Natural gas looming large in Colorado Senate race

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has branded himself “champion of Colorado’s natural gas industry” in the latest front to open up in his campaign against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner.

Udall and Gardner both introduced similar legislation this week to fast-track the approval process for a liquefied natural gas exports from a proposed terminal in Maryland. The measures are meant to speed up the process of exporting natural gas to Ukraine to undercut the threat posed to the region by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Udall had a one-day jump on Gardner, introducing his legislation on March 5 as an amendment to a package of sanctions on Russia; Gardner introduced his proposal the following day.

Both lawmakers argued for their proposals Tuesday. If approval of the licensing process for LNG exports is fast-tracked, it’s expected to not only undercut Russia’s hold over Ukraine but also boost energy-sector employment and natural gas production.

“Rarely in Congress do we get chance to pass legislation that creates economic opportunities here at home, strengthen and help our allies around the globe, weaken our enemies, and not spend the American taxpayers’ money,” said Gardner, quoted in an article on Politico. “Rarely do we even get to do one of these items. But H.R. 6 gives us a chance to do all of these.”

Udall used his advantage in timing to suggest in a press release that his amendment was another example of “his many years of support for Colorado’s energy industry,” even though the environmental group League of Conservation Voters gives him a 97 percent score for fighting pollution and protecting the environment.

Colorado is becoming a battleground for energy issues, especially among Democrats, who are divided on natural gas. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, for example, has long held that natural gas production is safe — once famously going so far as to drink fracking fluid to demonstrate its safety — while others, like Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, are supporting a statewide ballot initiative that would allow local governments to ban fracking.

Anti-fracking activists are leading the charge to see the measure on the 2014 ballot, but those in Colorado have so far been silent about the proposals put forth by either Udall or Gardner — fast-tracking natural gas exports presumes that production will not only continue in the United States but likely increase.

“LNG exports are all about fracking — that’s where the surplus [gas] is coming from,” said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of several environmental groups that sent a letter to the White House opposing the LNG terminal. Tidwell was quoted in an article in E&E Daily, a website following oil and gas industry news.

The Democratic divide about LNG exports is similar at the Senate, with Politico reporting that Senate Democrats are split on the issue.

“Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he understands the arguments about LNG exports but called the issue too complex and too divisive among Democrats to ram through quickly,” Politico reported.

Meanwhile, House Republicans may be motivated to move Gardner’s bill to the floor quickly — he and Udall are in a virtual dead heat in the Colorado Senate race and Udall is perceived as weak for his support of the Affordable Care Act and for his inability so far to take a firm stand on the Keystone XL pipeline, which a plurality of his supporters (and a majority of Coloradans) want to see built.

Gardner has his weaknesses as well. Late last week, he announced he no longer supported personhood initiatives that would define human life as beginning at conception, saying he changed his mind because the measures would also restrict access to some forms of birth control. A Udall spokesman called the about-face an election-year ploy to appeal to moderate voters.

In the case of the LNG proposals, it could be a wash as to who is seen to be victorious — Udall came out with his proposal first, but Gardner’s is poised to get more traction. Regardless, Udall’s willingness to be a self-styled “champion of Colorado’s natural gas industry” is a good indication of how important the issue will be in the election this fall.

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