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Nearly 300 oil and gas workers joined Weld County and nonprofit officials at a rally Friday in Greeley to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 181, which they said threatens local and state tax revenues, support for local nonprofits, and especially their economy.

The comprehensive oil and gas legislation has sailed through the State Senate on an expedited schedule and will make its first appearance in the State House on Monday in the House Energy & Environment committee.

Former Johnstown Mayor and Weld County Commissioner Scott James, who helped found Mayors Against Proposition 112 last fall, said that his new mission in opposition to SB 181 is to point out—using agricultural references—the worst aspects of the legislation.

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“Of the nearly $850 million in property taxes paid in Weld County in 2019, over $490 million will be paid by energy companies. The energy companies are paying nearly $200 million in property taxes to Weld County school districts alone,” James said. The figures were provided by Donald D. Warden,
Director of Finance and Administration for Weld County, according to James.

“The adverse impacts of SB 181 on oil and gas production would result in the immediate reduction of property tax revenues in Weld County,” James continued. Without new wells, he added, production would be dramatically reduced in just 2 to 3 years, and “governments across the state, not just Weld County, would lose 9 percent of their revenue because of the decline in production in Weld County alone.”

James described the process and conversations with bill backers as “disingenuous.”

“You don’t think this is going to have an impact on our county, on the way we live? But yet the folks in Boulder deem it necessary,” James said. “The folks in Briggsdale matter as much as the folks in Boulder, the folks in Greeley matter as much as the folks in Greenwood Village.”

Bob O’Connor, Chief Executive Officer of the Weld County Food Bank, offered a non-profit perspective on the impact the industry has in the county.

“I’m proud to be a partner with you guys,” O’Connor. “Today I’m here to advocate for the 58,000 people the Weld Food Bank and our 84 nonprofit partners served last year,” he added.

A tremendous amount of resources, O’Connor said, is required to provide the funds, food, and volunteers that delivered 10.5 million meals over the past five years.

“How’s that for impact, Boulder?” O’Connor said.

“I take my hat off to you,” he added. Two companies provide mobile food pantries for two schools with 85 percent of students at the free and reduced rate. Companies have also provided capital equipment, such as $95,000 from Noble Energy for a 12-pallet truck fueled by compressed natural gas, while another company helped purchase a large-capacity oven to increase meal delivery by 500 per hour.

A larger capacity truck makes it easier to transport food from the fields to the table in Weld County, he added.

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O’Connor pointed to the tragic floods of September 2013, when resources and 58,000 pounds of food were delivered within 36 hours, enabling the food bank to provide for families that lost their homes.

“I’m often asked, as the CEO of a nonprofit, ‘what keeps you up at night?’ My answer is always the same—it’s not having enough resources to take care of the people in our community that need our help,” said O’Connor. “And I’ve got to tell you the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some sleepless nights, because I really do believe that the people we serve are at risk.”

“I just can’t believe that our legislators want that kind of an outcome,” he concluded.

The dual rallies—Grand Junction earlier in the day—come just two days after Senate Democrats passed the bill out of their chamber along party lines during an epic “bomb cyclone” blizzard that paralyzed most of the Front Range and closed schools, local governments, and even prompted Gov. Jared Polis to mobilize the Colorado National Guard to assist with stranded and endangered motorists.

Senate President Leroy Garcia refused to cancel or close the Senate even as House Democrats shuttered in the face of the storm. Journalists who cover the Capitol were astounded.

“State government offices in Denver and surrounding counties closed today. And yet #Coleg Senate still wants people to be out in a major blizzard. @Leroy_Garcia any concern for public safety for senators, staff and those who have to brave the weather to testify at committees?” tweeted Marianne Goodland, chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics.

“I’m not there. I’m working from home. I’m too smart and too concerned for my safety and the safety of others to go out in this. This is my attempt to advocate for the safety of others on behalf of the powers that be at #coleg who don’t take the safety of the public seriously,” Goodland added.

“Just spoke with @Leroy_Garcia about the Senate being open today. He said without delays this week, he would have had more latitude for snow day (i.e. blame the @ColoSenGOP). He also noted limited accumulation right now. Don’t upset the #bombcyclone #cowx #copolitics,” tweeted 9News’ Marshall Zelinger.

His colleague Kyle Clark called out the move as purely partisan politics.

“This is a seriously bad look for @COSenDem President @Leroy_Garcia. He straight up told @Marshall9News that politics (Republicans stalling legislation) played into his decision not to close the Senate during this blizzard. #coleg #copolitics #9NEWS,” Clark tweeted.

He would later do a segment calling out the majority party. “Colorado’s Senate Democrats should be embarrassed they used dangerous weather as a political weapon,” Clark said.

HighPoint Resources’ Doug Dennison, who also serves on the board of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, vowed to fight the bill and hoped that he could continue to live and work in the state.

“The politicians in Denver are trying to make that difficult,” Dennison said, as “they forget where their energy and where their food comes from. It’s not Denver and Boulder. It’s places like Weld County, Garfield County, and Mesa County that keep their houses warm and food on the table.”

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Dennison said that the improvements made by industry over the past 16 years have moved “light years” in improving protections through technology and best practices.

“The process is a sham,” Dennison said, citing the scheduling of the final Senate vote on Wednesday during the blizzard.

He also took issue with repeated claims that no significant regulations have been introduced in the past 6 decades, a Democratic talking point.

“We have had non-stop rulemaking,” he added. “To say we haven’t changed our rules in 60 years is complete baloney.”