Coffman, Colorado GOP clamor for environmental protection after blasting Salazar for years

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s scathing attack on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Wednesday at a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sounded a little like a jewel thief berating the cops for not catching him sooner.

Coffman, who represents Colorado’s uber-conservative 6th Congressional District after serving as an outspoken and controversial Secretary of State, has a track record of blasting Salazar and Gov. Bill Ritter for over-regulating the fossil fuel extraction industries in Colorado. But here’s what he had to say Wednesday:

Mike Coffman

“Secretary Salazar, on Jan. 20, 2009, you were confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior. Just nine days later you were in Colorado where you publicly ordered a re-examination of the scandalized Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service.

“At that event you said, ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’ and the American people took you at your word that you were going to make it a top priority to clean up MMS, but you didn’t. At least not until the lax industry oversight of MMS contributed to what may turn out to be the single most significant environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.

“Can you with certainty tell me what assurances you can give to the American people going forward? Can you really change what is an incredibly dysfunctional agency? Where is the increase in oversight? Where is the new sheriff? The American people are seeking some assurances Mr. Secretary.”

Coffman was referring to a 2009 visit by Salazar to the Lakewood offices of the MMS, which simultaneously regulates and collects royalties from energy companies drilling on public lands. That office was wracked with a sex, drug and influence-peddling scandal at the time.

But since his days as a Democratic Colorado senator, Republican lawmakers have been blasting Salazar for impeding everything from natural gas drilling on the Roan Plateau to oil shale production across northwestern Colorado and eastern Utah. Salazar often was simply pushing for better environmental practices to protect the state’s natural heritage.

Here’s Coffman from a September, 2009, committee hearing on the CLEAR (Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal) Act, at which he blasted Salazar for a series of steps to increase environmental protections before moving ahead with various domestic energy projects:

“So we can’t drill onshore, we can’t drill offshore, we can’t develop oil shale, we can’t develop nuclear and we can’t develop solar. Mr. Secretary, why won’t you let Americans develop American energy?”

Coffman went on to repeat the GOP mantra that Democrats are job-killing bureaucrats in bed with radical environmentalists:

“This bill is just another example of the Democrats’ ‘more-bureaucracy-more-taxes’ agenda that is simply out of touch with the needs of American people. At a time when Congress should be doing everything possible to encourage job creation and domestic energy production, Democrats put forth another bill that will make it harder to produce American energy …”

Today the Obama administration is announced an extended moratorium on offshore drilling, and the head of the MMS has reportedly been fired or stepped down. Had those actions been taken prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Republicans would have no doubt had a field day.

In 2007, then Secretary of State Coffman very nearly accepted a gig as chairman of the radical pro-drilling Astroturf group Americans for American Energy but backed out at the last minute, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Then Sen. Salazar had to block the appointment of the Bush administration’s pick to head the U.S. Bureau of Land Management just to get the Bush Interior Department to give the state more time to comment on the massive Roan Plateau natural gas lease sale, which some local officials say has the potential to be an onshore Deepwater Horizon disaster in one of the state’s most pristine backcountry areas. Here’s what Coffman had to say at the time:

“Sen. (Ken) Salazar, Gov. (Bill) Ritter and others feel a need to throw a bone to radical environmentalists, and Roan Plateau is that bone.”

Earlier this year, when Salazar announced onshore drilling and leasing reforms meant to turn back the previous eight years of “drill, baby, drill” policy established by the Bush administration, Republicans were quick to say he was taking his Colorado agenda national.

State Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, a constant critic of the more environmentally stringent drilling regulations pushed by Ritter and passed by the legislature in the spring of 2009, issued this statement regarding Salazar’s onshore reforms:

“Punitive restrictions on this important industry have already caused devastating job losses in my hometown. Why on earth would Secretary Salazar want to take Colorado’s job-killing rules national?”

The Colorado rules have been held up as a model of environmentally responsible drilling regulations that other states are beginning to emulate, and yet Republicans continue to threaten to gut the Colorado rules if returned to the governor’s mansion and a majority in the State Legislature in November.

While the GOP keeps harping on lost jobs, natural gas drilling dropped off dramatically around the country late in 2008 at the onset of the global recession. The new Colorado drilling rules were put in place to protect air and water quality, public safety and wildlife habitat – seen as critical to Colorado’s outdoor recreation, hunting, fishing and tourism industries. Those are the exact jobs that have been lost in droves on the Gulf Coast as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Here are some other samples of industry and Republican criticism of increased environmental regulation of oil and gas drilling in Colorado:

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 23, 2008):

“These rules have made a grim situation almost intolerable for these companies. This is killing jobs.”

Curtis Thomas, BP America director of government and public affairs in the Rockies, on the impacts of the new regulations and the company’s decision to shut down drilling operations in La Plata County (Durango Herald, Jan. 15. 2010):

“You start to feel the weight of all of that.”

Penry (Durango Herald, March 7, 2010):

“The results are in. If you compare the loss in drill-rig count in Colorado, and in particular the Piceance Basin, to surrounding states – New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, for example, not to mention states like Pennsylvania that have seen an increase in energy production – it’s clear that these rules have taken a bad situation in the commodity environment and made it dramatically, dramatically worse.”

Actually, statistical analysis reveals Colorado is ahead of its neighboring Rocky Mountain states in current drilling activity.

Current GOP gubernatorial candidate and former congressman Scott McInnis (Durango Herald, March 7, 2010):

“This is punitive – the toughest rules in the United States. What happens? What happens is what you would expect to happen. They’ve left. We have lost thousands of jobs. The actions of the governor and the inactions of the [Denver] Mayor [John Hickenlooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate] have been the best jobs program the state of Pennsylvania could have ever had. And it isn’t just Pennsylvania. It’s Wyoming.”

State Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, on the passage of the new drilling rules (Denver Business Journal, March 9, 2009):

“175 pages of job-killing bureaucracy.”

State Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate for the 4th Congressional District, on a vote rejecting his bill to limit Colorado Division of Wildlife input on oil and gas drilling, a key tenet of the new Colorado drilling rules (Pueblo Chieftain, Feb. 23, 2009):

“They made their point loud and clear today – property owners beware. New Mexico gets it, Wyoming gets it, Utah gets it. Unfortunately, those in charge in Colorado, especially Gov. Ritter don’t. Jobs will continue to leave our state and will undoubtedly go to those states. It’s shameful.”

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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