[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olorado Congressman Jared Polis is having a particularly passionate populist week.
He railed on the floor of the House against chamber leaders for burying a Senate-passed immigration reform bill and attempting to quash reference on the record to the desperate immigrant family members who had come to watch proceedings from the House gallery.
And he took quick action Wednesday in wake of news that the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s powerful state lobbying group, was suing Fort Collins for passing a moratorium and Lafayette for passing a full ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits. He sent a fiery letter to COGA President Tisha Schuller. (He also posted a video online, now included below.)
“Ms. Schuller,” the letter begins. “Please stop suing the communities I represent.”
“Elections matter. In a democracy both sides get to make their case and the people have their say. In the lead up to the recent election, COGA made its case by spending approximately $900,000 in an attempt to defeat the four ballot measures to ban or extend drilling moratoria on the hydraulic fracturing process (“fracking”). Still, the majority of Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette and Broomfield chose to pass measures to extend drilling maratoria or fracking bans…
“I ask you to immediately withdraw your lawsuits against Fort Collins and Lafayette. Colorado home rule communities have held these rights for decades: the right to determine how their own city or town will look and feel; the right to decide between an expanding extractive industry and the value of their homes; and the right to balance increased development with the health and quality of life of community residents. Local governments have authority to regulate oil and gas land use activities because oil and gas operations are matters of local concern that directly involve the use of land and are an important issue for residents and neighborhoods.”
Polis’s sympathies are professional and personal.
This summer and fall, he tangled with Sundance Energy drillers who set up a fracking operation opposite a Weld County home he owns. A drill rig appeared overnight, across the road, in the scenic foothills setting where the home is located. The experience was one shared by increasing numbers of residents across Colorado’s northern Front Range, where natural gas boom-time extraction has encroached on residential areas nearly unimpeded, drillers appearing to act with impunity.
Polis is a wealthy congressman and his complaint to state regulators drew much media attention. The company was fined $26,000.
“It’s an illegal well that’s located too close, and a rig that is too high, and it kind of vindicates our initial charge of complete carelessness with regard to following state regs,” Polis said at the time.
Citizens making similar complaints in city and state hearings testimony have met with less success. The impression that officeholders seem so powerless in the face of the oil and gas industry has spurred the local initiatives to ban drilling.