Polis Backs Oil And Gas In Surprise Comments At Industry Lunch
A longtime critic of the oil and gas industry had some surprising comments for Colorado’s business community at a luncheon last week.
Colorado is “in a great place as a state” when it comes to the energy sector, according to Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who offered his outlook on the state’s energy market and competitiveness at a recent event sponsored by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI).
Polis’s universal optimism came as a surprise to some of those in attendance familiar with his record of trying to stop oil and gas development.
Peter Moore, chairman of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders focused on energy policy, said, “These comments are promising, given the Congressman’s history of supporting anti-oil and gas ballot measures. We look forward to hearing more details from him.”
“But one thing we know for sure: When Congressman Polis is distancing himself from national anti-fracking groups, you know how isolated those groups have become in Colorado’s energy debate,” Moore said.
Polis’ comments to CACI last Wednesday contrast sharply with a press conference he held in 2011 with members of the Americans Against Fracking advisory board, celebrity anti-fracking activists Josh Fox and Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo. The activists were demanding an “immediate moratorium” on oil and gas production.
In 2013, Polis called the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) “un-American” for its defense of state preemption in oil and gas regulation. Yet the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed COGA’s position on state regulations trumping local fracking ordinances in 2016, calling the municipal bans “invalid and unenforceable.”
Polis’s tone was far more conciliatory at the recent event.
“We have a robust energy sector in Colorado, oil and gas, solar, wind,” said Polis, including “the next generation of and future advances in oil and gas extraction, as well as renewable energy,” he continued, adding that the state is a leader in energy-related research.
The Democratic congressman’s apparent transformation on positive contributions from oil and gas conflicts with comments he made as recently as June when he said, “fossil fuel is a dead end for America.”
In that same vein, Polis launched his campaign for governor in 2018, and announced a plan to move Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. In July, Polis joined several of his House colleagues to introduce the “100 by ‘50” Act to transition the nation to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Not only would the bill call for ending fossil fuel use, but would include a zero-emissions vehicle standard and a carbon tax on transportation, including commercial aviation. National anti-fossil fuel groups like 350.org, League of Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club support the legislation.
In April, Polis, joined other House members in re-introducing a package of bills that would make it more difficult to develop oil and gas. The bills first appeared as part of a similar slate of proposed legislation dubbed the “Frack Pack” by House Democrats. Polis also supports a carbon tax.
California billionaire Tom Steyer, who backed an anti-fracking ballot measure in California, and Polis were called “kindred spirits” after meetings between Steyer’s team and Polis in 2014 to discuss their anti-oil and gas positions.
That same year, Polis backed and bankrolled statewide ballot measures to increase setbacks and impose other restrictions on the oil and gas industry. He pulled back the two measures after an intervention by Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper, and state Democratic colleagues fearful that the Polis efforts would “break” the party.
Polis’s withdrawal in 2014 didn’t halt his enthusiasm for pushing against oil and gas development, as he threw financial support behind another anti-fracking ballot measure in 2016.
But Polis adopted a more measured tone at the CACI event.
He said state advances in producing energy and delivering it across the state and to out-of-state markets depended on having quality infrastructure, including pipelines, and called for balancing concerns for residents and the environment.
“When you look at what I think would help increase our productivity and competitiveness here, certainly part of it ties back to the first question: infrastructure,” said Polis. “Certainly, in terms of being able to move oil and gas, the right kind of infrastructure across our state.”
“If we can have better pipeline infrastructure, we can reduce the costs and be more competitive and at the same time reduce some of the surface impacts that we hear about from local homeowners,” Polis said.
Polis did not appear to mention any of his current legislation on increasing regulations for oil and gas, a carbon tax, or 100 percent renewable mandate. Instead, Polis focused on energy markets and an apparent ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy for Colorado’s economy.
At the event last week, Polis said his view on renewables combines solar and wind with natural gas “in large part because of our geophysical characteristics of having great opportunities for solar and wind, as well as natural gas, right here in Colorado, particularly Western Colorado.”
Polis also addressed energy development and the intersection it plays with other industries in the state, creating opportunities for economic development.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to really increase our competitiveness across the board. Because the price of energy plays into the competitiveness of manufacturing in Colorado [and] the cost of agriculture in Colorado,” Polis said.
“There really isn’t any sector that isn’t touched by energy. And so if we can build, and continue to build, a stable pricing advantage in energy in our state, that can be a competitive advantage across the entire business sector.”
Polis boasts a 90 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.