Colorado ex-Gov. Bill Ritter on shortlist for both Energy and Interior posts

Despite claims he badly mismanaged state energy projects, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is not only on the shortlist to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, but he was also in the running to take over the Interior Department when fellow Coloradoan Ken Salazar steps down.

Ritter mentioned that he was being considered as interior secretary Monday night before making remarks at the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference.

He didn’t go into detail about why he was on what he called “a long shortlist” for the position, but he mentioned his experience as governor in dealing with energy development on public land as a possible factor.

“We were very involved in looking at BLM,” he said, referring to the Bureau of Land Management, “and the intersection between BLM and fossil fuel extraction. I know a lot about that issue, and oil shale and issues around oil shale extraction on public lands. … It commanded a lot of our time, so I’m very interested in the issue in general.”

“I actually think the big issue Interior is going to face is on gas and oil stuff,” he said.

Ritter would not say Monday which position he prefered, but the question may be moot. According to reports, President Obama will tap REI chief Sally Jewell for the Interior position.

“I think that the country would be lucky to have him in either position,” said Pam Kiely, a Denver energy consultant who works with environmental groups.”I think he would be an incredibly strong pick for Interior, but at the same time, he’s got a track record that put Colorado on the map in terms of developing and branding our state around alternative energy. … I think that would be an incredible asset at DOE.”

One of Ritter’s main legacies as governor is a package of legislation called “the new energy economy” that was meant to kickstart renewable energy initiatives.

But his administration has come under scathing criticism recently for its handling of new energy projects. A state audit of the Colorado Energy Office — which began focusing on renewable energy initiatives during Ritter’s tenure — showed that it could not account for how it spent $252 million in state and federal money since 2007.

The agency could not say how much its programs cost or how much money was spent on them. The audit concluded that because of poor accounting, the energy office could not show that any of its programs were cost effective.

In his brief comments Monday night, Ritter disputed the findings.

“The auditor in this case fell down on the job,” he said. “We were very careful with budgets.”

He said auditors should not have relied solely on the agency’s existing staff to provide documentation for projects that were initiated years ago by employees who have since left. He said that documents showing “in great detail” what was spent on various projects, as well as their outcomes, exist on the Internet and that there were “other avenues” for auditors to locate information.

“If the people there can’t give you documentation, then you should call the person who was the CEO, (former lawmaker and Ritter appointee) Tom Plant,” he said. “Eleven of the 12 program managers have moved on and they didn’t call a single one of those. They didn’t call the comptroller who kept the records. They didn’t call the deputy CEO or the CEO or any of those people. They relied strictly on the people who were in place after this massive turnover.”

“I feel very strongly about this,” he continued. “I think the auditor at the very least didn’t do what they should have, and quite frankly I think the administration should have contacted me or Tom Plant and we would have prepared the answers to these questions.”