Houpt is now in center court on gas issues | PostIndependent.com

Houpt is now in center court on gas issues

Oh, how the political landscape surrounding oil and gas regulation is changing in Colorado.Now it will be interesting to see how that translates to changes in the landscape where drilling occurs, such as in western Garfield County.After years of failed efforts, legislation finally passed this year that seeks to treat surface owners more fairly in their dealings with those entitled to develop underlying mineral rights. Also, the state Supreme Court sided with Gunnison County in a case that counties say give them more ability to enact their own oil and gas regulations as long as they don’t conflict with the state’s rules.Most important, the legislature passed a bill to make the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission put as much emphasis on protecting public health, wildlife and the environment as on developing the underlying energy resource.Lawmakers also expanded the COGCC’s membership from seven to nine and reduced industry-related representation from five to three, in response to concerns about the fox guarding the henhouse. And Gov. Bill Ritter recently filled one of the COGCC openings with Garfield County Commissioner and fellow Democrat Trési Houpt, a longtime advocate for better protecting the county and its residents from oil and gas impacts.It’s a stunning turn of events for Houpt. For a long time she has been a virtual voice in the wilderness on the oil and gas issue. Her fellow county commissioners, John Martin and Larry McCown, have not shared her level of concern about the industry’s local impacts, and there remained the fact that the county’s ability to do much about them has been limited.Now Houpt has a vote on the very panel that regulates the industry statewide. Suddenly she’s in a prime position to act on some of her concerns.Houpt’s appointment has drawn criticism from people who think she’s an opponent of the energy industry. We don’t believe that’s the case, and take her at her word that she simply wants to strike a balance between energy development and protection of resources above the ground.Just what Houpt’s true intentions are will become clear enough in the months to come on the COGCC. But she’ll still be bound by the COGCC’s mission, which although revised still puts an emphasis on oil and gas development. It simply balances that against other impacts.That sounds a lot like what Houpt says she wants to see happen. The industry has every right to expect her not to stand in the way of responsible energy development. Residents of Garfield County and other areas of intensive oil and gas drilling also have every right to expect her to stand up for their interests when development becomes irresponsible.That’s all that either side can reasonably ask for. Now, it’s up to Houpt and other COGCC members to deliver, better protecting places such as Garfield County from the energy industry’s negative impacts while still letting it continue to thrive.

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