Opinion

LOMAX: Anti-oil & gas groups are on the political fringe — where they belong

Author: Simon Lomax - January 22, 2018 - Updated: January 22, 2018

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Simon Lomax

For years, national anti-oil and gas groups have attempted a hostile takeover of Colorado politics. They have tried to turn Democrats and Republicans against one of the state’s most important economic sectors — an industry that provides energy for every business and every household across Colorado, not to mention thousands upon thousands of jobs.

The anti-oil and gas campaign gets plenty of press attention, certainly, but it’s been a failure so far. Groups like 350.org in New York and Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C., have never succeeded in placing anti-oil and gas measures on Colorado’s statewide ballot, much less winning a statewide campaign here. With a few exceptions, they aren’t taken seriously by state lawmakers. And their so-called victories have been confined almost completely to Boulder County and its suburbs — not the best platform for a statewide campaign.

So why do anti-oil and gas groups from Washington, D.C., and New York continue to struggle here? For part of the answer, consider the following highlights from House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D) in her opening address for the 2018 session of the state legislature:

“Our state is blessed with the most beautiful natural environment in America,” Duran said. “We must also have a government that works for everyone who works hard, not just the deep-pocketed and the well-connected. A government that creates more opportunities for Coloradans to turn their hard work into economic security.”

“Members, our contribution to the greater good will increase every time we move toward giving all Coloradans who work hard the best possible chance to succeed.”

On the other side of Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D) also gave an opening speech that was heavy on economic security. Neither Duran nor Guzman mentioned oil and gas at all. The legislative leaders who did mention oil and gas — House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R) and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R) — spoke favorably about these and other energy sources.

“Personally, I don’t care if it’s oil, natural gas, wind, solar, coal, nuclear, hydro, or if they find some way to harness the power of the hot air rising from the Capitol Dome, I am for a diverse energy portfolio in the State of Colorado, and we should all be for that,” Grantham said.

If even a fraction of the ‘keep it in the ground’ agenda became official policy in Colorado, the costs would be devastating.

To be sure, a few lawmakers are openly siding with anti-oil and gas groups. Sen. Matt Jones (D) and Rep. Mike Foote (D) are pushing a bill to legalize local oil and gas bans, for example. Both these lawmakers from Boulder County have also endorsed an effective statewide ban in the form of a ballot measure pushed by anti-oil and gas groups that would prohibit drilling across roughly 90 percent of the state’s land mass and 95 percent of the Colorado’s top energy-producing counties.

Jones, it’s worth nothing, is running this year for Boulder County Commissioner in a field that includes some of the state’s most extreme anti-oil and gas activists — including Andrew O’Connor, who infamously suggested killing energy workers was morally justified. As for Foote, he has tried and failed at this before, pushing a “local control” bill two years ago that was defeated in a bipartisan vote of the state House, which is controlled by members of his own party.

Foote’s bill failed for the same reason anti-oil and gas ballot measures have failed: Colorado is a major energy-producing state and always has been. The oil and gas sector is fundamental to our state and cannot be wiped out or severely damaged without inflicting major harm across the broader economy.

No wonder Duran and Guzman, as leaders of their party in the House and Senate, steered clear of anti-oil and gas proposals when outlining their legislative priorities for the year. Nothing undermines a message of economic security faster than measures that would actually cause economic insecurity all across our state.

Or as Mike King, former executive director of the Department of Natural Resources under Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), once warned: “If we were to lose the oil and gas jobs that we have, it would be just catastrophic for our economy.”

To be clear, the business community will always be on guard against out-of-state groups that want to play political games with the Colorado economy. If even a fraction of the “keep it in the ground” agenda became official policy in Colorado, the costs would be devastating.

But the opening of this year’s legislative session, and the reluctance of so many state lawmakers to be visibly associated with organizations like Food & Water Watch and 350.org, says a lot about anti-oil and gas groups in Colorado today. They are stuck on the fringes of Colorado politics, and unless the political spectrum radically shifts in their direction, they always will be.

Simon Lomax

Simon Lomax

Simon Lomax is a research fellow with Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders, public officials and citizens focused on energy policy, and an adviser to pro-business groups. Before going into advocacy, he was a reporter for Bloomberg News and a congressional fellow with the American Political Science Association. The views expressed are his own. Find him on Twitter at @simonrlomax.