Rep. Lamborn’s flip-flop on oil shale subsidies could cost him in November
He was for it before he was against it before he was for it.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Springs Republican, never met an oil and gas subsidy he didn’t like. So it was a surprise in February when he called for companies to use their own money to develop commercial oil shale.
“I say let the companies experiment at their own expense — on their own dime,” Lamborn told a House hearing, “and see if they can find a commercially viable process that works to extract this hugely potential source of energy ... at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Last week, when Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, introduced an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill to strip $25 million included for oil shale research and development, Lamborn was widely expected to support it.
As a Polis’ spokesman told the Colorado Independent, “Oil shale will not produce an ounce of American energy in the foreseeable future. If energy companies believe (it will), despite their 100 years of failing to find a commercially viable way to produce oil from oil shale .... they should invest their own profits rather than continuing to waste taxpayer money.”
The story continues, “One person who apparently agrees with him is conservative Colorado Springs Rep. Doug Lamborn, who recently railed against oil shale subsidies on the House floor.”
Lamborn’s rejection of oil shale subsidies was so persuasive that he convinced many of his Republican colleagues, Democratic opponents and the press that he was serious.
Just before the vote on Polis’ amendment, the Colorado Independent reported, “It’s hard to say where all the members of the Colorado delegation will come down on the larger bill or on the Polis amendment, but Lamborn at least has been clear.”
Up to the time of his February speech, Lamborn had been a reliable supporter of all forms of subsidies for fossil fuels. He was, as the Colorado Independent said of him, “a good fossil-fuel foot soldier.”
He was also the driving force behind the failed Pioneer Act, supported by Rep. Scott Tipton, that would have opened two million acres of public land to oil shale leases, including for commercial operations. The Los Angeles Times called that measure “less a serious policy document than a wish list for oil lobbyists, and its funding proposals are so radical that they have been decried even by such conservative watchdogs as the Reason Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Taxpayers for Common Sense.”
Despite his history of supporting the fossil fuel industry, however, some Republicans accepted Lamborn’s apparent change of mind at face value.
Robert Blaha, who is challenging Lamborn for his 5th Congressional District seat in the Republican primary, welcomed the change.
Speaking before the vote, Blaha said, “I support a multifaceted policy to develop energy resources in the United States ... However, I would never have voted to subsidize traditional energy extraction. The federal government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. I am glad ... Congressman (Lamborn) has finally come around to the same opinion; it must have been a politically expedient flip flop.”
Lamborn’s independent challenger, David Anderson, agreed. His spokesman said, “Oil companies have done very well for themselves and there is no reason for the government to subsidize them ... This $25 million will only increase oil companies profits.”
But when the final vote was cast, Lamborn flip-flopped. Despite his renunciation of federal subsidies in his February speech, when the vote was tallied, Lamborn did as he always does and supported subsidies for shale oil development.
Fortunately, Lamborn’s surprise vote in favor of subsidies was not decisive. The Polis amendment passed by a narrow margin of 208-207.
Not only did Lamborn come out on the losing end of the vote, he handed his challengers a significant issue to use against him.
“In these tight budget times, we cannot afford to continue throwing good money after bad,” said Taxpayers for Common Sense president Ryan Alexander, thanking Polis for his efforts to eliminate the subsidy.
But Lamborn shouldn’t worry too much about losing his seat. His newly developed skill at flip-flopping may earn him a place in the administration if Mitt Romney wins in November.