Republicans assail energy regulations at committee hearing

In a preview of one of the year’s larger looming fights under the Capitol dome, Republican lawmakers used a committee hearing Monday to attack a series of recently unveiled energy regulations as destructive to the economy.

The lawmakers, led by State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said the new regulations will cost Colorado jobs amid the national recession.

Mitchell said provisions in the rules recently released by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission place too much weight on the discretion of the commissioners during the permitting process and not enough on concrete reasons to grant or deny a permit request.

Mitchell, an attorney, said he reads the rules as allowing commissioners to deny the issuance of a permit because of “some subjective judgment of maintaining animals in a particular valley.”

“By every metric I could see … the oil and gas business is declining in Colorado,” Assistant House Minority Leader David Balmer, R-Centennial, said during the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s presentation.

Democrats and the rules’ supporters, however, pushed back, citing falling commodity prices as the primary reason Colorado’s natural gas industry has slowed down.

Harris Sherman, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the downturn in new wells being drilled is rooted in natural gas’ tumbling commodity price and a lack of pipeline capacity.

“I’m not convinced what you have heard today is, in fact, accurate,” Sherman said, citing the presentation from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“Other states are losing rigs, too,” Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, told the energy industry representatives.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said a number of amendments the commission has made to the rules were “a long time coming” after lawmakers realized the former set of regulations was insufficient to govern the state’s emerging energy sector.

“It was not out of thin air,” McFadyen said.

The Legislature is required to approve the commission’s new rules before they fully go into effect.

As part of the legislation authorizing the rule-making process, lawmakers also will be allowed to amend the regulations.

Republican lawmakers have said they plan to fight the rules during the 2009 session. Rep.-elect Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, has said she plans to carry legislation to delay the rules’ implementation for at least a year.


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