Western Wire’s Year In Review: Best Of 2019
As 2019 comes to a close, the Western Wire team would like to take you back in our annual year in review. Rather than a handful of stories, beat reporting of issues and on agencies dominated much of the year’s coverage. Some of these policy issues have been part of our brand since our launch in January 2017, while others were very specific to the current year. Here we present a selection of those stories and issues, in no particular order. As we head into 2020 it is sure to be a year packed with policy and political battles in Washington, D.C. and throughout the West.
BLM Headquarters Move West
One of Western Wire’s first stories from January 2017 was a preview of things to come–extensive coverage of the possible, then probable, and finally the formal announcement by the Interior Department that the Bureau of Land Management headquarters would be relocated, along with staff, to a state in the West. Ultimately that new location, Grand Junction, Colo., came following three years of beat coverage, from the move’s bipartisan support to coverage of how the agency planned to be a “good neighbor” and the deliberations of two successive Interior Secretaries, Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt. As we type, the relocation of a critical agency to the West and its natural resources continues, and Western Wire pledges to continue covering BLM in all aspects, as our archives clearly demonstrate.
The Full Package: SB 181 Coverage and Immersive Livestream
Western Wire’s coverage of Colorado’s Senate Bill 181, the state’s massive overhaul of the regulatory framework for oil and natural gas production, presented a unique opportunity for the “full package” of immersive, live coverage. Because of the significance of the bill, we added to our normal output in covering the legislative battle through wall-to-wall livestreaming of all hearings related to the legislation, which you can see here in our Facebook video archive. With thousands of views and dozens of hours of coverage, we made sure that the voices of the oil and natural gas workers were heard, not only at the capitol, but by the public at large. We also featured local officials who wrote the bill and those who pushed back against the onerous legislation, particularly those representing Weld County, where the bulk of the state’s oil and natural gas production occurs.
Western Wire also called attention to the state’s much-delayed health and safety report and the Democrats’ declaration touting the “end of the oil wars,” and followed up with local activists’ lobbying for even more regulation in the wake of SB 181’s passage. As we expected, despite some politicians declaring the war for oil and gas regulations to be over, we documented the push to local governments, where new policy battles were just beginning. Even later this year, the estimation of what SB 181 could do to the state’s economy and state and local tax revenues is still being calculated.
Like so much of our “beat” reporting, there isn’t just one article that sums up the breadth and depth of our coverage on SB 181, which will continue into 2020 and likely for many years to come.
National Treasures: A Look At Our National Parks
Another of Western Wire’s in-depth pursuits is the ongoing maintenance backlog in U.S. National Parks and the possible funding from energy development on non-park public lands. Despite $12 billion in backlogged maintence, National Parks throughout the West create billions in economic development and hundreds of thousands of jobs, which Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has declared a priority, saying his department needs to be “creative” in approaching not only the maintenance backlog but the future of the parts themselves. With visits continuing to skyrocket, parks throughout the West were featured in a multi-part series in summer and fall, from Glacier National Park in Montana to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah.
Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called for bipartisan support in addressing National Park maintenance and upgrades in 2018, and that need remains heading into 2020.
Land of Enchantment: New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Future
New Mexico’s Permian Basin has boomed, providing the state with much-needed revenues to shore up educational funding for the state’s youth and for economic prosperity for the state’s workforce. But certain corners threatened that revenue in this year’s legislative session, introducing a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
But many voices throughout the state pushed back against those calling for a cessation to the state’s prosperity, citing the revenues as a cornerstone for the state’s educational outlook. In a multi-part series in March, Western Wire examined the state of New Mexico’s oil and gas landscape, and its importance, with New Mexicans calling for the state to “embrace its strengths” in resource production. Stable revenues, they argued, were key to boosting performance and student achievement across the state. Bad policy–”inhospitable regulations” as they called it–would drive the prosperity of the booming Permian Basin across state lines into Texas, threatening jobs and infrastructure funding.
Despite the threats to New Mexico’s production, the state continued its BLM sales success in 2019, with yet another record year of revenues. The recognition of such success was echoed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), speaking at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association annual meeting, calling the benefits “opportunities that we haven’t seen, ever.” However, like other states in the West, including Colorado, New Mexico would be hit hard by a potential partial or full ban on hydraulic fracturing as proposed by some of the leading candidates running for the Democratic nod as president in 2020.
Ozone and Open Records
Two of Western Wire’s other reporting avenues continued well into 2019. Our coverage of the ongoing ozone policy debate began with an exclusive interview with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler in March. At issue was Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ decision to reject his Democratic predecessor’s approach and not seek an EPA waiver for the state’s ozone levels, pushing for a “straightjacket” on the state’s economy and particularly targeting oil and natural gas production. Later in the year, EPA staffers called for a maintenance of the 2015 ozone level of 70 parts per billion, with the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee hearing scientific input and feedback on ozone and other emissions in December. But Polis was successful in forcing EPA’s hand to reclassify Colorado’s Front Range ozone status from “moderate” to serious, triggering onerous and costly permitting and regulatory oversight from the federal agency.
On the transparency front, open records remained a cornerstone of Western Wire coverage. Emails from outside groups revealed in April demonstrating coordination and influence from activist groups to Colorado officials. This was not isolated to Colorado, as emails from New Mexico showed much the same, with green activists pushing for regulatory goals and enjoying access to officials with the ability to influence those policy decisions.
Stay tuned in 2020, as open records requests will be top priority come January! And, yes, that’s a hint of what’s to come.
Activists Bust Out In 2019
Activist groups with deep-pocketed backers, Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise Movement, made a splash in 2019, as they grew from earlier movements and went local, targeting Denver City Council and the West with their antics. Extinction Rebellion’s biggest backers include billionaires like Aileen Getty, whose Climate Emergency Fund has helped underwrite the radical activist group best known for blocking traffic and other disruptive tactics. Exposing the funding for these groups, especially for audiences throughout the west, has been a top priority for Western Wire throughout its existence.
Sunrise Movement, the group responsible for launching the so-called “Green New Deal” was also a part of the year’s coverage, as we profiled the group’s funders and its political targets, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who the group labeled as “dangerous” in November. Sunrise’s pick for U.S. Senate candidate to face U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who has touted oil and gas for school investments before his current doom-and-gloom campaign. Sunrise’s antics in 2019 included blocking a reporter from a climate change rally and lying to the Denver media about a press release the group issued that appeared to emanate from the Mayor of Denver’s office. One of the first outlets to do so, Western Wire has followed Sunrise since its inception in 2017, as it arose from the ashes of the failed divestment movement.
We’ll be tracking these and many other groups throughout 2020. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Western Wire.