For eight years, Gov. John Hickenlooper has won favor on both sides for successfully navigating the political tightrope on energy issues. As a former geologist who once worked for a petroleum company, Hickenlooper understands that Colorado’s thriving energy industry is synonymous with its economic prosperity.
Now, with his time in the governor’s office winding down and 2020 presidential rumors swirling, Hickenlooper faces a much different political climate. Should he decide to dip his toe into the national political waters, Hickenlooper will learn that there is no place for energy advocates in today’s Democratic Party.
Let’s take a look at recent events. During the last presidential primary, socialist Bernie Sanders pushed Hillary Clinton far to the left, making her oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, denounce offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean and shift her position on extracting fossil fuels from public lands.
Since then, the left’s position has only grown more extreme, with upstart New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gaining national attention for her unexpected victory in the Bronx this summer. During that contest, she stated that, “the idea that the Democratic Party needs to be moderate is what’s holding us back.”
For Ocasio-Cortez’ part, she wants to go 100 percent renewable by 2035. Meanwhile, San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, a champion of the environmental wing of the Democratic Party, has weaponized his fortune to drive the energy conversation further to the left. Just this week, news broke that State Victory Action, a group funded by Steyer and George Soros, dumped half a million dollars into the Colorado governor’s race on behalf of the Democrat, Jared Polis.
The leaders of the national Democratic Party have sent a clear message to fellow Democrats who support the energy industry, and it’s along the lines of “you’re not welcome here.” Just like impeaching President Trump and supporting European-style health care, opposing traditional energy sources has become a litmus test for Democratic voters.
But Hickenlooper has been less antagonistic to energy. The governor chose oil and gas development over protecting sage grouse, a position that rankled many on the left. In Colorado, he has brokered legislation to encourage energy investment from traditional sources – as he put it, “not just renewable energy.” And unlike many leading Dems, he has refused to make the energy industry his political boogeyman.
In his attempts to succeed Hickenlooper, Polis is trying to borrow the same playbook. He has come out against the hotly-contested Initiative 97 that would increase the setback of oil and gas wells to 2,500 feet – from the current 500 feet for homes and 1,000 feet for schools.
But this is nothing more than a political ploy. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Polis supports Colorado becoming 100 percent renewable energy. Essentially, Polis is allowing energy workers to have their momentary win, while plotting to systematically destroy their livelihood in the years to come.
When you pull the rug out from the energy industry, it has catastrophic effects on energy workers and their families – and the economy of the entire state.
More unemployed energy workers means higher energy costs, less disposable income being pumped into local restaurants and businesses and less tax revenue for schools and infrastructure. Colorado’s natural gas reserves are the sixth-largest in the U.S. and the industry is booming. In fact, Colorado produced 50 percent more natural gas and quadrupled its crude oil production since 2005.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley put it well: “Coloradans need to know exactly what is at stake: private property rights, more than 100,000 good-paying jobs, more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks and libraries, and our nation’s energy security.”
As Gov. Hickenlooper eyes his next step, he is well aware that fracking and natural gas are keys to the economy and good-paying jobs. But that’s a no-go for people like Steyer and Soros, who pull the levers of power in the Democratic presidential primary process. Squaring those two positions may prove to be untenable, even for a politician as talented as Hickenlooper.
Daniel Turner is the executive director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs.