Compromise in Colorado: Fracking stays off the ballot for 2014
By: Margaret Koenig
Colorado voters will not face a single energy-related measure on the November ballot following negotiations that backed the state away from a multi-initiative precipice. While six initiative petitions submitted signatures on Monday, all but two have been withdrawn following the latest twist in the ongoing debate around oil, gas and fracking regulation in the state. On Monday, Congressman Jared Polis (D-2) announced he was standing down on the two ballot measures he had been supporting. The announcement was followed by withdrawals of two initiatives backed by anti-fracking groups and two backed by the energy industry.
The last-minute announcement came as a surprise after months of negotiation efforts led by Governor John Hickenlooper (D) had seemingly failed. The governor had been working to find a middle ground between the energy industry and environmentalists as both sides developed and supported strong initiative campaigns. However, he announced on July 16, 2014, that a special legislative session would not be called in an attempt to give communities greater control of oil and gas industries in that state. Hickenlooper's statement marked the end of hopes that the divide between environmentalists and the energy industry could be bridged without the matter going to the ballot.
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Thus, it had appeared that four measures related to fracking would be moving forward after Monday's filing deadline. Initiative 88, requiring greater setbacks from oil and gas wells, and Initiative 89, creating an environmental rights amendment, were both supported by Rep. Polis and were reportedly ready to submit over 200,000 signatures. Meanwhile, measures backed by the energy industry, Initiatives 121 and 137, had already submitted their signatures prior to the deadline. Initiative 121 would have prevented local governments that prohibit oil and gas production or development from receiving any oil and gas revenues administered by the state during the prohibition. Initiative 137 would have required initiative proponents to submit a fiscal impact estimate. This estimate would also have been discussed at a review and comment hearing, and an abstract of the fiscal impact statement would have been required to be included in the petition sections that were circulated for signatures. While not directly related to energy policy, Initiative 137 could have made a significant impact if 121 had been passed. The losses of revenue that local governments would have faced by prohibiting drilling practices under 121 would have been made more obvious to voters if 137 was passed, as well.
On Monday morning, however, Rep. Polis announced that he had reached a compromise with Gov. Hickenlooper and would stand down on Initiatives 88 and 89. In addition to withdrawing his support for the initiatives, an 18-member task force will be formed to help develop regulations related to oil and gas in Colorado in hopes of reducing conflicts. It will be chaired by La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and XTO Energy President Randy Cleveland, and the task force will take input from multiple sources. Hickenlooper also agreed to drop the lawsuit against Longmont, which was challenging the city's fracking ban.
Petition gatherers for the Polis-backed measures still submitted their signatures after the announcement, stating they wanted assurances that the industry-backed measures would be withdrawn, as well. Both groups ultimately withdrew their measures. The struggle over energy policy and fracking in the state is certainly not over, yet, but costly ballot campaigns on the issue have been avoided, for now.
Energy was not the only issue brought up by Monday's signature filings. Supporters of mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and open school board meetings for contract negotiations both submitted signatures by the deadline. The GMO labeling initiative submitted over 167,995 signatures on August 4. The school board meeting initiative submitted over 127,000 signatures on August 1. While these measures await certification, two initiated constitutional amendments are already certified for the ballot: Amendment 67 and Amendment 68.
Whether initiated state statutes or initiated constitutional amendments, all measures were required to submit at least 86,105 valid signatures by Monday, August 4 at 3:00 PM for the measures to appear on the ballot.
- Energy policy in Colorado
- Fracking in Colorado
- Colorado 2014 ballot measures
- Colorado signature requirements
- Governing, "Last-Minute Deal Keeps Fracking Measure Off Colorado Ballot," August 5, 2014
- Associated Press, "Hickenlooper: No special session on fracking," July 16, 2014
- Bloomberg, "Colorado Governor Doesn’t Have Support for Fracking Bill," July 17, 2014
- The Denver Post, "Battle over local control of drilling leaves statehouse for ballot box," July 17, 2014
- KDVR 31, "Hickenlooper pulls plug on special session; Polis pushing ahead with ballot measures," July 15, 2014
- The Tribune, "Energy Pipeline: Not all Colorado ballot initiatives are built to fight the oil and gas industry," August 3, 2014
- KDVR, "Polis gives in, announces compromise with Hickenlooper on oil, gas control," August 4, 2014
- Facebook, "Right To Know Colorado - GM0," August 4, 2014
- Facebook, "Independence Institute," August 1, 2014