Polis Ready to Accept Deal on Local Control, But Not Fracktivists

June 9, 2014

Rep. Jared Polis

Rep. Jared Polis

DENVER — Democratic Rep. Jared Polis has signed off on an agreement that would keep him out of the ballot battle over fracking until 2018 in exchange for local-control legislation, but the deal doesn’t say anything about Tom Steyer.

Or Food and Water Watch. Or Clean Water Action. Or Frack Free Colorado. Or Water Defense. Or Moveon.org. Or 350 Colorado.

In other words, Polis is just one piece, albeit a very rich one, of Colorado’s anti-fracking puzzle.

Like it or not, getting rid of the multi-millionaire Polis doesn’t dislodge the national movement that has quietly put down roots in Colorado as climate-change foes push for a breakthrough statewide victory.

“These are million-dollar entities that have invested in opening up offices in Colorado all over the place,” said former Rep. B.J. Nikkel, who runs the Loveland Energy Action Project, which is fighting Question 1, Loveland’s proposed two-year fracking moratorium.

So far those groups aren’t on board with the Polis compromise. A coalition of anti-fracking groups, including the Sierra Club, issued a statement Saturday saying the deal would “jeopardize the ability of local jurisdictions to protect themselves from drilling and fracking for gas and oil within their boundaries.”

“After threatening to sue any community that protects their health, safety and property to ban fracking, Governor [John] Hickenlooper is trying to cut a secret deal to strip communities of an important tool to keep this dangerous, industrial activity away from homes, schools and public parks,” said Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Region Organizer for Food and Water Watch.

That such groups would target Colorado is hardly a surprise, given the movement’s success so far on the Front Range. The four local-control measures passed by voters in November represent the anti-fracking camp’s biggest electoral success to date—not just in Colorado, but in any state.

Still, Hickenlooper is betting he can beat back the effort by co-opting Polis. The draft bill, drawn up in negotiations with Democratic lawmakers and two leading oil and gas companies, would give localities authority to conduct inspections, impose greater setbacks and regulate noise associated with production.

In exchange, the bill prohibits localities from imposing “arbitrary or excessive” moratoriums, which would presumably include the five-year moratoriums passed in November by Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins voters. The Democratic governor is expected to call a legislative session this month to move the bill–if he can muster the votes.

Over the weekend, however, the proposed compromise appeared to gain more foes than friends. On Sunday, eight business and agriculture groups fired off a letter to Hickenlooper urging him to reject the deal, saying it “fails to take into consideration the property rights of the surface property owners.”

“We are concerned that this bill will have the unintended consequence of rekindling past split estate fights over such issues as surface damage and compensation for surface damage,” said the letter. “We are concerned that the draft language gives to the oil and gas industry protections that will be afforded no other industry or business in the state.”

Meanwhile, owners of mineral rights expressed concern about the proposal’s impact on their royalties, according to a Friday statement from the National Association of Royalty Owners [NARO].

“While we support the continued efforts to work together to develop a solution to the issues behind the local control initiatives, NARO continues to prioritize the rights of property owners in Colorado in these negotiations,” said Michelle Smith, president of NARO-Rockies, in a statement.

So far Republicans have lined up squarely against a compromise, saying they refuse to slam the industry with yet more regulations in order to appease Polis, which means Hickenlooper would need every Democratic vote in the 18-17 Senate.

Critics say the worst-case scenario would be for the state legislature to adopt the deal, only to see another anti-fracking campaign launch next year behind a wealthy environmentalist not named Polis. At the top of that list is San Francisco billionaire and climate-change activist Tom Steyer.

Speculation had been swirling that Steyer was poised to lend his financial support to Polis’s anti-fracking initiatives. His representatives met in April with campaign strategist Rick Ridder, who’s running the Polis initiatives, according to Environment & Energy News.

Another wild card is Cliff Willmeng, who’s pushing the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, an initiative that would allow localities to ban all corporate activity—not just fracking. He’s made it clear he’s going to continue gathering signatures for Initiative 75 no matter what the state legislature does.

Of course, Willmeng has no money—his group’s June 2 campaign finance report listed zero contributions and zero expenditures—but with Polis out of the game, it’s possible that national advocates may shift their focus to Initiative 75 rather than wait another year.

Fracking activists are already balking at the deal, accusing Polis of selling them out and arguing that they should have had a seat at the table when the bargain was struck instead of learning about it afterward.

“What a gift to the peasants and our communities not invited to their closed door meetings,” said a sarcastic Sunday post on the Colorado Community Rights Network’s Facebook page.

The activists aren’t behaving as if they’re ready to pack it up. For example, Frack Free Colorado, which was founded in 2012 by California-based Patagonia, Water Defense and others, is hosting the premiere Tuesday of its anti-fracking film “Dear Governor Hickenlooper” at the Boulder Theater.

Boulder Weekly columnist Joel Dyer told Polis in a Thursday article, “If you don’t want to spend a ton of your own money bankrolling an election battle on local control of fracking, then don’t.”

“No one will think the worse of you for that,” said Dyer, “but sell the people out with a compromise they didn’t ask for and don’t want, and that’s a different story.”

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

3 Responses to Polis Ready to Accept Deal on Local Control, But Not Fracktivists

  1. Brian Mcfarlane
    June 9, 2014 at 11:20 am


    On Nov. 5, 1985 Greeley residents voted to ban drilling inside city limits. This was challenged by the state and by oil and gas companies. The Colorado Supreme Court, in the case of Voss v. Lundvall Bros., overturned the ban, June 8, 1992… Despite the ability of home rule cities like Greeley to self govern, the Colorado Supreme Court reasoned that a ban can’t pre-empt law in the Oil and Gas Conversation Act [.pdf] that ensures efficient development of mineral resources.

    The City of Greeley also lost almost $400,000 (in 1992 money) to the oil and gas industry with this ruling, that does not include court/legal costs. These other cities (that have zero or almost zero drilling within their city limits and virtually none scheduled) will see the same fate and most are less able to afford the costs fighting this than Greeley can.

    Colorado already has the most regulation in the country. The only reason for the oil and gas industry to compromise with the “fracktivists” is their own interest in being reasonable (image) and to … save their money from legal costs. Otherwise there is already precedent that sides with the oil and gas industry.

    All, or at least most of these anti-fracking groups are directly and indirectly related or linked to what is or could be called the community rights movement. It is revealing when somebody takes a look at organizations that are in support or related to this movement called “community rights”… There is or was a website called Community Rights . Org – apparently it is now called “CAC” Constitutional Accountability Center; ironically the website is now – theconstitution.org http://communityrights.org/default_backup.php. “CAC promotes our conviction that the Constitution is, in its most vital respects, a progressive document. Through Constitutional Progressives, a coalition of leaders, organizations and individuals.” This “movement” is all about collectivism, as opposed to individualism, in general they are against individual rights including property rights. This country was built on individual rights not collective rights. Collectivism has been tried several times in history and has not proved to be better for the individual’s quality of life, it has mostly proven to be far worse.

  2. Bob Simons
    June 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Polis is trying to fatten his wallet instead of enabling jobs for Coloradans and moving us closer to energy independence. FIRE THE LIAR in 2014!

  3. John
    June 9, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Who cares what this arrogant, abnormal little elitist wants. He that inherited all his wealth and has been sucking on the public teat since!


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