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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 12, 20175min620

… A group of anti-fracking protesters in Boulder (OK, so that’s redundant; everyone in Boulder is against fracking) converged on what they thought was the residence of Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones over the weekend. The fracktivists’ planned stunt — donning HAZMAT gear and presenting a “Green Washing Award” to Jones at her house — went off without a hitch except one: She wasn’t home. Because she doesn’t actually live at the Marine Street residence where the pickets gathered.

As the Boulder Daily Camera reported Monday, Jones is a co-owner of record for the house but rents the place out. That evidently confused the 50 or so fracktivists who showed up:

In a news release, an organization identifying itself as Boulder County Protectors said about 50 community members had marched “on a home of politically compromised Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones asking her to resign.”

After being sent a copy of the news release, however, Jones — who now lives in the 1100 block of Sixth Street in Boulder — said in a Sunday night email that the protesters “went to a house I haven’t lived in for almost five years.

“Happily, no one was at home, but as you might imagine, the current residents were very confused when they came home to find an oil drum in the driveway and threatening chalk messages drawn up and down the sidewalk and the steps to the house,” Jones wrote.

The protest was a bit over-the-top, to be sure — but what really illustrated how extreme the fury over fracking has gotten was the demonstrators’ choice of target: A member of the Boulder County Commission.

That’s the same elected body that had stared down Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman earlier this year over the county’s moratorium on drilling permits while it revised its regulations on the subject. As county commissions go, Boulder’s has been in the forefront of the fracking fracas.

And why Elise Jones, in particular? From 1999 to 2012, she was executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition — which made her one of the state’s most prominent voices in the environmental movement. Wouldn’t that make her the protesters’ ally?

So what’s the beef? The Camera explains:

Anti-fracking groups have criticized Jones and her fellow county commissioners for not adopting a “Climate Bill of Rights” or advancing such a measure to county voters’ ballots.

Among its other provisions, the proposed Climate Bill of Rights would assert that county residents have “a right to a healthy climate, which shall include the right to be free from all activities that interfere with that right, including the extraction of coal, oil or gas, or disposal of drilling waste within the County of Boulder.”

Boulder County commissioners, however, have said they have no legal standing to ignore state laws and Colorado Supreme Court decisions prohibiting local governments from banning oil and gas exploration within those governments’ jurisdiction — and that a Climate Bill of Rights would not give the county authority to do so.

A statement read outside Jones’s home — well, the home protesters thought was her home— accused Jones of having “built a career out of collaborating with extraction.”

That likely would come as news to the extractive industry — which long has viewed Jones as an adversary.


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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 8, 20174min1070

A recent poll conducted by Chris Keating of Keating Research, a polling and survey firm that consults primarily for Democrats including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, reveals that Colorado’s political environment parallels the nation’s, but preferences on energy issues are distinctly Coloradan.  The results come from 605 active voters, with a margin of error at 4 percent, plus or minus.

As with the country as a whole, Coloradans hold President Donald Trump at 40% favorable to 58% unfavorable, and give Gov. John Hickenlooper a 60% favorable to 32% unfavorable rating.  Numbers are more contrasting at the Very Unfavorable level, with 51% Very Unfavorable for Trump and 19% Very Unfavorable for Hickenlooper.

Since Keating works mostly for the left side of the aisle, it’s important to look at his call list.  He called 48% men and 52% women.  His age range was 18-24 at 10% up to 70+ at 15%.  Voters with children age 18 or younger comprised 27% of the sample and the split by party affiliation was 25% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 45% Independent. Colorado’s active voter registration actually divides almost equally at 32% Dem to 32% GOP to 36% Unaffiliated.

Happily, the survey shows that 64% of Coloradans think the state is headed in the “right direction” with 28% favoring the down side.

The poll’s main purpose was to explore voter commitment to four energy types as sources for development: coal, wind, solar and natural gas.  It sought especially to pinpoint voters’ views on what energy sources should increase or decrease in use.  Coloradans now have a dim view of coal, with 57% of respondents saying its use should decrease and only 18% choosing to increase its use.  Wind (+76%) and especially solar (+84%) showed the most support for increased use, with natural gas at +36%.

The survey suggests that Coloradans from both political parties want public utilities to collaborate on reducing carbon emissions: 89% agree/11% disagree.  Voters want the state to work with utilities to increase the use of clean renewable energy at 95% agree/5% disagree.  Almost 50% of voters support increasing the state’s 30% renewable energy standard to over 50%.  Most Coloradans (83%) want to take control of their energy future without waiting for the federal government to jump in.

The polling numbers indicate that Xcel’s recent decisions to add more renewable energy to its portfolio makes sense.  Closing coal plants is apparently generally acceptable to Coloradans.

Clearly, renewable solar and wind power are popular. Natural gas is holding its own despite opposition to drilling from some cities along the northern Front Range.

These results have implications for the 2018 governor and legislator races on both Democratic and Republican sides.  Democratic candidates can feel comfortable promoting more renewables.  The effect of fracking vs. anti-fracking positions on voter preference is less clear.

Republicans face a different picture in the primaries and general election.  Anti-climate change Republicans may be in sync with a majority in their party during the primary season.  But that position is deeply out of sync with a majority of voters who will cast ballots in the general election.

One other interesting set of data.  While 45% of the polled population identified as independent voters, only 25% viewed themselves as moderates.  These individuals were outnumbered by liberals at 34% and conservatives at 38%. It appears there’s a muddy middle spectrum of voters, a minority, who support reduced-carbon energy policy.  They will make a difference in how the general election turns out.


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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 1, 20175min370
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Two interesting questions arise for the Democratic primary race for governor:  How much money will the races attract, and how much money will it take to gain the number of votes to win the race?  The first question affects both primaries and the general election.  The second question concerns mostly the general election.

Money had to be a significant factor in U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s decision to drop out of the governor’s race.  He was outraised by all the major candidates, with Cary Kennedy, former State Treasurer, matching the congressman’s pot in just one quarter of fundraising.

Polis will get dollars out of his own money-market account.  Former state Sen. Michael Johnston has probably raised more than $1 million already, since his current report shows over $930,000.  Kennedy has $330,000-plus.  Donna Lynne won’t report until October, but her long reach into the Colorado business community should get her to a million pretty quickly. If she doesn’t get close to that early in 2018, she’s in trouble. The Democratic governor’s primary will require well over $1 million per candidate. It could easily pass $8 million total.

The breakout of Dem primary votes is anybody’s guess.  Since primaries bring out the most active voters, candidates will jockey for the 1,046,832 registered Dems considered active voters plus some share of the 1,187,916 voters registered as unaffiliated.  Dem candidates will look to individuals who’ve voted in multiple even-year elections and especially those Dems and unaffiliateds in predominantly Democratic counties who voted in off-year school board and mill and bond elections.

On an “issue” basis, fracking may be the most important.  Over 580,000 Democratic voters live in Front Range counties where an anti-fracking position may be definitive: Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Larimer.  That’s over half of the state’s active Democratic voters, which means candidates will have to take a direct position that could turn problematic in the general election.

Gov. John Hickenlooper finessed anti-fracking votes due to weak Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2010 and 2014 and his support of some regulation on the industry.  As many have noted, however, the ongoing drilling in northern Front Range counties has upped the pressure.

Polis has established a solid record on the anti-fracking side, though activist Democrats and environmentalists objected to the deal he cut with the governor to keep oil and gas initiatives off the ballot in 2014.  Lynne’s candidacy may be most vulnerable to activist Democratic voters based on her moderately pro-business orientation and the governor’s oil and gas record.

But that’s the rub for Democrats.  If Polis wins the primary, many business interests, and especially extraction industries, will pour money directly to Republicans and indirectly to “issue” advertising to defeat him. An offset may come from renewable energy and technology enterprises that the congressman has consistently supported.

One other issue could potentially hurt Polis and Johnston: their strong support of charter schools.  Polis funds his own charter and Johnston sponsored bills on public teacher evaluation and school finance.  Teacher evaluation has been significantly modified and school finance was defeated at the polls. Both candidates may experience tepid financial and voter support among traditional public school teachers, a significant proportion of active Democratic voters.

The interests that have beefs with the various Democratic candidates have lots of money that can hurt in both primary and general elections.  Republicans have their own problems, so they shouldn’t lick their chops.  But the Democratic primary winner may come out of the primary with more than bumps and bruises.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 28, 20178min18
In the yellow dog days of August, when the fish aren’t biting, the political anglers have more time to ponder. If talk turns to the presidential race in 2020 there’s no juicier summertime morsel than what’s next for John Hickenlooper, our moderate governor who has already written his book for national office two years ago. […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 22, 20174min210

While ozone levels are falling in north metro Denver, both sides of the oil-and-gas development debate are taking a deep breath to explain why.

State regulators report that emissions of volatile organic compounds, a key ingredient in ground-level ozone, have fallen by one-half in metro Denver and the northern Front Range, the battlefield over fracking.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, reports that meanwhile production statewide quadrupled during the six-year period.

The industry, its association said, has reduced emissions and mitigated effects “as part of its ongoing commitment to being good stewards of our natural resources and protecting the environment.”

The falling numbers prove regulations are working and more can be done, said Dan Grossman, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain regional director and senior director of EDF’s state programs on oil and gas.

“Colorado’s oil and gas industry is responsible for the emission of hundreds of thousands of tons of ozone-precursor VOCs and climate-disrupting methane each year,” he told Colorado Politics. “And as the state looks to comply with the more stringent 2015 ozone standard of 70 ppb, and to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

Grossman added, “Simple, cost-effective measures (such as increased inspection requirements for smaller wells and replacing leaky pneumatic devices with more efficient ones) are readily available to industry to further reduce pollution from the state’s oil and gas facilities. It is past time to implement them.”

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the reductions can be attributed to “technological innovation, regulatory initiatives currently on the books and leadership from our industry.”

COGA pointed out that the West’s “background” ozone levels, those that occur naturally without a human-related cause, are the highest in the United States.

“Consequently, addressing ozone related challenges in Colorado is an extremely difficult, economy-wide undertaking, as only 20 to 30 percent of the emissions needed to form ozone in the non-attainment area are actually produced by Colorado-based human activity,” COGA said in a statement. “These activities include but are not limited to cars, boats, planes, tractors, as well as industrial plants, lawn and garden equipment, and even household products like paints, solvents, and hair spray.”

The announcement was part of the industry’s “Clear the Air: The Facts on CEO” campaign. The CEO stands for climate, energy and ozone.

The industry has invested heavily in research and public outreach to convince Coloradans not to impose new rules that could drive the business out of the state.

“This summer’s ozone season is not over yet, and there is a lot Coloradans can do to mitigate ground-level ozone and reduce the number of ozone-exceedance days,” Haley said in a satement. “COGA will continue sharing the facts and working with members of industry to support ongoing efforts to reduce emissions in the nonattainment area.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 21, 201726min880
Simon Lomax

After the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures in Colorado last year, national activist groups are regrouping at the local level. This is history repeating. Several years ago, the push for a statewide oil and gas ban started with local campaigns, led by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch and other out-of-state groups.

Today, the activists are using local governments once again to win statewide attention. This time, they are trying harder to conceal their national ties and portray their lobbying as authentic and spontaneous. But if you know where to look, it’s clear these revamped local campaigns are just as contrived as ever.

Take the anti-oil and gas campaign in Thornton. Officials there are debating new local restrictions on oil and gas development, including wider drilling setbacks than state law allows.

The state attorney general’s office recently warned Thornton officials about the proposed regulations, according to ColoradoPolitics.com. In a letter to the city, assistant attorney general Kyle Davenport cited the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling on local and state authority over oil and gas. In that landmark case, the court said a local ordinance “that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes” is preempted and will be struck down.

Even so, Thornton officials seem unfazed by the potential for litigation. Perhaps they are getting different legal advice, but if so, where is that legal advice coming from?

Enter Barbara Green, an outside oil and gas attorney representing Thornton. Green isn’t just any lawyer, though. She’s a director on the board of Conservation Colorado – the state-level chapter of a larger oil and gas opposition group called the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C.

Both groups have close financial and political ties to Tom Steyer, the anti-oil and gas billionaire from California. In 2016, Conservation Colorado endorsed an anti-fracking ballot measure that would – you guessed it – legalize local energy bans. “When national politics are daunting, it’s time to back to the basics: Organizing local support,” the group said last year.

Green and her law firm also worked on the losing side of the Supreme Court case over local oil and gas bans, along with anti-fracking groups Food & Water Watch, Earthworks and Sierra Club. That litigation cost Fort Collins, her client, and Longmont hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Were Thornton taxpayers told about this? Do they know their oil and gas attorney sits on the board of an anti-oil and gas group? Do they know that expensive legal battles between local officials, state regulators and the energy industry play right into the hands of the environmental lobby?

Are Thornton officials being advised – or lobbied – by their own lawyer?

So that’s the inside game. Let’s examine the outside game.

Enter Food & Water Watch activist Greg Eichhorn, who’s been working through a local group – North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy – to organize door-to-door canvassing, signature gathering and turnout at council meetings to pressure Thornton officials.

“I’ll take care of any responses and questions … and Food & Water Watch can do the heavy lifting in terms of calling folks,” he told activists recently while distributing campaign flyers under the Facebook pseudonym “Greg Charles.”

Food & Water Watch also sponsored an activist training session with Josh Joswick of Earthworks to “build power at the local level.” Joswick has called the campaign against energy development a “back-alley fight,” urging his fellow activists to “fight it any way you can,” including with local regulations.

Eichhorn also testified in favor of Thornton’s proposed regulations last month, without disclosing his role with a national group that wants to “ban fracking everywhere.” He wasn’t alone.

350.org

Anti-fracking activist Lauren Swain also testified without mentioning her ties to national “keep it in the ground” groups. She has worked for 350.org, its state-level chapter 350 Colorado, and also the Sierra Club on anti-fracking campaigns. As a “fracking issue specialist” for 350 Colorado, Swain was listed as a board member of the group, until she became more visible in Thornton and neighboring Broomfield.

Today, New York-based 350.org is “supporting local community groups” in Colorado, according to The Denver Post. And Bill McKibben himself, the founder of 350.org, campaigned in Thornton last year. For his part, McKibben has called oil and gas a “zombie” industry that he intends to “kill.”

National environmental groups have a First Amendment right to lobby and campaign at any level of government they choose, of course. But let’s be realistic about who’s really running these local campaigns, and what they really want.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 16, 20174min160

As city fathers in Thornton examine local regulations on fracking at their meeting next week, they’re sitting on a letter advice warning them not to test state law.

“Under the law of operational preemption, local governments may not enact regulations that conflict with the Oil and Gas Conservation Act … or COGCC regulations in a matter of mixed or statewide concern,” states the letter from the Attorney General’s Office.

“Many matters addressed by the Draft Regulations are already regulated by the COGCC and similar regulations have caused local communities to come into conflict with the state in the past.”

And those local governments haven’t had any success challenging the state’s authority to regulate oil and gas operations.

The Thornton City Council gave preliminary approval to new guidelines that would prevent companies from abandoning flow lines, require them to carry at least $5 million in liability insurance and maintain 750-foot setbacks, all of which exceed state requirements.

A copy of the letter was provided to Colorado Politics by Vital Colorado, the statewide business coalition that supports responsible energy development.

Vital for Colorado Chairman Peter Moore released the a statement Tuesday in response to the letter:

“The attorney general’s office is saying local officials who stand up to anti-fracking groups will have the law on their side,. They will also be saving their taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending on litigation, because state law could not be clearer on this point.

“The Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed decades of case law in a decision last year striking down local energy bans. In that decision, the court said a local ordinance ‘that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes’ will be necessarily preempted by state law and COGCC regulations.

“This decision, along with the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures, was a huge defeat for the anti-fracking campaign in Colorado. So now they are giving local officials just plain bad legal advice to trigger more conflict and more litigation, instead of constructive dialogue.”

Vital for Colorado cited a “network of fringe environmental groups” they say are lobbying local officials o the Front Range to kill the extraction industry, even as Weld County sits atop one the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S.

Residents cite concerns about the proximity of wells and pipelines to homes and schools, as well as potential air quality concerns. The industry has invested millions in public education to convince Coloradans that fracking is a safe, clean industry. Their message was complicated by a house explosion that killed two people in Firestone, which was linked to an Anadarko Petroleum line.

“The activist campaign to pressure local officials has also included unsuccessful recall efforts of local officials in Thornton and in neighboring Broomfield,” Vital for Colorado said.

The Thornton City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at City Hall at 9500 Civic Center Drive in Thornton. Comments or questions can be sent to oilandgasregulations@cityofthornton.net.


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 27, 20174min8
Reactions are predictably split between environmental and oil and gas interests over a recent plan by federal regulators to rescind an Obama-era fracking rule. The Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 rule sought to limit hydraulic fracturing on public lands. The rule was never in effect due to pending litigation, which continues in Denver on Thursday. […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 24, 20174min190

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy CommitteeLiberal journalist extraordinaire David Sirota did what he told Colorado Politics he would do back in May. He got his eyeballs on Colorado Senate Republicans’ e-mails from a period when a bill to move oil and gas wells farther from schools was pending in the legislature.

You can bet Dave would raise a left-slanted eyeball. He published his findings Friday in the International Business Times.

But he didn’t find any bombshells. Just both sides pleading their case.

From the article:

While the emails, which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by IBT, show no sign of illegal activity or quid pro quo dealings between lobbyists and lawmakers, they do reveal the asymmetrical war fought between the fossil fuel lobby and ordinary citizens who work and live near their facilities, many of whom wrote their representatives to assert that they weren’t anti-fracking, but simply worried about their own or their children’s health. Some pleaded with their representatives for help, only to receive a form letter, or nothing at all.

He cites an example letter from a Greeley school teacher to Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley who is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The committee killed Democratic Rep. Mike Foote’s House Bill 1256 on a party-line vote on April 12. The teacher wrote she was begging for Cooke’s support.

“We should not be risking the health and safety of children without an attempt to at least provide the minimum of support of a 1000 foot setback from where they are playing and breathing. Protecting the health and safety of children should not be a partisan issue — we all care about protecting the most vulnerable, and as a former Weld County Sheriff, I’m sure you understand.”

Sirota also found an e-mail to Cooke from Brent Backes, an executive with DCP Midstream, a petroleum services company based in Denver, as well as an executive board member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“DCP has a lot of new development activity in Weld County that I would like to make sure you are aware of as well as having a general discussion of the issues facing our industry,” Backes wrote. “I would be happy to come to the Capitol as our headquarters are located just a few blocks away.”

Sirota found that Cooke RSVP’d to a COGA seminar later, but it’s hard to say if Cooke responded to the e-mails, Sirota wrote.

In the scheme of things, that’s not unusual. Legislators from both parties attend all kinds of events put on by special-interests groups, from industry to philanthropy. Associations associate with policymakers because that’s how the public sausage is ground. Legislators say they learn about the issues from the “stakeholders,” even if you prefer to call that influence.

Editor’s note: This story corrected that Sen. John Cooke is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, not the chairman. The chair is Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 26, 20175min370

A political fight over fracking in Broomfield shows little sign of a final bell. Colorado Politics told you last week how resident Camille Cave called out Councilman Kevin Kreeger at a recent council meeting.

She said Kreeger had a “bromance” with Andrew O’Connor, the anti-drilling activist who justified a threat of violence against oil and gas works in an April 19 letter published in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Kreeger said he didn’t know O’Connor personally when he, like other council members (and state legislators, it turned out), received dozens e-mails from O’Connor about a proposed ballot initiative he was pushing to raise  severance taxes on oil and gas operations, before O’Connor’s over-the-top letter about blowing up wells and shooting oilfield workers.

Colorado Politics reported that, and Cave called us out on that point, noting that Kreeger corresponded with O’Connor after the letter.

“Kevin Kreeger called me a liar in public and the dates on his e-mails prove that I spoke the truth,” she wrote to this website. “And then when you published a story that also says I was untruthful, it just wasn’t right.”

We asked to see the e-mails, which she provided via  the oil-and-gas industry website Western Wire. In them, O’Connor and Kreeger corresponded cordially about the ballot initiative on March 1 and March 9, about six weeks before O’Connor’s letter in the Boulder paper.

The e-mail Cave quoted from, partially, at the meeting was dated May 2, almost two weeks after O’Connor’s letter to the editor.

“I applaud your energy and desire to fight for what’s right,” Cave said, reading Kreeger’s response to O’Connor.

She never said Kreeger advocated violence, which Kreeger has publicly repudiated, but Cave said at the meeting, “I was shocked to learn a member of this city council would have dealings with someone like Andrew O’Connor.”

In the paragraph before his compliment to O’Connor, Kreeger calls him out about his violent rhetoric.

“But you walk a fine line if what you say could sound like you advocate violence against people. If people take it that way, I think you hurt your cause,” Kreeger wrote. “And if you blatantly call for violence, then you’d be way over a line.”

In the sentence after the compliment, Kreeger said, “…You should tread lightly when it comes to certain statements.”

Camille said in an e-mail to Colorado Politics last weekend,” My concern was that Kreeger has a tendency to play both sides against the middle in his spoken and written words.”

Reached Friday, Kreeger said it’s unreasonable but intentional to try to hold him accountable for the words of a stranger who sent him an e-mail, even if he responds politely.

“The truth is if somebody solves hunger in Africa after they e-mail me or e-mail me and then do that, it doesn’t mean I get any credit for solving hunger in Africa,” he said.

Kreeger characterized the flap as pushback against residents who oppose oil and gas operations near homes and schools. He said they’re up against an industry that knows how to play the hardball politics of innuendo by sowing seeds of character assassination in a community.

“It’s the dirtiest kind of D.C. politics being injected into local Broomfield politics, people who want to crush reputations, to destroy people’s careers if they have to, to move them out of the way, people who are going to spend massive amounts of money to take control of the public conversation, all on behalf of the gas and oil industry,” Kreeger said.

Cave said she’s just a Broomfield resident, who’s lived in the city 10 years and worked there 20.

The full exchange between Cave and Kreeger can be watched here.