WASHINGTON — In Congress, the media, and in court, Rep. Jared Polis has criticized hydraulic fracturing. Now the Boulder Democrat has accepted an offer to criticize it on stage.
Polis has agreed to debate government regulation of fracking with the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, TCO has learned.
“COGA has confirmed that Polis has agreed to the debates,” Doug Flanders, a spokesman for COGA, wrote in an email.
Flanders said Lisa Kaufmann, a top aide to Polis in his district, confirmed that the congressman would participate in the debates with a COGA aide.
Although Kaufmann did not respond to three emails and two telephone calls for this story, a Polis spokesperson said Kaufmann was handling media inquiries about the debate.
The time, date, terms, and place of the debates are being worked out, Flanders added.
Polis represents the 2nd Congressional district in and around the western Denver suburbs. Last month, the communities of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Lafayette approved bans or moratoriums on the procedure. Voters in Broomfield voted on a ballot measure to restrict the procedure, but the result was too close to call and the election is in the midst of a recount.
After COGA filed lawsuits to prevent the restrictions from taking effect, Polis taped and released a video in which he urged COGA to halt its court actions.
“I’m calling on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association to stop suing communities just because they don’t want fracking. Look, there’s been a public debate, there’s been a vote. You don’t win friends by disregarding a public vote suing to get your way,” Polis said.
Tisha Schuller, the president and CEO of COGA, on December 6 sent a letter to Polis in which said the industry was left “with no other choice” after three states passed bans or moratoriums on fracking last month.
She invited her fellow Boulderite to a “series of public debates regarding Colorado’s energy future” and recommended the first be held in Boulder. “I know our neighbors would appreciate a public and civil discourse on this contentious issue,” she wrote.
For Polis, the debate over fracking is both personal and public.
In late July, he filed a temporary restraining order in Denver District Court to prevent Sundance Energy Company from continuing its operations next to a 50-acre weekend home in unincorporated Weld County. Noxious fumes and loud sounds from a nearby hydraulic fracturing rig made life on the property unbearable, he said.
“It’s just … you can’t live here. Our lives are upended. I don’t know what the future holds. There’s very little you can do under Colorado law,” Polis told the Daily Camera (Boulder).
Although Polis withdrew the lawsuit a few days later, he attracted notice from mainstream news organizations such as CBS for his opposition to unimpeded fracking.
Polis has sought to regulate fracking at the federal level. In March, he announced he had introduced two bills that would make oil and gas companies subject to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
Although Polis’ legislation has endeared him to liberal environmentalists, he has been feeling heat from other constituencies in the Democratic Party.
On the same day Polis released his video, a prominent liberal organization asked him to resign as a member of a center-left organization whose two leaders had written an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal critical of economically populist measures from a Massachusetts senator.
“Rep. Jared Polis is a co-chair of this group that’s attacking Elizabeth Warren. Call him today and tell him to drop his affiliation with Third Way,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee wrote.
The prospect of a member of congress debating a lobbyist in public struck one political observer as unusual. “It’s never come across my desk before,” Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy political editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, said in an interview.
Polis, 38, is a multi-millionaire and former Internet entrepreneur who has won friends on both sides of the aisle with a friendly, earnest demeanor despite having a tone that can be pedantic.
Yet in the eyes of Polis, Gonzales added, the debate is a no-lose proposition.
“Either Polis is very confident about him winning the debate or he feels that whether he wins or loses, he wins for taking on a special interest,” Gonzales said.