The Inconvenient Truth About Why the Energy Office Died
Democrats and environmentalists are fond of talking about “inconvenient truths,” so here’s one they might chew on during this pause in the 71st General Assembly.
Colorado’s Energy Office met its demise in the waning hours of the just-closed legislative session not because of Republicans, who made a good-faith effort to reauthorize and re-energize what had become a listless and ineffectual bureaucratic backwater. Reauthorization failed because of an our-way-or-the-highway mindset among many Democrats, who would rather have the office go away than see it evolve into something better.
The episode deserves detailed review not just because the Governor and Statehouse Democrats are frantic to skirt blame for their mishandling of the situation, by hurriedly rewriting the history of what really went down. It also highlights the narrow, arrogant, disconnected-from-reality way Democrats view energy issues, which has much larger state and national implications for consumers and producers.
A number of state programs periodically come up for review at the Statehouse. It was the Energy Office’s turn this year. The fact that most Coloradans don’t know there’s an energy office, and can’t tell you what it does, speaks volumes about how badly it’s languished over the years. It was reinvented as a tool for touting the “new energy economy” during the Bill Ritter years, but has hardly been heard from since, except when an audit found that millions of dollars handled by the office couldn’t be accounted for.
Some argued for just putting the office out of its misery, but I came to believe it could still have relevance, given how central energy is to the health of Colorado’s economy. Information-gathering hearings held by a committee I chair, the Senate Select Committee on Energy and Environment, convinced me that the office still could have an important role to play, if we took steps to broaden and update its mission in light of changing circumstances.
So I went about drafting what became Senate Bill, 301, working in consultation with stakeholders, the governor’s office and folks inside the Energy Office itself. It broadened the mission to evenhandedly promote all energy options, not just a politically-favored few, because I believe a diverse, truly all-of-the-above energy policy is good for consumers, producers and Colorado’s business climate.
So-called renewables like wind and solar obviously have a role to play. But why limit the office’s focus to promoting just those, when Colorado is blessed with a bounty of other options, including the reliable workhorses of the energy sector like coal and natural gas. Are “low-carbon” power generators like nuclear and hydropower worth a look? What other options might emerge in the coming years that aren’t even on the radar yet? I believe the state’s energy office should be open to all possibilities.
That broadening of the office’s mission statement, along with the steps we took to streamline the office by removing initiatives that were outdated, unfunded or underutilized, were portrayed by some Democrats as an “attack” on renewables. But that speaks to their myopia, not mine. The goal wasn’t to exclude renewables, which have come far enough in recent years that they no longer need special treatment. I want the office to take a broader and longer view, based on my belief that chronic short-sightedness has plagued national and state energy policymaking.
Colorado is an energy superpower among states, given the array of options that are open to us. We’ll do our energy consumers, economy and state budget a huge disservice if we unnecessarily narrow down those options.
The proposed reorganization of the office was done in consultation with the governor’s people, including office insiders, so attempts by Democrats to portray it as some sort of hostile act are inaccurate and unfair.
The bill also raised registration fees on electric vehicle owners who don’t pay gas tax, asking that they pay a fairer share toward road maintenance. It ended a senseless prohibition on certain utilities owning or developing gas reserves, which could reduce costs n energy consumers, bolster Colorado’s energy economy and boost severance taxes on which local governments rely. And it would have focused efforts to address the state’s orphan well issue.
Republicans also added into the bill a key provision, supposedly supported by Democrats, aimed at tracking and testing gas lines across the state. This strengthened the governor’s order, issued in the wake on the April 17 Firestone tragedy, by writing the inspection protocols into state statute and adding reporting requirements, so we can more closely track progress.
Shockingly, almost all these perfectly reasonable elements were summarily stripped out of SB-301 by House Democrats, who sneaked in one amendment aimed at helping one prominent private utility (the name begins with an “X”) with a wind power tax credit issue. They sent us back the largely-eviscerated bill in the waning hours of the session, essentially telling us to take it or leave it. Because we weren’t willing to approve a hallow bill, devoid of the reasonable reforms that would make reauthorization worthwhile, we decided not to go along with the power play. The bill died due to a stubborn refusal of the other side to compromise on a single major issue.
So that, in short, is why the Colorado Energy Office wasn’t reauthorized. A cynical game of brinksmanship by Democrats spelled its demise. Apparently, they calculated that the Energy Office was more politically useful to them dead than alive, if they could pin the blame on Republicans, which is easy enough when the media is predisposed to see the world on their terms.
It’s a serious disappointment, because there was absolutely nothing in that bill that reasonable people couldn’t find compromise on. But that’s a commentary on how unreasonable some Democrats have become on the energy issue. Their refusal to budge is a reflection of how rigid ideology, rather than realism and practicality, is dictating the Democrat energy agenda. The self-defeating results were in this case plain to see.
I’m assuming the Energy Office’s future will be back on the docket next session. And I welcome more dialogue, given the issue’s continued importance to all Coloradans. Maybe some sober reflection by the other side in the meantime, about how they messed-up and major opportunity to keep Colorado on energy’s cutting edge, will lead to more good faith thought and action if we revisit these issues next year.
Ray Scott represents Senate District 7 in the General Assembly and chairs the Senate Select Committee on Energy and Environment.