natural gas wellhead

A gas wellhead is shown with fracking equipment.

The pace toward America’s energy future has quickened as of late, and Colorado could offer directions on where this is headed.

At stake is a changing climate and clean air against millions, if not billions, of dollars in commerce and taxes churned out by powering our lives.

His first day in office, Joe Biden put America back in the Paris climate agreement. In short order, he killed the massive Keystone XL oil pipeline, and caffeinated Joe designated climate change a national security priority. More? He doubled the aim for offshore wind energy production, while moving more public land and water out of the reach of energy producers.

"In my view, we've waited too long to handle this climate crisis," the president said.

His plan is about jobs, "good-paying union jobs," he said. 

Oilfield workers could eventually find work in green energy, but in the meantime help seal off the estimated 1 million leaking oil and gas wells. Biden's plan also calls for 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and half a million electric-vehicle charging stations.

He also promises to steer electric cars into the federal fleet, about 645,000 vehicles that covered 4.5 billion miles and 375 million gallons in 2019, according to the General Services Administration. The same week, GM said it would phase out its combustion engines by 2035. GM sold 2.9 million vehicles in 2019. 

The ambitious new president sounds a lot like Colorado’s ambitious relatively new governor.

Gov. Jared Polis has been pedal-to-the-metal on electric vehicles, passing a raft of bills around where you can the buy, charge them and park them.

"This is what our renewable energy future looks like," the governor said in November 2019, as he announced an electric vehicle deal with the ride service Lyft.

It's part of a broader strategy. Last month Polis released the state's Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. to reduce emissions by 90% in 2050.

The Biden administration could copy Colorado's playbook on methane, too, or I should say: again.

Rules adopted by the Obama administration in 2016, and rolled back by the Trump administration in 2019, were incubated in Colorado. The state's Air Quality Control Commission adopted the first methane regulations in the country in 2014.

Last September, the commission required fossil fuel companies to monitor emissions during drilling, fracturing and operations for the first six months of production, also the first of its kind in the U.S. of A.

In November, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission elevated public health, the environment and wildlife as considerations in permits. The side effect of 2019's Senate Bill 181 was to reassign the COGCC from “fostering” the industry to 'regulating” it.

Colorado's abundant natural gas reserves offer us energy independence from foreign sources who aren’t really our friends. To boot, Coloradans use about a quarter of our natural gas, yielding a valuable cash crop.

Moreover, Colorado can't put all its eggs in the same windmill basket.

“Bottom line: The world's energy demands require the combined use of fossil fuels and renewables,” said Laurie Cipriano, the spokeswoman for Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, a pro-industry group.

Dan Haley, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said there's no replacement for oil and gas, no magic flip to switch that shuts down an industry and our economy in an instant. Modern life is fueled by oil and gas.

"Unless you want to go back to dressing with animal hides, people need oil and gas just to get dressed in the morning," he told me. "This is a product we all need and use every single day and will continue to need well into the future. And we’re producing it cleaner and better in Colorado each day. Increased natural gas use is the leading reason our country’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone down. Let’s celebrate that, not punish it. Let American workers produce American energy."

Without oil and gas, Dan noted, there'd be no plastic for ventilators and oxygen masks or the means to create, transport and store vaccines.

"We wouldn’t have the plastic tents outside of restaurants heated with propane," he said. "The world is changing quickly but renewables can’t power the grid alone and they can’t meet the increasing demand for energy in this country or across the globe. They certainly can’t make a jacket or a set of skis or the chemicals that make up your flatscreen TV -- not now, and not in the foreseeable future. So the truth that should be spoken is, how do we work together to meet energy demands and the demands of people that we do it cleaner and better?"

Another friend of mine, Joe Salazar isn’t as optimistic. You know Joe: He’s the civil rights lawyer and former lawmaker who now runs Colorado Rising, an environmental advocacy group dogging oil and gas. He’s also thinking about running for U.S. Senate.

“I think the writing is on the wall,” Joe told me. "In as much as the fossil fuel industry is spewing propaganda that it’s here to stay, it’s really on its deathbed “Sadly, it’s taken predicted radical climate shifts such as our tragically historic 2020 wildfire season, and our continued drought for people to understand that fossil fuel are the problem, not the answer.”

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