Battle on oil and gas regs foreshadows key 2010 election issue

With new, more environmentally stringent oil- and gas-drilling regulations a perfunctory state Senate vote and gubernatorial signature away from going into effect next month, all the Republican gnashing of teeth seems to have fallen largely on deaf ears.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, made one last-ditch attempt to water down the new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regs, which give more weight to public safety, wildlife, water- and air-quality issues in the formerly frenetic natural gas boom in Weld County and on the state’s Western Slope.

The GOP rallying cry that the new regs – in the works and intensely negotiated since 2007 – are a major job-killing mistake that will send industry off to much friendlier states rang hollow with the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, which is not surprising.

Industry observers and lawmakers like Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, saw right through the economic argument that the pending regs were costing jobs, mainly because the industry is scaling back around the nation in lockstep with plummeting energy prices in the wake of the global economic downturn.

But with even some moderate Republicans like Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, jumping on the jobs bandwagon, it’s clear the state GOP leadership will revisit this theme again and again leading into the 2010 election.

Most industry observers agree that the degree to which the economic argument will resonate with voters in the battle for control of the governor’s office and the state Senate will depend largely on the success of Gov. Bill Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” and the overall state of financial affairs a year from now.

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