The fracking local control compromise that never was

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olorado House Democrats announced this morning that they’re abandoning an ultra-late in the session effort to avoid a politically tricky round of local control over fracking measures slated for the fall. The bill that never was “focused on harmonizing local and state authority in regards to energy production.”

Hypothetically sponsored by Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, and Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, the idea was to develop a consensus bill but with just three days left in the legislative session there wasn’t time to get all the stakeholders to agree on such a contentious issue. Not entirely surprising, since those stakeholders included the Governor’s office — Hickenlooper often gets criticism for being soft on fracking in the eyes of his progressive base — along with industry and conservation representatives and state lawmakers.

“It is of critical importance to people across this state to balance local communities’ ability to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of Colorado families while also creating a consistent and predictable regulatory framework that allows for responsible energy development,” said Ryden and Hullinghorst in a joint statement announcing that no bill came out of the discussions.

“[We] hope that all involved and other interested parties are ready to continue in a good-faith dialogue about how to meet the reasonable expectations of local communities impacted by energy development as well as the needs of operators,” they added.

Though neither the Governor’s office nor representatives of the oil and gas industry were able to comment before publication today, but the local control contingent in the conversation was thrilled to see the compromise bill dissolve.

Littleton resident Philip Doe is a former Department of the Interior staffer and the main proponent behind the  “public trust resources” ballot initiative, which was cleared by the state’s title board last week. He has been following capitol developments around the Ryden bill closely and was happy on Monday to learn it had been pulled.

“To misuse Shakespeare, this was ‘a bill devised by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,'” he told The Independent. “The draft of the bill I read was a rehash, confirming the status quo, making minor changes.

“I don’t think the people pushing this bill have any idea what’s happening on the ground, all the unrest and dissatisfaction. I mean, to bring this sop of a bill out at the last minute. Do they know how it looks? Who is the bill meant to please?”

Congressman Jared Polis, the wealthy Boulder representative who’s thrown his weight behind these local control measures, was at least pleased by the effort. In a release today he thanked Hullinghorst and Ryden for their efforts and quickly pivoted the conversation back to the topic he’s been raising not just with funds but also with youtube videos of his own experiences with backyard fracking.

“My constituents and all Coloradans simply want the freedom to live their version of the Colorado dream without interference. Unfortunately, the current law takes away our ability to choose what is best for our communities and families by forcing fracking to happen anywhere, anytime. The people of Colorado are demanding a reasonable balance between energy development and their quality of life. I will not stop fighting for a solution that does just that,” he said in the release, which came out as soon as the failure of the legislative compromise was announced.

Political commentators from all sides have been watching the semi-urban fracking issue gain pressure and many agree it could blow up the Democratic party this fall, particularly with Governor John Hickenlooper in the midst of suing communities that have asserted the very local control in question by banning fracking.

Polis, however, doesn’t seem that worried, not even about Sen. Mark Udall’s re-election bid, which some fear could be a casualty of the fracking control free-for-all. When The Independent chatted with Polis last month at the Democratic Assembly he emphasized that his party is a diverse one capable of bearing up under divergent opinions.

“If local control does appear on the ballot it will bring out the Democratic base and the progressive base, people who are likely to vote for the Governor and for Senator Udall even if they don’t totally agree on the issue,” said Polis.

Indeed far from worrying about the right’s spin on the local control measures — that they’re tantamount to a fracking ban that could cost the state billions — Polis said it’s Republicans who should fear getting on the wrong side of local control.

“A fracking ban is not something I support or anybody I know of supports, but when you talk about zoning by communities that’s something the majority of Coloradans, Republican and Democrat, should support. If Cory Gardner wants to place himself on the other side of that, he does so at his own peril.”

[Photo by Steve Harbula]


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