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As a member of the Senate majority party, you would expect Senator Cory Gardner to have the power to follow through on his promises to Coloradans to protect our climate, lands, and natural resources. Instead, Sen. Gardner fell short and failed to deliver key environmental funding while finding ways to help carbon polluters.

Despite Sen. Gardner’s ramped-up environmental rhetoric, a brief look at the final months of 2019 shows that Gardner’s record is full of hot air. He has much to improve in the New Year.

Depleting Conservation Funding

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a critical program for funding land protection, access for hunting and fishing, trail maintenance, and other programs, but this funding was allowed to expire in 2018 when Republicans held majorities in the House and the Senate. 

At no cost to taxpayers, LWCF collects as much as $900 million annually from offshore oil and gas royalties. But because Republican Congressional leaders like Sen. Gardner allowed the program to expire, none of that funding has been going to protect and invest in national parks and public lands across the nation. Sen. Gardner spent most of this year promising he would clean up the mess he made by delivering full, permanent funding for LWCF.

Sadly, under Sen. Gardner’s watch, the Senate passed a year-end $1.4 trillion spending bill that fell short for conservation funding, failing to approve over $400 million of the $900 million allotted for LWCF projects for the next year, and only allocating the remaining funds for just a single year.

Dismantling the Bureau of Land Management

When it comes to managing our public lands, Sen. Gardner tied himself to an Interior Department plan to relocate the headquarters of Bureau of Land Management—the agency that oversees oil, gas, and coal leasing and permitting on millions of acres of public lands—to Grand Junction, Colorado. It quickly became apparent that the move was not all it was cracked up to be. 

Sen. Gardner, who labeled himself the “chief architect of the plan,” has long-touted the local economic benefits of moving up to 400 BLM staffers out West and the conservation benefit of having BLM leadership closer to the lands they manage. 

After the initial relocation announcement, details began to emerge about how devastating the plan will be for the agency. More than 80 percent of BLM officials who have been forced to relocate are expected to resign rather than uproot their lives, and Interior officials will only be moving approximately 40 jobs to the new headquarters. Those that do relocate face pay cuts. Many other D.C. positions will be scattered through the West. It turns out the 27 staff members forced to relocate to Grand Junction will share an office building with oil and gas companies and industry executives.

Dismantling the agency and moving career leadership positions away from Congress will allow political appointees at the Interior Department to approve drilling and mining projects on public lands. The plan received widespread criticism from former BLM career staff, and prompted an investigation from the Government Accountability Office.

Sen. Gardner promised significant economic benefit to the Grand Junction community, and that this move would be beneficial for the management and conservation of public land in the West. However, his words do not match the results. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel summed it up well in their reaction after the details of the move emerged:

“A day after feeling like this was a game-changer for Grand Junction, the letdown is palpable. We’re stuck between feeling grateful that Grand Junction will be known as the BLM’s Western Headquarters and frustrated that such a distinction has been hollowed out to its barest impact… It doesn’t help that much of the rest of the country thinks that this is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle any conservation-oriented aspects of the agency in service to President Trump’s energy dominance agenda.”

Cutting Clean Energy Investments

As Colorado makes significant strides moving towards a clean-energy economy, federal investment has failed to keep up. 

In April, Sen. Gardner touted that he cosponsored a bill that would provide tax credits for battery and energy storage—a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to bolstering a clean energy grid in states like Colorado and combatting our dependence on fossil fuels. The bipartisan legislation would have provided tax breaks for investments in developing grid-scale energy storage to incentivize wind and solar production. In the long run, the energy storage investments would have paid for themselves through grid improvements. A similar tax incentive structure significantly drove down the prices of solar panels in recent years.

Again, Sen. Gardner failed to deliver.

Although the year-end funding bill included $39 billion worth of provisions that would extend or establish tax breaks for different sectors, tax incentives for clean-energy storage were not included in the final spending package. 

Coloradans expect our leaders to fight for our climate and public lands and stand up to corporate donors and the fossil fuel industry. Sadly, Sen. Gardner’s environmental promises to his constituents don’t match up with his actions in Washington.

Sen. Gardner, please: as you look to the New Year, consider a resolution to represent Colorado values in the U.S. Senate.

DENVER — Today, the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted unanimously to adopt new emissions rules for the oil and gas industry. These rules come in the same week that the Environmental Protection Agency downgraded the Front Range’s air quality rating to “serious.” They focus on reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry which makes up a significant amount of Colorado’s climate change-causing emissions. 

Across Colorado, conservation and community groups have come together in support of stronger methane rules. These improvements include requiring stronger well leak detection, repair and tank control requirements for low-producing wells and cutting emissions from the transmission sector. Curbing methane pollution is key to Colorado improving its air quality and meeting its carbon emissions reduction targets of 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050. 

Specifically, these regulatory updates will: 

  • Enhance statewide leak detection and repair requirements at a minimum twice annually for all oil and gas infrastructure — including low-producing wells; 
  • Expand “find and fix” requirements to prevent leaks from pneumatic devices which move gas, oil, or other liquids; 
  • Close the 90-day permitting loophole that allows oil and gas drilling to move forward without an air permit creating better transparency and accountability early in the drilling process;  
  • Strengthen statewide requirements to reduce emissions from storage tanks — including low-producing wells; 
  • Develop a first-of-its-kind, performance-based standard for reducing emissions in the natural gas transmission and storage sector;  
  • Create new annual reporting requirements for oil and gas producers of methane emissions from all their facilities and activities.  

Conservation and community organizations released the following statements in response:

“Western Colorado Alliance thanks the Air Quality Control Commission for adopting these new regulations. The Alliance looks forward to playing our part in minimizing climate change and having the air quality here in Western Colorado protected from the harmful emissions of the oil and gas industry just as it is on the Front Range.”

       –  Rodger Steen, Western Colorado Alliance oil and gas committee chair, Routt County

 

“Our community has worked for years to protect air quality on the West Slope and here in Battlement Mesa, where we’re surrounded by well pads. We thank the Air Quality Control Commission for listening to our concerns and adopting additional leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas facilities within 1,000 feet of for neighborhoods, schools and other public areas. Everyone living near a well will appreciate this significant and courageous action by the AQCC, as well as the new statewide rules to reduce ozone and methane emissions.” 

       – Dave Devanney, Battlement Concerned Citizens

 

“Since air knows no political boundaries, any source of air pollution in Colorado is of concern to all citizens who want their families to breathe clean air. The Air Quality Control Commission heard the concerns of citizens all across the state and took action today by implementing statewide regulations to cut ozone and methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.”

       – Leslie Robinson, Rifle, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Garfield County

 

“Residents of Western Colorado appreciate the Air Quality Control Commission’s decision to adopt these new rules and apply them statewide. This is a great step forward in protecting the air quality here in Western Colorado. We have been and will continue to be impacted by oil and gas development. These regulations will help to protect public health as we move into the future.”

       – Bennett Boeschenstein, former Grand Junction city council member, Mesa County

 

“Western Slope Coloradans live under a methane cloud that threatens both our health and environment, and so we need the same air quality protections as those living on the Front Range. We appreciate that the commissioners have listened to our concerns, and thank the AQCC for enacting strong methane regulations with enhanced leak testing and repair requirements, as well as stronger standards for storage and reporting.” 

       – Mark Pearson, Executive Director, San Juan Citizens Alliance

 

“The commonsense policies adopted today by Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission are an important step toward cleaning up our air and fighting climate change at its source. Thank you to Governor Polis and his entire administration for working to protect public health, hold corporate polluters accountable, and preserve our Colorado way of life.”

       – Kelly Nordini, Executive Director, Conservation Colorado

 

“Every Coloradan deserves to breathe clean air, and the rules adopted today by the AQCC will lead to direct improvements in Colorado’s air quality while supporting the state with reaching its climate goals. We applaud the AQCC for pursuing these smart regulations and for prioritizing Coloradans’ health, our air, and our climate.”

       – Joro Walker, general counsel, Western Resource Advocates

 

“Colorado has been the leader in the nation in establishing the rules to cut methane emissions during the production of gas and oil.  Colorado can again lead the nation, as the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission prepares to address the proposed regulations, to ‘find and fix’ methane leaks in the drilling and production of gas and oil. Since the initial rules were adopted, the number of scientific studies on this topic has significantly increased. The scientific research has increasingly establishing the harmful effects to the health and wellbeing of people, especially children, living in close proximity to the drilling rigs,compressors and pipelines.

This is a profound opportunity for the Commission to positively impact the health of Coloradoans, now and for future generations.  The Colorado Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, ANHE, strongly urges the Commissioners to seize this opportunity and adopt the stronger standards state wide.”

        – V. Sean Mitchell, MSN, APRN-BC Colorado Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments 

 

“This is such an important day, and we applaud the commission for truly taking into account public health and safety. Monitoring and inspecting all oil and gas sites, but particularly those in close proximity to homes, schools, and public areas for leaks and emissions is a critical component of that. We thank the commission for hearing the voices of hundreds impacted Coloradans and taking this major step today.” 

       – Sara Loflin, LOGIC Executive Director

To help us get a better idea of what new stronger methane rules will do and what they will mean for Colorado, we sat down with our advocate Sophia Mayott-Guerrero.

Last updated: 5/30/2017

Update 5/2/17 3pm: The Denver Post has reported that the fatal Firestone home explosion was the result of a cut supply line running from the nearby gas well. The cut seeped volatile gas into the home that ignited and caused the explosion.

News broke last week that a home explosion in which two people were killed and two were injured may have been caused by an oil and gas well that was located just 178 feet from the home. The news has caused two of Colorado’s top 10 oil and gas companies to temporarily shut down wells in the area.

Whether or not the investigation ultimately determines that a well was the cause, the tragedy is a grim reminder that oil and gas drilling is a dangerous industrial activity. Indeed, there have been several other recent disasters in Colorado caused by oil and gas drilling. Below we take a look at five that have occurred just within the last eight years.

The bottom line is this: there is mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction is dangerous activity, not only for the workers themselves, but also for those in close proximity to facilities. Colorado residents shouldn’t have to fear for their lives on a daily basis, worrying that a well or storage tank less than 500 feet from their home that they’ve been assured is safe is actually a danger to their health, well-being and maybe even their life. We cannot allow oil and gas drilling to take place near homes, schools, and other community buildings.

Oil and gas development isn’t slowing down or going anywhere anytime soon. Particularly in the Front Range, new leases and well pads with unprecedented numbers of wells are being approved within areas that are primarily residential, as seen in these maps of Adams and Arapahoe counties. If we are to prevent future tragic accidents, we must protect not just the areas that are already threatened, but those that face possible development in the months and years to come.

Whether the industry is at fault for the Firestone home explosion or not, this is a wake up call that the safety measures we have in place now are simply not good enough. We’ve long said that the burden of proof for proving that drilling is safe must be on the oil and gas industry. One example of a step the industry can take in response to this tragedy is to agree to a commonsense bill that set oil and gas wells further back from school property, which was voted down by a state Senate committee just a few weeks ago after strong opposition from the industry.

1. Tank Explosion, Mead, May 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

One person died and three were injured on Thursday, May 25th in an oil tank fire in Weld County. Workers were doing maintenance on an Anadarko oil tank battery when the fire sparked and caused the tank to explode.

2. Hudson Blowout, Weld County, January 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

A well blowout caused 28,000 gallons of oil, gas, and drilling waste water to gush from a damaged well over a period of three days. It shut down roads, and the effects were seen as far as 2,000 feet away from the site of the accident.

3. Legacy Elementary School, Frederick, April 2014

Unknown Operator

A storage tank exploded approximately 1,800 feet away from the elementary school and caused all students and teachers to shelter in place. Luckily, no one was injured.

The explosion that occurred just 1,800 feet away from an elementary school in 2014.

 

4. Windsor, February 2013

PDC Energy

A technical failure caused a valve to break and gush oil and green-colored flowback fluid for 30 hours before it was stopped. The spill was contained so that it did not affect nearby residential areas.

5. Ault, June 2013

Noble Energy

A worker failed to open a valve properly which resulted in the backup and eventual release of crude oil over 150,000 square feet of an organic farm. The farm had to scrape away and replace the contaminated soil. There were no reported injuries.

6. De BeQue, Colorado 2009

Unknown Operator

A spring used as a water source at a cabin in Western Colorado was contaminated with BTEX, a carcinogenic combination of benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The owner of the cabin drank multiple cups of the water before he realized it was contaminated. A tested sample of the spring water contained 100 micrograms per liter of BTEX. Five micrograms is the safety threshold for groundwater. A toxicologist with the oil and gas commission told him to get continued blood tests to check for liver or kidney damage. Because his spring is located within 3,000 feet of 18 wells and multiple other oil and gas activities, the exact cause of the contamination is unknown.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

If one takes Donald Trump’s words at face value, admittedly a dicey proposition, his administration and the anti-conservation majority in the U.S. Congress are likely to launch a volley of assaults on Colorado’s land, water, and climate. And yet, as the state’s largest environmental organization, we remain hopeful for the future. It’s not going to be easy, and the next four years will pose significant challenges to our Colorado values and our outdoor way of life. But we’re going to keep fighting in every way we can — and we know Coloradans stand with us.

First, let’s look at a few of the big challenges we’re facing from our next president:

  • He’s a climate denier. Someone who has called climate change a “hoax” and may put an oil executive in charge of our public lands does not inspire confidence for leading our country forward with renewable energy and addressing the climate crisis. The President-elect has pledged to roll back environmental laws and regulations that will keep us safe and healthy, from the Clean Power Plan to crucial limits on methane pollution. In Colorado, climate change is projected to cause droughts, hotter temperatures, and health issues, so it’s essential that we act to fight it in any way possible.
  • It’s not looking good for land conservation and wildlife protection. We could be facing a four-year “drought” of new protections for land and wildlife across the country. In addition, with an anti-conservation Congress, there are good reasons to be concerned for some of our bedrock environmental laws. This means the Antiquities Act, which was used in Colorado to protect Browns Canyon National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Colorado National Monument, could be under threat. Some congressional Republicans have been desperate to roll back key protections in the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that protects wildlife.
  • Oil and gas activity in Colorado. Image by Soren Jespersen.

    Dirty fuels will be promoted. President-elect Trump has pledged to increase dirty energy production, likely by accelerating permitting to drill or frack on our public lands. Colorado has significant coal, oil, and natural gas under our lands so we will need to be on high alert to counter a “drill, baby, drill” mentality.
  • The Colorado River is at a critical tipping point. A recent study by the University of Colorado found that the next president must act to prevent widespread water shortages in the Colorado River Basin. A continuing 16-year drought puts the entire Southwestern U.S. in danger of possible water cuts, but so far, Trump has not presented a plan of action.

Of course, none of this is certain. Trump’s candidacy was remarkably policy-free, and when he does talk about policy he frequently contradicts himself with the space of even a few days. All this means there is significant uncertainty about where he stands on key environmental issues. For example, at one point he endorsed local control of oil and gas during a visit to Colorado but it is not clear if he stills holds that view. He has also swayed back and forth on supporting efforts to sell off our public lands, although it’s important to note that the Republican platform contains language supporting this costly and unpopular idea.

At the same time, economic forces beyond the control of the president also provide tremendous uncertainty about the next four years. Oil and natural gas prices, and the impact of natural gas prices on coal, are controlled by the markets. In the past few years, we’ve seen natural gas development outpace coal due in large part to market forces. Even if the president-elect goes all-out to “bring back coal,” he may have little success.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, and Short-Term Energy Outlook (March 2016)

Meanwhile, renewable energy is booming as wind and solar are becoming more and more affordable. Wind and solar energy already support about 4,250 jobs in Eastern Colorado alone, far exceeding the approximately 1,400 jobs in Colorado’s coal industry.

At Conservation Colorado, we’ve got hope. Our work will continue, and it is more important now than ever.

We’ve got three substantial assets on our side:

Protesters fill the streets in downtown Denver, November 10, 2016

  • The will of the people. In Colorado, 77 percent of voters say environmental issues are an important factor in deciding whether to elect a public official. 72 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect public lands. 76 percent of Colorado voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote renewable energy like wind and solar. 77 percent of Colorado voters would rather use water more wisely than divert water from rural rivers. There are more numbers like this, but they all boil down to the same idea: Coloradans have strong conservation values, and want to see them represented in our government. Also, let’s remember, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5% here in Colorado — Coloradans did not endorse Trump’s vision for our environmental future.
  • Supporters on both sides of the aisle in the state Legislature. We fought for a pro-conservation majority in both the state House and state Senate this year, and we succeeded by expanding our conservation majority in the state House. However, the Senate remains under anti-conservation control. But conservation and the environment are bipartisan issues, and we’ve got several powerful examples of what we can accomplish when our elected officials work across the aisle on environmental issues. Last year with a similarly divided legislature, we scored big by passing electric vehicle tax credits, the first-in-the-nation Colorado Public Lands Day, and legalizing rain barrels. We’re looking forward to more of this bipartisan work in the upcoming year, with opportunities to modernize our transportation system, grow our booming outdoor recreation economy, and further keep Colorado a leader for the nation when it comes to energy and the environment.
  • Colorado’s governor is standing up for the environment. In his first post-election interview, Governor John Hickenlooper cited health care, climate action, and public lands as the three main areas of concern for Colorado under President-elect Donald Trump. He vowed that Colorado will continue striving to cut carbon pollution and further clean our air, and will not pull back our strong methane regulations for the oil and gas industry. He also expressed concern for protecting public lands, saying, “Those lands should not be put up for auction.” We’re pleased that the governor is taking a stand and allowing Colorado to chart its own path.

Governor Hickenlooper with Conservation Colorado staff, November 2016

Above all, we will stand together as a community to defend our natural resources and keep up the fight for the future. We’re not alone — a majority of Coloradans share these values and expressed them by voting for pro-conservation candidates in this year’s election.