- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Colorado stands at a pivotal time for policies related to natural resources.

Newly appointed Department of Natural Resources director Bob Randall is taking the helm at a time when environmental issues have boiled over, reported the Durango Herald (https://bit.ly/2ajBxTO).

He has the background to hit the ground running, having served as interim director since February, after previous director Mike King stepped down. Randall also served as the deputy executive director since 2010.

Before that, Randall served as a federal lands coordinator for the state, and he also worked on an overhaul of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

But as director, Randall has become the face of the department, where he will be exposed to increasing political pressure. He is also a voting member of the COGCC, which governs state rules around the oil and gas industry.

“We’re at a different time today than we were in 2014,” Randall said, underscoring that oil and gas operations are on the decline in Colorado.

Building on efforts from 2014, community groups are pushing to allow local governments to overstep the state’s authority when it comes to regulating the oil and gas industry, including banning hydraulic fracturing.

Two ballot initiatives have been proposed for November, one that would authorize local governments to create their own rules and another that would increase setbacks of wells from homes, hospitals and schools from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

But Randall wonders whether there continues to be a groundswell of support, adding, “Some of the impetus behind the initiative a couple of years ago just doesn’t exist today.”

A study by the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business underscored that the increased setback would cost Colorado billions in its gross domestic product and over 100,000 jobs over the next five to 14 years.

Supporters of the initiatives, however, doubt that the impact would be a dire direct consequence of the ballot efforts, pointing out that oil and gas activities have already been declining in Colorado.

They also point out that the study was funded by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Denver South Economic Development Partnership and the Metro Denver EDC, which has aligned with the oil and gas industry in the past.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said Randall has a chance to implement some forward-thinking policies in the last two years of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration.

“You want someone who is just champing at the bit,” Maysmith said. “I think Bob is, I certainly want him to be. I hope he is. That’s what we’re looking for, is someone champing at the bit to get stuff done.”

Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, met with Randall recently in an effort to forge a closer relationship with the new director.

“We have always known Bob Randall to be a leader that brings everyone to the table to honestly work through issues,” Haley said. “Bob has shown to be tough but fair. What we have always appreciated about Bob is that he does not shy away from the difficult issues but tries to find workable solutions.”

Tied to the issue of development is access and oversight of public lands.

Some, especially on the right, are so concerned with federal regulations over public lands that they proposed transferring federal authority to the state.

The issue hit a tipping point in the Colorado Legislature this year, when a simple measure to create a Public Land’s Day became embroiled in controversy.

Lawmakers ultimately passed the measure, but not before environmental and conservation groups fought against any erosion of the federal government’s authority to regulate public lands, which some Republicans attempted to symbolically include in the bill.

“I don’t think that’s an idea with a broad constituency,” Randall said of any “wholesale overhaul of how a third of Colorado is to be owned and managed.”

Maysmith said the controversial issues highlight a critical time for Colorado.

“That’s what makes this such a fabulous place to live and work and play,” Maysmith said. “That’s what makes Colorado, Colorado. It’s our natural resources. We need someone with a steady hand to make sure we get a lot done.”


Information from: Durango Herald, https://www.durangoherald.com

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