coalition over oil and gas drilling is probably their largest point of division on any contemporary issue. As concerns nationally about the effects of drilling nearer to homes and schools have grown, the reaction from pro-energy Democrats to their constituents has been seriously deficient to the point of outright contempt for these concerns. At the same time, Hickenlooper can point to events during his administration, like tighter rules and continued work toward clean power goals, as evidence he is indeed responsive on the issue.

The entrenched influence of the energy industry among Colorado Democrats of course predates Hickenlooper’s administration, and will still be there after Hickenlooper has moved on to bigger things–possibly as soon as this coming December. Looking ahead, the changing economics of the industry combined with greater public awareness do portend a shift: toward greater industry accountability, and support for surface communities over subsurface mineral rights holders.

Being on the right side of that shift will be good politics for people like Joe Salazar.

Let’s Get Cracking, Fracking

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

Oil and gas drilling near a high school in Greeley, Colorado, in 2015.

It looks like it’s time to get all fracked up for 2016. From the Denver Post:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has “failed” to protect homeowners and communities from the impacts of drilling, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said late Tuesday, leaving the door open to throwing his support behind another citizen-initiated ballot measure this fall.

“I think that setbacks and giving communities a legitimate say on what kind of industrial activity is appropriate in backyards and schoolyards are reasonable solutions that ought to be considered,” Polis said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that all stakeholders can coalesce around a thoughtful plan.”

The leader of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, who has leveled his own criticism of the  new COGCC rules approved Monday, on Wednesday called Polis’ characterization “unfair.”

“To say that communities are not protected is not a fair statement,” COGA CEO Dan Haley said. “Local governments have a strong voice in this process, and the task force recommendations were about giving them an even greater role in oil and gas development.”

If communities really were being protected, we probably wouldn’t be arguing about this, now would we?

All of the COGCC meetings in the world aren’t going to change the fundamental issue here: NOBODY wants to live near an active oil or gas drilling operation. The oil and gas industry can continue to claim that it will bring 10 gajillion jobs to Colorado if only we would let them do what they want, but that’s never going to trump the health and safety concerns of Colorado residents.

The industry promises that it will fight any potential ballot measures in 2016 that might weaken its potential profits, but we continue to have a hard time believing that most Colorado voters would actually oppose efforts to move drilling sites further from residential areas, parks, and schools. Yes, we know that the oil and gas industry will spend millions trying to defeat any potential regulations, but in a Presidential election year, all of those TV ads can easily get lost in the shuffle.

EPA’s Board of Scientists Questions EPA Fracking Study

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released findings that the agency found no examples of “widespread and systemic” contamination of groundwater from fracking the news was widely reported.

It was actually often misreported, including by several former professional journalists cum industry spokespeople, as “fracking shown to be safe” and “does not contaminate water.”

It should be noted that the EPA study did not itself make such sweeping claims. Nonetheless these apparently purposeful overstatements were repeated by oil and gas lobby groups like the Colorado Oil and Gas Assoc., Western Energy Alliance, Vital for Colorado, Protect Colorado, CRED.org etc. across the twitterverse, blogosphere, and in media circulars.

Less covered, one might even say nearly missing, from the reportage at least so far is the follow up.

The EPA’s own science advisory board is questioning that study. Here is one article from Power Source (“Energy News In Context” an industry-oriented website sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from the land of the Marcelleus shale play):

(more…)

Climate Change: Its What’s for Dinner

Norman Rockwell painted a scene of a fictionalized Thanksgiving that still haunts hostesses and hosts to this day.

By now most people are aware that the history that brings us Thanksgiving is not all as sanguine as we may have been led to believe. The subtext of conquest is bitter to swallow for many.

And abundance itself can devolve to gluttony and greed – stampeding consumerism no longer contained to the immediate Black Friday aftermath even, but invading the holiday itself.

So don’t blame me for ruining the day to raise another issue we can fret over even as we count our blessings otherwise – and that is climate change. Specifically what that clear and present climate crisis means for the food system and food security.

As you slather butter on squash and pile high your pie, you might consider that food systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change.  At risk from drought and wildlife, floods and landslides, threatened by declining pollinators and expanding pests, burdened by crashing fisheries. Of the systems that sustain humanity, how we produce and find the food we eat may be the most in jeopardy.

The point with all this isn’t to ruin the feast but to provide a morsel to chew on as the tryptophan kicks in. And may there be many more days of too much deliciousness in your life. But if we care about feeding ourselves and each other we ought to care about climate change and what we can do about it.

Recently I helped convene a group of growers, food advocates, climate crusaders, and local heroes in a series of gatherings and events around local food security and climate change, as reported in High Country News and KVNF community radio.

Pete Kolbenschlag, the organizer of the Paonia panel discussion, knows that food security affects everyone. “If you care about what’s on your plate, and you care about feeding other people and the planet, then we need to care about climate change, because climate change is going to affect our food supply,” he says.

The purpose was to consider what climate change means for agriculture and rural communities on the Western Slope and how we could begin to work collaboratively to address it.

Generally western Colorado is vulnerable to increased periods of drought and extreme precipitation, a snowpack that melts earlier and warmer winters, with freezes into May likely to remain a fact on the elevated slopes on the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains.

Warm winters result in early blooms on fruit trees that are then at risk to late snow and spring frosts.

Accepting some problems such as increased incidences of early bloom coupled with late April freeze, which is a real problem for the fruit producers where I live for instance, will be part of living with a changing climate.

And climate change means several things more broadly for farming and food security in Colorado as well, including:

*Adapting our farming and food systems to a changing climate will be necessary: to create more climate resilience into the design, crop selection, and techniques; and to make wise water use and management, a top priority in all aspects of growing and producing food.

*Adopting better practices in agriculture and in food system, to reduce greenhouse gas contributions – from eating less meat to utilizing techniques that enhances local carbon capture.

*Accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources and more local power production in agricultural and food production.

Food security and the threats looming to it from climate change is an issue of global significance.  It also matters for us here at home.  And meeting the challenges that climate change poses for Colorado’s food system will take national and state commitment, as well as local action.

Homegrown approaches for rural communities and others that can help us adapt our food system to address climate change,  from sharing local clean energy capacity and installations (‘solar barn-raisings’) to expanding local food networks.

There is tangible value in gratitude. And for most of us there are things for which we are rightfully thankful. Considering these things helps cultivate a positive attitude.

We can be thankful we are removed from troubling global events we see, perhaps. We may be thankful we are not fleeing a war torn cluster of other powers’ making.

But even these situations have roots not only in political upheaval, like in Syria and Iraq, but also in basic needs that are going unmet. The fact is we are all connected. Global security is connected to food supply. And that supply is being directly impacted from climate change.

A stock Thanksgiving meal set unlike any that I have personally experienced, yet with several classic elements.

So if you are fortunate enough to be able to look with thanks upon your table this season, do take time to think about the world beyond your circle. Remember your family and friends that aren’t there. Include the farmers and winemakers, the workers and craft that brings bounty to you.

But also thank Governor Hickenlooper for defending the Clean Power Plan and Senator Bennet for supporting it against Republican rollbacks in the Senate. One little bite at a time, and some perseverance, and we can make a real difference.

Maybe say a little prayer for peace. But also send it to the world’s leaders heading to Paris this week. Ask that they keep the wisdom that reminds: the smart ruler fills bellies while the harvest of an army is a waste of thorns.

If we want peace, we need security. And if we want security then people need to be secure in their food supplies. And to ensure people have full bellies, and secure food supplies, political leaders need to Act on Climate. It really is as simple as the food on our plate.

GOP’s Clean Power Insurgency a Cavalcade of Stupid

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

As promised late last months when Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her decision to join a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Gov. John Hickenlooper formally petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday to stop Coffman taking legal actions that contravene the policies of his administration. AP reports via CBS4:

Gov. John Hickenlooper asked the Colorado Supreme Court on Wednesday to rule that he, not the state’s attorney general, has the final say on whether to sue the federal government.

Hickenlooper’s petition comes after he complained that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman should not have joined about two dozen other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency over new air pollution rules without his authorization…

Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel to the governor, said Coffman has filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits without the support of or collaboration with her clients. “This raises serious questions about the use of state dollars and the attorney-client relationship between the governor, state agencies and the attorney general,” Melmed said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and AG Cynthia Coffman in happier times.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and AG Cynthia Coffman in happier times.

From Hickenlooper’s petition to the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday:

In this Petition, he requests a ruling on the Governor’s and Attorney General’s respective authority under the Constitution and laws of Colorado to determine whether the State of Colorado should sue the United States. The Governor asks this Court to issue a legal declaration that (1) the Governor, not the Attorney General, has ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the State of Colorado whether to sue the federal government, and (2) the Attorney General’s lawsuits against the federal government without the Governor’s authorization must be withdrawn…

The Attorney General lacks statutory authority to bring these federal lawsuits unless “required to do so by the governor.” [Pols emphasis] C.R.S. § 24-31-101(1)(a). Nor does the “common law” allow her to circumvent the statutory limitations and undermine the Governor’s constitutional authority to set Colorado executive branch policy.

We we’ve discussed previously in relation to the Clean Power Plan and Attorney General Coffman’s decision to sue the federal government to stop it, our state is considered to be in a leading position to meet the new standards. A result of legislation passed by our General Assembly in recent years and the constitutional renewable energy standard set forth in 2004’s Amendment 37, we’re well ahead of the curve.

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

But as a report in the conservative Business Times out of Grand Junction unintentionally makes clear, opponents are not reliant on, you know, rational arguments.

While Colorado is already an estimated 80 percent on the way to achieving lower emissions standards, [Pols emphasis] Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined in a lawsuit challenging the plan as federal overreach…

[Sen. Ray Scott] took exception to the state’s renewable energy standard and the push by state and federal regulators to mandate the increase use of renewable energy sources for electrical generation. “Solar has a problem, it’s called night,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Yes, folks, he really said that.

Back in the land of adult dialogue, Colorado’s leadership on renewable energy standards may indeed have made the state an ironic target for energy industry flacks like attorney Mike Nasi–who according to open-records documents we received played a questionably big role in persuading Cynthia Coffman to join this lawsuit. But for the rest of the state government Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is in charge of, Coffman’s lawsuit is totally discordant with the agenda they’ve been progressing toward for years–an agenda the voters of Colorado mandated with the passage of Amendment 37, and the legislature strengthened with subsequent laws signed by Govs. Bill Ritter and Hickenlooper.

With these facts in mind, Hickenlooper not only has the right, but the obligation to rein in a rogue attorney general off pursuing her own ideological flight of fancy in opposition to the state’s explicit policy goals–goals in place long before she was ever elected. And if Republican lawmakers don’t want to make fools of themselves while she does, they might want to come up with less ridiculous arguments themselves.

Because this really is quite embarrassing. For all of them.

On This We Agree: Cynthia Coffman is Silly

Silly

Silly

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is a big supporter of the new federal Clean Power Plan. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is not a fan, however, and that’s okay…to a point. The Governor thinks that Coffman is breaking the law by forcing Colorado to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan. As the Associated Press reports:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will ask the Colorado Supreme Court whether it was legal for the state attorney general to sue the federal government over new air pollution rules even though Hickenlooper supports the rules and is trying to implement them.

Hickenlooper said he should have made the final decision on whether Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined 23 other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency. Coffman said the rules are an illegal overreach.

“The law makes it clear that except in limited circumstances — which don’t exist here — the attorney general is not permitted to file such lawsuits unless directed to do so by the governor,” Hickenlooper said.

Former Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar backed up Hickenlooper’s comments today during an event in Boulder, telling Bruce Finley of the Denver Post that Coffman’s legal opinion is incorrect in this matter:

“What the attorney general is doing here is clearly illegal on her part,” he said. “We’ll see what the Supreme Court has to say.”

And what does Coffman herself have to say about the subject? That leads us to this little gem that just made it into a story from the Colorado Statesman (which also references a Colorado Pols story from last week):

“And finally, I would say to people who would think that I have been influenced by the energy industry, that they must not know me that well, because I am not that easily influenced,” Coffman concluded. [Pols emphasis]

Not. That. Easily. Influenced.

Yes, friends, we are talking about the same Cynthia Coffman who played a central role in trying to blackmail State Republican Party Chair Steve House last summer. You may have heard about the scandal, which has been dubbed “Coffmangate.” It would be difficult to be any more persuadable to political arguments.

Cynthia Coffman Does Not Speak For Colorado

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

UPDATE #2: Via the Denver Business Journal, Gov. John Hickenlooper slams Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for joining this lawsuit over his objections and the state’s longstanding leadership on the issue:

“We do not support this lawsuit,” Hickenlooper said via an emailed statement.

“Clean air and protecting public health should be everyone’s top priority. Colorado’s interest is best served by an open, inclusive process to implement the Clean Power Plan,” he continued.

“This lawsuit will create uncertainty for the state and undermine stakeholders’ ability to plan for and invest in cost-effective compliance strategies, something that the Attorney General has been advising the state on,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Hickenlooper said Colorado also has worked “extensively with the EPA to ensure we have the time and flexibility we need. We believe that Colorado can achieve the clean air goals set by the EPA, at little or no increased cost to our residents.”

—–

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

POLS UPDATE: The Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, let no pesky facts come between Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and destiny:

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman again vowed to fight President Barack Obama’s testy Clean Power Plan as the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday published the initiative’s final rules.

“It would be remiss if I, as attorney general, looked the other way and said, ‘Because Colorado is likely to meet this carbon dioxide cap, we shouldn’t challenge the federal government,’ ” said Coffman, who in late August announced she was joining a lawsuit to stop the plan. [Pols emphasis]

“That to me is an abdication of my responsibility.”

In short, Colorado is going to pass this test. But by God, we shouldn’t have to. Because freedom. And unregistered lobbyists. The rest of the state be damned!

Original post follows…

—–

After Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, in apparent defiance of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the rest of the state government which has been working toward a smooth transition to the clean energy economy for years, ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, called on Coffman to stop playing politics with her office at the behest of out-of-state special interests–and to abandon this ill-conceived lawsuit against our state’s best interests.

“Documents unearthed by Public Citizen reveal unethical heavy involvement in Attorney General Coffman’s opposition to the Clean Power Plan by a Texas energy attorney named Mike Nasi,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. [1] “Why is Cynthia Coffman colluding with out-of-state oil and gas interests against our state’s own governor and legislature? As Attorney General, Coffman’s job is to represent the people of Colorado, not Texas.”

“Since taking office this year, Cynthia Coffman has repeatedly brushed with scandal,” said Runyon-Harms. “Coffman has been accused of misusing her position for political advantage and was even accused by fellow Republicans of blackmailing the party’s chairman. By using the power of her office to join this lawsuit against the wishes of Gov. Hickenlooper, Coffman has once again proven that she is not fit to serve as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.”

“Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit flies in the face of Colorado’s leadership in the global transition to a clean energy future,” said Runyon-Harms. “In 2004, Colorado passed a groundbreaking constitutional ballot measure establishing a strong renewable energy standard. In 2013, our legislature made it stronger. Experts agree that Colorado is well positioned to meet the challenge of the Clean Power Plan. Our state’s pro-energy Governor supports the Plan. It’s the right thing to do for Colorado, and it will grow our economy the same way Amendment 37 made our state a leader in renewable energy.”

Cynthia Coffman’s Clean Power Plan Suit: Who’s Pulling The Strings?

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Among the growing number of curious decisions by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is her signing on to a multistate lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Because of clean energy  initiatives and legislation already passed here in Colorado in the last 12 years, our state is much closer to compliance with the goals of the CPP than many others. Avowedly pro-energy Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the CPP, and in an August interview with Colorado Public Radio, expressed some amount of befuddlement over Attorney General Coffman’s plans to sue:

Hickenlooper has said he intends to meet the carbon reduction goals set by the EPA this month. But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says the goals are “unrealistic,” and raise “significant concerns for Colorado,” and is considering suing the EPA.

“[The attorney general and I] haven’t had a chance to talk… One of the amazing things about this moment in time is that inexpensive natural gas is a very, very clean fuel. And we have a couple of aged coal plants in Colorado… there might be one or two or three that might be able to be converted to natural gas, and natural gas right now is so inexpensive, it might allow us to achieve the reductions without significant cost increases [for consumers]…

“We don’t see the evidence [to support a lawsuit] based on what we know.”

Any way you look at it, AG Coffman’s decision to join in lawsuit over the objections of the governor of the state she serves–a state already a model for the goals this plan wants to achieve–looks weird. Of the 20 or so states that have filed suit against the administration over the Clean Power Plan, we haven’t checked to see how many involve state attorneys general going against their own governors, but we’re guessing that’s a minority of cases.

So what gives? Yesterday, we were forwarded documents produced from a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request of the attorney general’s office by the DC-based group Public Citizen. These documents appear to show a major role in Colorado joining the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan by one Mike Nasi. Nasi is a Texas-based energy industry attorney who has apparently helped direct the energy industry’s response to the Clean Power Plan, new rules on mercury emissions, and a variety of other subjects. It should be noted that neither Nasi nor his law firm Jackson Walker LLP are registered lobbyists in the state of Colorado.

Despite this, Nasi testified in favor of the industry-sponsored Senate Bill 15-258 this year, the so-called “Electric Consumers Protection Act” to forestall any state implementation plan for carbon dioxide reduction. After SB-258 died, Gov. Hickenlooper announced that the state would support and comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Enter Cynthia Coffman.

There’s a wealth of information in the CORA “doc dump” from Public Citizen (two files, here and here) about the collusion between her office, pro-energy Colorado lawmakers like Sen. John Cooke, and Nasi in advocating against the Clean Power Plan. This in turn sheds light on Nasi’s multistate roundup of willing attorneys general to sue the administration. We hope readers will take a look at these documents and help us establish more details about the connections and players involved. In light of Colorado’s readiness–according to the governor, anyway–to be a leader in implementing the Clean Power Plan, this back-channel maneuvering by the attorney general to join this lawsuit stands out as especially dubious.

And maybe even, dare we suggest it, misconduct.

Turning Points for Renewable Energy

Turning points.

Turning points.

Whether it comes out of the ground or from the sky, energy production remains a hot topic in Colorado. Each side has its own set of arguments, but we may be reaching a true tipping point in favor of renewable energy.

As Tom Randall writes for Bloomberg Business, the “capacity factor” is making solar and wind energy more economically-viable than other sources of energy:

Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It’s the first time that threshold has been crossed by a G7 economy.

But that’s less interesting than what just happened in the U.S.

To appreciate what’s going on there, you need to understand the capacity factor. That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential that’s actually achieved over time…

…One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average U.S. natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 percent of its potential (falling short of 100 percent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that’s what’s changing, and it’s a big deal.

For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. [Pols emphasis] That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.

In any political debate, simple economic factors can end up making the strongest argument. All of the saber-rattling and fist-shaking about fossil fuels and renewables will grind to a halt when oil and gas production is no longer economically preferable…and it appears we may be crossing that bridge.

Rural VFD Scrambles as Billionaire Driller Flares Wells & Funds Politicians

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Methane is a greenhouse gas some 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is a pollutant when released into the atmosphere, often a precursor to ozone, and is itself a volatile compound that may signal a threat of area toxicity depending what other compounds are present in the gas.

It is also, we are regularly reminded, a valuable commodity, harbinger of American ‘energy independence’ and of a manufacturing revolution, when piped and sold as natural gas.

Yet despite all this—the bad, the good, the ugly—methane, the primary component of natural gas, is regularly vented and flared in America’s oil and gas fields.

Even in the dark of night on remote Colorado mountain passes when maybe no one will notice.

But it was noticed, not once but twice, recently on McClure Pass, provoking a flurry of concerned and sometimes overblown comments on the local Facebook message board as motorists reported the incidents. In the most recent episode local fire fighters scrambled to the report of flames in the forest at a rig on a dark night.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is reporting:

SG Interests flared a natural gas well in the upper North Fork Valley recently without notifying local authorities, reportedly requiring an unnecessary visit to the somewhat remote location by local firefighters.

Companies are required to notify authorities of flaring under state rules, and SG says it is taking steps to prevent a repeat violation.

Paonia resident Pete Kolbenschlag, who works as a consultant on environmental issues, says he hopes so. He fears a succession of false alarms could lead to emergency agencies with limited resources being less apt to quickly respond to an incident like a true well fire or a spill of pollutants into waterways.

“There’s a reason why there’s a notification requirement,” he said.

The flaring occurred earlier this month near Colorado Highway 133 southwest of McClure Pass in Gunnison County.

Venting and flaring releases volatile and harmful compounds, and can include flames several stories tall, both bothersome things to come across driving over a mountain pass in the National Forest.  

SG Interests—operator of the gassy, flaring well—is one of two oil and gas companies that are most active in the upper North Fork Valley. The other is Bill Koch’s Gunnison Energy Company. In the earlier July incident the motorist reported strong smells.

I was driving on Route 133, towards Paonia, on July 3, 2015. It was 11:15 AM, on that Friday, as I was driving down McClure’s Pass, after mile Marker 40, that I was assaulted by the most extreme and dense vapors/gas from a chemical source.

It was so extreme, that I thought I might pass out. It lasted for several minutes at the very extreme level and then as I drove further away, the fumes left my truck’s cab. On the right of my truck, at the moment I first smelled the heavy chemical fumes, I saw liquid rushing down the mountainside. This liquid ran down the mountainside and down a ditch along the side of the highway. This liquid may or may not have been the source of the chemical fumes.

There are 2 active gas well sites and companies operating in the vicinity of my exposure to the chemical vapors. The first company is SG Interests and the second company is Gunnison Energy. Route 133, mile marker 39-40, west of McClure’s Pass, outside of Marble, Colorado and before Paonia, Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission complaint on file for that incident notes that inspectors did not find anything amiss when they got around to inspecting the well a few days later.

I Spoke with Thane Stranathan with BLM (Montrose) on phone today. He met with complainant on location and said he could find no fault with SG and the water flow was above location and caused by mudslide under CDOT control and they were aware of it. We plan to meet next week and visit site.

Both GEC and SGI are privately held billionaire-owned companies. Texan Russ Gordy being the primary name behind SGI. Just last week the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management gave these two companies the go ahead to develop 16 new wells north of Paonia Reservoir State Park. Colorado Park and Wildlife concerns regarding their location within elk winter concentration areas were mostly dismissed.

It was these two companies that together built the Bull Mountain pipeline, which was itself the cause of a losing (for the roadless forests and impacted wildlife) environmental battle about eight years ago. GEC and SGI have an uneasy relationship, sometimes in conflict other times in collusion according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Another Gunnison Energy Company project for up to 150 wells is currently under agency review (Bull Mountain Master Development Plan). And SG Interests is currently trying to acquire additional lands in the North Fork via legislation while attempting to drill on the other side of the pass, within the Thompson Divide area, threatening to take its heavy industrial traffic right through Glenwood Springs and up Four Mile Road against everyone’s objections.

Perhaps due to its often blunt tactics SGI has been investing heavily in the politics of the geography it hopes to drill. It is rumored to give hefty 4 figure contributions to small town Chambers of Commerce. SGI is the local congressman’s number one donor and he SGI’s number one recipient. Senator Cory Gardner also being among its top recipients of campaign cash. So far in just 2015 SGI has spent over $220,000 on high-priced DC lobbyists.

(more…)

Bipartisan support for Colorado’s clean-air laws undermines accusation of Obama overreach

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

It’s irritating when officials and pundits here in Colorado grandstand about President Obama’s climate change initiatives as being overreach, without pointing out that, as a matter of fact, state efforts to regulate global-warming emissions from power plants have won bipartisan support.

An article in The Denver Post last month reported that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has decided to sue the federal government to stop Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Colorado by 28 percent from 2012 levels over the next 15 years.

The Post reported that “Coffman describes the measure as another EPA and Obama administration authority overreach.”

To its credit, The Post added this fact:

Colorado lawmakers under a Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act in 2010 required regulated utilities to develop plans for reducing air pollution. These plans launched utilities on efforts to replace coal plants with energy generated using renewable sources and natural gas.

Omitted, however, is the crucial information that Colorado’s Clean Air, Clean Jobs of 2010 received bipartisan support, getting the votes of numerous GOP lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, including muckety-muck Republicans like former state senators Josh Penry and Greg Brophy and former state representatives Frank McNulty, Ellen Roberts, and Amy Stephens.

Thanks to the 2010 law, and other state measures, some of which admittedly had less bipartisan support, Colorado already has a plan to reach 70 percent of the reductions mandated by Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, according to Western Resource Advocates.

Colorado has worked in a bipartisan way to address climate change, and the attorney general should be asked to explain why she’s politicizing and wasting time on a lawsuit that runs counter to  Colorado’s approach to this issue.

All of Colorado is (NOT) Contaminated

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Governor John Hickenlooper juggles a lot of different responsibilities as Colorado’s top elected official — which includes serving as Colorado’s chief tester of gross-looking water, which he did again last week in chugging a bottle of water from the Animas River in the aftermath of the Gold King mine wastewater spill.

Hickenlooper agreed to drink from the river at the request of several people in the Durango area in an effort to assure people that the water was safe — and the big sip made Hick plenty of friends as a result. From the Durango Herald:

John Hickenlooper was Johnny-On-The-Spot, clearing his schedule to be in town, see the Animas River firsthand, listen to concerns and offer the power of his office.

Then there was The Moment – when Gov. Hickenlooper took a bold stand for Durango and La Plata County. He defiantly raised a bottle of river water and downed it.

“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” he said.

Hickenlooper didn’t say whether or not the Animas River was tastier than the glass of fracking fluid he once quaffed, but the move nevertheless generated a bit of controversy. On Monday, Denver Post reporter John Frank Tweeted a link to his Sunday story about the Animas River, asking the question “Is [Hickenlooper’s] big Animas River sip a liability or political win?” Here’s what the Governor had to say regarding his motivation for drinking from the river:

“The point I was trying to make is that the river is back to normal,” Hickenlooper said in an interview after returning from Durango. “There’s a silver lining in all this. It doesn’t appear there is going to be lasting environmental damage or significant environmental damage, and what most of us were fearful of didn’t happen.”

Sunday’s Post story notes some vague disapproval from the likes of state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who offered her usual brand of WTF-flavored commentary, but you’d have to really squint your eyes in order to make out the downside of Hick’s demonstration. By swigging river water, the Governor was making a pointed effort to ease fears and tamper speculation about the extent of the pollution in the Animas River — and to make sure that misinformation didn’t cripple the tourism economy in Southern Colorado. (more…)