AURORA | The latest political stalemate among city council members has essentially halted progress on a Climate Action Committee in Aurora.
The proposal, which was originally spearheaded by former Councilmember Nicole Johnston and then picked up by Councilmember Alison Coombs, didn’t garner enough support at a city council study session this week, even when supporters of the climate panel agreed to leave the city’s oil and gas commission intact.
Republican members Marsha Berzins, Francoise Bergan, Dave Gruber, Curtis Gardner and Mayor Mike Coffman said they didn’t support moving the proposal forward to a formal vote.
When asked by Coombs during the study session what changes could move the needle on the proposal, those opposed to the measure declined to speak. Study sessions have historically been a place where city council members discuss, debate and even change ordinance proposals, but Coffman insisted the study session was not the appropriate place to discuss any revisions.
The original proposal for the Climate Action Committee called to dissolve the current Oil and Gas Advisory Committee, which is constructed of industry stakeholders, residents affected by oil and gas production in Aurora and surface property owners.
City staff confirmed the recent creation of the Oil and Gas Division and hiring of the city’s first Oil and Gas Manager last year “created some redundancy with the committee.” Prior to state legislation shifting oil and gas control to local governments, city lawmakers approved an operator agreement system to manage development on the city’s eastern edges.
Johnston, who first got involved in city politics through her involvement with the oil and gas advisory committee and advocating for residents in Ward II, told the Sentinel that between the operator agreements and city division the advisory committee has become mostly “antiquated.”
In 2016, the advisory committee went from ad-hoc to a more formal entity where residents could ask questions, leave feedback and receive information about oil and gas developments in their neighborhoods. After being elected in 2017, Johnston unsuccessfully moved to mandate more residents be on the advisory committee than industry representatives.
Earlier this year, Aurora city lawmakers agreed to a smattering of stronger oil and gas regulations developed by city Oil and Gas manager Jeffrey Moore.
During this week’s meeting, Moore said in a presentation that attendance at the Oil and Gas Advisory Committee meetings over the past three years has been “very low,” averaging just 1.4 people. More often than not, the attendees were from the oil and gas industry.
“These values demonstrate that neither members of the public nor industry staff are deriving great value from attendance,” city staff wrote in a memo.
Per the proposal, the Climate Action Committee would be composed of:
- Five residents
- At least one person, but no more than two, representing an advocacy group
- At least one person, but no more than two, employed by the state working on climate-related issues
- At least one person, but not more than two, employed with a regional agency working on climate-related issues
- At least one person, but not more than two, employed in the energy industry, which includes oil and gas, renewable energy and utilities
- At least one, but not more than two, Aurora business owners
Johnston said energy industry representation was purposefully baked into the proposal, as her plan was to completely repeal the Oil and Gas Advisory Committee.
Half of Aurora city lawmakers opposed that proposal Monday. Supporters of the new committee compromised, proposing that the city add the Climate Action Committee in addition to the Oil and Gas Advisory Committee.
Without a committed six votes, the proposal is effectively dead. Coombs told the Sentinel Tuesday she’s currently considering her next steps with the proposal. If she were to bring it to a formal meeting and it failed, city rules dictate it could not be brought up again for six months.
Coombs and Johnston both echoed frustrations about a lack of space for climate-related issues to be discussed and include community input, especially with increasing state, regional and federal environmental mandates.
“It’s urgent, so I would not like to delay this six months,” Coombs said. “We really don’t have any (climate) plan or strategy so the goal would be to have a plan and strategy.”