December 3, 2021 | NEWS | By Lily Weaver | Illustration by Kira Schulist

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project seeks to enhance understandings of socio-environmental issues in the Rocky Mountain West through collaborative student-faculty research and education.

Recently, a paper written by CC professor Katrina Miller-Stevens and academic Jonathan Pierce, titled “How Anger and Fear Influence Policy Narratives: Advocacy and Regulation of Oil and Gas Drilling in Colorado,” was accepted to the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, Ill. set to take place on April 10, 2022.

The paper relies on extensive research done by the professors, as well as the five State of the Rockies fellows, all of whom are CC students. Three of the student fellows will also be co-authors on the paper.

The project’s research focused on policy debates about hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in the Colorado state legislature. Specifically, the research team focused on SB19-181, a bill signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in 2019.

“The paper came about in just a friendly conversation between [Jonathan] and me over breakfast,” said Miller-Stevens, who teaches economics and business at CC. “He also was really interested in emotions, and how emotions affect public policy. I’m interested in grassroots efforts to influence policy. As he and I were talking, it just made sense, the two interests came together really well.”  

As fellow Izzie Hicks ’22 detailed in an article she recently wrote for The Catalyst, titled “Behind the Scenes of the State of the Rockies Project,” the bill “changed the mission of Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory body from ‘fostering’ oil and gas development to ‘regulating’ it. It also gave local governments more power to control the industry themselves instead of being preempted by the state.”

The bill was seen as a victory for environmentalists, and the State of the Rockies research asked why SB19-181 was able to pass. “This time, why did the environmentalists win?” said Hicks about the central research question.  

The Rockies fellows spent much of their summer examining about 50 hours of spoken testimony and over 100 written testimonies about the bill. Hicks shares that Miller-Stevens and Pierce taught the fellows how to analyze the testimonies through qualitative coding, a process in which Hicks goes into depth in her article.

The research paper that will be presented at the Chicago conference surrounds the main takeaways from the qualitative coding of the bill’s legislative hearings. Several of the fellows will be co-authors on the paper, and they have the option to present the paper in Chicago or via a virtual format.

The Catalyst corresponded directly with Hicks about her experience as a State of the Rockies fellow.

“I started the fellowship last March after seeing it advertised around CC and applying. As an environmental studies major from Colorado, I’ve always been interested in learning about all facets of environmental issues and climate change,” said Hicks, “including the regulation of the oil and gas industry, which is what our research has been about.”

There are a number of pressing socio-economic issues in the Rocky Mountain West today.

“I think energy development is a really important environmental issue in general because we have to think about our future and long-term sustainability, where our energy will come from once all the oil and coal is gone,” said Hicks. “That’s why I find it interesting to research regulation of the oil and gas industry and how that long term kind of planning plays out via political battles in the short term.”

Environmental racism is another issue that threatens the well-being of the Rocky Mountain West, which fellow Dova Zilly ’23 expressed as one of her central concerns.

“I developed a passion for environmental racism and working towards solutions that create a more equitable environment for everybody,” said Zilly. “I’m passionate about building a more sustainable future and how society can live in conjunction with nature, which is going to be a big mental shift for a lot of people, but that’s a very important step that we have to take.”

“I also frequently listen to environmental podcasts about climate change and about living more sustainably,” Zilly added. “If you listen even just once a week, you can learn a bunch of little things that you can do as well as figure out if you are truly interested in the topic.”

Looking ahead, the State of the Rockies project is headed in an exciting direction.

“I hope the research collaboration between Jonathan Pierce and Miller-Stevens continues. That would be really interesting,” said Zilly.

“It was great working on the project,” said Evan Rao ’23, another fellow. “I think our research into SB19-181 and how Colorado is working to give local governments more control over fracking provides a lot of hope about addressing climate change, especially when actions at the national level seem so impossible… It’s an awesome opportunity to have the paper accepted at the conference.”

The State of the Rockies Project goes beyond research; there are also opportunities to get involved through photo and poster contests, along with a collaboration with the Pioneer Museum. “The goal is to just to get as many people involved and engage students, faculty, staff, as we can emphasis on students,” Miller-Stevens said.

Applications to become a State of the Rockies Fellow and participate in environmental research over the summer open during Block 5.

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