EDWARDS — Energy attorney Scott McInnis this week continued to hammer Gov. Bill Ritter for policies McInnis says have crippled Colorado’s natural gas industry and cost the state thousands of jobs at a time of severe economic hardship.
Making his way around parts of the Western Slope congressional district he represented for twelve years in Washington, McInnis has been pounding on a theme familiar among Republican speakers and audiences this summer: McInnis blasted the Governor for backing new, more environmentally friendly oil and gas drilling regulations that went into effect in the spring.
“Those rules and regulations were directly targeted at the natural gas industry,” McInnis told the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent on Tuesday. “And this is the result of what happened: They left the area.”
McInnis, who’s vying with two other candidates for the GOP nomination to take on Ritter next year, made similar comments in Edwards on Monday, Grand Junction on Tuesday and Durango on Wednesday. “[Ritter] makes bets, and it’s our skin in the game,” McInnis told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
But the energy and natural resources attorney for the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson is out of touch with the very constituents he used to represent in Congress, according to Ritter’s office, which aggressively defended the governor’s record on jobs creation, the environment and support for the state’s natural gas industry.
“We’re in a global recession. Every country and every industry is suffering, and one of the main reasons we’re in this is because of the failed policies of the past, including Republican policies,” Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer told The Colorado Independent on Wednesday, referring to McInnis’s stint in Congress from 1992 to 2004.
Dreyer said the sharp drop in the commodity price because of dramatically decreased industrial demand has put the natural gas industry in a tailspin word-wide.
“Those [factors] have nothing to do with the fact that this state needed to modernize the rules and regulations around drilling, so the more anyone tries to make an argument that the rules are somehow to blame for the decline in drilling activity, it’s an overreach, it’s completely untrue, and people are seeing it for what it is, which is political opportunism,” Dreyer said.
In fact, Ritter has staked out some political ground that’s shaky for a Democrat trying to appease a liberal base clearly concerned about the impacts to air and water quality and wildlife habitat stemming from the state’s most recent gas boom.
The governor does not support federal oversight of a common gas-drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing without more study of its potential impacts to groundwater supplies. But a recent poll showed two-thirds of the registered voters surveyed in the 3rd Congressional District, encompassing most of the state’s Western Slope, do support the so-called FRAC Act.
“We need more data and scientific study before we enact federal legislation on top of what we believe are very responsible [new state] rules that address that very issue, and as data comes in and studies are conducted, that’s when we can make some responsible decisions,” Dreyer said.
Even McInnis has previously admitted some level of change was needed in order to “tighten up” drilling regulations to better protect the environment, but he told The Colorado Independent last year that Ritter and Democratic state lawmakers went too far at a time of economic uncertainty.
“On top of that you’ve got a governor that is very insistent on rules and regulations that seem to be punitive in their nature,” McInnis said. “I don’t mind you tighten it up, and I think we should absolutely insist on best practices, but there’s a difference between best practices and no practice.”
Dreyer fired back that McInnis is not in tune with the current mindset among Colorado voters who favor environmental protection over increased energy production.
“The people of this state, when [Ritter] was campaigning three and four years ago, made it very clear that the record levels of drilling in this state were causing impacts to our environment, to our water, to wildlife, to our communities, and these new rules modernize how that development occurs so that it does occur in a way that’s balanced and responsible and leads to a healthy industry and healthy communities,” Dreyer said.
He then cited recent administration efforts to increase pipeline capacity, expand natural gas as a baseload electricity generator, step up its use as a transportation fuel and get Congress to implement tax credits and other natural gas projects at the national level.
“[Ritter] is working extremely hard to increase demand and create new markets for natural gas,” said Dreyer, pointing to the governor’s support for natural gas as a cleaner-burning bridge fuel in the New Energy Economy that’s based on renewable-energy expansion. Again, McInnis in previous interviews has supported clean energy projects and Ritter’s New Energy Economy as well.
“Of course what the governor is saying is absolutely right,” he told TCI last year. “The reality is new energy is the future, not just for Colorado but for the whole world and we’ve got to do it, but on the other hand the statement that we should do it at the exclusion of the current resources that we have, including coal, isn’t right.”