Green groups blast Hick for shooting down drilling bills

Aspen-area state Sen. Schwartz joins GOP in voting down bill to reform COGCC

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMay 6, 2013
Environmental groups late Monday were sharply critical of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s successful efforts to kill two oil and gas bills that would have increased groundwater testing and changed the makeup and mission of the state’s lead regulatory agency overseeing drilling activities.

Aspen and Vail-area state Sen. Gail Schwartz reportedly joined four fellow Democrats and minority Republicans to vote down House Bill 1269, which would have shifted the focus of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) away from the promotion of drilling and more toward safeguarding the environment. It also would have barred anyone actively on an industry payroll from serving on the regulatory commission.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association had dubbed HB 1269 the “Wizard of Oz” bill because they claimed it disguised its real intention, which was to move regulatory authority away from the state and give more power to county and municipal jurisdictions – something Hickenlooper has vehemently opposed.

Hickenlooper, who just last week lamented the heat is taking on oil and gas issues, has opposed most of the regulatory agenda being pushed by environmentalists and many Democrats this legislative session, which ends on Wednesday.

A gas rig in western Colorado.

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith expressed disappointment that HB 1269 was defeated by the Senate 20-15 on Monday.

“The commission is conflicted not only in its membership but in its mission -- charged with both promoting and regulating the oil and gas industry,” Maysmith said in a statement. “HB 1269 would have given equal weight to protecting the environment, public health, and wildlife and increased accountability and transparency over the commission.”

Maysmith also decried the defeat of HB 1316, which would have required the same level of groundwater testing in the heavily drilled Greater Wattenburg Area along the state’s Front Range as was mandated in the rest of the state last year. The COGCC exempted the area because it is so heavily drilled they felt the same level of testing would be excessive.

Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action noted the irony of Hickenlooper working to defeat HB 1316 the same week he declared “Drinking Water Week.”

“This governor appears to say one thing and do another,” Wockner said. “I guess it's only ‘Safe Drinking Water Week’ in Colorado if you don't you live in Boulder, Larimer, Weld, or Adams County [home to the Greater Wattenburg Area].”

The only battle remaining is now over HB 1267, which would increase the maximum daily fine for oil and gas spills and violations to $15,000. However, environmentalists and some key Democrats are already irked that the governor worked to get minimum fine amounts stripped out of the bill.

Representatives for Hickenlooper declined to comment on whether he’ll sign or veto HB 1267, which has passed in both the House and the Senate.

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