State’s health, environment chief is ready to take on challenges of energy boom
RIFLE – The challenges created by Colorado’s energy boom “keep me awake at night and probably keep you awake at night,” the state’s top public health official said Thursday to those working in that field locally.Jim Martin, executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment, is in a greater position to respond to those challenges as a new appointee to the board that oversees oil and gas development in the state.Martin met at the county Health and Human Services building Thursday with a few dozen local officials and employees who are involved with public health. Sitting next to him was Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt. The two have been named to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which will be meeting Monday for the first time since Gov. Bill Ritter made several new appointments to it.Under legislation passed this spring, the COGCC’s board size was expanded from seven to nine, and its composition was broadened so it has less industry-related representation. The law requires that the state’s public health director and Department of Natural Resources director serve on the board. It also changed the COGCC’s mission to make protection of health and the environment as much of a priority as development of oil and gas.Martin said Thursday that the oil and gas industry has implications for almost every part of public health, from air and water quality related to drilling, to food safety and infectious disease issues at the increasing number of temporary worker housing units at well pads.He said his goal is to protect the health of workers and communities so when the boom is over, “we’ve left the state a better place than we started, which is a huge task.”Martin has been taking a particular interest in the well-pad housing sites for drill rig workers, which sometimes are called man camps. He said their use is growing not just in Garfield County but in other areas of heavy energy development. While that’s a good idea because of local housing shortages, it’s important to make sure on-site food services are licensed, and to take steps to prevent the spread of food-borne and infectious diseases, he said.The change in the COGCC’s makeup has raised some concerns within the industry and its supporters. In a news release this week, state Sen. Greg Brophy said the energy industry is important to the economy of his eastern Colorado district. He believes appointees such as Houpt are industry foes who will hurt that economy.”What is the point of having an oil and gas commission if it winds up shutting down oil and gas exploration?” Brophy said.Houpt said Thursday she respects the resources both above and below ground in places such as Garfield County. With the county’s tourism economy reliant on its scenery and wildlife, Houpt said it’s important not to be “devastating one economic engine for another.”She and Martin said in an interview that the COGCC’s goal is simply to strike a balance between energy development and protection of other resources. Energy development will continue, Martin said.”We can do that and make sure air quality on the Flat Tops doesn’t get impaired,” Martin said.Martin has been in his job since Ritter took office at the start of the year. He previously served as executive director of Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental law and policy organization. Some of his other past experience includes directing the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law, and serving as senior attorney and director of the energy program for the nonpartisan group Environmental Defense. He served on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for four years, until joining Ritter’s cabinet.He spoke with local health employees Thursday on a range of non-energy challenges as well, such as childhood obesity, lack of health care among Latinos, programs to counter tobacco use, and the need for preparedness in the case of a flu pandemic.”We have a tremendous amount of work to do. It’s enormously reassuring to see you people doing work like this,” he told those in attendance.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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