State Senator John Cooke, Elemont.aide/Wikimedia Commons

Colorado Republicans Push Back Against Controversial SB 181

Not to be put down after their defeat in last November’s elections, anti-energy activists in Colorado wasted no time orchestrating another round of legislation aimed at restricting the state’s thriving oil and gas industry.

On Monday, however, the state’s Republican Party played their hand, demanding that the Senate read aloud a 2,000-page bill unrelated to SB 181. The strategy is an ingenious tactic masterminded by GOP State Senator John Cooke, who hopes the reading will help delay passage of SB 181.

What Is SB 181?

If you’re not familiar with this radical legislation, here’s how SB 181 appears to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the government agency receiving the brunt of SB 181’s animus.

According to the agency, if SB 181 passes:

  • Control of the COGCC would go to a politically appointed director given “unprecedented, unilateral control to stop oil and natural gas development at his or her discretion.”
  • Colorado would officially buck the nationwide trend of incorporating technical feasibility or cost-effectiveness into their regulatory or permitting decisions, allowing for politics to play a more significant role in the process.
  • Local governments could create their own setbacks, a move that “could ban oil and natural gas development based on politically tinted and incorrect views about health and safety, rather than scientific data about health and safety.”
  • In an instance where multiple agencies, counties, or regions found themselves in a regulatory dispute, the entity with the strictest regulations would come out on top.
  • Critical scientific personnel like engineers and geologists would be removed from the COGCC, effectively removing science from the decision-making level of the COGCC.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sweeping changes suggested by the Colorado Democratic Party are not being cheered by the current incarnation of the COGCC. The agency was quick to paint SB 181 as the damaging bill it is, one that bucks decades of established practices based on scientific research and open communication with the oil and gas industry in favor of policy that bows to political, not logical, motivations.

Popular Opinion Vs. Scientific Information

When reading through the full text of SB 181, one theme recurs frequently; that is, the exchange of scientific knowledge for popular opinion.

Whether SB 181 is restructuring the COGCC (minus a few scientists) or delivering control of critical oil and gas decisions to local governments, one factor is constant. Those people with valuable insight into the operation and growth of a wildly complicated industry are being shoved to the side in favor of those who know very little (but who command a lot of votes).

Cooke’s actions in the state Senate will likely be characterized as a partisan attempt to disrupt SB 181’s path through the government … and it is. However, when confronted with the black-and-white drawbacks to such dangerous legislation, Cooke’s move is nothing short of admirable.

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