Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Western Wire

While there are areas of disagreement between the two, both of Colorado’s U.S. Senators praised the other at a forum on energy development and manufacturing in the state that tackled a wide range of issues from the “keep it in the ground” movement and divide within the Democratic Party to the possible relocation of the Bureau of Land Management.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R) spoke Tuesday to business leaders at the Colorado Energy and Manufacturing Forum, sponsored by the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Colorado Business Roundtable.

“My party has struggled on this issue [“keep it in the ground”] not because they have had a principled position,” Bennet said.

Colorado’s senior senator was pressed by an audience member about disagreements within the Democratic Party over fossil fuels, particularly anti-fossil fuel factions that embrace a “keep it in the ground” philosophy.

Bennet agreed with the audience member that a fault is present on his side of the aisle, and pushed back against the activists in his party opposing natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, calling their message “anti-jobs” and “anti-science.”

“You’re absolutely right about that. Your last point, I totally agree with. We are environmentalists in Colorado,” Bennet said.

“If your position is, ‘not one more hydrocarbon,’ that’s a principled position,” Bennet said, but not one that is consistent with the energy production in the country. His criticisms at the forum went further than those he offered at town halls throughout the spring of 2017, when asked about his support for Keystone XL and other domestic energy positions.

“If your position is, ‘I’d rather have less coal generating electrons, but I’m going to oppose fracking,’ that feels to me like a far less principled position. Because nothing has done more to displace coal than cheap natural gas,” Bennet said.

“The cost of natural gas has dropped like a stone because of the ingenuity of people in this room and people like you around the country,” Bennet said, acknowledging the innovations in the oil and gas sector.

“When people hear a message that says, ‘we should displace coal and we believe that fracking is terrible,’ what they hear is an anti-jobs message and an anti-science message,” Bennet said.

The disagreement within the Democratic Party does not only come from anti-fossil fuel activists. One member of the Colorado delegation has sent mixed messages on the state’s energy future, including fracking.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), running for governor in 2018, has backed a call for 100 percent renewables by 2040 has been a longtime critic of the oil and gas industry and turned heads in August, when he abruptly praised the state’s “robust” energy market and oil and gas sector in a forum with state business leaders.

Polis had sponsored anti-fracking measures in 2014 that were pulled at the eleventh hour after his party feared the ballot initiatives would harm the candidates that November.

And the battle over fracking hasn’t diminished, as the City of Broomfield faces a vote on Question 301, which proposes to give the city power to “regulate all aspects of oil and gas development” within its borders. A victory for the anti-fracking groups would likely invite lawsuits, the city’s attorney said, and would fall under the state’s preemption, as the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2016, rejecting local fracking bans.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R), Western Wire

Gardner addressed the possible move of the BLM headquarters, along with the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to the West, saying that better decision-making would expedite permitting for oil and gas development that has been hindered, in part, by delays from anti-fossil fuel groups.

“I do think it has tremendous support, bipartisan support,” Gardner told Western Wire, citing Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. In August, Bennet said he was “all for” the BLM relocation.

Gardner said the idea grew out of the realization—after meeting with county commissioners, environmentalists, recreationalists, and producers in Western Colorado—who would travel out to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Bureau of Land Management only to make decisions about their homes back here in the West.

“I believe that decisions are best made locally, and that you can have better decisions when the decision makers are amidst the people that those decisions affect the most,” Gardner said. He pointed to Mesa County, where federal lands make up a majority of the county’s surface area, and Colorado’s Western Slope bordered by states like Wyoming (48 percent), Utah (65 percent), Arizona (39 percent), and New Mexico (35 percent) with large federal land ownership.

Gardner said better decision making would help the BLM’s permitting process, and improve the economies of the West.

“There were a handful of permits held up by the BLM that represented tens of thousands of jobs, and had they been put through, we could have seen incredible economic development in Western Colorado and beyond,” Gardner said.

Gardner said the relocation would result in better cooperation between environmental interests, recreational interests, and agricultural and energy producers, who have been at odds in recent years over permitting and other land use issues.

The two senators disagreed on the Clean Power Plan’s repeal by the Environmental Protection Agency—Bennet against, Gardner in favor—but agreed on opposing solar tariffs.