Economy, Elections, Energy, Environment, Gold Dome, Politics

Energy politics loom over Western Colorado’s Club 20 debate

Candidates for state and federal office will gather in Grand Junction, Colo., for a series of election debates organized by Club 20 this weekend. Will energy be one of the hot issues? It should be, even after the collapse of two anti-fracking ballot measures aimed at shutting down the state’s oil and natural gas sector.

“Energy policy happens at all levels of government,” says Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke, “so the candidates should be asked about energy issues at Club 20 and every other candidate forum.”

This year’s anti-fracking measures were just one part of a much bigger campaign against the state’s energy sector. For many months, big environmental groups and big environmental donors – including California billionaire activist Tom Steyer – have campaigned up and down the ballot for their favored candidates. With the ballot measures out of the way, they can now focus on electing the kind of candidates who will crack down on the state’s energy sector with new laws and regulations.

Icon_2016_Op_EdIt’s what political analyst Floyd Ciruli has called “The Greenprint,” a Steyer-funded campaign to achieve “vertical control of the ballot, taking over the state for his environmental agenda.”

“And it’s a pretty extreme agenda,” Ciruli said in a May interview. “It is anti-hydrocarbon, it is anti-growth in general.”

Steyer’s not alone. He’s joined by other left-wing donors, including New York billionaire George Soros, and their role in Colorado elections this year hangs over just about every candidate on the ballot.

What does this mean for the debates organized by Club 20, the organization that brings together community and business leaders from across the Western Slope?

For starters, candidates running for the state legislature should be asked whether they support the Steyer environmental agenda. State records show the California billionaire is directly involved in a number of key races that will decide which party controls the state legislature next year.

Steyer is huge donor to environmental groups, including 350.org, one of the national organizations behind this year’s failed anti-fracking ballot measures. The activists at 350.org are also senior leaders in the “keep it in the ground” campaign, which reflexively opposes the production of oil, gas and coal. This agenda is so extreme, it’s taken heavy criticism from within the Democratic coalition. “His vision of leaving oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels in the ground kills jobs, drives up energy costs, and threatens to strangle our economy,” the Laborers International Union of North America warned earlier this year.

So where do the Republicans and Democrats running for the state legislature stand? With Coloradans who support the state’s energy sector or the California billionaire who’s determined to shut it down? When Steyer and his allies push new laws and regulations aimed at the oil, gas and coal industries in the legislature, will the candidates help them, or fight back?

Candidates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate should face similar questions. U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D), for example, is supporting Hillary Clinton despite some troubling statements she’s made about energy. Of particular concern to Western Colorado, Clinton told activists with 350.org that banning oil, natural gas and coal production on federal lands was a “done deal” if she’s elected president. That kind of language is “irresponsible” and candidates for statewide and federal office in Colorado should reject it, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R) said recently.

Her campaign has tried to explain away the “done deal” comment, and a related promise of “no future extraction” of fossil fuels on federal land, but the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel isn’t convinced. In an editorial this week, the newspaper said the people of Western Colorado deserve “a straight answer” from Clinton about whether she opposes fossil fuel development on federal lands. Because she hasn’t retracted her “done deal” promise to 350.org, “it looks like she’s trying to appeal to both extreme environmentalists and the ordinary Americans who depend on affordable energy,” the Sentinel observed. “What are voters supposed to think when her campaign deflects and denies something she said?”

Does Sen. Bennet really support a candidate for president who would shut down energy production on federal lands in Colorado? Or can he explain to voters that Clinton meant something else when she said banning fossil fuel production on federal lands was a done deal?

Likewise, Bennet’s Republican challenger – El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn – should expect questions about Donald Trump’s past statements on energy. Last month, Trump made waves in Colorado by apparently endorsing the idea of local fracking bans. Colorado oil and gas industry officials pushed back, and a key energy adviser to the Trump campaign recently said the candidate now understands the issue better and doesn’t support local bans.

Even so, the incident raised questions about the Republican position on energy development and the campaigns waged to ban it, and the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate can help clear things up.

This year’s anti-fracking measures may be gone, but the energy debate in Colorado continues. True, the debate may be more complicated and harder to follow now than it was a few weeks ago. But given the vital importance of oil, gas and coal production to the state economy, these are just some of the questions that need to be asked. Coloradans deserve to know as much as possible about where the candidates and their parties stand on the future of the state’s energy sector.

Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at simon@i2i.org.

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