On national park funding
Colorado’s national parks are seeing record visitation, but unreliable funding over the years means their infrastructure desperately needs to be repaired.
That’s why I am encouraged by a bipartisan proposal in Congress to address the nearly $12 billion in national parks deferred maintenance. The Restore Our Parks Act (ROPA) would set aside $6.5 billion over the next five years to fix dilapidated trails, buildings, roads, bridges, monuments and historic markers in our parks. Amazingly, 50 U.S. senators — from both parties — are cosponsoring this effort, with 330 representatives supporting a similar measure in the House.
With all this support, you would think this would be an easy thing for Congress to get done. You’d be mistaken. Despite all the support for national parks, Congress is still struggling to enact this popular legislation.
There is still time, and I hope they can get it done. Sens. Gardner and Bennet are both cosponsors of the ROPA, and Gardner especially is in a key position of leadership to help bring the bill to a vote. We need to see action to ensure our parks stay open, safe and accessible. Please do the right thing in supporting this crucial legislation.
Ryan Fitzgerald/Wheat Ridge
Done with the Super Bowl
While watching the Super Bowl, I came to a realization: this whole thing is disgusting. I finished the game but drifted off to sleep that night with a sick feeling in my gut. Hours later I awoke in a sweat, realizing I had just witnessed a concerted effort to melt the minds of the American public. In my head I catalogued what I had just seen: The U.S. military using the biggest sporting event of the year as a recruiting tool, dozens of grown men willingly and repeatedly giving themselves brain trauma so that they may receive vast sums of money for moving an egg-shaped leather ball over a white line, Verizon ads praising first responders (let’s not forget that Verizon throttled fire fighters’ unlimited data during a 2018 California fire and avoided $21.1 billion in federal taxes between 2007-2015), Google ads, Facebook ads, political ads… the list goes on.
I even caught a glimpse of the architect of it all, the shadowy figure of Rupert Murdoch sitting next to his fourth wife. He was trying to fit in to the crowd but the seats around the two were empty, perhaps the flock of sheep could sense a wolf among them.
It was enough to force me back to bed to escape the nightmare of reality. I’ve been trying to tell myself it was just a bad dream ever since… Anyway, can’t wait for next year’s game!
Taking the Fifth
While there is much discussion over the Second Amendment and the rights and limits of gun ownership, we hear less and less about the Fifth, which states that a person sworn under oath to tell the truth is allowed to not answer self-incriminating questions. Underlying this right is a profound respect for both a sworn oath and truth saying. Given the seemingly decaying value of truth in public and political life today, one wishes that all those sworn to uphold the Constitution would take the Fifth rather than proclaiming outright lies.
Hold oil and gas accountable
The public learned recently that more than 75% of the oil and gas companies operating in Colorado have failed to submit more than 50,000 legally required monthly reports and, in so doing, knowingly cheated Colorado out of millions of dollars in owed taxes. We also learned that the equipment used to measure oil and gas production was not inspected to ensure accurate readings, likely causing a further under-reporting of output and underpayment of taxes. And to add insult to injury, this systematic fraud has been going on for years and the state regulatory agencies didn’t even realize it.
Why are these oil and gas companies not held to account like citizen taxpayers are? If a citizen does not file a required tax return and does not pay the taxes that are owed, the citizen has to pay back taxes, additional penalties and can go to jail. The same rules should apply to oil and gas companies. This industry has purposefully swindled the Colorado government and should not be excused from paying the taxes they owe, plus penalties accrued. The IRS does not forgive even honest mistakes like typos, why should the Colorado people let oil and gas corporations off the hook for this deliberate and longstanding cheating?
Clearly, this is not a problem that just started in the last two years. The audit only checked the last two years, so this non-compliance and tax evasion has likely been going on since the industry started operations here. Claiming that the statute of limitations has run out and that there is no way to punish the oil and gas companies for perpetuating this fraud is pitifully weak. Colorado is sending the message that it is OK to cheat and steal from us. Don’t ever again let these oil and gas companies brag about how much tax revenue they pay towards supporting schools and our communities. This industry has not been paying their share for years and yet they use these same arguments against us when they claim that strengthening safety regulations and increasing severance taxes (closer to what other states require) would put them out of business. That is hubris on a massive scale.
Caught red-handed, the oil and gas industry now blames the COGCC for not noticing that the industry was hoodwinking them and cheating on its taxes. We must not allow the industry to shift the blame for their own deliberate criminal activity. However, it is astoundingly egregious that the COGCC has for years, failed to enforce its own reporting rules. That is the purpose of this regulatory agency. The COGCC itself should be punished for not doing its job and allowing many millions of severance dollars to go uncollected. The COGCC’s shoddy operations and lack of understanding of their own responsibilities makes it impossible to trust them to do all of their other vital regulatory functions. Why should we trust the COGCC with the far more difficult task of protecting Coloradans’ health and safety when they have such huge procedural lapses in their basic duty of collecting and tracking paperwork?
The solution to this problem is not (as the COGCC has promised) to tweak some algorithms and hope that everyone forgets what happened. At the very least, we should require the oil and gas companies to pay their back taxes owed from the last two years covered by the audit and we should enforce the $200 per well, per day fine that these companies incurred. A punishment even more fitting for the crime would be to also prohibit these non-compliant companies from ever again doing business in our state. And going forward, the state legislature must act to ensure that the regulatory agencies enforce the laws already on the books and must impose stricter controls on the corrupt and untrustworthy oil and gas industry.