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Hickenlooper touts energy background, climate track record in presidential pitch

The oil and gas industry is not popular with the pool of Democratic candidates angling for the presidency, but Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sees his history of working with the sector as a boon rather than a black mark.

Hickenlooper, who was a geologist and brewery owner before entering into politics, recently highlighted his experience navigating a contentious relationship between his state's oil and gas producers and environmental advocates. When the two sides met to discuss the issue of reducing fugitive methane emissions from gas wells, Hickenlooper said the conflict between the groups was so entrenched he did not foresee even being able to get through a basic meeting agenda until the sides could find some common ground.

"It was like the Hatfields and McCoys. It was so bad that I didn't bring an agenda or a set of goals to the meeting," he said during a discussion at CERAWeek by IHS Markit in Houston March 14. "I was just going to let the environmentalists and the oil and gas industry debate it."

After 14 months of collaboration, the two sides helped the state develop what Hickenlooper called "the only comprehensive methane policy at the time" in 2013.

"It was equal to taking 320,000 cars off the road," he said. "We had the oil and gas industry and environmentalists at a press conference all taking credit for what was done."

Hickenlooper cited his work in mediating and uniting divergent groups, such as oil and gas producers and environmentalists, in a common effort as something that separates him from other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. Of the 16 candidates for the party's nomination, he said, he is also the only one to have led a private business.

"They're dreamers. They create visions. They debate," he said. "I have dreams too, but I'm a doer, and that's where I'm going to try and hang my hat … You have to get the people with the strongest interests to believe there's an even playing field."

One area where Hickenlooper said he hoped to bring all sides together was on the issue of climate change. While he chuckled at mention of the Green New Deal and discounted its billing as a job creator, he said he agreed "a sense of urgency is required" when it comes to climate issues.

"We've got to go hard and fast," he said.

Hickenlooper said he would not shy away from being described as a moderate Democrat and hoped his history of pragmatism would resonate in an election cycle with a large number of his party's candidates staking out more liberal positions.

"The middle will be around competency. I think there's a quiet majority … that's unhappy with the dysfunction in Washington," he said. "They always say the person who wins the presidency is the guy you want to have a beer with. What about the guy who made the beer?"