Via the Colorado Statesman’s David O. Williams, Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder responds to the failure of two statewide ballot measures to obtain enough petition signatures to qualify this year–one of which he financially supported:
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis on Monday told The Colorado Statesman that the battle for greater local control over oil and gas drilling will keep coming back every two years if the State Legislature is unable to take action on the emotionally charged issue of fracking in and around neighborhoods.
“Issues are always best addressed legislatively, but if the Legislature fails to address it, I’m sure proponents of ballot initiatives will be back,” Polis told The Statesman on Monday after Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams concluded supporters of two anti-fracking ballot initiatives — one of which Polis backed — didn’t collect enough valid voter signatures.
Polis gave $25,000 to Yes for Local Control Over Oil and Gas, the group pushing Initiative 75 that would have given local governments more regulatory control over oil and gas drilling within town and county boundaries, including possibly banning fracking in certain areas. Drilling is currently regulated primarily by the state…
Polis supported anti-fracking ballot initiatives in 2014 and worked toward a legislative solution in what would have been a special session designed to avoid a ballot fight. He later supported a deal with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper that formed an oil and gas task force to hopefully address the setback and local-control issues.
Rep. Polis did not contribute to Initiative 78, which would have mandated a very large 2,500 foot setback for new oil and gas development from existing structures. Likewise, leading environmental advocacy group Conservation Colorado endorsed Initiative 75 (local control) but not 78. Although both the local control and setback ballot measures were jointly promoted during the petition drive, opinions on the two different approaches even among environmentalists are not unanimous. For everyone except those who very deliberately are seeking to completely ban the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas, the large inflexible setbacks in Initiative 78 just aren’t workable–and if you want to ban fracking, you should be honest about that in your proposal.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that the realistic battleground in the ongoing debate over oil and gas development under the urbanizing Front Range of Colorado is going to be over the rights of local cities to regulate the industry within their boundaries to a greater degree than the state oil and gas commission. The ballot measure fights in 2014 and this year both stem from decisions by local voters and governments in Front Range cities to ban or place moratoria on fracking within their boundaries. Many of those bans and moratoria have been overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, but Polis is absolutely correct that the issue isn’t going away. Until a better deal is struck between mineral rights holders and the growing population centers on the surface–one that recognizes that human beings on the surface do indeed matter more than the minerals beneath–every election is going to be haunted by these unsatisfied grievances.
In the Denver Post today, even Gov. John “Frackenlooper” Hickenlooper paid lip service to this ongoing challenge:
The Democratic governor said he wants to “continue the discussions” between the energy sector and supporters of the two unsuccessful ballot measures, which would have prohibited new oil and gas facilities within 2,500 feet of homes, and given more power to local governments to restrict fracking. But he offered no specifics. [Pols emphasis]
“I think most of the people I’ve talked to both in the environmental community and the oil and gas industry recognize that there is more work to be done,” he said.
The trick, as we’ve learned now in two disappointing election cycles, will be turning that lip service into something tangible–for local residents and local governments who have been pleading with Hickenlooper’s administration for years for better protections. “Banning fracking” should not be the goal of environmentalists in Colorado, but effective control of oil and gas drilling to ensure local governments can make land-use decisions that are appropriate for their communities.
Every legislative session, like every election, is a fresh chance to do the right thing.