With all that talk of holiday cheer and goodwill set aside for another 11 months, it is time to get down to the business of lawmaking. Or, rather, position-staking.
When it comes to energy policy, last month’s notions of peace, brotherhood and goodwill toward all are notably absent. In Colorado and in Congress, Republicans are pushing hard for inexplicable advances in oil and gas development and rolling back renewable energy initiatives, while some oil and gas opponents – particularly at the state level – are pushing hard for fracking bans. Neither is realistic.
First, the economic context. Oil prices are falling: far and fast. In June, a barrel of crude oil (the Brent variety; one of two crudes) was $115; as of Jan. 9, that had dropped to $49. There are many variables explaining that plunge, but among the primary factors is a glut in supply – namely from increased U.S. production. The political and economic forces and ramifications leading to and from that supply glut and the plummeting price are manifold and complex. One thing is simple and obvious though: Now is not the time to invest in large, expensive oil production and distribution projects.
That is not stopping Congress, though. On Thursday, the Senate Energy Committee advanced a measure authorizing construction of the 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline, and the U.S. House passed a similar bill on Friday. The massive project would cost $8 billion to build. In order for that significant investment to make sense, oil needs to cost $85 a barrel. There is clearly no hurry to get started. But that is not stopping Congress from fabricating a sense of urgency.
That false alarm belies a handful of ideological underpinnings that influence such nonsensical decisions. First, of course, is the fact that President Barack Obama is not a fan of the Keystone XL pipeline, and therefore, congressional Republicans have to love it. Second is a patriotic commitment to increasing domestic oil supply and, therefore, decreasing our reliance on other, less politically palatable sources of oil. This is not a bad thing at all, by any measure, but must be considered in the context of there being far more oil in circulation than anyone needs. Maybe, then, we ought to cool our collective jets and look to other energy sources.
Given the geopolitical and economic ripple effect oil prices have – and the significant global climate issues that flow from fossil-fuel production and burning – there is every reason to diversify our energy portfolio. Colorado is at the forefront of this effort, with aggressive renewable energy standards enacted by voters and strengthened by the Colorado Legislature. Large utilities are mandated to derive 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, and rural co-ops face a 20 percent renewable standard by that year – but not for long, if Colorado Republicans have their way.
On the very first day of the legislative session this past week, Senate Republicans proposed a bill that would roll back those numbers to 15 percent renewables for large utilities and rural co-ops alike. It is a retreat from voters’ very clear intent in passing Amendment 37 – the 2004 ballot initiative that statutorily required the state’s large utilities to incrementally increase their renewable energy portfolios. Cutting that in half just five years shy of the target is a cynical proposal and one that runs directly counter to one of Colorado’s more impressive achievements – in terms of energy diversity, environmental awareness and economic development.
While it is unlikely that the Republicans’ proposal will move very far, its presence alone is just as revealing about state lawmakers’ ideology as the Keystone XL shenanigans are of federal decision-makers’. In pitching a renewables rollback, Republicans indicate their wholesale commitment to fossil fuels – Hey, they are cheap, so why not? – as the predominant answer to our energy needs. It is an oversimplification of a multifaceted equation. A diverse portfolio, as in most cases, is the best answer; having one gives us options. Why limit them, especially when the state is a leader in energy innovation across many sectors?
That question is worth asking proponents of an outright fracking ban in Colorado. While that may be appropriate for New York – and it may not – such a move does not translate to Colorado: politically or geologically. The two states are vastly different, and any one-size-fits-all approach is usually wrong for this state. What with our rugged Western independence, we like to do things our own way, and that usually means talking about them for a long time and finding middle ground. Sure, it is not flashy and makes for boring headlines, but it is good policy-making. The evidence that would justify a fracking ban – or its unrestricted use – in Colorado has not been established, and “science” is in the eye of the beholder. Establishing a data-based foundation for fracking regulation is the first step; but first, it is essential to get all sides to agree on who collects that data and how. Sounds simple, but it is far from it. And from there, the real work begins.
These are not easy questions to answer, and lawmakers should refrain from oversimplifying them with divisive proposals. So, too, ought advocates of various positions. Consensus is difficult to reach – and even more so when the conversation begins with bluster. Welcome to lawmaking season!
Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.