At least a dozen college students wearing red “No on Polis” T-shirts were circulating petitions on behalf of two pro-fracking ballot initiatives, a typically tedious job made much easier by the congressman’s notoriety.
“As soon as people see ‘Polis,’ they want to sign,” said Andrew Knarr, a 22-year-old student at Colorado Mesa University. “I haven’t had a single person say no.”
Knarr was of course picking low-hanging fruit at the annual gathering of 3,300 conservatives, but it’s also true that Democratic Rep. Jared Polis’s name has become shorthand for the anti-fracking movement in Colorado.
The multimillionaire Polis is bankrolling two anti-fracking ballot measures, Initiative 88 and 89, while business interests are pushing two counter-measures, Initiatives 121 and 137. All four initiatives must gather at least 86,105 valid signatures by Aug. 4 to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.
Polis has said he’s undertaking the effort on behalf of his constituents in Boulder, but Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, made it clear in a Saturday speech that the industry was holding the congressman responsible.
“Two words: Jared Polis,” Wigley said. “That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?”
He told the audience at the Denver Hyatt Regency that Polis’s measures have already attracted powerful environmental groups seeking to send a national message on hydraulic fracturing with a statewide victory.
“There are forces that have come into Colorado that want to make drastic changes. Quite frankly, they want to gut the oil and gas industry in this state,” said Wigley. “They are big, out-of-state national interests–Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Natural Resources Defense Council—major, major groups with major, major dollars.”
“It’s not about owls, it’s not about fish, it’s not about air, it’s not about water,” said Wigley. “It is about ending an industry, make no mistake about it. We can’t let that happen. We’re going to need your help.”
He said Initiative 88, which would increase setbacks from 500 to 2,000 feet, would be “devastating” to the industry. Initiative 89, the Environmental Bill of Rights, would allow localities to enact stricter rules on the drilling than those of the state.
The two pro-business measures are aimed at protecting the $30 billion industry and its 110,000 related jobs. Initiative 121, called the “fairness measure,” would prevent communities that pass anti-fracking measures from receiving severance taxes from oil and gas.
Initiative 137 would require initiatives to include a fiscal impact statement in the signature-gathering phase.
Both camps have the financial backing to collect the necessary petitions. Polis’s campaign Safe.Clean.Colorado released figures last week showing that it’s collected 65,000 signatures per measure, or about half of the 120,00 recommended by elections experts.
“We’re getting fairly close to attaining our goal, but we can get a lot closer with a crowd this big, and we need your help,” said Wigley. “If there was ever a year for you to get highly engaged, highly motivated–we need your help this year, not only oil and gas, but electing the right kind of people to Congress, and we have huge opportunities in this state.”
At the summit, the signature-gathering for the pro-fracking measures was brisk. Some signers even wanted to know where they could get the T-shirts, which say, “No to Polis/Yes to Energy Independence.”
“People have been going out of their way to tell us, ‘Nice shirt,’” said Knarr.