Her time is increasingly in demand | PostIndependent.com

Her time is increasingly in demand

Phillip Yates
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Every page of Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt’s daily planner probably has a meeting or some other civic function responsibility scribbled on it.

About three times a month she’s in county commissioner meetings ” which can sometimes last for nine hours straight. And every month she also has to go to several other commissioner-related events, like the opening of an area bike trail, a dinner celebrating the county’s volunteers or series of meetings on new land-use codes for the county.

On top of that, Houpt serves on the board of directors for Colorado Counties Inc., a professional organization for the state’s county commissioners, and participates in committees for the National Association of Counties.

“My job is being a county commissioner, and everything that I am involved in involves issues that impact our county,” said Houpt, a Democrat, who was first elected as a county commissioner in 2002 and was reelected in 2006. She is not up for re-election this year.

But last July, Houpt had another responsibility added to her plate: Gov. Bill Ritter named her as a commissioner for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the body that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state. Her role on the commission is to represent local governments.

“I think it is very important that there be representation from local government and right now Garfield County is by far the most impacted county in the state in terms of active drilling and development going on,” Houpt said. “So it makes sense to me that I am at the table.”

After serving in the position for almost eight months, the Democratic-controlled state Senate officially confirmed Houpt’s position on the commission earlier this month. Houpt’s Senate confirmation came on a party-line vote over the objections of some Republicans such as Sen. Josh Penry, of Fruita, who called Houpt the “No. 1 enemy of the oil and gas industry on the West Slope.”

“I think it is unfortunate at the state level it was such a partisan issue, because in Garfield County it is not,” Houpt said of her confirmation. “People who make those characterizations of me are people who have not sat down with me or talked to me about my views on energy development.”

Will there be challenges, difficulties?

Although the new state role is one more responsibility on top of her numerous Garfield County duties, Houpt said being a Garfield County commissioner and a COGCC commissioner at the same time is a “perfect fit.” She said that her duties as a COGCC commissioner would not affect her time commitments to Garfield County.

“We have our oil and gas hearings once a month,” Houpt said. “On a typical month, I would travel to Denver once to serve as an oil and gas commissioner.”

However, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said balancing both roles a county commissioner and a COGCC commissioner will be a challenge for Houpt. She has had to recuse herself from one drilling-related issue before the county commissioners because of her role as a COGCC commissioner.

“She is going to have to wrestle with those conflicts,” said Martin, a Republican. “She is going to be torn in a bunch of different directions. I think she is worthy of the challenge, but I think it is going to be a hardship, in reference to her time.”

The role of being on the COGCC may also wear on her, “simply because she has so much pressure,” Martin said.

“We will work with her and we will give her every opportunity to succeed, both with the (county) and the oil and gas folks,” Martin said.

Duke Cox, interim director of the Western Colorado Congress, said dealing with potential conflicts of interest and recusals over various issues is a concern that Garfield County commissioners have to deal with frequently, but should not pose a problem for Houpt.

“One of the reasons you are seeing (Houpt) having to recuse herself because these are really hot issues and have been issues for sometime in Garfield County,” said Cox, referring to ongoing gas drilling activities in the county. “That doesn’t surprise me that she is going to have to recuse herself right off the bat on a couple of issues.”

A COGCC commissioner’s role

Probably the biggest issue coming before the COGCC are new rules for the state’s oil and gas industry, which are expected to be released Monday. The new rules have raised the ire of the energy industry, which has said the new regulations could cause permitting delays of several months and cause uncertainty to their operations in the state.

“As a county commissioner and as an oil and gas commissioner, I have to be patient as I watch these processes occur because the commission will ultimately make the decision of what goes on the books,” Houpt said. “You have to trust the process and wait your turn. I am looking forward to see what proposed product comes in front of us.”

As the reconstituted COGCC moves forward in the future, Houpt said her goal is making sure that all stakeholders are at the table when large decisions are made “on the ground.”

Houpt also said she could help make clear the types of impacts the energy industry can have on land use and planning issues, on air and water quality, and on landowners and royalty owners.

“When you are a county commissioner, you work on the ground and you know your constituents,” Houpt said. “When you work from Denver and work for the state, you don’t always have the opportunity to do that. I have always worked on the front lines with people on various issues. I have a real passion for justice and making sure that decisions are made in a fair, thoughtful manner, and I hope my constituents feel as if I am doing that.”

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