GOLDEN, Colo. — U.S. Senator Mark Udall on Friday said he thought a legislative solution was the best way to address demands for more local regulatory control over oil and gas drilling in the state.
The question came at a forum hosted by Udall and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the School of Mines here and meant to cap Udall’s on-and-off year-and-half-long “energy tour” of the state.
The topic of local control has made headlines for weeks as negotiations start and stop and as activists seek a seat at the negotiating table. It’s another fractious question about energy policy in an era of politics dominated by efforts to address and ignore climate change.
Udall, a Democrat, is running for reelection this year and his opponent, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, a staunch defender of the oil-and-gas industry, has been eager to know where Udall stands on local control.
The industry and its supporters fear that a complicated patchwork of variously strict city and town zoning ordinances will put an end to the boom drillers are enjoying. Residents in the overrun gas-patches tired of the fumes, traffic, leaks and spills say that enough is enough. Nearly a dozen citizen initiatives are wending their way toward voter ballots this fall.
Udall told reporters at the forum that he thought legislation clarifying state and local powers would be the best solution because initiatives by law had to ask a simple question on a single subject. He said he was in regular talks with the governor and that he was deeply interested in the ongoing negotiations. He said he thought the parties were “very close to a solution.”
He added that, as a Colorado voter, he would seriously weigh any initiative that landed on his ballot.
“We’ll find the right balance in Colorado,” he said. “We share common principles… We can protect jobs, the land, water and energy security.”
Udall has long touted Colorado’s approach to energy and environmental policy as a model for the nation. He launched his statewide energy tour last March, meeting with business and political leaders and residents. Sites he toured included a geothermal project in Pagosa Springs, a natural gas processing facility outside Greeley, a carbon-capture project in Boulder, a methane-capture project in Somerset and a micro-hydro project in Ridgway.
At the forum Friday, he repeated his position that building a diverse portfolio of power sources while protecting the environment is the best longterm economic and jobs plan.
“We will have to lower the carbon economy because we have no choice,” he said. “But there’s a lot of green in green.”
The event and the questions put by forum attendees and by members of the media to Udall and Moniz showcased the way the battle to move energy policy forward is being waged fiercely on national, state and local levels.
At the forum, talk of recent headlines from around the nation filled the room.
In Washington last week, House Republicans voted to strip funding the military is using to prepare to address threats posed by climate change.
In Washington this coming Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency is due to deliver new national carbon-pollution standards.
In Ohio on Thursday, Governor John Kasich said he will sign a bill to freeze that state’s successful clean-energy standards for two years with an eye to rolling them back.
“Look, the Pentagon says climate change and U.S. fiscal health are two national security priorities,” said Udall in response to a question from a forum attendee on the lengthening wildfire season in Colorado. “The two go together. Fire season keeps extending in Colorado and that’s a dramatic sign of climate change. But we can get to the 30 percent renewable energy standard we set for 2020 in this state. That’s how we can turn that wildfire season back. My prediction is that we’re moving from an ‘all of the above to a best of the above energy strategy.
“As all Coloradans know, fighting wildfires is like going to war. It’s much more expensive fight fires than to prevent them.”
Secretary Moniz, an MIT professor of physics and engineering who headed the school’s energy and environment lab, steered the conversation back to the military.
“Alternative energy, distributed generation… these are essential developments for our war fighters… If you’ve seen our oil tanker convoys snaking over the Kyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan, you see the problem plainly and you see the great advantage renewable power provides.
“We’re seeing wildfire, drought, sea-level rise, storm surges — not every day but the cumulative effect,” he said. “We have to take a dual track now. We have to adapt to and address climate change.”