The two men vying to become Colorado’s top legal officer battled over oil and gas permitting, the current officeholder’s conception of attorney general independence, and the need for more regulation in the energy space at a debate hosted by Club 20.

Phil Weiser, a Democrat and the former dean of the University of Colorado Law school and a senior adviser in the Obama White House, squared off against Republican George Brauchler, the district attorney for the 18thJudicial District, Colorado’s largest, on Saturday evening at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Colo.

Brauchler pointed out that the Western Slope “recognizes more than many others how important oil and gas development and exploration is.”

“We have seen in this state over the past few years, too much of a trend to try to destroy oil and gas in favor of something that is more ideologically pleasing,” Brauchler said.

“That’s what you get when people pledge to you by 2040 we’re going to flick the lights off on oil and gas and go all renewable,” he continued. “We, right now, have the most stringent regulations for oil and gas in the United States of America, and that is working.”

“What we can’t do is keep coming back to the ballot box every two years, with efforts like [Initiative] 97—which is [Prop] 112 now—to try to sneak a half mile distance around every single part of Colorado to kill of energy,” Brauchler said.

Prop 112, a proposed 2,500-foot setback appearing on November’s ballot, has received bipartisan opposition from state legislators, and two former Colorado attorneys general, Democrat Ken Salazar and Republican Gail Norton. Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state’s top Democrat, also opposes the measure, as do both gubernatorial candidates, Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

Analysis of the setback by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found that more than 85 percent of the state’s non-federal land would be boxed out from future oil and gas drilling if the measure passes this fall.

“We in Colorado are showing our nation how you develop energy of all kinds, and protect our land, air, and water,” Weiser said. Weiser lauded state efforts on methane regulation.

“We got together with the oil and gas industry and environmentalists, and we came up with a national model,” he added. “It was so good, the [Environmental Protection Agency] adopted our model, to protect people’s public health, and to allow the industry to operate effectively.”

But Weiser called out the current Attorney General, Republican Cynthia Coffman, who opposed EPA implementation of the rules nationally.

“We need an attorney general who will defend the sovereignty of the state of Colorado and the fact that we came up with a great idea that the federal government then wanted to adopt and force upon us—an attorney general for Colorado defends Colorado’s sovereignty,” Brauchler responded.

“An attorney general is one that looks out for Colorado’s air and water and environment and we don’t cede that responsibility to bureaucrats 1500 miles from here,” Brauchler said.

Later, Brauchler asked Weiser his views on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and Coffman’s decision to buck Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request not to join a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA regulation.

Weiser answered that he did oppose Coffman’s decision and would have liked to see the Clean Power Plan implemented.

The two candidates traded punches during a pointed but friendly exchange on a case set to be heard later this year in the state’s top court.

Brauchler pressed Weiser on the ‘Martinez case’ currently before the Colorado State Supreme Court, a case that would alter the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s process on permitting future oil and gas drilling.

“‘Martinez case’ sought to redefine how the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission defines certain terms in the way they prioritize things, in a way that would have slowed down, if not shut down, oil and gas permitting and exploration. Our attorney general stood up for the law and appealed that case, not because she wanted to but because her client said that she should by a unanimous public vote. You derided her for it and opposed it,” Brauchler said.

“Would you withdraw the appeal or would you continue to fight for the state?” Brauchler asked.

Weiser called the case “problematic.” “I’d stand by that decision,” Weiser declared.

“I would not pursue that appeal,” he added.

“You would let a 2-1 decision of some robes decide for us what the policy of the state should be?” Brauchler quipped.

Weiser maintained that the COGCC should hear the petition, and that “the attorney general gave bad legal advice on that issue.”

The COGCC voted unanimously to pursue an appeal, and Coffman agreed.