Originally published on June 13, 2014 9:11 am
Governor John Hickenlooper’s office said he’s still in discussions about whether to call lawmakers back to the state capitol for a special session on oil and gas issues. The goal would be to pass a compromise bill and avoid a fight at the ballot box.
Proposals to give cities and counties more authority to craft stricter oil and gas rules and ban fracking could go before voters this November. Governor Hickenlooper, however, has long said he doesn’t support the nearly dozen possible local control ballot questions.
"This is my problem with any of the bans, right, you're going to ban fracking or you're going to ban oil and gas... In essence government is going in, if local government does a ban, they're going in and snatching the property of a citizen. Just taking it without due compensation," Hickenlooper said. "I think that's something that most of us don't want to be a part of. We want to try and figure out some other way."
To that end, Hickenlooper is floating a bill that would allow cities and towns to regulate noise and increase setback distances between drilling operations, homes and schools. But it wouldn’t allow local communities to ban drilling outright. That element of local control appeals to Democratic Adams county commissioner Eva Henry, a supporter of the Governor’s bill.
"The oil and gas industry is the only industry where the county commissioners don’t have the tools in their toolbox to be able to regulate the safety concerns," Adams stated. "Who better to know what is best for their community than the person that's actually living in that community?"
Henry also backs some of the ballot questions, but she thinks resolving the issue legislatively through a special session would save money and resources. State Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath (D- Boulder) agrees. He’s been involved in recent negotiations and thinks there’s about a 50-50 chance Colorado will have a special session, but it’s contingent on getting broad support.
“If you’re going to do a special session, you better have a pretty good understanding of how it’s going to end up. Because you're obviously spending tax payer's money to do it, so you don’t want to go in and wing it,” said Heath.
Democrats control both legislative chambers so they could theoretically pass a bill without Republican support. But Democrats only hold a one-seat majority in the Senate and it’s not clear if enough Democrats in that chamber back the proposal. Heath thinks any special session will need at least some Republicans on board.
“Health and safety is a bipartisan issue. Energy business is a bipartisan issue,” Heath said. “We all have to feel that we’ve come to the right balance, I would think, for this to be successful, it would have to be bipartisan.”
Oil and gas companies such as Noble Energy and Anadarko are backing the compromise, while the Colorado Petroleum Association, the Association of Homebuilders and the Farm Bureau are among the groups opposing it. A spokesman for the Governor said his office still needs more support, particularly from Republicans before moving forward.
“We’ve reached a place in negotiating local control issues related to oil and gas development where we are soliciting greater stakeholder input,” said spokesman Eric Brown.
State House Minority Leader Brian Del Grosso of Loveland said he’s reluctant to back the bill, as Colorado already has strong oil and gas rules.
“We have some of the strictest oil and gas regulations in the country,” Del Grosso said. “We started disclosing what was in fracking fluid. Now, we’re the first state in the country to regulate methane gas.”
Del Grosso said Republicans are also wary because of the involvement of Democratic Senator Jared Polis of Boulder. Polis is financially backing several of the ballot proposals and has agreed to pull the measures if lawmakers pass the compromise bill, but he doesn’t want it changed. Del Grosso said those demands don’t sit well with the GOP.
"We're being told A, 'you're not gonna have say on how it's drafted or what's in it' and then B, 'when it comes in, it can't be amended,'" Del Grosso said. "The Governor is basically looking at a way to buy off congressman Polis. If the Governor truly thinks that those ballot initiatives are bad for the people of Colorado, then I think the Governor needs to stand up to the congressman and say 'I believe what you are doing is wrong and we're going to fight you.'"
Democrats wouldn’t want an intra party battle during the November 2014 election, especially with Hickenlooper up for re-election and Democratic Senator Mark Udall locked in a close race.
Hickenlooper has said there are people on both sides of the issue that prefer to have the fight at the ballot box. Meanwhile he’s still continuing his push for a legislative solution.
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