Western Wire’s 2018 Year In Review
Thank you once again to all our readers in our second year here at Western Wire—a big year for stories across the West that continued to be shared, just as we wrote last year at this time, on social media and the halls of Congress, state legislatures, state and federal agencies, and most importantly, to the residents of the states in the West we cover on a day-to-day basis.
This year Western Wire brought in-depth and exclusive investigative journalism to the Colorado climate lawsuit that forms part of the burgeoning climate lawsuit effort across the country. Beginning in January, when we were tipped off that the City of Boulder might be considering its own climate litigation, we filed a Colorado Open Records Act request and revealed that the city not only was considering moving forward but was already contending with “potential costs and risk” associated with launching a lawsuit. We broke the news the day before the lawsuit was filed on April 17 that the City of Boulder would be joined by Boulder County and San Miguel County, reported live from the news conference itself. In subsequent exclusive wall-to-wall coverage, we uncovered the financial risks to local taxpayers embedded in the lawsuit contracts, constructed a comprehensive timeline that demonstrated the lawsuit was being planned as early as one year prior to the announcement itself, and that lawsuit functions like handling media inquiries was being outsourced to EarthRights International, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit providing legal services to the three Colorado communities. In addition to the direct coverage of the lawsuit’s progress itself, Western Wire reached out to top voices across the state, whose top air and water administrator cautioned against climate litigation; surveyed the state’s gubernatorial candidates who declined to support the effort, including U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who represents Boulder and is Colorado’s governor-elect; interviewed former U.S. Interior Secretary and Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton who said the lawsuits were filled with “hypocrisy”; and finally Attorney General-elect Phil Weiser, who said he was “uncomfortable” with climate litigation reasoning and would not add the state of Colorado to litigation targeting Exxon Mobil.
As part of our efforts to expand Western Wire’s reach, not only among readers but among those to interview to share with our readers, we had the honor of interviewing the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior—two federal agencies with administrative powers and regulatory oversight over oil and gas production and much of the land located in Western states. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sat down with us in June on a visit to Denver to tout his regulatory reform, and three months later we caught up with his successor, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who addressed the agency’s need for better risk communications and Superfund issues across the west. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke with us regarding his department’s planned reorganization in July, and again in August, on a tour pushing for National Park Service maintenance backlog funding. After nearly two years of service, Zinke is stepping down from his post, but not before securing bipartisan support for funding and policies, and paving the way for departmental revamping that includes the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to a western state.
The key to our successes in 2018 was the breadth of story subject matter covered: from embattled La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, who faced a recall effort in no small part due to Western Wire’s ongoing coverage; on-the-ground reporting from Washington, D.C. on Congressional efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act; interviews with Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. on the “failure” of climate policy efforts; continuous coverage of BLM oil and gas lease sales that included a record-breaking year for the west overall and a $1 billion revenue bonanza for New Mexico thanks to technological breakthroughs in the Permian Basin; and wall-to-wall coverage of the setback battle in Colorado, which opponents called a “de facto” ban and drew bipartisan opposition from 50 mayors and state legislators and other officials. The battle over Proposition 112, one of the key measures on any ballot in the west, drew much misinformation, which Western Wire was well-prepared to combat in the days leading up to the election, and with a little digging, were able to reveal the true intention of the measure from the mouth of one of the measure’s biggest supporters—350.org’s Bill McKibben—who applauded the effort to “fundamentally break” the oil and gas industry. Finally, in the spirit of collaborative regulatory rulemaking, the year ended on a high note, with an “epic” agreement between industry, school districts, and conservation groups to strike an accord on increasing school setbacks.
Thank you for your growing interest in us in 2018—with a new Congress and a shift in state legislatures across the west, 2019 is already shaping up to be a year full of surprises and entrenched policy battles—we’re policy nerds, what can we say—so stay tuned!
Have a safe and Happy New Year!
–Your Western Wire Editors
#1 Report: Oil And Gas Setback Proposal Would Mean ‘Staggering’ $180 Billion Loss For Colorado
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL JUNE 14, 2018
A study commissioned by the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners (CAMRO) finds that implementing policies or ballot measures that would effectively ban oil and gas development in in one of Colorado’s most productive oil fields would strand a “staggering” $180 billion worth of resources and cost mineral rights owners as much as $26 billion.
#2 Colorado Legislators Say Initiative 97 ‘Goes Too Far’
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL AUGUST 21, 2018
A nearly unanimous bipartisan panel of Colorado legislators raised their hands in opposition to Initiative 97, rejecting a proposed 2,500-foot setback measure that could threaten the state’s future oil and gas development if passed, calling it a “blunt instrument” that “goes too far” in endangering the state’s economy and thousands of jobs.
#3 Weld County Calls Prop 112 A ‘De Facto Ban,’ Unanimously Votes To Oppose Setback Measure
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL SEPTEMBER 17, 2018
The five members of the Weld County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously today to oppose Proposition 112, a proposed 2,500-foot setback on November’s ballot that they called a “dumb idea” and a “de facto ban” on oil and gas development.
#4 Steyer-Backed Conservation Colorado Jumps Into Lachelt Recall Effort In La Plata County
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL FEBRUARY 19, 2018
California billionaire Tom Steyer has targeted state races in Colorado for the 2018 midterm, but some of the climate activist’s infrastructure has already been called upon to shore up the political fortunes of a local county commissioner.
#5 Massive Climate Funding By Wealthy Foundations Failed To Sway Public Opinion
BY ELENA CONNOLLY JUNE 7, 2018
A recent study detailing how and where environmental philanthropic grants are allocated shows a lack of “intellectual diversity on the climate issue,” according to leading political scientist, Roger Pielke, Jr.
#6 Setback Initiative Would Put Most Of Colorado Off-Limits To New O&G Development, Commission Finds
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL JULY 5, 2018
More than half of the state of Colorado would be off-limits to new oil and gas development, including 85.4 percent—or 36.3 million acres of the state’s non-federal lands, according to a new assessment by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
#7 Colorado City: Prop 112 ‘Too Extreme,’ Civic And Business Coalition Opposes ‘Ban’ On Oil & Gas
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL SEPTEMBER 12, 2018
On Tuesday the City Council of Thornton, Colo. voted 7-2 on a resolution opposing Proposition 112, a statutory ballot measure that would impose a 2,500-foot setback on all new oil and natural gas development on non-federal lands in the state, with the city’s mayor calling it “too extreme for Thornton.”
#8 Dem Divide In Colorado As Top House Democrat Endorses Prop 112
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL SEPTEMBER 14, 2018
Colorado State Rep. K.C. Becker (D-Boulder) has endorsed Proposition 112, a 2,500-foot setback on November’s ballot, confirming her decision to support the measure on Friday.