Merriott column: GarCo should balance O&G rules challenge with climate action funding
By now most everyone in Garfield County is aware that the county commissioners committed $1.5 million of the Oil and Gas Mitigation Fund to challenge parts of the state of Colorado’s new oil and gas regulations. The main goal of the new Colorado law changes the primary directive of the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) from promoting oil and gas to protecting the public health, safety, welfare and the environment.
In fact, on the Front Range the coverage is saying “Garfield County is spending big to challenge Colorado’s new oil and gas regulations.” This action was taken by our county commissioners, all of whom I consider my friends and fellow public servants from my time on Carbondale Town Council. That said, I would not have voted to allocate these funds this way had I been in that position.
Just why are we doing this? It seems to be backward and not forward-thinking. Clearly, natural gas is a bridge fuel to a renewable energy future. I think we would be best served by readying ourselves as best we can for that future.
I would challenge the Garfield County commissioners to put in place their own Climate Action Plan, which would be to attain a net zero county. This is similar to what Carbondale did in 2006 and revised in 2017.
Yes, this would entail a changeover from what has primarily funded Garfield County government spending. We could begin to move from taxes on oil and gas properties and severance taxes on gas production to other sources such as sales and use tax, lodging taxes and property taxes.
Not all counties have had the luxury to depend on gas production like Garfield and Weld counties. Garfield at some point must begin to wean itself off fossil fuel taxation and move to something more stable for the future of all our citizens.
As I write, Glenwood Springs is exploring enforcing mandatory water rationing and Carbondale is calling for voluntary water reductions. Colorado, it seems, is no longer in a drought but is making a transition to aridity caused by climate change.
Science is now clear climate change is mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Colorado has just had its biggest fire in history. The fire burned almost 140,000 acres of farm and grazing land and wildlife habitat. It may never be the same.
My home state of Louisiana just had one of its strongest hurricanes in history (stronger than Katrina). It was still a Category 1 storm when it got to Ruston in North Louisiana where I am from. This has never happened before! I have friends that still do not have water and power. California is on fire, as well, resulting in unsafe air to breathe warnings in Colorado; 1.6 million acres have burned.
I would challenge the county commissioners to commit an equal amount of lump sum money, $1.5 million to GCE (Garfield Clean Energy) out of the remaining balance of $16.8 million in the Mitigation Fund to implement a Garfield County Climate Action Plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.
These monies could be used for any number of energy efficient and clean energy projects in assisting Parachute, Rifle, Silt, New Castle and Glenwood to create a stronger, more resilient, and forward-thinking economy.
In implementing their own plans, there would be money for grants and rebates which would leverage job creation. Garfield County has been an invaluable part of GCE since its inception and kudos especially to Tom Jankovsky for his steadfast support. I know some of your supporters in West Garfield will wonder if you’ve gone off the deep end, but the history books will look back and say those guys had some big cohones! They really stepped up to lead when it made a difference for Garfield County and Colorado. It’s time for Garfield County to take it to the next level and GCE is just the vehicle to do it.
P.S. — Understand we all dodged a bullet recently when a lightning strike started some trees on fire on Mt. Sopris? A helicopter quickly dropped a big bucket of water and a roving fire team was on it in short order. A heartfelt thanks to all you fire fighters for all you do and have done.
Frosty Merriott is a registered Independent and former Carbondale Town Trustee for 10 years. He is a fiscal conservative and an admitted tree hugger from Louisiana. You can contact him at frostycpa.com
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