Republican Garfield County commissioner candidate Tom Jankovsky has consistently echoed the GOP party line this campaign season, blasting away at amended oil and gas drilling regulations that went into effect last year and blaming them for the natural gas bust many observers attribute to a global recession.
The stance by the general manager of Sunlight Ski Resort puts him in lockstep with Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who has promised pink slips to anyone with anything less than a pro-industry slant serving on the state’s oil and gas regulatory board. And it echoes a similar position by conservative third-party candidate Tom Tancredo.
Democratic gubernatorial front-runner John Hickenlooper, a former geologist laid off in the 1980s and now a successful restaurateur and the mayor of Denver, has said he would tweak some of the regs but that he does not favor gutting the more environmentally friendly rules.
So Jankovsky has staked out fairly safe political ground among his GOP constituency as he tries to become the third Republican member of the three-member board of commissioners in the most drilled county in the state.
Then late last month he ran a full-page ad in the Glenwood Post Independent that made members of the conservation community and Democrats – including his opponent, incumbent Trési Houpt — do a double take.
“Our country is best served by producing our own energy, and, fortunately for us in this part of the state, we are blessed with world-class reserves of natural gas,” the ad read. “Best of all, the regulations by the federal government are strengthened further here in Colorado by what the Wall Street Journal describes as the toughest regulatory safeguards in America.”
That’s a reference to those painstakingly negotiated oil and gas regulations, amended by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) – the state regulatory board – and implemented in the spring of 2009. The new rules brought greater protections for public health, safety and wildlife habitat.
Jankovsky last week told the Colorado Independent the ad is consistent with his campaign statements.
“It’s not a flip-flop,” he said. “I’m saying that I will not over-regulate, that we have regulations at the state level and at the federal level and I will not duplicate those – that at the county level we need to regulate on land use and the county code. That’s what I’m saying in that ad. I won’t pile on. If those regs are already there, there’s no reason to have them at the county level.”
But Houpt, who also serves as a Gov. Bill Ritter appointee on the COGCC board, said federal regulatory exemptions make it imperative for counties in oil and gas country to be careful and keep a close regulatory eye on industry practices.
“It’s a very complex industry; it’s a high-impact industry,” said Houpt, “and there are some aspects of energy development that will be regulated at the federal level, some – and mostly on the technical end of it – will be regulated at the state level, and the land-use concerns will be regulated at the local level.
“So there certainly is a role for all levels of government to be engaged in the oversight of this industry, and at the end of the day we all represent the same people. We want to see the industry be successful but we also want to see very well-defined protections in place to protect public health, welfare, safety, the environment and wildlife.”
Jankovsky has been critical of Houpt’s position on the COGCC board, saying she has a conflict of interest. Houpt counters that she is able to advocate for the county at the state level and brings a local perspective to the Denver-based regulatory agency.
Jankovsky also sticks by his contention that the amended state rules have choked off the industry and its high-paying jobs on the Western Slope, pointing to a Fraser Institute report showing Colorado lags in the nation because of its regulatory climate.
“Those regulations did create the loss of jobs in 2008, so that is correct. Between 2007 and 2009, Colorado went from No. 1 in oil and gas exploration to dead last,” Jankovsky said. “Nationally we went from No. 1 to 28th.”
However, jobs lost in 2008 can’t be pinned on the new regulations, which didn’t take effect until the spring of 2009, and the pro-industry Fraser Institute, based in Canada, reported in July that regulatory certainty was improving in Colorado.
“Colorado is improving its reputation among industry executives, but the state still has a long way to go. In 2007, the state was ranked No. 1 in the world, but environmental regulations introduced since then continue to discourage investors,” Fraser Institute senior economist Gerry Angevine said in a release, noting the state had “vaulted” to 61st in the world among investors in this year’s survey from 81st last year.
Houpt points out that Colorado is leading the Rocky Mountain region in permitting for new wells and that companies have been doing infrastructure work and getting ready for the inevitable rebound of natural gas prices.
“With the positioning that is occurring in Colorado, not only with the permitting of applications but with work that’s been done on ancillary infrastructure during this slow period, it’s an indication that [companies] want to learn how to work within the structure of the amended rules and be ready to move forward when it’s time – when the market permits,” Houpt said.
A spokesman for the nonprofit Colorado Conservation Voters (CCV), which produced a mailer critical of Jankovsky’s pro-industry platform, discounted the Fraser Institute analysis.
“That’s an industry report, and it’s far more relevant to look at well permits and drilling activity than it is to look at an industry report,” said CCV Executive Director Pete Maysmith. “The real-life data on the ground, which compared to neighboring states we’re doing better. That’s a more relevant way to think about it.”
Jankovsky said it’s been a largely positive campaign so far, but he took exception to the CCV mailer.
“I didn’t appreciate the way things were taken out of context – that I’m here to exploit the mineral rights and basically that I’m against the environment, which isn’t true,” he said. “We just took it as part of politics and we’re moving on and we didn’t make the stink that the Democrats made two years ago.”
In that race, two Democrats were narrowly defeated after a barrage of outside oil and gas money paid for a slew of negative mailers and fake newspapers. Environmentalists got involved, going after the ultimately victorious Republicans as well.
Houpt late last week said she has not thus far seen any of the same shenanigans that led to formal complaints filed with the Secretary of State’s Office and fines against industry-backed groups in 2008. She said her campaign has worked hard to keep this race positive.
“I just hope when people receive those mailers [aimed at Jankovsky], they’ll know that the ones that say ‘Paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Trési Houpt’ are endorsed by me, and that the ones that don’t are ones that I haven’t reviewed,” she said.