Gov. Hickenlooper reaches out to environmentalists with SB 252
After a year of disappointing efforts to gain more strict regulations for oil and gas operations, Colorado environmentalists were handed a victory when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 252 last week.
Passing the bill pitted Hickenlooper against the notorious Koch brothers and their Republican allies in the Colorado Legislature. Charles and David Koch, through the Colorado Chapter of Americans for Prosperity. organized and financed much of the opposition to Senate Bill 252 by staging rallies across the state to “stop the war on rural Colorado.”
In this case, “the war on rural Colorado,” SB 252, consisted of a bill to require rural electric associations and co-ops to increase their use of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2020.
“The Koch brothers are spending millions of dollars fighting in state legislatures to roll back these new renewable energy standards that are being passed,” Colorado Conservation Director Pete Maysmith told Fox 31 Denver’s Eli Stokols.
According to some reports, the legislative debates over SB 252 were lengthier and more heated than the earlier debates on gun safety laws. The Denver Post’s Mark Jaffe calls it “one of the most hotly contested of the legislative session, pitting environmental groups and renewable-energy companies against rural cooperatives and Republican lawmakers.”
The bill passed the Legislature more than a month before Hickenlooper, apparently with considerable reluctance, signed it into law.
“I had misgivings,” the governor told a press conference after he signed the bill. “Ultimately, there were so many reasons to sign it: cleaner air, creating jobs, reducing waste,” that he signed the bill despite misgivings.
Republicans opposed the bill on principle because they believe it tramples on the rights of rural citizens. They also complained that the bill would drive up rural electric rates, hurting local economies. However, the bill limits the cost of implementation to no more than a 2 percent annual increase in bills.
Maysmith said the bill protects consumers “because it smoothes out the volatile price hikes of fossil fuels, and the price of coal is going up and the price of wind and solar are going down.”
Stokois, in a story for Denver’s Fox 31 TV, offered another reason for Hickenlooper to sign the renewables bill. Suggesting that Hickenlooper had been planning to veto SB 252, Stokols wrote: “Vetoing legislation prized by environmental groups, a constituency the governor alienated throughout the session by opposing numerous proposals to tighten oil and gas rules and regulations for Colorado, would have amounted to a final declaration of war with an important piece of the Democratic base, not to mention the bill’s two sponsors, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Senate President John Morse.”
Environmentalists, who have often been at odds with the governor over energy issues, are fully on board on this bill. Maysmith said, “We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for signing significant legislation into law which will expand clean renewable energy to more of Colorado.”
John Nielson, Energy Program Director for Western Resource Advocates, called the bill “an important step for Colorado’s burgeoning renewable energy industry that will benefit families” and rural economies across the state.
Ten environmental organizations, identifying themselves as the Western Clean Energy Advocates, signed a letter encouraging the governor to sign the renewable bill. “SB252 builds on your administration’s job creation efforts and the state’s long history as a clean energy leader. Over 10,000 Coloradans are employed by the renewable energy industry, and more of these good paying jobs will come if you sign SB252.”
Other environmental organizations have also voiced support for SB252. In May, more than 2,500 Sierra Club members and volunteers launched campaigns in print and online to support SB252. After its passage, they launched online and mobile ads thanking the governor.
Hopefully, the relationship between Hickenlooper and the environmental community will continue to build on the goodwill created by the passage of SB252. It is a good beginning, but if it precedes another year of subordinating public health and safety in the gas and oil fields to energy profits, the comity between Hickenlooper and the environmentalists may not last long.
Both sides should work to avoid that outcome.