Ritter in D.C. means loss of ‘valuable asset’ to Colo.

FORT COLLINS — Former Gov. Bill Ritter’s potential departure from CSU’s Center for the New Energy Economy for a job in Washington, D.C., could find Ritter on the front lines of the Obama administration’s push to tackle climate change.

That might be good for Ritter and the nation, but many in Colorado would certainly miss him.

“Gov. Ritter has continued, since he left the (governor’s) office, to be a key leader in the conversation around what our energy future is going to look like,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters. “He’s a really valuable asset.”

Ritter has been mentioned as under consideration to head the U.S. Department of Energy to replace the likely outgoing Steven Chu. He is also being considered for Department of Interior chief after Ken Salazar resigned, according to media reports.

The former governor is renowned for his work in energy, having signed more than 50 renewable energy bills during his single term, welcoming new energy companies to the state and reforming rules for oil and gas development.

As head of CSU’s privately funded Center for the New Energy Economy, established in 2011 in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Ritter has traveled nationally and internationally to promote a range of clean-energy initiatives. He also speaks at renewable energy conferences statewide and has lectured as a guest in CSU political science, business and engineering classes.

Ritter recently told the Denver Post he was “flattered” to be among such distinguished names. Those names include hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, co-head of the 2008 Obama transition team Susan Tierney, and venture capitalist Steve Westly.

“It’s a crucial time for the country to focus on energy policy among the other priorities,” Ritter said. “Energy has to be a priority going forward.”

Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address on Jan. 21.

Ritter’s presence in the national spotlight, given his persistent advocacy for steps to address climate change, would benefit the country, Maysmith said.

“It’s a bigger bully pulpit,” Maysmith said. “His voice is going to project more nationally and internationally, if he were to be in that role.”

Ritter indeed already has traveled the nation – about half the states in 2011 – to promote renewable energy and Colorado’s oil and gas rules to policymakers nationwide.

But his appointment as energy chief would mean a loss for Colorado. Ritter’s voice is especially important statewide as the push for renewable energy has cooled lately, Maysmith said.

Fond of the days in which Ritter led the charge for renewable energy statewide, environmentalists have criticized Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration for its tepid support of clean energy.

Those critics might overlook the fact that Ritter has strongly advocated natural-gas drilling. He sees the fuel as playing an important role alongside renewables.

That thinking helped germinate the Center for the New Energy Economy’s Natural Gas Symposium. The event at CSU draws gas industry leaders, academics and environmentalists to explore the natural gas economy in Colorado and the West.

The symposium, held the last two years, has sparked relationships among CSU academics and gas industry representatives.

“(It) showcased the kinds of things we could do here at CSU,” said Bill Farland, CSU’s senior vice president for research. “That brought together a broad set of partners who had interest in these areas.”

As an example, the event led to a collaboration of CSU and Noble Energy Inc., a key Northern Colorado producer, to study ways the company can drill more sustainably. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding their efforts to develop water treatment plants with a $1.4 million grant. The infrastructure is essential to recycle oil and gas wastewater.

Beyond the scope of water-recycling, CSU academics will work with other companies to look at the industry’s effects on water and air, Farland said.

“The governor had a vision for how surrounding himself with the right kind of people could advance the kinds of things that we do here in Colorado, including the education and research and development activities, but also could really be a resource to other states … who are struggling with similar types of issues,” Farland said.

To a lot of his fans, that sounds like a good resume for the next DOE chief.

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