Something very unusual occurred yesterday in the Colorado state legislature. Well on their way to passing a comprehensive bill overhauling the regulation of gas and oil industries’ operations within the state, Colorado Senate Democrats found themselves temporarily stymied when ranking Republican State Senator John Cooke invoked an arcane rule that forced a verbal reading of a wholly unrelated 2000-page Bill involving an obscure state statute, prior to the resumption of any hearings, debates or votes on the energy bill. This 2000-page tome enjoyed bipartisan support, so there was never any issue about its passage. The point was to delay the passage of the oil and gas bill, because Republicans and more importantly, the oil and gas industry, really, really hate it.
As a result of this procedural maneuver, all business in the Colorado legislature immediately came to a grinding halt. While the reading of the bill by a hapless Senate staffer droned on, some estimated it would take several days to finish. Finally, after about three hours of this nonsense, some resourceful Democrats brought in five computers to read the Bill simultaneously at a speed far faster than humans can comprehend. According to the Denver Post,
The machines finished their work at 5:30, and Senate Democrats planned a late evening Monday to get back on track. Hearings scheduled for Tuesday will proceed as planned.
Prior to 2018 the Republicans enjoyed a majority in the Colorado state senate, a position which enabled them to effectively block any legislative attempts to rein in the oil and gas industry. In performing their work these Republicans had, like Republicans in state legislatures throughout the country, sold themselves completely to ALEC, the legislative-stenography arm of fossil-fuel energy moguls such as Charles and David Koch.
Most of [ALEC’s] funding comes from its corporate members, ranging from big pharmaceutical companies to oil-and-gas giants like ExxonMobil to Walmart. Among ALEC’s biggest contributors, according to opensecrets.org, is Koch Industries…[.]
State Senator Cooke is one of the Koch Brothers’ and ALEC’s stooges. In 2015, for example, Cooke co-sponsored model ALEC legislation to try to force the Environmental Protection Agency to stop regulating carbon emissions within the state. The Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity’s Colorado chapter listed Cooke as one of its “Champions” in 2017. And Cooke, in fine Tea Party fashion, just last week led industry-financed astro-turfed protests of the pending legislation.
But as a result of the 2018 elections, Democrats now command a majority in both the Colorado state house and senate. Colorado’s newly-elected Democratic governor Jared Polis has urged passage of the energy legislation and it will likely be enacted into law. And this has certain interests tearing their hair out, as evidenced by senator Cooke’s tantrum yesterday.
So what is in this Colorado energy bill that has the Kochs pulling out all stops to avoid it? Quite a bit actually. Described as the “most sweeping oil and gas reforms” the state has ever seen, the, the Bill reads like a laundry list of everything that the Kochs would hate.
DENVER (AP) — Colorado Democratic lawmakers released a plan late Friday afternoon for a major overhaul of oil and gas regulations that would make human health and environmental protection the state’s highest priority, not energy production.
The bill also includes provisions giving local governments the authority to regulate the location of new wells and to impose fines for spills and pollution. Currently, only the state has those powers.
Current Colorado law, as dictated by years of Koch-inspired dominance of that state’s senate, requires state regulators by its terms to encourage continued gas and oil development in the state. But consideration of human health concerns (such as the impact of gas drilling on drinking water, for example), are deliberately restricted to what is “feasible and cost-effective.” These are weasel words that the oil and gas industries use to thwart any regulation of their industry that interferes with their profits. The new legislation, as explained by Colorado House Speaker KC Becker, reverses the mission of the regulators and orders them to consider first and foremost public health and safety:
“They’re no longer going to be in the position of aiding oil and gas. They are going to be in the position of regulating oil and gas,” Becker said.
Imagine that. Redirecting oversight of the oil and gas industry towards the interests of people who actually live in the state, as opposed to the energy companies:
The bill includes other significant changes. It would shake up the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, reducing the number of industry representatives and adding commissioners with expertise in environmental protection and public health.
You can see why Kochs and the fossil-fuel interests hate this. Just last year the Kochs successfully spearheaded a $41 million campaign against a Colorado ballot measure that would have required oil and gas companies to perform drilling (fracking) a further distance from schools and businesses to avoid poisoning the surrounding air and water. They’re used to getting their way in Colorado. And some of their tabloid right-wing media organs are freaking out, warning that the pending legislation is a state version of the “Green New Deal,” as if that were a bad thing.
There’s nothing quite so sweet as the smell of Republican fear in the morning.