Lawmakers reject request by guv to direct money to Energy Office
On a 3-3 party-line vote, the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee rejected the governor’s request Tuesday to get money for the Colorado Energy Office.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers opted not to spend the $3.1 million needed to keep the office and its 24 state-funded employees.
While Gov. John Hickenlooper has said that he would find a way to retain those workers — 10 additional ones are paid with federal funds — his request threatened to terminate them at the end of the month. That’s when the current fiscal year — and any funding for the office — ends.
Two members of the JBC — Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs — said it would be inappropriate for the six-member committee to approve the money.
“It’s a policy issue, and I would just not be prepared to continue it in its current form,” Rankin said.
“I don’t think, with this particular request, we can support it at this time,” Lambert said. “But we’re very interested in moving forward. We’ve talked about a lot of innovation types of things that the office should be doing.”
Part of the issue is a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about the office’s mission, which has focused more on renewable energy. GOP lawmakers wanted it to balance its focus to include fossil fuel development.
Hickenlooper, however, said the move jeopardizes several energy-saving programs that the office oversees.
“The energy office administers a wide range of programs that save Coloradans millions in energy costs,” the governor said. “These include weatherization services to low-income households in all 64 counties, free energy audits and technical assistance to agricultural producers, and financing for energy improvement to commercial properties.”
Hickenlooper said this will leave Colorado as the sole Western state without an energy office, and vowed to “explore all options” to fund the office.
Amelia Myers, energy advocate for Conservation Colorado, an environmental advocacy group, urged the governor to find a way to keep the office alive.
“Republicans’ refusal to simply restore funding to this critical office means that Colorado’s status as a clean energy leader could be jeopardized, not to mention the ripple effects on our booming clean energy economy,” Myers said.
In the final days of this year’s session, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, introduced a bill that could have saved the office, but opponents said it came far too late in the session and included provisions that had little to do with the office’s mission.
As a result, Scott wasn’t sympathetic to Tuesday’s vote.
“There was ample opportunity at that time to reach a middle ground with Republicans, but an unwillingness on the part of House Democrats to compromise, or to consider alternative futures for the office, doomed that reform bill and left its future in limbo,” Scott said.