Editorial: We need civility to discuss our energy future | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: We need civility to discuss our energy future

Let’s take a look at Rifle to frame a discussion about energy.

In the Piceance Basin natural gas patch, the town naturally relies on drilling and service activity as a strong part of its economic base, as does the county as a whole.

While some people who live in and around Rifle have concerns about the health and environmental impacts of the industrial process, just about no one is of a mind that it should stop. That’s an unrealistic view right now.

At the same time, Rifle has 3 megawatts of government-owned solar generating capacity, and its city government as a result is at net zero status — it produces at least as much electricity as it draws from the grid.

In terms of solar energy produced per capita, at 325 watts per person, Rifle outshines any location we can find. (Honolulu, coping with Hawaii’s high costs to import petroleum products, leads major American cities in solar power generated per person, at 265 watts.)

Rifle is where it is in part because of Keith Lambert, who was mayor from 2001-2011 and served two more years on City Council.

Living in the community for more than 30 years, Lambert told the Post Independent last year, he had a front-row seat to the boom and bust cycle of the natural gas industry in western Garfield County.

“Extractive forms of energy have a lifespan,” he said. “If we’re not working toward the other side of the lifespan, we’re fooling ourselves and are going to get caught flat-footed at some point.”

In addition, if a town or state relies too much on one industry, it risks deep, damaging fiscal troughs, such as gas-dependent Parachute is experiencing. With gas jobs cut over the past couple of years, the town’s sales tax receipts have plummeted, leading councilors to approve recreational marijuana sales, spurring a recall movement.

Quite often if someone in a PI news story, opinion piece, letter to the editor or in online comments criticizes fracking or any other aspect of the oil and gas industry, they are met with a rejoinder along these lines:

“Then don’t drive your car. Don’t heat your home. Don’t use a cell phone.”

It’s not either/or, and, as much as it fits the tenor of our dysfunctional civic discourse today, that’s not helpful.

Opposing drilling in a residential neighborhood or in roadless areas of the Thompson Divide does not mean a person wants to suddenly stop driving or using fossil fuels in any form.

Nor are people who depend on natural gas for their livelihood ignorant or evil.

It should be acceptable in the United States, in Colorado, in energy-rich Garfield County, to have differing views. We should be able to have a discussion.

This back and forth is another example of the harm that political polarization is doing in the country — and, in this case, our county. The fact is that the idea of nurturing a green economy was largely bipartisan until Barack Obama was elected. Then it fell victim to the paralyzing, strident polarity that threatens our ability to progress as a nation.

There’s middle ground here, folks, and we need to find it quickly.

It’s our view — and we are hardly alone — that we need a transition to renewable energy for the sake of our climate, environment and economy.

Despite the recent boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production, owing largely to more widespread use of hydraulic fracturing and improved technology, fossil fuels remain a finite resource. They also are dirty, contribute to health problems and to climate change.

Oh, sure, some people don’t believe that human activity is causing climate change. They have bought a lie financed and marketed in the same way we were told ozone depletion wasn’t real and smoking doesn’t cause cancer. They are wrong, but even if you insist everything is swell with the climate, air and water quality, we risk foreclosing great health and economic gains if we don’t move away from fossil fuels.

To say that such a transition over a period of 30-40 years will wreck the economy is to have no faith in American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism.

For shame.

The nation that put men on the moon less than 12 years after the first satellite was successfully sent into orbit can figure out in a generation how to make its energy system cleaner and reliable. Such an effort without doubt would create untold technological breakthroughs, just as the space program did, and provide a wealth of new manufacturing and technical jobs.

Rifle is a small example of the possible, as is Garfield County as a whole.

The Post Independent is sometimes accused of being in the oil and gas industry’s pocket and sometimes accused of trying to destroy the industry.

We seek a middle ground that we believe is realistic.

For the record, our position is this: The nation must — for human and economic health — make common cause and move toward a clean-energy future.

Natural gas is an important bridge to that future. Fortunately, we have a wealth of gas, which keeps it cheap and also means that we can protect undeveloped lands, such as the Thompson Divide and other sensitive areas.

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