A New Deregulatory Push in the Energy Heartland

In recent weeks, Washington has provided
ample evidence that the fossil fuel industry remains as powerful as
ever in the wake of the Gulf Coast apocalypse. Whether it's Louisiana's
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu demanding more offshore drilling as her
state gets covered in sludge, or Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton
criticizing the government for forcing BP to finance a spill relief
fund, major political players in D.C. still do energy firms' bidding,
leaving both national parties disinclined to champion stronger
environmental statutes.

Such Beltway intransigence is certainly
atrocious, and has rightfully generated media fury. However,
congressional reluctance to proactively legislate eco-friendly
regulation is less outrageous than the state-based push for full-on
deregulation.

The key political battlefield in this
little-noticed but big-impact fight is Colorado, which holds one of the
country's largest oil and natural gas reserves. In the state's 2010
gubernatorial campaign, former congressman Scott McInnis (R) and Denver
Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) have turned the race into a competition to
see who is more enthusiastic about shredding the minimal energy
regulations already on the state's books.

Among the rules in question are:
requirements that drillers consult with regulators when operating in
sensitive wilderness, provisions creating no-drill buffers around
drinking water supplies and mandates that energy companies follow more
strict waste management guidelines. To understand how crucial such
regulations are in the Rocky Mountain region, just look at Chevron's
20,000-gallon petroleum spill in Utah a few weeks ago, peruse the
Denver Post's recent report documenting 1,000 drilling-related spills
in Colorado over the last two years, or watch the HBO documentary
"Gasland" showing citizens in drilling country lighting their
chemically contaminated tap water on fire.

Despite all this, and despite analysts now
warning that Gulf-inspired offshore drilling restrictions could mean
even more drilling throughout Colorado's fragile ecosystem, both
McInnis and Hickenlooper last week told energy executives that they
would try to weaken state environmental regulations if elected.

As a former oil lobbyist, McInnis was at least consistent in his
"drill, baby, drill" posture. Hickenlooper, by contrast, had been
billing himself as an environmental advocate. That is, until he
launched his gubernatorial campaign by attacking environmentalists as
"overboard," insisting he is skeptical about climate change's potential
consequences, and now criticizing energy regulations as "onerous."

But, then, consistency (or lack thereof)
is less troubling than both candidates dishonestly justifying their
positions with old fables about the environmental rules allegedly
hampering energy exploration and killing jobs.

These industry-manufactured claims, mind
you, have been previously debunked. The Associated Press, for instance,
has reported that though the recession hurt all energy producers
including Colorado, the state still "led its energy-producing
neighbors" in drilling permits last year-even with the rules.
Meanwhile, the Fort Collins Coloradoan in February noted that "after
years of claiming Colorado's new oil and gas regulations will chase the
energy industry and its jobs from the state, oil and gas operators and
an industry group are now saying the rules will have little impact on
future energy development."

In light of those facts, the deregulatory
push by McInnis and Hickenlooper can be viewed as the equivalent of
trying to ramrod candy down a child's throat. So desperate to display
their fealty to the fossil fuel industry, the two candidates have
resorted to force-feeding oil and gas executives goodies-even if those
executives say they don't need them.

Such persistence exposes the destructive
corporatism baked into our politics. Suddenly, we can see both parties'
ideological rejection of the Gulf Coast's "first do no harm" lesson in
favor of industry's consequences-be-damned reflex.

That profiteering ethos, of course,
originally birthed the Gulf crisis. Now, thanks to Colorado, it
threatens yet more ecologically sensitive regions with the prospect of
yet more man-made disasters.