Polis is the force behind a controversial slew of proposed anti-fracking initiatives aimed at the Nov. 4 ballot, but now insists that he actually supports oil and gas development—just not in large swaths of his congressional district.
“It’s not that people hate fracking,” Polis told Fox31. “I think that like myself most Coloradans support fracking and the all-of-the above approach, the ability to extract energy, it’s really a question of when and how you do it.”
Simon Lomax, Denver-based spokesman for Energy In Depth, an industry-backed research and advocacy group, said Polis can’t have it both ways.
“The congressman can’t claim he’s pro-energy when he’s using his fortune to support anti-energy activists in their campaign to wreck Colorado’s economy and destroy tens of thousands of jobs,” said Lomax.
Polis, who was featured on the inaugural episode of “#COpolitics,” a Fox31 Sunday morning political show hosted by Eli Stokols and sponsored by the liberal website ColoradoPols, said he’s just trying to support his constituents.
He noted that four of the five largest cities in his safe Democratic district have voted to place moratoriums or other restrictions on hydraulic fracturing: Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette.
“I don’t have any position that I took on those fights. I think it’s up to them,” said Polis. “But once they decided that they wanted to have a moratorium or a ban, they actually got sued. The government was trying to force them to have fracking even though they chose not to in their city. So I’m really standing up for those residents that voted to have moratoriums in these cities.”
Lafayette and Fort Collins have been sued by the advocacy group Colorado Oil and Gas Association, not the government, on the grounds that the measures violate state law. Longmont, which approved a moratorium in 2012 but is not located in Polis’s district, has been sued by both the state and COGA.
Polis also implied that he doesn’t agree with the bans. “[I] say, ‘Look, if that’s what you decide, even if I personally disagree with your decision and I think there’s a way to integrate oil and gas activity, it’s your right to be able to do that.’”
Critics say multi-millionaire Polis has done much more than lead from behind. One Polis-backed group has contributed $1.45 million to another Polis-backed group, Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, which is running the campaign in favor of the initiatives.
That’s more than the two largest oil and gas groups fighting the measures received in contributions during the same reporting period.
The Polis group received no contributions in the two-week reporting period that ended May 28, although the campaign did spend nearly $25,000 on political consultants, according to the June 2 campaign-finance report.
Lomax said the congressman’s talk of doing right by his constituents ignores the involvement of national environmental groups aimed at banning fracking in the name of climate change.
“He’s smart enough to know the local ‘ban fracking’ campaigns in Northern Colorado were the creation of national activist groups, like Food and Water Watch, whose real goal is banning oil and gas development statewide,” said Lomax. “Yet he’s siding with those fringe anti-energy groups by bankrolling their permanent expansion into Colorado, despite warnings from Democrats, Republicans and the state’s business community.”
A coalition of Democratic bigwigs, led by Gov. John Hickenlooper and supported by pro-business groups, is leading the charge against the Polis measures, none of which have yet qualified for the Nov. 4 ballot.
Hickenlooper has been working for weeks behind the scenes to broker a deal between Polis and oil and gas interests, but the congressman offered few clues Sunday on how he views the negotiations.
“What my constituents want is to see the issue solved,” said Polis. “Whether that’s at the ballot box or in a legislative negotiation is certainly secondary. There’s certainly ways that it can be done in statute or at the ballot box whether that’s through additional setbacks or the correct degree of local control.”
Polis also deflected a question about whether his initiatives would hurt the reelection chances of Democrats like Sen. Mark Udall.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with helping Democrats or Republicans or independents, it’s about solving a problem,” said Polis. “And I hope Democrats and Republicans can come together around a solution, and I’m confident that they will, whether that’s at the ballot box or the legislature.”