Oil And Gas-Funded ‘Just Compensation’ Amendment Makes 2018 Ballot

<p>(Grace Hood/CPR News)</p>
<p>Oil and gas drilling equipment is a common sight in Weld County. It’s now becoming a more regular sight closer to the Denver metro area.</p>
Photo: Weld County oil and gas drilling equipment
Oil and gas drilling equipment is a common sight in Weld County. It’s now becoming a more regular sight closer to the Denver metro area.

Private property rights advocates have secured a spot on the November Ballot.

The initiative, which is expected to appear as Amendment 74 at the ballot box, would allow Coloradans to make a financial claim on property that’s devalued because of government action. The proposal would protect water and mineral rights in addition to physical property.

At its heart, Amendment 74 would adjust how “takings claims” work under Colorado law. Right now someone can only get compensation from a direct government action when it deprives them of nearly all of their property. The change to the state constitution would broaden that range so that property owners could get compensated if property is “reduced in fair market value” by the government.

“If you have really shown that you’re trying to develop a property and as you’re investing in that they try to change the rules to prevent you from doing that, we think that’s clearly a case of regulatory taking,” said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which is floating the issue.

In addition to the Farm Bureau, the just compensation amendment was funded heavily by Protect Colorado, a political issue group funded by the oil and gas industry.

So who would hypothetically pay claims if voters approve the measure? Vorthmann said it depends.

If it’s a local zoning rule in question, then the financial burden would fall on the city or county that passed the rule. Another potential example would be Initiative 97, a proposed 2,500 foot setback between oil wells and homes. If voters approve both the new setback and 74 this November, then the state would be on the hook for perceived losses by oil and gas developers and drillers if the setbacks prevent access to deposits. Initiative 97 is still awaiting an announcement from the Colorado Secretary of State to see if the measure will make the ballot.

“What this will do is force courts to look specifically at the economic damage component that is set so high. When the bar is set around 90 percent we just think that’s unfair and it’s too high,” Vorthmann said.

The proposed constitutional amendment is opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, which says it could chill future regulatory efforts by local governments.