DENVER – Funding for the Colorado Energy Office was cut off recently – but not for budget reasons.
Instead, it was about the vision for the office.
The Energy Office is an executive office program tasked with promoting innovative and efficient energy production and usage through “technical guidance, financial support, policy advocacy and public communications,” according to its website.
The $3.1 million supplemental funding request would have allowed the office to continue operations into 2018, when lawmakers would have had another chance to address its long-term funding and purpose, or properly close out the program. The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee rejected the request last week on a 3-3 party line vote with Republicans opposing the funding.
Republicans on the JBC said they opposed it because of policy dispute.
“My caucus, certainly my constituents, do not object to the idea of an Energy Office. In fact, I think we would favor it, however having it not made its way through the normal process I still feel the same way, it’s a policy issue,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs.
A supplemental request was needed because the Legislature failed to pass Senate Bill 301, which would have renewed the office through 2020, or House Bill 1373, which extended it one year.
Deals were in place to maintain the office, but fell apart in the waning hours of the session.
Both parties wanted to eliminate some redundant and unused programs, but the GOP wanted a new vision for the office and to change some energy related statutes.
The GOP plan included allowing for the purchase of natural gas reserves by investor-owned companies in Colorado, and for the promotion of hydroelectric and nuclear power as renewable energy sources. It also would have cut more programs than Democrats felt was appropriate, said House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder and sponsor of SB 301.
Democrats made a counter proposal.
“Our proposal was really about a significant increase (of) renewable energy in Colorado, we know that is what a vast majority of Coloradans want to see,” Becker said. “It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for people, so that’s what we put forward.”
But Republicans didn’t want the Legislature to pick marketplace winners and losers in statute, but rather level the playing field.
“It (SB 301) broadened the mission to evenhandedly promote all energy options, not just a politically favored few, because I believe a diverse, truly all-of-the-above energy policy is good for consumers, producers and Colorado’s business climate,” Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction and sponsor of SB 301, wrote in an op-ed published by the Denver Post.
When no middle ground could be found, SB 301 was stripped down to a single year extension on the final day of the session and eventually killed.
Finger pointing quickly began.
“Reauthorization failed because of an our-way-or-the-highway mindset among many Democrats, who would rather have the office go away than see it evolve into something better,” Scott wrote.
Becker said she believes Scott was willing to come to the table and work on forging a future of the office, but there wasn’t enough support from his Republican colleagues.
“I just don’t think they wanted to fund it,” she said.
Caught in the middle is the Energy Office, its 24 workers and Colorado’s standing as a leader in renewable energy, which environmentalists feel could be in danger.
“Republicans’ refusal to simply restore funding to this critical office means that Colorado’s status as a clean energy leader could be jeopardized, not to mention the ripple effects on our booming clean energy economy,” Amelia Myer, Conservation Colorado’s energy advocate, said in a statement.
The office must cut staff once funding runs dry on July 1.
It is unclear if there will be a mass layoff or if the office will be able to hold onto some staff using unallocated funding from the executive branch.
Even without that, the office will maintain a small staff through federal funding and the Alternative Fuels Colorado program.
Talks of its future will continue as well.
“We are willing to have conversations about modernizing the Energy Office and we will continue to,” Becker said. “We also want to continue to be responsive to Coloradans who by significant numbers support clean and renewable energy.”
While talks are ongoing, so is the party line split and both sides will have to embrace the dreaded “C word” of American politics – compromise – to make headway.
“We want to continue these discussions, I just don’t think I can support this in its current form,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs and a member of the JBC.