Bob Randall has been named the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, ending months of speculation about who would take the reins after the departure of Mike King earlier this year.
King, who had been the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) since 2011, announced last December that he would head to Denver Water to become its director of planning. He joined the state’s largest municipal water provider at the end of January.
Randall has been serving as interim director since February 1. He joined the department in 2007 as federal lands coordinator and later, Assistant Director for Energy and Minerals. Randall became the department’s deputy executive director in 2010 and then took on the additional role of chief operations officer in 2014. Prior to working for the Department of Natural Resources, Randall was a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit conservation organization. He also spent seven years in Alaska as an attorney for Trustees for Alaska, a public interest environmental law firm.
In a statement, Gov. John Hickenlooper praised Randall’s record of “outstanding strategic decision making,” adding that Randall’s “remarkable ability to work collaboratively with the diverse interests at DNR make him uniquely qualified for the job.”
Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith also applauded the appointment.
“Bob has shown a deep commitment to protecting our state’s land, air, water, and wildlife, as well as leadership in solving the challenges that they face,” said Maysmith. “He is thoughtful and works well with all interested parties. We look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure that Colorado is a national leader on energy and environmental issues.”
The Department of Natural Resources is the regulatory authority on some of some of the state’s most controversial issues involving water, oil and gas and mining. Its divisions include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which late last year wrapped up the state’s first comprehensive statewide water plan; and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which has been criticized by anti-fracking activists as being too friendly toward the oil and gas industry.
Randall was one of half a dozen people mentioned as possible replacements at DNR. That list included Democrat James Eklund, the head of the water conservation board; Republican John Swartout, a senior advisor to Hickenlooper on rural issues; and John Stulp, Hickenlooper’s water czar.
Randall’s appointment may earn Hickenlooper some points from the state’s environmental community, which has been critical of the governor’s views on oil and gas regulation, particularly fracking.
Those points could come in handy in the next two months as Democrats ready themselves for their national convention in Philadelphia in August. Hickenlooper’s name has been mentioned as being on the short list of possible running mates for former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Colorado is among the swing states that Clinton would need to win to take the White House in November. Picking Hickenlooper as her number two could help her win Colorado and other Western states.
But Hickenlooper’s support for fracking hasn’t boosted his appeal among the state’s environmentalists, who have largely supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders has called for a total ban on fracking.
The question is just how much Randall’s appointment would help Hickenlooper’s relationship with the environmental community and how or if it impacts his chances with Clinton.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a Republican who chairs the Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said Randall is “a good choice who brings stability” to the department, “especially in a time of transition.”
But Randall has “been part of the lead in poking at oil and gas,” although Sonnenberg said he thought Randall wouldn’t be an “activist like the former director” (King).
Will Toor of Boulder told The Colorado Independent that the environmental community has a “positive impression” of Randall as a fair-minded person who will work hard to protect the environment and public health. Toor was a member of governor’s oil and gas task force in 2015 and has also served on the state’s Air Quality Control Commission. He is the transportation director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, CEO of Western Resource Advocates, also cheers Randall’s appointment and touted his credentials with the conservation community. “He has a real conservation ethic,” Goldin-Dubois told The Independent. Randall comes from a concern for “conserving natural resources, and that’s a strong compass that helps guide his decisions.”
At least one member of the General Assembly believes Randall could help Hickenlooper on the national scene, but with a caveat: what have you done for me lately?
Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville believes Randall helps the governor, so long as he “brings more accountability to oil and gas development.” Jones is the ranking Democrat on the agriculture committee and has been critical of Hickenlooper’s support for fracking, and took to the Senate floor in the last days of the session to criticize the governor’s decision to re-appoint six of the seven members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Most have ties to the oil and gas industry.
Jones believes Randall could help the governor mend fences on the oil and gas issue with the environmental community. “I think if Randall can help the governor make oil and gas more accountable and push hard for energy efficiency, “ that could boost the governor’s chances for the vice-presidential pick or perhaps a cabinet position, he said.
And while Maysmith believes Randall is a great pick for the department, he questions whether it will have any bearing on Hickenlooper’s future plans.
“He values what all Coloradans value: good stewardship of natural resources,” Maysmith said. Randall brings those values to the table, and the environmental community reacts well to his style, Maysmith added.
But Maysmith questions whether an appointment, even of an environmental attorney, “rises to the level of impact” on Clinton’s decision about a vice president or a cabinet position.
Photo credit: The Colorado Department of Natural Resources