At a time when partisan rancor is the order of the day, this week’s news out of Colorado is a tribute to the power of partnership. On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado proposed new regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will cut both conventional air pollution and climate pollution – by making Colorado the first state in the nation to tackle the problem of methane emissions. The big announcement showed that industry leaders, state officials and an environmental group like Environmental Defense Fund can sit down together to negotiate a plan to deliver cleaner, safer air. And just in time. As EDF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Grossman told NPR this week, “the fundamental question [is] whether or not citizens will tolerate oil and gas development.”
On Election Day, four Colorado communities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing. State officials and industry leaders are getting the message: public trust has been badly damaged, and the only way to restore it is by putting in place strong rules to protect air, water, and communities. Not every community is going to ban oil and gas development, obviously, so we need to protect the many places where it is happening.
While the new Colorado proposal doesn’t address all the issues surrounding oil and gas development, the governor and the state’s regulators should be applauded for their efforts in bringing forward these commonsense air pollution measures, which were agreed to and supported by EDF, Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and Noble Energy. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Newspapers from Los Angeles to Denver to New York wrote in support of the new rules. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera praised both the proposed legislation and Environmental Defense Fund’s collaborative approach in an op-ed published Monday. Nocera writes:
“In 2011, [EDF] helped negotiate [Colorado] rules governing the disclosure of the chemicals in fracking compounds — a deal that was sealed with Hickenlooper, the industry and E.D.F. representatives sharing a stage. [EDF] has negotiated rules to require groundwater testing near wells to detect any possible contamination. In Texas, it was involved in coming up with regulations for well integrity…In each case, E.D.F. is pushing other states to adopt these rules, which, taken together, would help ensure that natural gas will live up to its promise of being a better, cleaner fuel.”
The proposed rules in Colorado are just one important step toward controlling climate pollution. There’s a long way to go before anyone can say that we’re meeting the climate challenge – or addressing the unacceptable impacts of oil and gas development. Right now we need to work even harder to see that Colorado’s proposed rules are adopted and that other states follow suit. Make no mistake: To win, we need the whole environmental community to keep up the pressure.