With the triumphant themes, images and rhetoric of Barack Obama’s mile-high coronation fresh in our minds, Coloradans had high hopes for this administration when they swept in to power in January of 2009. Expectations were rising just as fast as the unemployment rate, and were boosted further when our very own 17th Street lawyer turned cowboy turned United States Senator Ken Salazar get tapped to head the Interior Department. It’s usually a good thing to have the President tap someone from your state to be in his cabinet, so it seems fair to wonder aloud how Colorado has fared.
Salazar sucked the most oxygen out of the room, but we also watched the man former Governor Bill Ritter tapped to dismantle the oil and gas industry in Colorado (another 17th Street lawyer named Harris Sherman) pack his bags and move to Washington, D.C. to become the Undersecretary of Natural Resources and the Environment at the United States Department of Agriculture. His record of attacking the oil and gas industry fresh in our minds, optimistic observers noted Sherman’s past work on behalf of ski-areas and a handful of other users of public lands and thought he might be able to bring some Colorado common sense to the bloated Department of Agriculture on our collective behalf.
Tom Strickland and failed U.S. Congress candidate Will Shafroth jumped at the chance to hop aboard the Obama/Salazar gravy train. With so many “leaders” from Colorado getting their hands on the levers of natural resources power in Washington, D.C., surely our state was primed for major breakthroughs from the all-powerful Interior and Agriculture departments.
Unfortunately, what we got was Tom Strickland taking his wife on a raft trip in the Grand Canyon the week of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. We got Harris Sherman rolling up his pin-striped sleeves to find ways to make it harder to harvest beetle-killed timber, not easier. We got a Secretary of the Interior that doubled down on behalf of extreme environmental groups opposing development of huge energy reserves beneath the former Naval Oil Shale Reserve near Rifle, Colorado. And both departments seemed to conspire together to find ways to make expanded development of Colorado’s super-compliant coal reserves more and more difficult.
And the list goes on and on: Less acreage available for oil shale research and development. Less acreage available for oil and gas leasing. More federal bureaucrats hired to make life difficult for producers in every corner of the West.
While Ken Salazar and his brother John were always fond of talking about the “forgotten America” on the stump in every corner of Colorado, we can’t help but wonder which state in our union has been more forgotten when it comes to jobs, multiple use of public lands and energy security than the great state of Colorado – Christo’s fabric over the river project notwithstanding.