As Colorado University students battle the Board of Regents over fossil fuel divestment, an environmentalist Democrat running for an open seat on the 5-4 Republican majority board is walking a political tightrope.
Alice Madden, a former climate change adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy, who has criticized the board for not taking global warming seriously, is being coy about her position on fossil fuel divestment. She’s vying for an open seat on the board in this November’s election, which could tip the board in favor of divestment.
Colorado energy insider Simon Lomax told TheDCNF Madden is probably trying to keep her nose clean and stay away from fossil fuel divest for fear that it might affect her campaign. “If you are a Democrat running for statewide office in Colorado, you don’t want to get caught working too closely with fringe environmental groups,” he said.
Student activists and other Democrats have tried to force the school to sell off its fossil fuel investments in a move to fight global warming, but the board has so far refused to divest, saying it has to focus on financial results rather than social objectives with the money.
Madden’s a devoted global warming activist, as the former climate change adviser to former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and as a senior fellow on climate change for the Center for American Progress.
She criticized the board over global warming in a letter that a Democratic state Rep. read before a Democratic assembly in March. “Given that CU is a premier research institution with 12 Nobel laureates, wouldn’t it be nice if its board members actually believed in climate change?” Madden asked in the letter.
Yet, she has not taken a stance in favor of fossil fuel divestment at Colorado University. “Any and all investments made by CU should be based on receiving a sound financial return,” she told The Daily Caller News Foundation in March.
If a Democrat is selected to fill the open seat, then the Democrats would be given a majority on the board, thereby allowing them to oust the board’s sitting president, voting in their own president. The new president, of course, would have the ability to issue proposals, which could include forcing the school to divest certain assets — perhaps even oil and coal assets.
“Do you support fossil fuel divestment?’ It’s a simple yes or no question,” Lomax, an energy policy analyst at the Colorado-based Independence Institute, told TheDCNF. “When a candidate tries to dodge that question, it says a lot, especially here in Colorado.”
He added: “Colorado is a major energy-producing state and fossil-fuel production is a huge economic driver. But the fringe activist groups want to shut it all down, no matter the consequences, and Colorado voters reject that kind of ideology as too extreme.”
Colorado University’s system has a $3.5 billion budget, nearly twice the amount of Denver’s city budget. The anti-fossil fuel crowd can gather a big win if it succeeds in forcing the University to divest. But Colorado is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so publicly excoriating the state’s oil and coal industries may prove to be an unpopular position, especially when campaigning for an elected position.
Crude production in Colorado quadrupled from 2004 to 2014. During that 10 year stretch, Colorado’s natural gas output jumped by 51 percent, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state gathers nearly 60 percent of its electricity from coal, 22 percent from natural gas, and 18 percent from renewable energy.
If Democrats are successful in getting Madden elected, it would undoubtedly put a feather in the cap of California billionaire Tom Steyer, who sunk more than $8.5 million into unsuccessful bids to get a slew of anti-fossil fuel candidates elected to office in 2014.
One of the candidates, former Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, was defeated in his reelection bid in 2014 in part because he gave deference to the anti-fracking crowd, and because he accepted more than $4 million from Steyer during his unsuccessful reelection campaign.
He was later caught on tape telling one of his constituents that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “keeps us locked into the old system.”
Madden’s previous work at Center for American Progress was funded in part by Steyer, who sits on the organization’s board and is a major donor to the group’s work. She was also one of a cavalcade of environmentalists to recognize Steyer’s environmental work at a June 2015 awards dinner in Denver.
Steyer, who was instrumental in getting Stanford University to divest its fossil fuel assets in 2014, is said to have a unique ability to persuade student bodies and faculties into divesting.
“Steyer knows how to identify and coax academia to bend to his anti-energy ideological vision,” Marc Morano, publisher of Climate Depot, told TheDCNF, adding that he’s “determined to poison a generation of youths against rational and moral fossil fuel energy use.”
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