Guest opinion: The inconvenient truth of why Colorado’s energy office died
Democrats and environmentalists are fond of talking about “inconvenient truths,” so here’s one they ought to chew on during this pause in the 71st General Assembly.
Colorado’s Energy Office met its demise in the waning hours of the just-closed legislative session not because of Republicans, who made a good-faith effort to reauthorize and re-energize what has become a listless and ineffectual bureaucratic backwater. Reauthorization failed because of an our-way-or-the-highway mindset among many Democrats, who would rather have the office go away than see it evolve into something better.
The episode deserves detailed review not just because the governor and Statehouse Democrats are frantic to skirt blame for their mishandling of the situation, by hurriedly rewriting history. It also highlights the narrow, dogmatic, disconnected-from-reality way Democrats view energy issues, which has much larger state and national implications.
A number of state programs periodically come up for review at the Statehouse. This year it was the Energy Office’s turn. The fact that most Coloradans don’t even know the state has an energy office and can’t tell you what it does speaks volumes about how badly it’s languished over the years. It was reinvented as a tool for touting the “new energy economy” during the Ritter years, but has hardly been heard from since, except when an audit found that millions of dollars handled by the office couldn’t be accounted for.
Some argued for just putting the office out of its misery. But hearings held by the Senate Select Committee on Energy and Environment, which I chair, convinced me that the office still could have an important role to play, if we took steps to broaden and update its mission in light of changing circumstances.
So I went about drafting what became Senate Bill-301, working in consultation with stakeholders, the governor’s office and people inside the office itself. It broadened the mission to evenhandedly promote all energy options, not just a politically favored few, because I believe a diverse, truly all-of-the-above energy policy is good for consumers, producers and Colorado’s business climate.
Our proposed broadening of the office’s mission, along with steps we took to streamline office operations by removing initiatives that were outdated, unfunded or underutilized, were portrayed by some Democrats as “attacks” on renewables. But that speaks to their myopia, not mine. I want the office to take a broader and longer view, based on my belief that chronic short-sightedness has plagued national and state energy policymaking.
The bill also raised registration fees on electric vehicle owners who don’t pay gas tax, asking them to pay a fairer share toward road maintenance. It ended a senseless prohibition on certain utilities owning or developing gas reserves, which could reduce costs to energy consumers, bolster Colorado’s energy economy and boost severance taxes on which local governments rely.
Republicans also added a provision aimed at tracking and testing gas lines across the state. This strengthened the governor’s order, issued in the wake on the April 17 Firestone tragedy, by writing the inspection protocols into state statute and adding reporting requirements, so we can more closely track progress.
Shockingly, almost all these perfectly reasonable elements were summarily stripped out of SB-301 by House Democrats, who sneaked in one amendment aimed at helping one prominent private utility with a wind power tax credit issue. They sent us back the largely eviscerated bill in the waning hours of the session, essentially telling us to take it or leave it. Because we weren’t willing to approve a hollow bill, devoid of the reasonable reforms that would make reauthorization worthwhile, we decided not to go along with the power play. The bill died due to a stubborn refusal of the other side to compromise on a single major issue.
So that, in short, is why the Colorado Energy Office wasn’t reauthorized. I’m assuming the Energy Office’s future will be back on the docket next session. And I welcome more dialogue, given the issue’s continued importance to all Coloradans. Maybe some sober reflection by the other side in the meantime about how they messed up a major opportunity to keep Colorado on energy’s cutting edge will lead to more good faith thought and action if we revisit these issues next year.
Scott, R-Grand Junction, represents Senate District 7 in the General Assembly and chairs the Senate Select Committee on Energy and Environment.
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