Editorial: Lepore’s new job in energy sector sends wrong signal

If Colorado’s oil and gas industry — and the regulators who oversee it — want to build trust with the public, they’re going about it exactly the wrong way.

Case in point: the departure of Matt Lepore as director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for the private sector.

But it’s not just any private-sector job. Lepore, who for five and a half years oversaw the Colorado energy sector as its chief regulator, has taken a job with Adamantine Energy as a strategic adviser and legal counsel — in other words, within the very sector he regulated. He’ll work for Tisha Schuller, former head of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, the industry trade association.

Lepore continues a dubious tradition of COGCC directors leaving their public positions to  take jobs in the energy sector. His predecessors, David Neslin and Brian Macke, each also took energy-industry positions after leaving the state agency.

Gov. John Hickenlooper praised Lepore for his work at the commission.

“Matt performed one of the most demanding jobs in state government,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “He did so with style and substance that provided calm over an area often at the center of controversy. Matt always put safeguarding public safety and the environment first. Under his leadership, Colorado developed regulations that have been used as models across the country.”

That same press release from the COGCC relates a laudable goal for Lepore in his new role: “Lepore will be joining Adamantine Energy, a private consulting firm that he describes as tackling the fundamental challenges of energy development at the root causes by working for the best and most inclusive energy outcomes for everyone — industry, government, citizens and the environment,” the COGCC release stated.

Sounds good. But such a goal does not obscure the negative impression that’s left when someone overseeing regulation of an industry leaves government to take a job in that sector.

A state official told The Denver Post that Lepore is aware of state law that prohibits public officials from taking advantage of matters they directly oversaw for six months after leaving office. Presumably, Lepore will remain within the boundaries of what’s acceptable.

But at a time when public distrust of the energy sector remains high — and when conflicts over hydraulic fracturing are likely to increase — a regulator taking a job in that very sector only provides ammunition for opponents of energy development.