Over the past three years, Garfield and Weld Counties, in northern Colorado, spent nearly $2 million total to fight government regulation on oil and gas pollution, the bulk of it doled out by Garfield County to lobbyists and lawyers, according to an analysis of county budgets by environmental groups and the Colorado Times Recorder.
Not only do the counties join forces with oil and gas companies at the state Capitol to fight proposals to combat climate change and pollution, but they also plant themselves deep into the regulatory trenches, hoping to block or weaken rules spawned by bills that are signed into law.
Since 2019, according to a website created by the Garfield County Taxpayer Accountability Project, an environmental advocacy group, Garfield County has spent $1.8 million fighting oil and gas regulations.
The county has hired a public relations firm, a law firm, and an oil and gas industry consultant to fight regulations from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) on various fronts. These fronts include buying social-media ads, filing a lawsuit, and delivering testimony at public hearings.
The public relations firm hired by Weld County is Denver-based GroundFloor Media, the law firm is Denver-based Davis, Graham, and Stubbs, and the consultant is Matt Lepore, the former director of the COGCC who resigned in 2018 to advise oil and gas operators on regulatory matters.
An example of the regulations that Garfield County opposes can be found in the financial assurance rulemaking process that the COGCC is currently deliberating. The COGCC is looking to ensure that oil and gas well operators can afford to plug their wells once the wells have stopped producing oil or gas, rather than pass on abandoned wells — which still leak methane — to the state for plugging.
Garfield County pays for Neslin and its other anti-regulation work from its Oil and Gas Mitigation Fund, a pocket of money that, according to its annual budget, is intended to be used to “mitigate adverse property, social, and environmental impacts of oil and gas-related activities.”
The Oil and Gas Mitigation Fund was created in 2004 by the Garfield County Commissioners. None of the other 63 counties in Colorado have such a fund listed in their budgets.
Allyn Harvey, founder of the Carbondale paper The Sopris Sun, and Leslie Robinson, an oil and gas industry critic from Rifle, founded the Garfield County Taxpayer Accountability Project last year after feeling outraged that taxpayer dollars were being used to fight for the oil and gas industry.
“My personal feeling is that promoting the interests of the natural gas industry, which makes millions of dollars each year from Garfield County, is not mitigating any of the ill effects of fossil fuel development,” Harvey told the Colorado Times Recorder.
The Colorado Times Recorder reached out to all three Garfield County Commissioners but has not heard back. This story will be updated with a comment if one is provided.
In January, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky defended the use of funds to hire these firms in a statement to the Post Independent.
“We get criticized for spending money on these rules and regulations, but I’ll say again that I think it’s a prudent decision on our part,” Jankovsky told the Post Independent. “The natural gas industry is going to be here for a long time, and as much as some people don’t want to use fossil fuel, it’s still so integral for our society.”
Weld County, meanwhile, produces more oil and natural gas than all other counties in Colorado combined. And, according to a Colorado Times Recorder review of Colorado lobbying data, it has spent $75,000 on lobbying against environmental bills in the state legislature since 2020.
The bills that Weld County lobbied against were attempts at addressing poor air quality, methane emissions, and environmental injustice surrounding oil and gas operations.
For example, one bill the county lobbied against was titled “Additional Resources To Protect Air Quality,” and another “Reduce Greenhouse Gases Increase Environmental Justice.”
For each of the past three legislative sessions, including the 2022 session, Weld County hired Denver-based lobbying firm Capitol Solutions.
Weld County’s official 2022 budget says that it does advocate policy directions and that “legislative proposals regulating energy development in Colorado continue to threaten the long-term viability of the energy industry in the state.”
So far, in the 2022 Colorado legislative session, there have been 11 energy bills introduced and Weld County has hired Capitol Solutions to lobby against three environmentally-conscious bills. The bills are intended to study hazardous air pollution, increase the number of charging stations for electric vehicles, and promote alternative transportation options other than driving.