Panel kills bill to stall gas rules

Energy advocates cry foul, say rules hurting economy

State lawmakers voted Tuesday to kill a bill that could have sidelined a series of controversial oil and gas drilling regulations for a year, despite pleas from energy industry advocates that the rules could cost Colorado jobs.

“If this industry is severely harmed, it harms the rest of us,” Sue Jarrett, a rancher from Yuma County, told lawmakers. “I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt (the rules) have already hurt our economy.”

Representatives from the oil and gas industry echoed Jarrett’s critique of Senate Bill 4.
Over Jarrett and others’ criticisms, the Senate Local Government and Energy Committee, headed by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, voted 3-2 Tuesday to kill Senate Bill 4.

Schwartz said she voted to kill Senate Bill 4 because she supports provisions of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rules that protect the state’s air, water, wildlife and public health.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said he was not pleased with the committee’s decision.

“I’m not surprised at the committee’s decision. I’m just really angry the majority party won’t take this issue seriously,” Brophy said. “I expected the adults in the majority party to realize our economy is tanking, and these new rules make it worse.”

From their inception in 2007, the rules have sparked a lively debate between those calling for more protection of Colorado’s air, water and wildlife and those who say the rules could irrevocably harm the state’s thriving energy industry.

After more than a year’s worth of stakeholder meetings and public forums, including one in Grand Junction, the commission unanimously approved the rules in December.

The Legislature is expected to review the rules independent of Senate Bill 4 during its current session, though no timeline has been announced.

If Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, the upcoming debate over the rules could require some substantial homework on the part of lawmakers who did not pay attention to the rule-making process last year.

Throughout the hearing, lawmakers on Schwartz’s committee — from Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, to Sen. Linda Newell, D-Englewood — apologized to witnesses that they were not particularly well-versed in the new regulations.

Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, asked Schwartz to delay the vote on Brophy’s bill, saying he would like to “do some more reading.”

Rich Alward, a Grand Junction ecologist who sits on the oil and gas commission, said he hopes lawmakers take the time to review what went into the rule-making process.

“The rules have changed a lot since the March draft,” Alward said. “It would be good to make sure people know what’s in the actual rules instead of concerns about what might have been in the rules last winter.”


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