Northwest Colorado energy debates heat up

State Rep. Randy Baumgardner discusses proposed changes to oil, gas commission

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By the numbers

Oil and gas drilling permits issued in Colorado

2011 (as of April 7): 1,166

2010: 5,996

2009: 5,159

2008: 8,027

2007: 6,368

2006: 5,904

2005: 4,363

2004: 2,917

2003: 2,245

2002: 2,007

Source: Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

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Randy Baumgardner

— Two energy-related bills are fueling debates in Denver and creating a diplomatic tightrope for at least one Northwest Colorado legislator.

State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said House Bill 1291 — a late-session bill introduced March 29 — could indirectly create more legislative battles about policy adopted last year to convert some Front Range power plants from coal to natural gas. The bill would give approval to regional haze components of a state air-quality plan and, because of its relation to Front Range power plant conversions, is viewed by the coal industry as another potential blow to already challenged coal markets.

“It ratifies the plans to shut down coal-generating units,” Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said Tuesday about HB 1291. “We are opposed to that legislation because it actually goes beyond what federal law requires.”

HB 1291 earned approval Monday in the state House of Representatives. The bill has been assigned to a Senate committee.

Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican who represents Routt County and House District 57, discussed the bill during a Sunday meeting hosted by the Routt County CattleWomen at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.

He said if HB 1291 passes — a scenario he deemed likely — it could spur challenges pushed by the Colorado Mining Association.

“There would be another (bill) coming,” Baumgardner said. “That’s what I’ve heard.”

Debates about Front Range power plant conversions spread during the past year from the state Capitol to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and other venues, as coal industry representatives opposed changes they called damaging to the industry.

The power plant conversions received strong support outside the coal industry, however, from entities including environmental groups and, of course, the natural gas industry. Some critics of the legislation said it unfairly used government to not only pit one industry against another, but also to essentially choose a winner.

Sanderson declined to comment directly Tuesday about whether HB 1291 could present another front in that battle.

“We support any legislative revisions that would modify (HB 1291) to allow coal-generating units to continue to operate,” Sanderson said.

Baumgardner said the continued pitting of natural gas against coal, industries that are vital to the region he represents, presents challenges for himself and state Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden.

“We’re in a twist,” Baumgardner said.

White couldn’t be reached late Tuesday.

Well-oiled debate

Meanwhile, Baumgardner also is tied to another energy-related debate.

He’s a co-sponsor of House Bill 1223, which would increase oil and gas industry representation on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The nine-member commission administers statewide regulation of oil and natural gas development.

HB 1223 would reverse changes to the commission made in 2007, during the administration of former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat. Those changes increased the commission from seven to nine members, by adding the executive directors of Colorado’s natural resources and public health and the environment departments. They also reduced the number of commission members with substantial experience in the oil and gas industry from five to three.

Baumgardner said Sunday that a lack of oil and gas experience is damaging the commission.

“It would be a better representation of the commission to have people who are knowledgeable about the industry,” Baumgardner told a small crowd.

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush argued that point, saying the oil and gas commission has been much more balanced — and collaborative — since the 2007 changes.

“We have people who have a variety of opinions, not just the industry’s opinion,” Mitsch Bush said.

She noted that drilling permits have increased in Routt County and remained strong statewide.

“You can issue all the permits you want to, but if you’re not drilling, it doesn’t matter,” Baumgardner responded.

Leland Swenson, executive vice president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, attended Sunday’s meeting at the library and noted that HB 1223 was amended April 4, reducing the proposed changes.

The bill was introduced in the House, which has a Republican majority, and could face challenges in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

In its current, unofficial form, which has been sent to a House committee, the bill would keep the commission at nine voting members but return the number of oil and gas industry representatives to the pre-2007 number of five.

“The composition is very industry-heavy, to the point where it’s sort of like the fox guarding the henhouse,” Mitsch Bush said.

Swenson acknowledged the point, before making a comment about the proposed changes that also could apply to energy debates as a whole.

“There’s still a question of balance,” he said.

Comments

BoatNative 3 years, 4 months ago

Rep. Baumgardner received $4,000 from the Oil and Gas industry for his re-election campaign last year. This was the most from any sector and almost double the amount he received from any other industry.

You can see the stats here: http://www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/candidate.phtml?c=117308

I get it, this is politics. But Randy trying to pack the Commission like this to get his most generous donors more influence is just blatantly unethical. His bill is disappointing and we should be glad that it will most likely not pass the Senate and even if it does, Governor Hickenlooper would most likely veto it.

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kathy foos 3 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Baumgard,you are gardening a bomb here(sorry ,just couldnt resist that ,people have called me goose and moose too many times).Thanks for the information Boatnative.....Maybe you need to stop sucking up to big oil and settle down a bit Randy Gardner of Bill Bombs(remember the Arizona Law?). O.K.When the explosion in Routt Nat. Forest happened in 2007 ,I totally delved into the oil and gas issues and found that no one really was overlooking the oil and gas safety in a unified consistant,sane way.Oh yeah,cept one"Oil and Gas themselves nad believe me anything goes.All the forest service held say over was ,signing and collecting the money on the leases,(the officers would run people off from starting a campfire over the years at the wellhead,also they put up new signs that ran right by the well saying all hiking, biking ,hunting,activities allowed,did not sign and fence the area untill the tank exploded,Now its fenced off.If the oil companys had their way they would never bother to fence off their tanks The gas commission,BLM ,Forest Service, state of colorado,were all involved,the berm on that tank was undersized so it didnt contain all of the material)There are more like that everywhere.At least 44 teens have died on these type tanks,just like the Gulf tragedy,no different.Construction Companys would find life easier without the building department and OSHA Rules also.Common sense tells us that enviormental expert are need to be calling the shots to protect the public in all ways!Are the oil companys to be trusted ?NO please!Shame on you Randy we live in a nice neighborhood (Colorado)and Stop sucking up to the oil companys(by the way if an oil company happens to be reading this Sign and fence your facilitys,DUH?.the gas commission better make you),peak oil is over,haha.See this safety video CSB.com(chemical safety bureau "No place to hang out"about other teens killed in Miss. 2008 In conclussion,Randy Baumgardner,PLEASE leave them alone( Gas commission)and let them do their jobs,We the petty people want a safe ,unpolluted planet and you are trying to take away something alot of people have worked for,for a very long time,its very negative and unnecessary to remove safe guard watchdogs ,they are all that we have in place to protect this planet from this industry.Peak oil is over leave the fracking out.Dont change the coal plants in Colorado.Just my opinion.STOP THE FRACKING NOW WHILE THERE IS A CHANCE.Dont waste money on coal to gas conversion.!That is going nowhere.

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