They are backing steelmaker EVRAZ in opposing Senate Bill 181

Legislation to give local communities more authority over oil and gas development in their areas is drawing sharp opposition from business organizations around the state— including the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and the Pueblo Economic Development Corp.

The two Pueblo groups are coming to the support of EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, which joined the debate over Senate Bill 181 last week.

In a guest editorial in The Pueblo Chieftain, EVRAZ officials warned that any legislation that leads to reduced or restricted gas development will hurt the steelmaker's pipe business.

A spokesman for the company was more specific.

"A significant portion of the Pueblo mill's production is tied directly to oil country tubular goods," said Patrick Waldron. "Hundreds of Pueblo employees are directly involved in the local production of these engineered steel products."

Waldron said losses to EVRAZ would ripple out to injure companies that do business with it.

Senate Democrats approved SB 181 on a 19-15 party-line vote Wednesday, sending it on to the House.

Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said he liked the bill because it gives local governments more authority over energy development in their area.

That fight — between energy companies and cities— has been going on for years. The industry has fought against local control in court and judges have sided with it, saying gas development is controlled by state law and regulation.

In a letter sent to state lawmakers Thursday, the Pueblo chamber said SB 181 was being rushed through the General Assembly without careful consideration of its impact.

"With the steel mill being the largest private employer in our region — not to mention the direct support it provides to suppliers throughout our region — the cascading effect of needlessly stifling energy development in the state would be deep and long-lasting."

Jeff Shaw, PEDCO president, said the business-recruiting organization rarely gets involved in political fights but was sending a companion letter to lawmakers as well.

"We're supporting EVRAZ and its importance to our economy as well as challenging the speed that this bill is going through the Legislature," he said Friday.

SB 181 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker, both Boulder Democrats. It also has the support of Gov. Jared Polis.

It calls for the nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adopt regulations that promote public health and safety, replace two energy members of the commission with safety and health appointees, and would let local governments have more say over development.

Supporters of the gas industry, such as Weld County lawmakers, argue that those changes would lead to a virtual moratorium on new gas drilling — a charge supporters deny.

Democrats have a much larger majority in the House than in the Senate and the fight over SB 181 is falling into a party-line battle.

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Twitter:@RoperPeter