Hickenlooper, McInnis face off at energy policy forum

DENVER– Candidates for governor Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Scott McInnis faced off on energy policy at the Denver Athletic Club Tuesday before a crowd of roughly 250 oil and gas executives and environmentalists. McInnis came out strong against recent regulations on the industry, which he again argued cost the state jobs, as he has argued countless times over the past year. Hickenlooper said regulations could certainly be tweaked but he argued they played a minimal role in industry unemployment in the state.

Playing to the energy execs in the crowd at the event, which was sponsored by the Denver Petroleum Club and 9News, McInnis said he would like to see Colorado take the Texas approach to the industry, where the main demand placed on oil and gas corporations was that they provide an accurate phone number on state paperwork so “we can go after them. We want the jobs,” he said.

But McInnis also distanced himself from the defiant days of the Republican Palin-McCain campaign of 2008, where the mantra was “drill baby drill.” The news surrounding the catastrophic ongoing BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has clearly influenced McInnis’s posture on unfettered drilling.

“Drill, baby, drill, we don’t need that,” he said. He said the Gulf disaster was the fault of BP negligence but also shoddy oversight on the part of the government, a position that seemed at least superficially at odds with his repeated jabs against regulation and government interference with the extractive industries.

He celebrated legislation he said he put forward in the state that opened Colorado’s Roan plateau to drilling, which he said was by no means the pristine nature reserves that environmentalists have argued should be closed to industry.

Hickenlooper said that in speaking with the major oil and gas companies, he has come to believe the 2008 regulations were a minor cause in the recent downturn in oil and gas jobs in the state. Representatives of the industry concede that the low price for gas was a large factor as were oil and gas discoveries in other parts of the country.

The conversation turned also on the role and fate of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Commission.

McInnis said the people on the commission currently were acting on emotion instead of thinking about jobs and the economy. He said the commission, with its penchant for regulation, was costing the state jobs and that Colorado needed commissioners who supported environmental protection but who were also committed to oil and gas exploration. He said he would look to appoint exploration advocates to the commission if he were elected governor. Industry access to public lands would be a priority.  

Hickenlooper said he would expect the commission to offer exemptions to companies where regulations were onerous and specific to one region of the state. In particular he criticized regulations on produced water and pit liners and said he would revisit those regulations.

“I don’t think that we need to go and change a regulation. [We] simply would allow the oil and gas [commission] to handle exemptions. They have that power.”

Hickenlooper agreed with McInnis that experts were needed on the commission but that the commission should also reflect the array of stakeholders.

“I think it is important to have a commission that is balanced but at the same time recognize that these are jobs that are needed in the state. We need to make regulation as little onerous as possible.”

The candidates agreed the renewable energy would play a significant role in Colorado’s future but that it was important to rely on the traditional energy sources in the midterm. McInnis celebrated oil and coal; Hickenlooper said he was “agnostic” as to where energy came from as the renewable sector ramped up.

Hickenlooper later told the press that his concern over coal was based on climate change. He would prefer to develop clean coal technology and expand use of natural gas, which he said would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the ballroom, earlier, he qualified his stance on climate change.

“If you look at the potential for climate change– and I know there are a great many skeptics in this room– I am not a crazy, saying that it is happening at this [high] level. But it is a risk, right? Climate change models– there are obviously some holes in some of the evidence– but it is something that we should be aware of.”

In the debate, McInnis targeted the state’s new 30 percent renewable energy standard. He said that, although he wouldn’t remove it outright, he said he would look at the costs to consumers.

Hickenlooper said the new standard was ambitious but “doable.” He said he supported Gov. Bill Ritter’s work expanding the New Energy Economy in Colorado and that he saw it as something to continue to develop.

[Photo: Scott McInnis at the Denver Petroleum Club podium at the candidate forum (Colorado Independent)]

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