John Hickenlooper's Climate Bill Victory Lap, Common Ground With Joe Manchin

A 2019 portrait of John Hickenlooper.
A 2019 portrait of John Hickenlooper. Photo by Michael Roberts
U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper is basking in the glow of the most positive publicity he's received since his election in 2020, thanks to his role in nudging West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to belatedly back the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which supporters say "will make a historic down payment on deficit reduction to fight inflation, invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing, and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030." The Senate is expected to vote on the measure this week.

Hick's victory lap isn't without irony. On July 27, the same day that U.S. Senate Democrats released the Inflation Reduction Act's legislative text and Manchin confirmed that he'd signed on, a Hickenlooper spokesperson was quoted by Colorado Public Radio denying that his boss would be hosting an event at which his controversial colleague, who earned his fortune from a family coal business and had seemingly killed the bill by cutting off talks with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on July 15, would be the special guest.

A news release from Hickenlooper's staff credits Manchin's turnaround to his Colorado collaborator's persistence and faith, as well as a report from the Wharton School showing that the bill would reduce inflation as promised. In Hick's words, the subsequent deal between Manchin and Schumer to move forward is "the most important thing I've ever been close to."

Here's a clip of Hickenlooper telling the tale on MSNBC.
Not mentioned in such appearances was Hickenlooper's past championing of the fossil fuels industry. Back in 2011, when he was Colorado's governor, he told attendees at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association meeting that groundwater contamination was "almost inconceivable" — and two years later, the former geologist bragged to a Senate committee that he'd sipped from a glass of fracking fluid (a "green-friendly" version developed by Halliburton) as a way of undermining its reputation as an environmental nightmare. "It was not particularly tasty," Hickenlooper acknowledged at the time, "but I'm still alive to tell the story."

Similar issues popped up during Hickenlooper's 2020 run for the Senate. A Westword post from that February about his decision to skip a high-profile climate forum pointed out that oil production in Colorado had quintupled during Hick's eight years as governor and that his administration had twice filed suit against municipalities that wanted to restrict fracking.

More recently, on July 20, CPR's Andrew Kenney tweeted that "Joe Manchin will attend two private events in Colorado next month, including one in Denver hosted at Sen. John Hickenlooper's house and another in Aspen, according to an invite from the group No Labels" — an organization that touts bipartisanship but that many climate protectors see as a "corporate shill."

A week later, CPR published a post quoting Hickenlooper spokesperson Alyssa Roberts: "There was never an event planned with No Labels, and Senator Hickenlooper will not be hosting an event for Senator Manchin."

It's unclear if that's changed: No Colorado events are currently listed on the websites for either No Labels or Manchin. But whether such gatherings happen or not, Hickenlooper is in a place where a connection to Manchin is being seen as a good thing — at least for now.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts