What possesses a person to embrace a cause? How does one make a difference in Western Colorado? And what would drive someone to a face-off with the largest industry in the world-oil and gas companies like Exxon-Mobile, EnCana, and Chevron? Meet Duke Cox from Western Colorado Congress.Duke Cox, 57, is a small businessman, a building contractor by profession. Formerly of Silt Mesa, Cox now lives in Palisade with his wife, Peggy, to be near grandkids and farther from oil and gas drilling activities that were invading his back yard. That doesn’t mean he has backed away from oil and gas issues, however.
If there’s a meeting about oil and gas, you will find Duke Cox in attendance.
As interim executive director of the community activist group Western Colorado Congress, Cox immerses himself in oil and gas issues and legislation. He is ferocious in his dislike for the energy industry. Put Cox in a room with energy industry representatives and there is no doubt that those feelings are returned.
Colorado Confidential: What is Western Colorado Congress (WCC) to you? Why did you get involved with WCC?
One night, five years ago, my son, Dylan, and I sat on the front porch of my Silt Mesa home and counted 17 drilling rigs working across the valley. Having worked in the gas industry in my youth, I understood the rapacious nature of the petroleum industry. It is an all-out, full-tilt boogie aimed at making money as fast as possible, with little regard for anything or anyone that stands in the way of the bottom line.
I had received, that same day, a card in the mail asking me to attend a meeting sponsored by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA), a Western Colorado Congress member group. I decided to attend because of my interest in learning more about the ramifications of the industries’ presence and because of a conversation I overheard at a local restaurant some weeks earlier.
At the table next to us sat a quartet of men who were loudly discussing what a big gas play this was and the plans they all had to make millions of dollars and who else was coming in from Oklahoma, Texas or Wyoming. The talk sounded akin to hunters deciding what part of the elk carcass they were each going to take. It rattled me.
At the GVCA meeting in Rifle, I heard, saw, and felt the result of this “gas play.” First one local, then another, stood up to tell a story of anguish and fear. They told their stories through tears and with voices trembling on the edge of rage at the intrusion on their lives and homes.
The details of this invasion is well documented, but at that time, we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the looming impact to our valley. Our home. It was then that I knew I could not ignore this fight.
Within a few months I was asked to be the President of GVCA. In large measure, the reason I accepted the job was the astonishing talent and intellect I saw looking back at me from around the table at the board of directors meetings and, too, the resolve and fortitude of the community that decided to stand and fight. To have been trusted and supported by such an exceptional group of people is an honor I will, perhaps, never exceed.
It was while working with GVCA that I began to develop a relationship with the Western Colorado Congress. WCCs’ energy organizers, first Deanna Woolston and now Matt Sura, have been inspirational to me. They were instrumental in helping us focus our message, educate our community, and take our story to the state government. Along with a huge coalition of grassroots groups, professional associations, clubs, businesses, sportsmen, ranchers, environmentalists-really, the broad spectrum of Colorado’s people-we changed the state government, and the government changed the law.
Democracy at work. That’s pretty cool.
Colorado Confidential: What voice does WCC offer concerning the oil and gas issues? By getting deeply involved with oil and gas issues, did that strengthen WCC or divert it from its original goals?
Duke Cox: I think the substantial growth of WCC is, in large measure, due to the invasion and occupation of western Colorado by the energy industry. The impact of this onslaught is impossible to ignore, and many who were alarmed by the potential for widespread devastation look to WCC as the place to stand with their neighbors to defend their homes and lifestyles. Our membership has grown to in excess of 3,000 members, and that growth shows no sign of abating.
WCC is now a widely respected voice speaking for the people and environment of western Colorado and has become influential in state and national politics. We are participating in the new rule-making process at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and continue to be a leader in public land and wilderness issues.
We have been summoned in recent months to Washington, D.C., to provide an alternative voice to the army of oil and gas lobbyists that seem to dominate the political landscape there.
WCC members and staff have been very effective at taking the message of Colorado’s people to Denver and our nation’s capital. The testimony of WCC members was crucial to the enactment, last year, of three new state laws (HB1252, HB1298, HB1341), all reforming the natural gas extraction industry.
Colorado Confidential: Why should people get involved with organizations like WCC if they have an issue about oil and gas drilling or the environment? How do organizations like WCC activate people?
Duke Cox: WCC empowers people by giving them a chance to be heard; but more importantly, by giving them a chance to DO something. WCC works hard to keep our communities healthy, our children safe, and our future secure.
As members and as financial supporters of Western Colorado Congress, friends and neighbors are working together to become a real force for protecting those things that are most important to them: clean water in our streams and aquifers, clean air to breathe, wild lands and our agricultural heritage, and the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of private property.
Colorado Confidential: What is your role now? Besides oil and gas, are there other issues that drive your interest and involvement in WCC? Was it a natural fit to take a leadership role in WCC? What are your goals/hopes/vision for the organization?
Duke Cox: I have discovered in WCC a place for a voice to dwell and grow. It is the voice of ranchers and environmentalists, of hunters, fishermen, photographers, hikers, businessmen, students, community leaders, medical professionals, and on and on. A place for all people who believe that the earth should not be enslaved to the almighty dollar.
I want to help WCC grow and prosper so that voice can continue to be heard above the din of “progress.” Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing mankind. We need to add our voice to the call for action and lend our resources to the task of helping our communities move into the new energy future.
On a more operational level, I hope to spend much of my time helping other groups around the state join forces with us and a growing coalition of grassroots community groups, municipalities, sportsmen’s groups, environmental organizations and many others that insist that growth and development must take the health and well-being of our environment and our communities seriously.
Growth will come. However, we must not allow it to overwhelm us and our way of life, our quality of life.
Colorado Confidential: Thank you, Duke, for joining us today.
Photos by Leslie Robinson. Top and bottom photo of Duke Cox at a Club 20 energy meeting. Middle photo has Cox huddling with WCC members at a special Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting in Grand Junction in November.