An oil well pumpjack is pictured next to a housing tract in Dacono on June 5, 2020 in Weld County. Photo by Andy Colwell, special to The Colorado Sun

Unelected bureaucrats know better than we do. At least that’s what our state government is saying as Colorado regulators execute sweeping new development restrictions on energy companies — defying the will of Colorado voters and ignoring our own health department’s findings.

The groundwork for this was laid last year when Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 181, changing the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) from responsible energy development to one of regulation first and foremost. 

And as part of their regulation overhaul, COGCC is wielding its new powers to bar energy development within 2,000 feet of buildings and other areas designated as vulnerable — ignoring the majority of Colorado voters’ wishes.

Will Johnson

What this means is that this already-heavily-regulated industry will become more so  — and energy development will suffer as millions more acres could now be off limits to this crucial Colorado industry.

Here are the reasons for concern with this government power-grab:

1. Ignoring the will of the people: In 2018, the majority of Colorado voters rejected these new regulations by voting down Proposition 112. The voters understand that this already-highly-regulated, safety-focused, essential industry didn’t need more burdensome regulation. But our Democrat-led government ignored our voices and gave unelected officials the power to ram through these regulations anyway. They know better than us, don’t you see?

2. Ignoring science: In a 2017 study, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment analyzed over 10,000 air measurements and found that there was no health-related need for these excessive regulations. In addition, the energy industry continues to innovate to reduce environmental impacts — such as cutting air pollutant emissions by 77% since 1970, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, despite a significant rise in fossil fuel production and by reducing the surface footprint of wells by up to 90%.

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3. Economic damage: The oil and gas industry is part of the economic life-blood of Colorado. Close to 100,000 people depend on the industry for their livelihoods and it generates nearly $1 billion a year in tax revenue — funding schools, roads, and other components of our daily life. Further burdening this industry will result in job and revenue losses when we can least afford to lose them.

4. It won’t stop here: Think these sweeping new regulations are just a healthy, limited check on the industry? Think again. For one, we just elected a U.S. senator, John Hickenlooper, who wants to make fracking “obsolete.” Also, in a revealing slip, our state oil and gas regulators recently sent an email disparaging oil and gas companies — calling them “Snake Oil Inc.,” “Bad Oil and Gas, and “The Lorax.” (They later apologized, saying the email was “sent in error.”) But if they believe this, regulating these Colorado companies, jobs, and tax revenue out of existence is the only logical next step, right?

And what happens if we do indeed make fossil fuels obsolete? Unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar energy are currently expensive, are unreliable and are heavily subsidized. Without cheap, safe, reliable fossil fuels, our quality of life and ability to build a durable and healthy world would suffer. And sadly, if energy costs go up and reliability goes down, it’s the poor who will be hurt the most.

This isn’t to say that alternative energy shouldn’t have a role in our future; it should indeed, if the free market can make it work. But it needs to be part of a whole, not the whole, if we wish our standard of living and environmental health to be strong.

So why again does our state government want to ignore the voice of the people and levy sweeping new regulations on our increasingly safe oil and gas industry?

This is what happens when we elect power-hungry, holier-than-thou people to office — they don’t just want to run government but want to run our lives as well. In this case, it’s rejecting our will, ignoring science, and forcing an essential, safety-focused Colorado industry into inevitable job losses and broadly felt tax revenue declines. And if we give them this power, they will continue to push the envelope further into our lives.

How do we prevent this government power expansion? We get educated on the issues, boldly voice our concerns, and vote for Choice instead of Control the next chance we get.

Will Johnson of Highlands Ranch is a frequent opinion contributor to Colorado publications.

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Will Johnson

Special to The Colorado Sun