Emails Reveal Green Influence In New Mexico, Colorado Legislation And Policy Actions
Emails between environmentalists and state administrative officials have raised questions in Colorado and New Mexico, as new leadership in both states pushed for aggressive legislation aimed at increasing regulations and driving renewable energy development.
Open records requests in both states were used to obtain emails between key officials and outside activist groups. The emails detail what appears to be coordination and even influence exerted on cabinet-level and senior-level officials in the administrations of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado.
According to emails obtained by Power the Future, New Mexico’s state Energy Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst asked an outside trade group to review language of legislation that would increase the state’s renewable portfolio.
Cottrell Propst and a legislative staffer exchanged emails with Environment New Mexico, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Western Resource Advocates, the New York Times reported.
Propst defended the emails as part of a large stakeholder process and an effort to get one of Lujan Grisham’s priority legislative pushes passed this year. But critics argued that the emails, including with one of Cottrell Propst’s former employer Interwest Energy Alliance, and close ties to other groups pushing renewable energy, raised questions about her ability to be fair in the policy arena.
In the email dated February 3, Cottrell Propst asked a staffer at Environment New Mexico to “please make sure that the energy storage language works for Interwest as drafted?”
In the light of the emails, one New Mexico legislator called for the agency head to step down.
“If this is how things are going to be run, I’d like to see that energy secretary step down,” State House Minority Whip Rod Montoya told the Times.
Larry Behrens, Western States Director for Power the Future, told Inside Sources his group sought the emails to find out “what was kept in it, and what was kept out of” the Energy Transition Act legislation signed by Lujan Grisham in March.
“When we received their responses [the emails] we started to notice the things that we’ve highlighted now — that there were a lot of environmental groups talking to each other,” Behrens said. He argued the emails created “the appearance that a high-level administration official worked with her former employer in crafting this bill.”
In a similar fashion, a series of emails uncovered by Western Wire in April and obtained through an open records request, showed two of Colorado’s top health officials outlining a series of meetings with state agency staff in order to discuss policy proposals forwarded by a climate organization formerly headed by Jill Ryan, the new Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
Ryan, who had previously headed up Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA) before being tapped by Polis to lead the state’s health regulatory agency, sent an email to Garry Kaufman, Division Director of the Air Pollution Control Division at CDPHE in January, forwarding a list of policy proposals suggested by the activist organization.
“Hi Garry, I am really looking forward to working with you. You know that GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and ozone are going to be priorities of this administration. I want to assure you that you have a partner in me in going after the resources you will need to tackle these big issues. I know we are meeting soon and I look forward to it. The following is from my friends at CC4CA. Can you assess these and weave them into our upcoming discussions about what is do-able, if you had the resources? I look forward to hearing your ideas too. Martha told me you had some efficient ideas for cutting GHG’s. Thank you, Jill,” wrote Ryan on January 28.
Behrens said the “insider access” revealed in the New Mexico and Colorado emails puts energy workers in both states at risk, guided by the cozy relationship between outside groups and amenable state governments.
“The hypocrisy of the eco-left is never-ending. In less than a year into new administrations in both New Mexico and Colorado, it appears they are perfectly comfortable with their former employees giving privileged access at the expense of our energy workers. It’s not enough for the eco-left to push policies that harm our communities and workers, it appears they also feel the need to erode the public trust with insider access as well,” Behrens told Western Wire by email.
In the subsequent Colorado email exchange, Ryan also suggested collaborating on the “upcoming health assessment results,” referring to a repeatedly delayed health risk assessment that CDPHE had originally expected in summer 2018, before the midterm election. The assessment has been delayed multiple times and is currently expected indefinitely, according to CDPHE.
The emails also outlined tackling “goals of GHG emissions and ozone” along with discussing the CC4CA policy suggestions.
Those suggestions, forwarded from CC4CA, included a menu of many different policy outcomes, from asking the Polis administration not to pursue an extension on Front Range non-attainment on ground-level ozone filed by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration with the Environmental Protection Agency. The item was part of an effort spearheaded by WildEarth Guardians, a keep-it-in-the-ground anti-oil and gas group.
The CC4CA email described these policies as ones that CDPHE could undertake “that would make a meaningful difference.”
“Hi Jill – I’ve asked around among some of the air quality folks I know for ideas about very specific things CDPHE could do now that would make a meaningful difference. I can’t speak to the relative merits of these suggestions, and they are in no particular order. I’m using the language provided to me, and since I don’t know much about most of them I’m not in a position to endorse their characterizations or recommendations, but I can say that the folks I talked with are smart and competent, so I’m guessing that all of these suggestions are worth consideration at least. Also, some of these are at least partially redundant. I tried to put those together,” the forwarded email read.
In late March, the Polis administration halted the request for an extension with the EPA, arguing that “Colorado is choosing to move forward without delay to protect communities and their public health,” Polis wrote in his letter to the agency.
The CC4CA email argued that the state’s top health agency should let the federal Clean Air Act “run its course” and allow the area to get “bumped up to a serious [nonattainment] area.” In doing so, the state would force emitters to seek a major source permit.
Groups like the ones mentioned in both states’ emails are no strangers to calls for more regulation, emboldened by the newly created Democratic majorities in New Mexico and Colorado, along with the election of more environmentally-oriented governors in Lujan Grisham and Polis.