Ritter’s decision not a big surprise for local leaders

Elaine Urie

Elaine Urie
Elaine Urie
RBC I While the state’s Democratic Party scrambled to find a gubernatorial candidate to replace Bill Ritter, locally, the governor’s decision not to seek reelection didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“I have met the governor and heard him speak twice in the past six months, and it seemed that his heart is no longer vested in the job,” Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius said. “I think the governor is probably making the best decision for Colorado and himself in consideration of the upcoming election.”
Ritter announced last week he would not seek another term for family reasons.
Ken Parsons
Ken Parsons
“I guess my first reaction is that I fundamentally believe that family concerns were an important part of his decision,” said Ken Parsons, county commissioner from Rangely. “It fits a dynamic I saw among him, his wife and the rest of us on my only visit to the governor’s mansion during his term. I also think the ratings played a role, as did some tensions within his political party, between him and other leaders.”
Peter Brixius
Peter Brixius
The Democratic governor has not been popular on the Western Slope. That has certainly been the case in Rio Blanco County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 4-to-1.
“The governor and his commission brought red tape and bottlenecks to many processes, especially the permitting process. … This latest round of rule making by the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) just piled on additional actions for which rules were already in place and which, for the most part, were already implemented to protect these areas,” Brixius said. “… I think the governor’s COGCC rule changes hurt Colorado and its residents, and probably hurt the governor.”
The governor’s push for increased state restrictions on the oil and gas industry made many folks in Rio Blanco County — where oil and gas production, along with natural resources, represent 80 percent of the assessed value — even more unhappy.
“Personally, I think the regulation changes have had an effect on his poll numbers, but I think he really stands by his beliefs and this wasn’t a factor (in Ritter’s decision),” Commissioner Parsons said.
Peggy Rector, a former county commissioner and Rangely mayor, said, “I do not believe that the oil and gas regulations had much, if anything, to do with his decision. I more believe the economic times and the fact that Scott McInnis (Republican candidate for governor) is a favorite of so many. I truly believe the state Democratic Party believed they could not win with Gov. Ritter. I believe they thought their chances of retaining the governorship would be better with either (Denver) Mayor (John) Hickenlooper or (U.S. Interior Secretary) Ken Salazar (who has said he’s not throwing his hat in the ring). This will be an interesting race between Hickenlooper and Scott (McInnis), since Hicken-looper decided to run.”
Many on the Western Slope see McInnis, who grew up in Glenwood Springs and now lives in Grand Junction, as more friendly toward “the industry,” which is how oil and gas production is commonly referred to in this part of the state. McInnis’ wife, Lori (formerly Smith), is from Meeker.
“My hope in the upcoming election is that common sense will reign once more in Colorado and we can reverse some or all of the damage done to our energy economy and the process of developing our energy resources,” Rangely Town Manager Brixius said.
Following the governor’s announcement not to seek reelection, news reports speculated the energy industry in the state would have brought its formidable lobbying resources to bear against Ritter had he stayed in the race.
“The Western Slope and all of Colorado should want to see higher employment levels, a solid stream of revenue for the state … and a more robust economy, in general,” Brixius said. “Passing rules that require wildlife ramps and crossovers for animals to cross when constructing pipelines should not be a priority for the governor and the COGCC during a deep recession.”
Elaine Urie, a member of the Rangely Town Council, saw Ritter’s announcement as a consequence of his liberal alliances coming back to hurt him politically.
“Part of this … is his dealings and his association with the left-wing mindset, which includes oil and gas regulations and cap and tax, as a way to do away with the oil and gas industry, push health insurance and their whole agenda,” Urie said. “We in western Colorado know what it is best for western Colorado. We in Rangely know what is best for Rangely. We in Rio Blanco County know what is best for Rio Blanco County. We live here. We know what is best for our communities.”
Local leaders would like to see the state — and the nation — do a better job of developing its own energy resources.
“In particular, natural gas is a very clean energy resource,” said Rod Gerloff, a member of the Meeker Town Board. “I would think that we … would want to develop as much of the resource as we can and then develop as many uses for it that we can. I would hope that the state of Colorado would work closely with the oil and gas companies here in the state to develop a responsible way of doing this without being a burden.”
The country needs to be committed to making energy independence a realistic goal, not just an empty political promise, local leaders say.
“Open it back up to free enterprise,” Rangely Town Council member Urie said. “Let this country produce its own oil and gas to make us energy independent. There are plenty of honorable men and women with great integrity who know the industry, love their country and especially love Colorado. We live here and don’t want it polluted or to be an eyesore. We love our wildlife. We love our rivers and streams. When you love something, you care for it. We know how to take care of it.”
A long-term approach is needed to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the energy companies and local communities as well as the state, Gerloff said.
“What have we seen locally that would lead you to believe that we actually want the resource developed?” Gerloff said. “In my opinion, I have seen nothing but greedy leaders and businesses taking advantage of the companies and their personnel. I think that is unfortunate.
Rod Gerloff
Rod Gerloff
“This resource is not something that can be developed overnight,” Gerloff said. “So, with the future in mind, I think that we need a better working relationship with the companies. Imagine what would have happened if the state and local governments would have taken this approach initially. Maybe, just maybe, the state and local governments would have fared better during this recession.”
In order for the country to become energy independent, local leaders said the development of oil shale for commercial production needs to be included in the mix of energy resources. In Rio Blanco County’s Piceance Basin, there is reportedly five times the amount of oil per acre as there is in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska — site of the largest oil field in North America.
“I would like to see a more farsighted vision on oil shale development,” said County Commissioner Parsons. “The county’s investment of time and resources to upgrade County Road 5 (the main road through the Piceance Basin) reflects our belief that the natural resources in the basin, natural gas, shale oil and nahcolite are of strategic national importance and will become increasingly important in the future.”
After years of paying lip service to the development of the massive oil shale reserves in the Piceance Basin, Rangely Town Manager Brixius said the state and the country need to get down to business, if they are really serious about becoming energy independent.
“If Colorado wants a real stimulus program that would solve the state’s economic crisis, then with the fed’s blessings, let’s put a full-court press on oil shale development,” Brixius said. “The Manhattan Project during WWII proved that with the proper incentive the nation could go from theory to full production in four years. Why can’t we do the same for oil shale production?”