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Oil and gas conflict of interest reform bill gets initial OK from House

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DENVER — A controversial proposal that seeks to restructure the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to favor environmental protection over energy production is heading to the Senate after a party-line vote in the House.

Democrats pushed through House Bill 1269 on a vote of 34-29, after amending the bill Monday to force representatives of the oil and gas industry to disclose their financial ties when serving on the nine-member COGCC.

Initially, the proposal aimed to restrict industry representatives from serving on the COGCC at all.

“This bill goes a long way toward restoring trust in the system, because it’s not there now,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, the bill’s sponsor.

Two Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill: Reps. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster and Ed Vigil of San Luis.

On Monday, Republicans offered a series of amendments, one that would have removed environmental advocates from the Commission as well in order to “level the playing field”; all of those amendments were defeated.

On Tuesday, Republicans made their arguments one final time.

“I believe this is legislation in search of a problem,” said Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.

Democrats argued that the industry’s representation on the board tasked with regulating the industry is an obvious conflict of interest; and they painted Republicans’ objections as prioritizing the mineral rights of oil and gas companies above the property rights of homeowners and public health.

“I’m here to protect people, not property,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.

Republicans argued that Melton’s statement presented a false choice.

“There’s a presupposition that if we don’t pass this bill, that in some way health and safety in Colorado is going to be degraded for our citizens,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “That is not going to happen. We have not seen that happen to this point.

“The people on this commission that have a financial interest in the success of the oil and gas industry also live in our communities. These are Colorado citizens. They’re people who drink water from Colorado wells and rivers. They have a vested interest in public health and safety issues in the state of Colorado.”

Last week, during a debate about fracking, Gov. John Hickenlooper hinted that he’s likely to veto the measure should it get to his desk.

Changing the mission of the COGCC, which has been in statute for decades, isn’t something Hickenlooper would do, he said, “without a lot of serious thought.”