Word is that Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is attempting to broker a legislative compromise between Polis and the oil and gas industry in order to avoid a ballot fight in November, but so far Republicans are disinclined to support such a deal.
Why? For one, they don’t trust Polis. Even if the multi-millionaire congressman agrees to pull his initiatives, there’s nothing to stop him from returning to the table next year to demand more concessions—or from funding another anti-fracking campaign behind the scenes.
“The first and probably biggest [hurdle] is that nobody trusts Jared Polis and people don’t like him using his money to throw his weight around,” said state Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch). “You don’t become a responsible elected official by holding hostage one of the state’s primary industries, and that’s what Jared has done.”
Any deal would presumably come in the form of a bill and require the approval of the state legislature. Hickenlooper said last week there was a 50/50 chance that he would call back the legislature, which adjourned last week, for a special session to consider the issue.
Another hitch is that many Republicans remain uneasy with the idea of dumping more regulations on the energy industry. Colorado already boasts the toughest and most comprehensive oil and gas regulations in the nation, and Republicans say piling on in order to appease Polis would jack up energy prices and endanger jobs.
“If the governor calls a special session, I believe he’s just trying to avoid a discussion in November, which I say is welcome,” said state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Loveland). “I think the people of Colorado should be able to speak out on this issue, and tell outside interests trying to push these extreme perspectives and agendas down our throats to go find another state.”
While Hickenlooper is a longtime champion of the oil and gas industry, state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) says he believes there’s another issue at play: Democrats fear a ballot war on fracking would bring out pro-business, pro-jobs voters and therefore jeopardize the reelection chances of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
“True to form, Gov. Hickenlooper is doing the bidding of his pals at the expense of Colorado. In this case, he’s trying to save Udall from Polis,” Brophy said in a Tuesday statement.
Democrats don’t need the GOP’s buy-in to pass a fracking compromise, given that they control both legislative houses, but they do need the swing vote of either state Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton) or Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-Thornton).
Both are staunch oil and gas industry supporters. “The question is, will Mary Hodge or Lois Tochtrop vote for it, because if they won’t vote for it, it ain’t happening,” said Brophy.
Republicans also said any legislative compromise would need the support of the entire industry, unlike the air-quality standards approved earlier this year, which were drawn up by a coalition of several energy companies and an environmental group.
Smaller oil and gas operators cried foul, saying the standards were unreasonably stringent. While the new rules did help Hickenlooper stave off an anti-fracking push in the legislature, they ultimately did nothing to stop Polis and other environmental groups from moving the fight to the ballot box.
“It depends on what the industry support looks like,” said McNulty. “There really has to be a cross-section of support in order for it to be something that would be viable for us.”
Polis is the financial muscle behind Coloradans for Local Control, which has proposed 15 ballot measures.
Another group, Local Control Colorado, pulled its one initiative last week after the language was watered down by the title board, said spokeswoman Kelly Giddens.
Even so, Giddens said Tuesday her group might get behind one of the Polis initiatives, as long as it established the rights of a community to declare a moratorium on fracking while impact studies are completed.
“In our mind, it would be premature to pass a local control measure that didn’t establish a community’s rights to have moratoria because the facts just aren’t in yet,” said Giddens. “We would love to help out a group that is able to get language through that would allow for those things. We’re ready. We’ve got the ground troops ready to go.”
A third group, the Colorado Community Rights Network, is sponsoring an initiative to allow localities to ban corporate activity within their borders. The group has no plans to pull its initiative, said Lotus, a chief organizer.
All the proposed anti-fracking initiatives are awaiting challenges before the Colorado Supreme Court and none has yet qualified for signature-gathering.
McNulty said the proposed compromises he’s seen would grant more authority to localities over oil and gas regulations, including setbacks and penalties, but would not allow fracking bans or moratoriums.
“Every proposed agreement that I’ve seen is making things more difficult on these responsible energy producers,” said McNulty.
Even so, Republicans say they haven’t ruled out the possibility of a compromise, given the stakes involved.
“I know that people are trying,” said McNulty. “I think that everyone should put forth their best good faith effort to try to resolve this. The only people who win if this thing goes to the ballot are the lawyers and consultants who are going to make a killing off of it. And the lives of real families are held in the balance.”