2020 in Review: A Look Back on Western Wire’s Highlights
Though 2020 was an unprecedented year in so many ways for Western Wire and our readers, we will attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy by wrapping up some of our highlights as we have in the past.
Like we have previously, this year our reporting tracked several state and local regulators, congressional races, and national legislation, all with an eye on the impact they would have on life in the West. Many of our stories continued to follow issues that we have been reported on since our launch four years ago, like attempts to ban residential natural gas hookups and to increased regulation on hydraulic fracking.
As we wrap up the year, we present this selection of stories and issues as a review of the unpredictable year that was 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic was the black swan event of 2020, something that few saw coming and which profoundly shaped the events of the entire year. The shutdowns and falling oil prices dealt the oil and natural gas industry a hard blow and left many communities grappling with deteriorating economic conditions. Western Wire showed how the oil and gas industry was “essential” and “critical” to helping states fight the virus by continuing to operate critical infrastructure and giving back with donations of food and protective equipment. At the same time, green groups and the media used the pandemic to lobby for a climate agenda.
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 elections loomed over events through much of the year. Western Wire’s reporting showed a growing divide between the pro-energy policies supported by western Democrats and the anti-production platform embraced by activists. Western Wire showed how this tension drove divided Colorado environmentalists over an anti-fracking ballot measure and was a key point of contention in Congressional races in Montana and Colorado.
On the national stage, Western Wire reported on the relationship between green groups and the Biden campaign, which sought to retain their support without alienating voters in energy-producing states.
After the results were in, Western Wire kept at it, reporting on how a win by Biden, who had repeatedly promised to ban fracking, put a renewed spotlight on public lands.
Colorado Setbacks—The Return of Prop. 112
Two years ago, Western Wire reported on the contentious debate over Prop. 112 and negative impacts proposed setback requirements would have on Colorado’s energy industry and state finances. This year, the newly-restructured Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission took up the issue again, with a proposal that some called a backdoor to the failed ballot measure. We carefully followed the commission debates and reported on the impacts the rule change would have on Colorado business and industry. Through our coverage, we ensured that this important rule change did not happen behind closed doors and light was shone on the effects it will have.
The Great American Outdoors Act
Western Wire began covering the Restore Our Parks Act in 2018, when western lawmakers first introduced proposals to reinvest the energy and mineral development taxes and fees back into American public lands. Having been there at the beginning, we were pleased to show the conclusion of this story, continuing to report on the re-named Great American Outdoors Act as it worked its way through Congress and was signed into law by President Trump in August. Through this reporting, Western Wire showed how oil and gas revenues and fees help support public lands conservation in tangible ways, demonstrating how the industry continues to give back to the West.
Denver Climate Tax
In January, Western Wire launched an investigation into the Denver City Council’s failed climate tax proposal. Through a Colorado Open Records Request, Western Wire gained access to emails that revealed Denver City Council worked with environmentalist groups and actively avoided reaching out to the city’s business community when considering a proposal to impose a climate tax on electricity and natural gas in 2019. The records revealed that the climate tax faced resistance from city officials and the business community, who called it “irresponsible,” but had the support of out of state activists, who pressured the city to pass the policy because of its “behavior change” benefits.
Early this year, Western Wire broke the story that Detlev Helmig, an atmospheric research at CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, was dismissed by the university after it was revealed that Helmig did not maintain a proper separation between his publicly-funded research and private consulting work. Western Wire received comment from state and local officials who had worked with Helmig. This reporting spurred 350 Colorado to perform its own investigation of the situation and complete an internal records request.
The Helmig story and our reporting on the City of Denver are more great examples through the years of how our investigative journalism has helped keep people and government agencies accountable for actions.