Gov. Hickenlooper earns praise from business interests, environmentalists

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in his first State of the State speech today managed to strike the right balance between being the pro-business, anti-regulatory jobs creator and a protector of the environment who will continue former Gov. Bill Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.” So say analysts from both sides of the political spectrum.

“From tackling new challenges around water, to keeping our state at the forefront of a burgeoning clean-tech industry, to ensuring that last year’s landmark Clean Air, Clean Jobs effort is successfully implemented to bring cleaner air and a stronger economy for millions across the state, Gov. Hickenlooper has set the right tone,” Environment Colorado program director Pam Kiely said in a release.

Gov. John Hickenlooper
Indeed, Hickenlooper did proclaim his support for the controversial legislation from last session (Clean Air, Clean Jobs) that creates a larger local market for cleaner burning natural gas by shutting down several coal-fired power plants on the state’s Front Range. The Colorado coal industry has bitterly opposed the plan.

“This law places Colorado at the forefront in reducing pollutants, creating jobs and while it hasn’t been without controversy, we shouldn’t move backwards,” Hickenlooper said today. There was none of the obligatory applause that followed most of his statements.

While Hickenlooper — a former laid-off geologist who later had success in the brew-pub business — has said in the past he will not try to roll back Ritter’s environmentally friendlier oil and gas drilling regulations, the new governor raised some eyebrows with pro-drilling comments in The New York Times on Sunday.

“The Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda is centered on job growth and reducing the size of government,” Assistant Minority Leader Bill Cadman said in a release. “We were encouraged to hear the governor echoing these same sentiments in his State of the State address.”

Hickenlooper also mentioned a job consolidation move made to help shore up the state’s staggering budget deficit – a move that could adversely impact environmental health regulation. His administration combined the chief medical officer position and the office of the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But the former Denver mayor kept coming back to the balancing act he’ll have to pull off in order to please his environmental base and still remain true to his pro-business reputation – two things that are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

“Our task must be to support that job growth, while also maintaining the highest ethical and environmental safeguards,” Hickenlooper said.

He’ll take his message on the road beginning Friday morning, launching a four-day tour of the state to promote his “bottom-up” economic recovery plan by reaching out to local officials and businesses.

Hickenlooper will be accompanied by Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia; Reeves Brown, Executive Director of the Department of Local Affairs; Al White, Director of the Colorado Tourism Office; and other members of the governor’s senior staff.

The meetings are open to the public; here’s the full schedule:

Friday, Jan. 14

10 a.m., Singletree Community Center, 1010 Berry Creek Road, Edwards.
3 p.m., Fruita Community Center, 324 North Coulson St., Fruita.

Saturday, Jan. 15

10 a.m., Strater Hotel, Pullman Room, 699 Main Ave., Durango.
3 p.m., Rio Grande Annex Community Room, 965 6th St., Del Norte.

Sunday, Jan. 16

1 p.m., Spradley Community Center, Pueblo County Conference Room, 1001 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo
4 p.m., Cheyenne Mountain Resort, 3225 Broadmoor Valley Road, Colorado Springs.

Monday, Jan. 17

10 a.m., Limon Community Center, 477 D Ave., Limon.
3 p.m., The Ranch, McKee Community Building, 5280 Arena Circle, Loveland.