Conservationists blast Colorado governor’s new utilities commission appointee

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s latest appointment to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission is irking environmentalists who question his commitment to clean energy.

Pam Patton
The governor this week named Pam Patton, of Bayfield, to the PUC, where she joins former Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission chairman Joshua Epel and Republican appointee James Tarpey.

“It was not long ago that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission was a strong champion and national leader in advancing the development of clean, renewable wind and solar energy in our state,” said Elise Jones, outgoing executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

“With his PUC appointments, Governor Hickenlooper has cast doubt on whether he will continue to drive Colorado toward a clean energy future. Coloradans have made it abundantly clear that they want the state to continue to lead on renewable energy, that they are not interested in turning back the clock to rely on yesterday’s dirty energy sources that pollute our air and harm our planet,” she said.

Patton served on the La Plata Electric Association board since 2000 and is a past board president. In 2004, the Durango-based board opposed Amendment 37, which set a 10 percent renewable energy standard for the state. Her critics say she has voted against other clean energy proposals as well.

“Ms. Patton has not supported renewable energy proposals during her tenure on the board of the La Plata Electric Association nor has she been an advocate for progressive policies,” said Harry Riegle, a member of Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado.

Gov. Hickenlooper at a banquet in Denver last month. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has said Patton is an experienced leader who can balance divergent interests.

“Pam has demonstrated the ability to work with wildly different groups of people throughout her career,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “She also hails from one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado, one that is rich in traditional energy exploration. Pam understands firsthand the important balance between promoting innovation and protecting Colorado’s beautiful landscapes.”

Patton, who grew up on a sheep farm in La Plata County and served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, could not be reached for immediate comment but issued a prepared statement at the time of her appointment.

“This is truly a great opportunity to serve the public in my home state,” Patton said. “I look forward to bringing my telecommunications and electric utility experience, work ethic and concern for the environment to the commission.”

Conservationists, however, say Hickenlooper’s appointment is a departure from the work of his predecessor, Gov. Bill Ritter, who many of them credit for leading Colorado’s clean energy economy.

This isn’t the first time Hickenlooper has rankled the green community. He also drew their ire after appearing in a commercial in which he claimed “we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing” since the overhaul of the state’s oil and gas protections in 2008 when in fact, there have been dozens of those types of cases during that time. He has also watered down his statements on climate change and sided with the industry’s position that local governments shouldn’t have the authority to zone oil and gas drilling.

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