Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rule Review Bill Clears Senate, Heads to Ritter

The Senate has given final clearance to the new oil and gas development rules issued by the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the bill formalizing legislative approval is on the way to Gov. Bill Ritter.

HB 1292, which is the vehicle for this year's effort to review and approve all rules issued by state agencies since last year's legislative session, was the subject of a strong effort by Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly to change the oil and gas rules.

During yesterday's debate in the Senate, after which the rules bill was approved by voice vote, GOP senators offered to triple penalties on some environmental violations in return for a Democratic agreement to weaken certain aspects of the rules, especially those relating to wildlife protection.

"This amendment is an attempt to restore some balances," Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said. "Bill Ritter would get 90 percent of what he wants, plus some things he didn't ask for."

But Democrats argued that debate on the rules bill is limited to consideration of whether the agency followed proper procedure and not a time to discuss substantive changes to the regulations.

They also reiterated a view that stronger regulation of the environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction activities is necessary to protect public health and the quality of life on the Western Slope.

"We have been overwhelmed with an industry that has grown very rapidly," Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said Tuesday. "I think it's time in our state that we have a chance to catch up."