Mountain States

Facts Win the Day at Senate Hearing Where Rep. Joe Salazar’s “Martinez/Earth Guardian” Bill Dies

Last week under the gold dome, Energy in Depth’s newly released health report was front and center at the Colorado State Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee where Rep. Joe Salazar’s HB18-1071 – what he’s often referred to as, “Martinez/Earth Guardian” bill – met its defeat with a bipartisan 8-3 vote.

Backed by overzealous claims by activists, Salazar’s bill aimed to reduce oil and gas operations in the state by codifying an appeals court ruling in the Martinez vs. Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission case. That ruling seeks to upend the way the state’s regulatory agency, the COGCC, issues permits for drilling. The bill would have made that ruling law, despite the fact that the case has yet to be heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, expected sometime later this year.

But EID’s report provided facts and key findings by the state’s top health and environment officials for the bill’s hearing in the Senate, effectively serving to correct the record when it comes to fracking and health effects. This stands in contrast to the bill’s original hearing in the Colorado State House, where a marathon five-hour session of testimony by Salazar and supporters routinely misquoted, overstated, and otherwise mischaracterized the results of health reports they sought to use as evidence for redrawing COGCC’s mission to balance oil and gas production with health and safety concerns.

Our op-ed in the Denver Post points out the ways activists and proponents of Salazar’s bill put forward half-baked statistics and mischaracterized the studies cited in their testimony as reasons for supporting the bill. EID’s report inserted a reality check into the conversation as it moved from the House to the Senate, relying solely on facts, information, and analysis provided by the state’s top health and environmental experts within Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Armed with the state’s air sampling data and analysis of relevant epidemiological health studies, Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley), who represents Weld County — where 90 percent of the state’s oil and 40 percent of the state’s natural gas is extracted — was prepared to directly counter activists’ unfounded claims during their testimony in the Senate hearing.

Senator Cooke:

“Somebody brought up the McKenzie study on child leukemia and I’d just like to ask whoever if they are aware of Executive Director Larry Wolk, head of the CDPHE and our chief medical officer and he just basically told the Denver Business Journal recently that the McKenzie conclusions were ‘misleading’ based on a study and other study and data information we have to date, we find no increased risk for childhood leukemia. He also went on to say, CDPHE saw no increases in leukemia in oil and gas developed counties versus those that don’t and versus statewide expected averages. Are you guys familiar with our chief medical officer for the state and his comments regarding that?”

Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), Chair of the Senate Ag Committee:

“I think that was brought up by some one of the previous ones [speakers], but if someone would like to address that question?”

Sierra Club representative fields the question:

“My understanding of what Larry Wolk said was that this study that was done, introduced a question and deserved further study but that it didn’t solve the issue but it did, and he didn’t think that the data was sufficient to prove that, but he didn’t say that there was definitely no increase in leukemia but that it was a question that needed further study and that this study was not sufficient to prove it.”

Senator Cooke:

“I believe that CDPHE looked at 27, 29 different reports [effects] and came up with their own conclusion. And this is a quote from him, ‘saw no increases in leukemia in oil and gas developed counties versus those that don’t and versus statewide expected averages.’ They looked at a lot of different reports, and they also went out into the field they’ve done a lot of research on their own, and they came up with this conclusion on their own.”

Stumped Sierra Club representative responds:

“I’m not disputing that he said that but I also read another thing that he said that this study was a beginning study and it would need further data to prove that if there were an increase, so, I mean, his study, the studies that the CDPHE have done, are not necessarily all the studies that need to be done, so.”

Source: Colorado General Assembly 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) also gave strong testimony in opposition to the bill citing EID’s new report and referencing key findings surfaced by the report. Here’s some of what they had to say following the bill’s defeat:

“CDPHE has researched oil and natural gas emissions data for decades, and it has found no link between oil and gas operations and adverse health effects.  CDPHE Director Larry Wolk has said, ‘There’s no reason to believe that there is a causal relationship between oil and gas operations and chronic diseases or cancers.’”

According to a report released by Energy In Depth, if you look at data for Weld County specifically, which is Colorado’s largest energy producing county, the evidence is quite clear.  In one example, EID’s report considers CDPHE data in combination with data from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  While active well counts doubled in Weld County since 2002, leading to a three-fold increase in natural gas production and a 12-fold increase in oil production, we saw death rates for cancer drop 1.9%, respiratory illness drop 9.1%, and heart disease drop 21.4%.

Energy development and healthy living are not mutually exclusive.”

Democrats vote “no,” believe Martinez decision should be left in court’s hands:

With a bipartisan defeat, it’s important to note that in a committee where the common practice is to give no explanation for a vote, two of the democrats who voted “no” felt it necessary to explain the reasons was needed for a “no” vote on such a flawed bill.

Sen. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) said in his closing statements:

“Today I’m going to be a no vote, and it’s primarily because I have respect for the process and believe the courts will ultimately make the right decision in this and I want to trust that.”

Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) explained why she voted no on the “Martinez/Earth Guardian” bill, expressing the importance of how as a legislator she didn’t want impact the state supreme court’s open and independent decision on the Martinez appeals decision:

“We have to see how the court decides, and then us as lawmakers get to react to that.”

Conclusion

There’s broad bipartisan support for Colorado’s oil and gas industry which adds nearly $32 billion to the state’s economy annually. It’s important to have meaningful conversations surrounding the industry and addressing concerns of citizens should remain top priority for lawmakers, but when doing so, it’s important to ensure that laws and policy reflect the facts and data, not mischaracterized studies and unsubstantiated claims.

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