Our view: Having it both ways

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Steamboat Today editorial board — January to April 2014

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Karl Gills, community representative
  • Will Melton, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

On Feb. 23, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission adopted stringent new statewide rules intended to reduce the emission of air pollutants from oil and gas wells, and this action stands out as validation of the vigorous stance taken two years ago by Routt County. At that time, county officials engaged and stood up to a couple of state agencies as the county sought to exert more control over air and water quality issues at a time when it appeared Northwest Colorado might be on the cusp of an energy boom.

Colorado’s new rules were enacted with the help of three large energy companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Encana Corp. and Noble Corp., and that buy-in from industry leaders had a great deal to do with the rules adoption, signalling a new level of collaboration. The rules, which also were championed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, require companies drilling for oil and gas to monitor regularly for escaping volatile organic compounds. Those pollutants, in the presence of sunlight, play a role in increased ozone levels, which can cause people to experience difficulty breathing while degrading views of mountain valleys and peaks.

Also playing an important role in the process leading up to the new rules were local citizen activist groups including the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, whose members repeatedly stood up for the need to protect air and water quality. On the other side of the debate, Citizens for Property Rights got engaged in the public process to say that Routt County was going too far in its attempts to regulate the energy industry.

That’s how a participatory democracy is meant to work; it is incumbent on impassioned citizens to seek out others with similar points of view to work together and influence elected public officials. We commend those who took the time and energy to do so.

The adoption of Colorado’s new air pollution regulations for energy companies suggests that those who want to have an impact on public policy may not get results as quickly as they would like, but if they persist, they can succeed.

Some Western Slope interests and governments advocated against imposing the new regulations in Western Colorado where they say there is no evidence of widespread degradation of air quality.

Routt County commissioners Doug Monger, Steve Ivancie and Tim Corrigan signed

a letter supporting the statewide imposition of the new regs. Monger said the time to protect air quality is now, before it declines. We agree.

In early 2012, Routt County was engaged in a war of words with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission about who had the ultimate authority to regulate the energy industry when it comes to protecting water and air quality. Routt County sought, but did not get much help from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

High-ranking officials of both agencies came to Steamboat Springs to reason with Monger and former commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and now state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs. Routt County might not have persuaded state government to adopt its view that local governments have the authority to protect the health of its citizens by enforcing its own conditions on oil drilling permits, but they certainly got their attention.

The pace of new drilling permits coming before Routt County government has slowed since 2012, allowing the state of Colorado to take time to assess its regulations governing the industry. It’s significant to note that at the same time, the state of Wyoming, known for encouraging energy development, has undergone a similar process.

In November 2013, Wyoming, with the support of its Republican governor, put in place regulations requiring energy companies to monitor air pollutants leaking from oil and gas productions sites and to correct the leaks.

Unlike Colorado’s new air pollutions regulations for energy companies, Wyoming’s are limited to the western part of the state where ozone pollution already is a problem.

But just this month, new water quality monitoring regulations go into effect in Wyoming requiring natural gas companies to test wells and springs within a half-mile of drilling sites, both before and after drilling takes place.

Change is coming to the energy fields of the Intermountain West, and we like the stand of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead who told The New York Times in November that the people of his state don’t want to choose between a clean environment and energy development — they want both.

Comments

Dan Hill 9 months, 3 weeks ago

It's always interesting when voters and the politicians who pander to them pretend that choices don't have to be made. It would be nice to live in a world where trade-offs don't exist, but we don't.

By ignoring trade-offs the political process fails time and again to discover the optimum balance. In this particular case the question isn't "how can we have clean air and water without affecting resource production?" Even the most reasonable enviromental regs (unless they are totally ineffective) are going to have some impact on the cost of production and therefore reduce total output, even if only by a small amount. The point is, there is a real cost that ought to be considered. It's fine to say, "hey we can live with that cost, the benefits are much bigger," but pretending these costs don't exist is like believing in Santa Claus.

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