The reckless agenda of ban-fracking activists who are proposing a series of ballot initiatives targeting Colorado energy development was on display at a hearing at the state capitol in Denver yesterday. At the hearing, a review and comment step in the initiative process, attorneys with the Colorado Legislative Council raised a host of concerns about the measures, ranging from how the proposals threaten development plans for hospitals and schools and whether they preempt efforts to protect the public from West Nile virus.
The extreme “ban fracking” activist group behind the measures, Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), and the group’s attorney, prominent Denver election lawyer Martha Tierney, mostly responded to these serious concerns by thanking the attorneys for their questions and stating they would consider making changes. As Tierney’s stock answer throughout the hearing went:
“Thank you, we will consider making a change to make that clear”
Based on the questions raised by state attorneys, it appears that Tierney has a lot of work to do. Of the eleven initiatives filed, Proposed Initiative #63, “concerning the right to a healthy environment,” drew particular skepticism and scrutiny. A memo prepared by Legislative Council staff and circulated at the hearing makes it clear that the drafters didn’t think things through very carefully:
“How is the health of the environment to be assessed? Does the continued presence of life indicate a healthy environment? If so, what types of life must be present for the environment to be considered healthy?”
“Is the environment currently healthy? If not, when was the environment healthy?”
Besides general confusion over the intent and sweeping impact of the measure, attorneys also wondered whether the proposals would have negative impacts on public health. This is also from the memo circulated at the hearing:
“For example, would spraying an area with an insecticide to temporarily eliminate or limit populations of mosquitos that carry West Nile virus violate the proposed initiative, even though doing so would protect human or mammalian health?”
State attorneys also see issues arising from how the proposals to modify current setbacks could impact future development plans for hospitals and schools. Also from another memo circulated at the hearing:
“As drafted, despite limiting this provision to ‘new’ occupied structures, the measure would restrict owners of existing occupied structures that are located within 2,500 feet of an oil and gas development facility from building a new occupied structure to accompany existing occupied structures, for example, a new building on an existing school or hospital campus.”
This is not the first time initiatives to ban fracking in Colorado have come under fire from state attorneys. The Community Environmental Defense Fund’s (CELDF) Colorado Community Rights Network faced a series of equally embarrassing questions from Colorado’s Legislative Council over the legality of tactics pushed by the Pennsylvania-based activist organization.
Among the issues attorneys raised for CELDF: conflicts between state and federal law, how certain provisions would be enforced, and even an open-ended question for proponents as to what “rights does nature possess?” But questions being raised in Colorado are just the latest in a trend as CELDF has faced similar problems elsewhere.
Even as state attorneys are raising serious and sometimes embarrassing questions for backers of the current slate of “ban fracking” measures, recent polling shows that Colorado voters overwhelmingly support oil and gas development. A recent poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute and the Colorado Petroleum Council found that, in Colorado, 95 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents, and 69 percent of Democrats consider “producing more oil and natural gas here in the U.S.” important to them.
As the campaign to ban fracking in Colorado stumbles ahead, activists are increasingly turning to extremes in both their rhetoric and proposals. And the state’s media are taking notice with the Denver Post penning an editorial headlined “Colorado oil and gas drilling initiatives take a radical turn,” and the Greeley Tribune editorial board describing this latest effort as a “temper tantrum.”
Meanwhile, Colorado’s oil and gas industry will continue responsibly producing the vital energy that Coloradans need and want.