Colorado Public Radio reported Friday on an agreement brokered by Gov. Jared Polis to keep another round of confrontational oil and gas ballot measures off the 2020 ballot, in order to give one of the biggest achievements of Polis’ term in office so far, Senate Bill 19-181 reforming oil and gas permitting in the state to prioritize public health, a chance to work:
According to Polis, the agreement is meant to allow for the full implementation of SB19-181, an overhaul of oil and gas regulations he signed in 2019.
“Let’s give SB181 a chance to work, and let’s see the full effects of the law instead of returning to the same old ballot box wars that this legislation was designed to avoid,” the governor wrote.
Protect Colorado, a political group funded by oil and gas companies, confirmed it planned to drop two ballot initiatives likely headed to voters in the fall. One is Initiative 284, which would have blocked local governments from limiting natural gas hookups in new buildings. The other is Initiative 304, which would have required fiscal impact statements attached to future ballot initiatives…
Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said her group participated in the discussion along with the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Citizens and Western Colorado Alliance. They all agreed not to back regulatory reforms on the 2020 or 2022 ballot. That said, she added that Conservation Colorado will not pause other efforts to combat climate change or limit the health impacts of oil and gas development.
After the over-the-top initial political reaction to the passage of SB181 last year, which ended in a string of embarrassing failed recall attempts against Gov. Polis and Democratic lawmakers, the oil and gas industry belatedly admitted that the law had not “destroyed the oil and gas industry” as its opponents breathlessly insisted it would before passage. Since SB181 has taken effect, historic declines in the price of oil and gas have disrupted the industry in Colorado far more than any regulatory burden ever could.
The collapse of fossil fuel prices in 2020 has led to bankruptcies and acquisitions across the industry, and the players who lavishly funded pro oil and gas measures like 2018’s ill-conceived Amendment 74 don’t have the means to throw tens of millions at a statewide ballot initiative in Colorado–and if they do, the return on that investment has dwindled even if they are successful to the point of mootness. With all of this in mind, the industry’s new tune that they’re going to “allow SB181 to work through the regulatory process and work for Colorado” is more an acknowledgement of reality than it is good faith.
Despite this significant win for Gov. Polis, we were struck by curious editorializing in some coverage of this deal–a good example being the Colorado Sun’s ever-contrarian John Frank:
Gov. Jared Polis declared a truce in the oil and gas wars in Colorado — but once again it appears to be an illusion.
Here’s the problem with this lede: because environmentalist groups had already announced that their proposed ballot measures were not going forward due to the difficulty in gathering signatures this year, the only net effect of Gov. Polis’ agreement is the withdrawal of the pro-industry measures. In Gov. Polis’ op-ed announcing the deal, he doesn’t claim that any final agreement for 2022 has been reached–only that the groups involved “have committed to withdraw current ballot measures filed for 2020 and have expressed a willingness to work together to prevent future ballot measures through 2022.” Frank quotes some of the groups who had already withdrawn their 2020 measures, and they won’t commit to a plan for 2022 yet.
And that’s fine, because this deal is about giving SB181 a chance to work in 2021.
All told, this agreement marks the biggest win for Gov. Polis on energy policy since the original passage of SB181, and clears the way for the law to prove itself instead of being hyped out of earthly proportion for political gain. The oil and gas industry’s assent is further proof that the hyperbolic warnings of doom and gloom over SB181 bill were false.
But above all, it’s a sign that this industry’s power over Colorado politics in general is waning.