Colorado gubernatorial candidates Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis offered their contrasting visions on energy Wednesday at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual Energy Summit.
Democrat Polis favors moving toward renewable energy and has a history of backing more environmental regulations on oil and gas operations. Republican Stapleton wants an evolution to renewable energy in the mix of maximizing Colorado’s supply of natural resources in the meantime.
They spoke individually on the final day of COGA’s annual gathering at the Colorado Convention Center.
Polis said Colorado needs a leader who can work with opponents. “I’ve been a problem solver all my life,” he said.
Hecklers who support tougher laws on oil-and-gas developers attempted to interrupt Polis and were escorted out. They did not interrupt Stapleton, however.
“I can’t promise that I will always agree with you on every issue, but I can promise you an open mind, honest feedback and a genuine commitment to finding common ground,” Polis, the congressman from Boulder, told the energy executives, politicos and vendors.
He spoke of balance, which could alienate some in his hard-core anti-industry base made up of folks who aren’t likely to swing to Stapleton anyway.
“In spite of the challenges we face, Colorado’s economy remains today the envy of the nation,” Polis said. “And if we want to keep it that way, we can’t ignore the role that the oil and gas industry has played in our growth, or the significant wages and tax revenue it creates in our state.
“But neither can we ignore the conflicts between homeowners and operators, between surface rights and mineral rights, between state government and local government,” Polis added.
“And we must all unite in putting health and safety first ahead of profits and in protecting for future generations the amazing outdoor spaces that make Colorado so special.”
Polis has not supported Initiative 97, the proposed ballot question to increase setbacks for new oil and gas operations to 2,500 feet from homes from the current 500 feet. In 2014 he supported and helped finance a measure for a 2,000-foot setback, before ultimately withdrawing his support.
He said a reasonable look at setbacks is warranted.
Polis congratulated the work done by Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper since then. He said he would build on that good work.
Polis doesn’t like the politics around this year’s ballot question, however. He also doesn’t support a counter measure, Initiative 108, a proposal to compensate land owners when regulation take away their ability to harvest their mineral rights. Polis has opposed both.
“Sadly, the same old pattern of talking past and belittling each other is very much dominating public discourse in Colorado today,” Polis said. “This divisiveness if very much on the ballot.”
He, like Stapleton, drew applause for announcing his opposition to Initiative 97, both saying it would effectively ban the industry in the state.
After his speech, Stapleton camapaign spokesman Jerrod Dobkin sent reporters a statement calling Polis’ olive branch “political pandering at its worst.”
“Congressman Polis has always been waiting for the right moment to launch an all-out attack on Colorado’s energy industry,’ Dobkin said. “If elected governor, the real Jared Polis will once again surface and destroy Colorado energy jobs.”
Polis shifted part of his address to speak on other issues facing the state: infrastructure, health care, the broader economy and funding education, including full-day preschool and kindergarten for every family.
“We need an economy that works for everyone in our state — no matter where you live,” he said. “That means building a 21st century infrastructure, We need more opportunities for affordable housing in both mountain areas and rural areas and urban areas and finally solving some of our rural broadband challenges, so that every community can join in our success.”
Before he spoke at the COGA’s 20th annual Energy Summit, Polis made the rounds at tables shaking hands. Association President and CEO Dan Haley joked that in 1988, when Polis was 13 years old, he probably spent a lot of time watching the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” while Stapleton was 14 and probably listened to Michael Jackson’s song “Bad” on his Walkman.
Stapleton maintained his support for oil and gas development in his address. “I’m happy to salute all of you for all you do for Colorado’s communities,” he said to the industry officials.
Stapleton, Colorado’s state treasurer, called Initiative 97 “nothing more than a job-killing measure, plain and simple.
“Our energy industry’s future is directly aligned with Colorado’s future.”
He said severance taxes on oil and gas help pay for water infrastructure across the state, and a loss of the industry and that revenue would have far-reaching effects.
“Without energy development we would not be able to build the storage we need to meet the needs of our growing population, to protect clean drinking water and do it in a way that protects our ecosystems around our streams, rivers and lakes,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton said he favored an “all-of-the-above” energy plan.