Trouble With Hickenlooper

Historically, most Colorado governors have had a strong environmental ethic. But more and more, Coloradans are asking themselves: When is John Hickenlooper going to understand that we want him to be a strong and effective environmental steward?
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"Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground" -- David Brower

As Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper takes the stage this week at the Democratic National Convention, his name continues to be bandied about as a 2016 presidential candidate. For the folly in that idea, Democrats and environmentalists across the nation need only to look at Hickenlooper's environmental policies right here in Colorado. It's not too late for Hickenlooper's tarnished relationship with the environmental community to be mended, but until that work begins, here's the trouble with Hickenlooper in Colorado:

1. Climate Change: Hickenlooper is all over the board on this issue. As mayor, Hickenlooper was a believer in climate change and somewhat of a leader on public policy addressing it. But as his campaign for governor ramped up, he started back-pedaling and flip-flopping. At one point during his campaign, Hickenlooper told the national media that the extreme amount of snow in the northeast in 2010 suggested that climate change was not really happening. Now in 2012, as Colorado fought through the worst one-year heat wave, drought, and forest fires on record, Hickenlooper said nothing about their link to climate change -- he completely missed an extraordinary "teachable moment" about climate change in Colorado.

2. Clean Energy: Under former Governor Bill Ritter, Colorado adopted the second highest Renewable Energy Standard in the U.S., wooed thousands of clean energy jobs to our state, and became a national leader in wind and solar technology. Inexplicably, Governor Hickenlooper has let the clean energy sector diminish and its jobs disappear. He is reluctant to talk about what Barack Obama calls "the promise of clean energy" and is clearly more interested in boosting the fortunes of the Big Oil and Gas industry. Hickenlooper also played a pivotal role in reshaping the Governor's Energy Office, turning it away from a dedicated focus on clean energy to a mission that includes promoting fossil fuels. Further, Hickenlooper replaced an architect of the state's Renewable Energy Standard and a clean energy champion on the Public Utilities Commission with an anti-clean energy advocate who opposed Colorado's Renewable Energy Standard ballot initiative.

3. Drilling and Fracking: Governor Hickenlooper gained the dubious nickname, "Frackenlooper," earlier this year when he starred in a radio ad for the natural gas industry and spewed out misleading information about the impacts of drilling and fracking. And then he kept tripping over his words as he tried to claim that the industry is safe and responsible, when in fact the industry's public record reveals thousands of spills and releases that have contaminated ground and surface water. People living in the "Frack Zone" across the suburban Front Range of Colorado are up in arms as public health studies indicate that cancer-causing chemicals can travel thousands of feet in the air, polluting homes, playgrounds, and schools. At the same time, Hickenlooper has directed the State's lawyers to sue cities and towns that are trying to regulate oil and gas extraction to protect citizens from cancer-causing industrial chemical pollution. Further, his support for drilling and fracking has helped trammel thousands of acres of open space, public lands, and wildlife habitat as the drillers and frackers march across Colorado.

4. Water and River Protection: Hickenlooper likes to talk about water conservation (one of his campaign TV ads was on this topic), but he has taken strong stances in support of nearly every proposed river-draining scheme in the state. He's supported funding to study the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, a massive scheme that would pipe water 500 miles across Wyoming and down to the population growth-obsessed Front Range of Colorado. Hickenlooper has supported the Windy Gap Firming Project, the Moffat Collection System Project, and the Chatfield Reallocation Project, all which will negatively impact the Colorado and South Platte Rivers. He wrote a letter to the Army Corps asking them to expedite the permitting process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on the Cache la Poudre River -- that letter, while not being totally supportive, was riddled with inaccuracies and propaganda. In an email to his supporters during his 2010 campaign for governor, Hickenlooper stated, "We will work to keep our rivers full, our fields watered, and make sure no one's tap runs dry." Governor Hickenlooper has not kept that promise.

Historically, most Colorado governors have had a strong environmental ethic. This is not surprising given the deep and strong support Coloradans have for ensuring we protect our stunning mountains, clear rivers, blue skies, and majestic open spaces. But more and more, Coloradans are beginning to ask themselves: When is John Hickenlooper going to understand that we want him to be a strong and effective environmental steward?

As Hickenlooper takes the stage in Charlotte this week, we encourage Democrats nationwide to be wary of our governor. In our opinion, he's so far leading Colorado the wrong environmental and thus economic direction, and if he continues to move forward on the national stage, he's likely to take America backwards.


Gary Wockner is Colorado Program Director for Clean Water Action, a national million-member environmental organization that has 25,000 members in Colorado. (

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