U.S. Senate, Colorado’s Cory Gardner lauded, scolded over methane vote

Colorado environmentalists cheered the nation’s Senate but jeered one of its members, Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, for their votes today regarding a proposed repeal of new curbs on methane emissions from oil and gas wells. Just reverse the order of those cheers and jeers, of course, to get the take of supporters of the state’s substantial oil and gas industry.

The U.S. Senate’s minority Democrats voted against the repeal, scuttling the proposal with the help of three maverick Republicans who broke from the GOP majority. Gardner, on the other hand, voted with the other 48 Republicans. The proposal was part of the GOP’s, and the Trump administration’s, agenda for easing what they contend is an excessive regulatory burden on energy development.

The Senate’s vote represented the first setback for that agenda since the new Congress was seated and Donald Trump was sworn in last January. And it ran counter to a vote in favor of repeal earlier this year by the GOP-majority U.S. House.

While the vote’s outcome caught Beltway observers off-guard, the reaction in Colorado was pretty much as expected. From a press release issued by green movement mainstay Conservation Colorado, here’s the group’s Pete Maysmith:

This is an incredible day for the environment and for citizens across the country who have been telling their members of Congress to vote for clean air. The vote should have been an easy one for the oil and gas lobby to win, but the power of citizen activism has broken through the political morass.

With that said, we are deeply disappointed in Senator Gardner’s vote. Despite more than 10,000 emails and calls from Coloradans and multiple protests at his offices on this issue, Senator Gardner managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by voting against Colorado’s clean air in what amounted to a futile vote for him.

The Denver-based, libertarian-leaning Independence Institute’s Executive V.P. Amy Oliver Cooke, who heads the institute’s Energy Policy Center, saw it the other way around:

What a disappointment that the U.S. Senate voted with the onerous regulatory state and against jobs, the economy and domestic energy production. At least, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner didn’t fall for the cynical either-or choice. Instead, he voted with the American people, who know that we can responsibly develop our own resources and keep the environment clean.

The rules, published by the federal government under the Obama administration just last November, would require oil and gas operations to capture methane they leak or vent. Environmentalists say that will rein in gases that contribute to climate change and that the escaped gas amounts to hundred of millions of dollars in lost mineral royalties that could support local governments.

The industry, however, maintains the new rules will backfire. As reported by ColoradoPolitics.com’s Joey Bunch earlier in the congressional debate, the Colorado Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, says the cost of compliance could shut down 40 percent of wells on federal lands, cutting much deeper into government royalties than any gain from recaptured methane. A 1 percent loss could cut payments to the government by $14 million. The lost royalties to flaring are estimated at between $3 million and $10 million, according to the Petroleum Council.

How did Colorado’s two U.S. senators themselves feel about their votes?

The office of senior Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who sided with other Democrats against the repeal, issued a statement quoting the senator on the vote:

“Today’s vote is a victory for Colorado and the country … Amid dysfunction in Washington, we were able to come together to prevent the rollback of a rule that protects families from harmful air pollution and ensures taxpayers receive a fair return on oil and gas resources. This win gives me some hope that Congress can make progress on addressing climate change and growing our clean energy economy in the future.”

As for Gardner — the man in the crosshairs of Environment Colorado and a host of other left-of-center Colorado groups at the moment — a spokesman for his office stressed that the vote was actually procedural, to continue debate on the repeal. The office released this statement from Gardner:

“The Senate rejected a procedural measure today to advance debate of the CRA involving the methane rule, and the Senate will not consider repealing the rule implemented by the Obama Administration. Colorado has one of the strictest regulations on methane emissions in the country. Our state is an example of what can be achieved when states work to find answers that best fit the needs of local interests, and the Colorado way will continue to be the standard.”

Make no mistake, Democrats as well as nonpartisan groups like Conservation Colorado that lean Democratic, are not about to let up the heat on Gardner — whatever issue happens to be in play. Some of Maysmith’s remarks in today’s press release come across  more like campaign talking points than an environmental manifesto:

It’s obvious from this vote that Senator Gardner is much more interested in joining the Washington, D.C. political club rather than representing the values of Coloradans. This is not the leadership that Colorado needs, and we will double down on our efforts to make sure that Coloradans of all stripes know what a threat Senator Gardner’s voting record poses to clean air and environment.

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