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A tale of two energy economies

A tale of two energy economies(By Tom Kenworthy, via Center for American Progress)New research shows that the real energy future for Colorado and much of the

West rests not with fossil fuel development but with renewable energy

sources and energy efficiency. Some, however, would have you believe

otherwise.Throughout a nearly two-year battle to overhaul the way Colorado regulates

oil and gas development that concluded recently, the fossil fuel industry

and its allies often argued that a comprehensive set of new rules requiring

better protections for the environment, wildlife, and public health and

safety would be devastating for a sector critical to the state’s economic

well-being.“Make no mistake; this is a jobs-killing bill,” said state Sen. Kevin

Lundberg last month as the legislature neared final approval of the new

rules established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that

some see as a model for other western states. “It is an energy-killing

bill. It closes the door on the future of Colorado’s energy potential.”There’s no question that some western states have been riding a huge oil

and gas boom, though it has slowed during the current recession. Assisted

by the previous administration’s pro-drilling policies, the boom created

political support for states such as Colorado to pass stronger

environmental protections.In fact, a report by the House Committee on Natural Resources found that

policies pushed by the Bush administration encouraged drilling on federal

lands to the point that the number of drilling permits approved nearly

doubled—from 3,802 to 7,561—between 2002 and 2007.Those industry-friendly policies also accelerated drilling on private

lands, since the federal government owns the rights to oil, gas, and other

minerals underlying some 58 million acres of privately owned land—most of

it in the West. In Colorado, for example, the total number of drilling

permits approved for both federal and nonfederal lands jumped from 1,529 in

2000 to 8,027 in 2008, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation

Commission.But within the larger context of the increasingly diverse western state

economies, is fossil fuel development as important to growth as legislators

such as Lundberg claim? Probably not, according to a series of eight

reports issued over the past six months by Headwaters Economics, an

independent nonprofit research group in Bozeman, Montana.Only 4 percent of counties in the West are seeing a “a surge of

energy-related jobs,” the study found, and just 2.8 percent of total

personal income in the five big energy-producing states (Colorado, Montana,

New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) comes from the sector that includes oil,

gas, and mining.On the other hand, a separate study released in January by the American

Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services underscores the

increasing vitality and importance of the green jobssector both nationally

and in Colorado. The renewable energy and energy-efficiency fields

“comprise some of the most rapidly growing industries in the world,”

concluded the report, employing more than 9 million people in the United

States as of 2007 and with the potential under a “crash effort” to employ

37 million by 2030.In Colorado, according to the study, the renewable energy and

energy-efficiency fields had generated some 91,000 jobs by 2007—more than 3

percent of state employment—and gross revenues of more than $10 billion.

That’s about 20,000 more Colorado jobs than existed in the state’s oil and

gas industry as of 2007, according to a Colorado School of Mines report,

though less than half of the conventional energy industry’s overall

economic output.This job increase is due in part to the fact that Colorado has accelerated

its renewable energy efforts in recent years, and the study may not even be

telling the whole truth. It does not, for example, reflect several large

developments by companies such as Vestas, a Dan