Hickenlooper waters down proposed oil and gas fines proposal

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DENVER — The Senate Appropriations Committee, like its counterpart in the House, normally deals with the fiscal impact of proposed legislation and that’s it — substantive changes to bills are generally made during a hearing before the bill’s original committee of reference or later on the floor by the entire body of lawmakers.

That’s just another reason why the Democratic backers of House Bill 1267, which was dramatically amended Friday by the Senate Appropriations Commitee, are so steamed.

H.B. 1267, which already passed the House, would increase the fines that can be imposed on oil and gas companies for toxic spills.

Currently, the state caps the fines that can be imposed for environmental mishaps at $1,000 per day and caps the total fine at $10,000 — those fines are the lowest in the country and haven’t been updated for decades.

H.B. 1267, sponsored by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, would increase the maximum daily fine to $15,000.

Up until Friday morning’s hearing, the bill also set a minimum daily fine of $5,000 for violations that adversely impact public health, safety or welfare and remove any cap on the total amount of fines that can be imposed as a result of any one incident.

But after a discussion Thursday with Andy White, the governor’s lobbyist on all oil and gas-related legislation, Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, sided Friday with Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and stripped those provisions — the minimum daily fine and the removal of an overall cap on fees — from the bill before sending it to the Senate floor.

“I’m not wild about mandatory minimums in any case,” Steadman told FOX31 Denver Friday.

Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, also voted in favor of that amendment.

Already this week, FOX31 Denver has reported on the Hickenlooper administration’s objection to two attempts by Democrats to strengthen regulations and requirements for the oil and gas industry: a budget amendment aimed at doubling the number of oil and gas well inspectors across the state that the administration scaled back; and legislation to close a loophole that allows energy companies looser water testing requirements around wells in the Greater Wattenburg Area, where a quarter of the state’s oil and gas wells are located, that the governor’s office opposes outright.

On Monday, in an exclusive interview, Hickenlooper told FOX31 that he isn’t opposing the bills, only “trying to make the bills better.”

After Friday’s vote to water down H.B. 1267, Democrats were asking the question: “better for whom?”

According to sponsors, the mandatory $5,000 minimum fine aimed to remove the wide discretion the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission now has to issue — or, in many cases, not issue — fines.


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