- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Denver Post, March 31, on oil and gas investment:

The Denver Post’s Aldo Svaldi reported great news for Colorado’s economy last Sunday: the oil and gas industry is firing up its drilling rigs again and planning to invest more than $4 billion in Colorado this year.

That will not only mean more jobs with the seven public companies that disclosed their plans to ramp up operations, it will mean subcontractors will be flush with business, an uptick in state revenue and an increased supply of domestic products at the very moment foreign actors work to reduce supply and drive oil prices back up.

“We have hired quite a few people that were laid off in previous years and we are looking at adding a second shift,” Todd Erickson, the owner of one drilling supply company, told Svaldi.

The news also presents inevitable challenges, and we can certainly understand why homeowners in the Denver-Julesburg Basin might not be rejoicing.

The operations of oil and gas companies are coming increasingly close to communities. As Svaldi reports, one proposed pad in northeast Broomfield for a hydraulic fracturing well is about 500 feet from the closest home.

Conflict is inevitable under Colorado’s split estate where homeowners often don’t own the mineral rights below their land and, even if they do, they can be forced into selling by a pooling of surrounding rights.

As the Front Range grapples with encroachment, the Western Slope faces conflicts over allowing extraction activities on federal lands. It’s almost certain that there will be more drilling and mining on public lands under President Donald Trump than under the previous administration.

Like most conflicts, however, these will not be resolved by either side digging in.

On federal or state lands, we hope that the industry and the regulators move forward with caution as they turn up more land that was once pristine, reduce habitat for animals and vent or flare valuable gases into the atmosphere.

We are encouraged by the news that the Broomfield City Council didn’t move forward with a proposed moratorium on oil and gas operations, and that Extraction Oil & Gas would temporarily withdraw its applications with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for proposed sites that are close to houses. Obviously, this isn’t a permanent solution: Svaldi reports that Extraction is planning to spend “nearly as much as larger rivals Anadarko and Noble” in 2017 drilling efforts and has holdings in Broomfield and Boulder counties.

But we are confident that, when calmer heads prevail, there are compromises to be found: additional statewide rigid rules or local bans would make those compromises more difficult.

For example, in the area near northeast Broomfield, the proposal would have removed 41 older vertical wells already in the area as Extraction replaced them with more compact, horizontal drilling wells. Some of the old wells were only 200 feet from adjacent homes.

Residents and the industry can come out winning in these fights, and it’s important that we all keep working in the same direction for responsible extraction of an important resource that helps drive our economy.

Concerned residents should demand the best safeguards just as the industry should continue to demand access to the resources that it legally owns or that can be responsibly taken on federal lands.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2oH7Xvo

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The (Longmont) Times-Call, April 4, on how the hospital provider fee will affect Coloradoans:

Sometimes in politics what forces change is when both sides of a policy negotiation come to the conclusion that they are not likely to get a better deal - and to take half a loaf instead of none at all.

So it seems to be going with the Colorado General Assembly and the many moving parts in its annual budget-writing requirement.

After years of discussion regarding an obscure - but well-funded - line item called the hospital provider fee, there appears to be movement from both the Republicans who control the Colorado Senate and the Democrats who have the majority in the House of Representatives.

In a nutshell, the hospital provider fee is one of the mechanisms used to help subsidize health insurance and care for those in Colorado who can’t afford to pay for it themselves. Hospitals pay fees based on the number of patient procedures and overnight stays, and that money gets put into the state budget equation.

It brings in hundreds of millions of dollars, and that money is then redirected to health care spending.

Because it’s incoming revenue, it counts toward the revenue limits proscribed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights - meaning that as more money comes in, the state has to find other places in the budget to take in less money, and spend less money, too. However, Democrats have argued that because the money comes from a fee and goes to a single sector of spending, it could be treated as an “enterprise fund” and thus not be included in the revenue limits.

Republicans have been wary because it seems like a way to get around TABOR, which remains very popular in the state.

What has brought Republicans to the table this year, however, is the fact that under the status quo, the reduction of state spending plus changes in federal policy could very well force the closure of many rural hospitals - including many in Republican-represented districts. Also, the revenue limit has meant lower-than-anticipated funding for schools and roads - bread and butter issues for Democratic lawmakers, too.

By placing the hospital provider fee in an enterprise fund - while also looking at ways to continue some limits in state spending - a group of Republican and Democratic legislators hopes to create the type of compromise that can happen in divided government. Everyone has to give up something, but everyone gets something needed for their districts.

As the details get refined and the debates start in House and Senate committees, constituents should make sure lawmakers hear from those who don’t think public policy should be a win-lose situation. By working together, lawmakers from both parties can make Colorado a better state.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2oANImq

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, March 31, on coal jobs and clean energy:

Colorado has coal jobs. It’s also a hotbed of environmental advocacy, which means President Trump’s actions to roll back the Clean Power Plan and boost fossil fuel production are fanning passions on both sides of the climate debate in Colorado.

The Colorado Mining Association was quick to praise the Trump administration for ending “the war on coal.” Trump has done his best to portray the Clean Power Plan and a moratorium on new leases of federal coal reserves as job killers. Both were enacted under the Obama administration, though the CPP’s implementation was stayed by a federal court.

Last week, surrounded by coal miners, he signed an executive order nullifying federal climate change policy.

“Come on, fellas,” Trump said. “You know what this is? You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work.”

But the biggest challenges to coal jobs come from market forces - mainly cheap natural gas. There’s also the increasing competitiveness of wind and solar power and the coal industry’s “long-term business model of producing more coal with fewer workers,” according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which Fears quoted in his story.

Stan Dempsey, the CMA president, called the CPP an assault on coal jobs that would cripple “an already reeling industry” while providing little environmental benefit. The moratorium jeopardized many of the 14,000 miners whose livelihoods depend on federal coal, he added.

Critics of the president’s action point to the clean-energy sector as one of the fastest-growing sources of new jobs in the country. Collectively, wind and solar account for nearly 144,000 jobs and more than $83 billion in existing capital investment in Western states, according to a news release by U.S. senators in 10 Western states who are urging Trump to rescind his anti-climate executive order.

Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet helped lead an effort to introduce a bill that would “block President Trump’s far-reaching executive order aimed at gutting the Clean Air Act and attacking lifesaving climate change and public health protections.”

Halting the order will keep current safeguards in place to combat climate change, protect American jobs and preserve our path toward energy independence, Bennet said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, pledged that Trump’s retreat on climate leadership will not deter the state: “We will keep building a clean energy future that creates Colorado jobs, improves our health and addresses the harmful consequences of a changing climate,” he said in a news release.

The implicit question at the heart of this political backlash is whether coal jobs are worth unraveling the economic and environmental gains interwoven in climate change policy. We need jobs on the Western Slope. If those are coal jobs, we’ll take them. But it’s simply unlikely Trump’s actions will lead to more of them.

To stay competitive, coal will have to increase automation.

The New York Times cited a recent study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment that predicted automation was likely to replace 40 to 80 percent of workers at mines.

“The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program told the Times. “Even if you brought back demand for coal, you wouldn’t bring back the same number of workers.”

If that’s true, President Trump’s actions deserve scrutiny and those leading the charge on climate action should not be deterred.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2oQOnfP

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The Durango Herald, April 3, on student loans:

In Colorado, more than two-thirds of the students who graduate from college have substantial student loan debt, averaging more than $30,000. At Fort Lewis, the total is somewhat lower, just over $25,000 for four years. Nationwide, the average is $37,000. Those who continue into law school, medical school or other professional programs owe much more. As the cost of college increases, and it does every year, those numbers grow. Working one’s way through school is hardly a viable option.

At the end of last year, 42.4 million Americans owed $1.3 trillion in federal student loans - other types of financing add to the figure - and nearly 10 percent of borrowers were in default. Some of them are avoiding their obligations, but millions don’t earn enough money to add student loan repayment on top of their living costs.

Last month, the Trump administration eliminated protections against charging high fees on past-due loans made through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which accounts for nearly half of the student loans in default. To add to the problem, a recent Consumer Federation of America study found that loan servicers fail to help borrowers find the repayment plans that would help them.

To President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, $37,000 or even $150,000 is small change, but after earning a bachelor’s degree, students average more than 20 years paying off student loans - if they can. For many, that debt is an impediment to being able to purchase a home, start a family or to work in a small town for a salary less than a city job would pay. That hampers rural America.

College costs are rising much faster than wages, and for too many, a degree is no longer a viable upward path. That’s a problem that needs to be solved nationwide, because the United States needs well-educated citizens everywhere, not just in cities. Lenders deserve to be repaid, but adding fees that can then be written off as losses only digs the hole deeper for borrowers who already are struggling.

The Trump administration must consider ordinary citizens, not just corporate income, as it seeks a better way.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2n9Tk6R

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