Friday, July 11, 2014

Environmentalists All In

Colorado’s environmental lobbies and professional networks have dominated the state’s energy agenda, with few setbacks since the 2004 ballot victory setting the country’s first vote mandated statewide renewable energy standards (RES). The RES strategy is brilliant in that the cost, which is essentially a subsidy for renewable energy, is not treated as a tax, but a rate hike absorbed by the utility and passed on to ratepayers. It is easy to blend in with the often variable energy costs that are reflected in utilities bills.

Former Governor Bill Ritter, with a few other political constituencies, and little experience in business or energy, adopted RES as the administration’s paramount mission. He began the march that has taken the initial standard from 10 percent in 2014 to 30 percent and 20 percent for rural areas adopted in 2013. Also, he significantly changed the process and standards for approving gas and oil drilling.

Governor Hickenlooper, less enamored with raising renewable standards and without control of the State House, didn’t have to deal with the issue his first two years until the aggressive Democratic-controlled 2013 legislature. A long simmering war between big co-ops and the environmental community was won when the Democratic legislature passed and Hickenlooper signed a 20 percent standard for the state’s major rural and suburban energy provider, Tri-State.
The rural reaction was swift and noisy. A secession movement in eleven counties got national attention, and when combined with plummeting polls for the governor and legislature, it signaled the RES expansion was putting Democrats on the defensive.
But, the environmental community is now part of an “all in battle” against a united business community and much of the Democratic Party establishment to limit, and preferably shut down, Colorado gas and oil development. They have committed their reputation and resources to a November 2014 initiative fight. A decade of dominance is now at risk. Lose these initiatives and expect more resistance on the renewable strategy. Lose Hickenlooper and expect reversals.

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