Former Sen. Wirth, natural gas advocate, takes industry to task

U.N. Foundation president and former Colo. Sen. Timothy Wirth (IISD)

U.N. Foundation president and former Colo. Sen. Timothy Wirth. (IISD)

They were tough words for the natural gas industry to hear. In a blunt speech before the Colorado Oil and Gas Association last week, Timothy Wirth, a former Colorado Democratic senator and Under Secretary of State for global affairs in the Clinton administration, warned industry leaders that they need to pay attention to the environmental and climate concerns that are shaping national policy, or risk being left behind.

Wirth took the industry to task for not engaging in the climate legislation being debated in Congress — a bill he said every other energy industry was deeply involved in — and for fighting the changes taking place in energy policy rather than participating and seeking fresh opportunities.

Wirth, who today is president of Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation, is no enemy of the oil and gas industry. He described clean-burning natural gas as the single most important component of a new energy supply chain that can help cut greenhouse gas emissions, and he said the use of nation’s bountiful natural gas reserves is essential to curbing climate change. But he also said the industry is preoccupied with the wrong priorities and is off message.

“The time has come for the natural gas industry to get organized, take the gloves off, and get thoroughly engaged in helping our country advance rapidly toward a low-carbon economy,” Wirth said.

In his speech he offered some advice: The industry should identify its key priorities, work to get its regulatory house in order and recognize the big picture rather than complain about details in legislation like the climate bill.

“What are the options?” he asked the industry executives in a question and answer session after his speech. “You can stay where you are today. … Your industry is going to continue to wallow. That’s your own choice.”

Watch a video of Wirth’s July 8 speech or read the entire text here (PDF).

This story produced by ProPublica.

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