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April 30, 2014 10:47 AM UTC

Local Control "Grand Bargain" In The Works?

  • by: Colorado Pols
Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis
Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover and Cathy Proctor report:

The oil and gas wars that many predicted at the Colorado Capitol still may be coming as the 2014 legislative session wanes, as industry representatives and elected officials are discussing a bill that would give local governments more control over drilling regulations.

A draft bill that was revised late Tuesday and was given to the Denver Business Journal would grant local governments regulatory authority — provided the rules don’t conflict with state statutes — over noise and over setback distance between a well site and schools, hospitals and homes. It also would give cities and counties the authority to conduct inspections and monitoring and to charge a “reasonable” fee to cover its costs.

House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said early Tuesday that she doubted such a bill would materialize this session because there is only a week left until the May 7 adjournment of the General Assembly. But several sources close to the negotiations said that discussions about the bill picked up throughout the day as a number of oil and gas companies began to see it as a favorable alternative to facing a proposed ballot measure in November that could allow local governments to push setbacks for well sites as far as 1,500 or 2,500 feet from homes and schools and permit local fracking bans…

A last-minute bill to increase the power of local communities to regulate drilling reflects a very simple reality, one that we've acknowledged in this space discussing the possibility of a much more stringent statewide ballot initiative:

Capitol sources say that some oil and gas companies, fearing the potential of losing to [Rep. Jared] Polis’ well-funded ballot effort, [Pols emphasis] are pushing to pass the proposed bill because they consider it to be much less extreme. But there a rifts over what details would be acceptable not just to that industry but to other industries that could be affected.

Negotiating a deal that would be good enough to please both local control initiative proponents and the oil and gas industry is a tall order, but some of the same people involved in the 2010 "Clean Air Clean Jobs" compromise to convert coal-fired power plants along the Front Range to natural gas are working to align these disparate interests enough to strike a deal. This late-session negotiation comes as other bills favored by conservationists, like a mere study of the health effects of oil and gas drilling which passed the House last week, die with help from Democrats in the one-vote Democratic majority Senate. 

Apropos, a couple of weeks ago, Eli Stokols reported for Politico Magazine about the larger issues surrounding this debate. Without expressing an opinion on its conclusions, as negotiations progress, it's clear Stokols wrote a prescient story:

Ted Trimpa, a Denver power lawyer and strategist once dubbed “the Democrats’ Karl Rove,” was instrumental in helping Polis and the three other millionaires build Colorado’s progressive infrastructure and consolidate power over the last decade. Now he finds himself trying to hold it all together.

He worries that the ballot initiative would splinter a progressive coalition in Colorado that’s been so successful that it’s now seen as a blueprint for Democrats and Republicans in other states—its many successes attributable to an unusual and lasting harmony, an ability to avoid sticky policy fights that distract from the shared goal: winning.

Resolving Colorado’s fracking fight quickly may yet provide other states with a blueprint of how to deal with local control issues around oil and gas, a national example of how compromise and consensus can be achieved even in our polarized times. But if Polis’s measures move toward the November ballot, the country may find out that Colorado isn’t such a model after all, that coalition politics aren’t as easy as this state has made them seem.

“We’re a state known for the two sides working together,” Trimpa tells me, “but if this initiative makes the ballot, the age of that will be gone for a very long time.”

It is what it is, folks, and few of us are privy to the action going on behind the scenes. Politically, there's an undeniable need for Democrats to present a unified front in this tight election year. On the other hand, coalitions only work when sufficient common ground exists to move forward. This has always been the great challenge of holding together the center-left Democratic coalition that has held control of this state for going on a decade, and this isn't the first time the ability to hold that coalition together has been put to a high-stakes test.

We'll update as soon as we learn more–and that won't be long with session's end just days away.


22 thoughts on “Local Control “Grand Bargain” In The Works?

  1. Philosophically I'm with the Republicans on this – leave it to local control. Of course, the Republicans have abandoned their principiles on this specific question as giving the O&G industry anything they want comes first for them.

    But I remain true to their principles – leave it to each community.

    1. Actually, it is the Dems that favor Local Control.  Republicans tend to think it is a attempt to cost our state jobs when in fact it is a attempt to give local communities the ability to treat state regs like a floor and not a ceiling.  It gives them the ability to for example decide to have local inspectors given the fact that we have only 13 in the state who could not possibly adequalty oversee nearly 60,000 active wells. 

      So, tell your Republican friends that this is about giving communities the ability to protect their families safety and health NOT about a statewide ban.  

    1. I am willing to accept more birth defects for Colorado children as long as there is a fracking job in it for me somewhere.  Nothing fucked up about that at all Moddy !

      1. If your scare tactics are based in fact, why are so many Democrats running away from the fractivists? It's not me you need to be arguing with, it's Pat Steadman.

        1. The O&G lobby sees what lies ahead and decide to come to the table, there is dissent, which to you only means that Democrats are running away from the "fractivists". OK.

          I noticed you didn't claim the " scare tactics" were not based on fact, you just are skeptical, right ? That way you don't have to demonstrate anything factual.  See:  global warming.

                1. Healthy communities, clean water, clean groundwater = a threat to our economy and "fractivist mania."

                  I really hope you are being willfully ignorant.

        2. Industry is bullyingn dems.  The dem voters want "time-out" while we figure out how to keep our communities safe.  The precautionary principle is always best when dealing with minors (children) who cannot choose to leave and then have to experience the cancers living too close to these things can cause.  We should be able to study and regulate industry in our backyards.  

    2. This will not cost the state jobs though industry likes to try to scare people with that idea.  What it will actually do is help your community prevent industry from costing us LIVES.  There is nothing wrong with regulating dangerous industries though like Tobacco Oil & Gas has hired PR firms to tell us that it is perfectly safe when they know it's not.  Their goal is to extract and export as much O&G as possible.  They don't care about public health or safety.  We need to keep a close eye on them to be sure they play nice in the sand box that is Colorado. 

  2. I hope they don't reach agreement and Jared's proposal becomes the yes/no choice on the ballot. Why? Read this:

    The real secret to beating the Koch brothers: How our broken political system can still be won
    A duo of activists has quietly bested the energy lobby, helping ban fracking in 172 towns. Here's how they did it

  3. Business-civic coalition forms to oppose Colorado fracking ballot measures

    "CFRR organizers sought out Salazar, the former senator and secretary of U.S. Department of the Interior who sometimes clashed with oil and gas leaders, to be a co-chairman because they believe his activism — along with the co-chairmanship of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb — shows the campaign crosses ideological lines. "


  4. It is unfortunate that this group would choose to lie straight off the bat, and even go so far as to conflate set backs, the simplest of local empowerment–the ability to set back industrial operations from schools and parks inside a town limit, for example, with a 'fracking ban.'  

    Sect. Salazar should be ashamed to be affilited with such nonsense.  

  5. I haven't read the proposed legislation, but it seems like a bad idea. We already have decent regulation, but regulation isn't preventing industry from drilling pretty much wherever they want to and polluting in the most convenient  (to industry) ways.

    The local control bill is the only legislation that will empower communities to make decisions about the tradeoffs in economic growth vs long term pollution.

    The prospect of true local control scares the bejeezus out of the oil and gas industry and its paid-for-reps- hence a lopsided "compromise" which gives communities no power at all.

    1. This is going to be yet another David v. Goliath battle in Colorado – and it looks like Goliath is nervous (and just when they were getting comfortable with being oligarchs).  They're going to suffer the same hard truth as Karl Rove in the last election:  millions spent.  Nothing gained.  For the rest of us?  We'll get local control and a real voice in self-determining the kind of future we want for our communities.

    2. It is a bad idea because it does not allow for moratora or "time-out" in communities while public health, safety and property value impacts can be studied.  How can we regulate or protect our selves appropriatly if we really don't know all of the potential problems yet?  Besides- there are only 13 inspectors in you really think they can enforce state regulations?  

      Think of it like this, if the FDA tried to force medicines on us without them being tested woudl you be ok with that?  We are essentially talking about the same thing here.  Industry wants no rules and they want to force us to breath the toxic emissions coming out of those tanks and during the drilling process, essentially testing for effects on the unconsenting subjects of their experiment with a kind of fracking that has only been done since 1997.  

      The Tobacco industry did this too.  We should have looked closer.  The latency on cancer can be 20 years or more at which point many of these operators will have sucked the shale dry and we'll be stuck with the aftermath.  How much will that cost us?  Health care cost?  Inability to work?  Contaminated water and soil? Endocrine Issues?  Birth defects?  Damage to our food supply?  Environment? (left leaking methane packs a 20% higher punch on the atmosphere than coal) 

      What's the rush?

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