How the Next President Can Tap Colorado's Energy

August 2008

If voters got a nickel for every time we heard about candidates' plans for fixing high gas prices this election season, we might actually be able to keep our tanks full. The $4-a-gallon, woe-are-we mantra is at least forcing politicians to talk about U.S. energy policy in an up-front-and-center manner this summer, and the Democratic convention's imminent kickoff in Denver is channeling the talk toward Colorado's energy landscape.

In yesterday morning's Washington Post, Peter Slevin writes about Colorado, with its fast-moving development of wind and solar energy and the persistent push for more oil and natural gas drilling, as a stand-in for the nation's energy dilemma. Slevin writes:

The politics and economics of energy are shifting here in ways that foretell debates across the country as states create renewable-energy mandates and the federal government moves toward limiting carbon emissions. One advocate calls Colorado "ground zero" for the looming battle over energy. Despite a continuing boom, oil and gas companies here are on the defensive. They are spending heavily as they try to prevent the repeal of as much as $300 million in annual tax breaks that would be shifted to investment in renewables and other projects. The industry, already facing a rebellion among some longtime supporters angered by its toll on the environment, also finds itself in a fight against new regulations designed to protect wildlife and public health from the vast expansion in drilling. Beyond the merits, the proposals reflect the strengthened hand of environmentalists and their friends who feel that the fossil-fuel companies have held sway too long. "Now is a terrific time for renewables to launch. I hope they get all the capital they need, and all the great minds and talent. But I don't want it to come at the expense of the oil and gas industry," said Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. "As goes Colorado, so goes the West, as far as this energy policy debate."

Interestingly, the Washington Post story doesn't mention the revived interest in old-school extractive fuels, namely oil shale and uranium. Two other weekend articles, one in the Denver Post and an Associated Press offering, respectively tackle oil shale and uranium, and how the pursuit of those industries could impact Colorado. So, how might the next president influence Colorado's energy landscape? Barack Obama's energy plan sets a national renewable portfolio standard, establishing goals to ensure that ten percent of our electricity comes from alternative fuels by 2012, and twenty-five percent by 2025. That's a page straight out of Colorado's Amendment 37, which voters passed in 2002 (other states have similar pledges) and has already led to a boom in new renewable-energy projects. Meanwhile, John McCain is talking about energy independence and alt-fuel development, but his platform has also borrowed from the Bush administration's energy policy. In an article on AlterNet (via Consortium News), Jason Leopold writes that McCain's energy plan, crafted by industry lobbyists and former White House officials, now closely resembles the wish list assembled in 2001 by Vice President Dick Cheney and his secret energy task force. That includes continued, full-bore oil and gas development in (and off shore of) the U.S. and a return to nuclear energy. Colorado won't be all windmills and solar panels or all drill pads and uranium mines, regardless of who gets elected, but the two paths of energy development offered by Obama and McCain will clearly have repercussions for Colorado's geography and economy.

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