Colorado Energy Office severely crippled after lawmakers fail to reach a compromise
Author: Peter Marcus - May 10, 2017 - Updated: May 10, 2017
The Colorado Energy Office will be crippled after lawmakers on the last day of the session on Wednesday were unable to agree to a measure that would have continued full funding for it.
In its original form, Senate Bill 301 – described by Republicans as “far-reaching” – would have maintained funding for the Colorado Energy Office, while restructuring it and doing away with certain programs. It was supported by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Office.
Without the full funding – about $3.1 million – the office will see significant cuts in personnel, deeply cutting into its ability to provide core environmental and energy services.
The Republican-controlled Senate had included provisions that would have made changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state, including eliminating some of those programs.
The Senate version would have expanded the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice at the table.
It also focused heavily on natural gas, aiming at eliminating a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the prohibition raises costs for consumers.
An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would have directed the state to create rules allowing an investor-owned utility to acquire an interest in Colorado-based natural gas reserves for up to 50 percent of its needs.
A provision of the legislation also would have raised registration fees for electric vehicles, which had some Democratic lawmakers concerned.
When the original 57-page bill made it to the Democratic-controlled House – a measure that was introduced in the final days of the session and died on the last day of the session – Democrats approved a trimmed bill, which would have continued funding for the Colorado Energy Office, but also would have stripped many of the provisions stemming from the Senate.
“Losing the office would have been a disaster for Colorado. So rather than lose it, or lard up the reauthorization with giveaways to the oil and gas industry, we passed a clean bill,” said House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder, just prior to the Senate rejecting the House’s version of the bill.
The discussion became bogged down in politics, especially following a recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline. The incident killed two men.
Knowing that the Energy Office would be significantly reduced by rejecting the House version of the bill, Scott responded, “It’s their choice now,” referring to House Democrats.
Becker responded, “This late bill included sweeping changes to energy policy and concessions to the oil and gas industry, many of which I could not support. Mixing these new changes in with the work of the Energy Office turned the bill into something that was untenable.”