Activist groups hoping to place a pair of anti-energy ballot initiatives before Colorado voters in November are facing a 3 p.m. Monday deadline to turn in at least 98,492 valid signatures of Colorado registered voters for their measures to appear on the ballot.
At stake are ballot initiatives 75 and 78 which, if approved by voters, would add language to Colorado’s state constitution to increase local control, including permitting local fracking bans, and dramatically increase oil and natural gas development setback distances respectively.
With so much at stake as the signature gathering deadline looms, here are three things to know about the initiatives:
#1. These initiatives are spearheaded by national “Keep It in The Ground” activist groups
While activists backing the initiatives are fond of portraying their campaign as a “grassroots” movement, a heap of evidence reveals that these initiatives are largely the work of national ban-fracking organizations.
Newly filed campaign finance disclosure reports show that national activist groups Food & Water Watch (F&WW), Greenpeace and 350.org have all been playing a major role in the campaign. Collectively, they have donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of in-kind contributions in “staff time” supporting these initiatives. Meanwhile F&WW has even been hiring signature gatherers on behalf of the campaign and has called the issue one of “the biggest” environmental fight in the country this year. As the Greeley Tribune reports:
“This will be one of the biggest environmental fights in the country this year,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director for Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.,-based group advocating for safety in food production and oil and gas production. “All eyes will be on the outcome for these Colorado ballot initiatives.” (Emphasis added)
Despite shrouding their campaign in setback distances and local control rhetoric, one thing these groups all have in common is their goal to ban oil and natural gas development. As leaders in the “Keep It In The Ground” movement, these organizations oppose all new fossil fuel development and have taken to increasingly extreme tactics to get their message across. This campaign is no different.
#2. This is a campaign to ban fracking in Colorado
Activists may have dropped an initiative for an outright fracking ban early in the process, but their goal remains the same. They revealed as much on a conference call earlier this year where they discussed the remaining ballot measures as their way to ban oil and gas development across Colorado.
When it comes to the setback proposal, a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) analysis found that the increased setback distances activists are pushing would bar natural resources development from more than 90 percent of the state’s surface acreage. The Denver Post editorial board even took activists to task in an editorial headlined “Hidden purpose of Initiative 78: ban oil and gas production.” From the Denver Post:
“Did proponents know this when they wrote the initiative? If not, they were reckless. If they did know, they were devious regarding their true intent, since their real purpose apparently was to ban oil and gas development while pretending to seek allegedly reasonable limits on its reach.” (Emphasis added)
The same can be said for the so-called “local control” initiative. When discussing the concept of local control, activists told listeners on their call that the measure is akin to “a full-fledged ban.” From the call:
“To lift its points, it authorizes local governments to pass regulations — prohibit, limit or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. Of course the word prohibit means ban. This allows for a broad range of local government options within their jurisdictions from local actions to a full-fledged ban.”
#3. Colorado Democrats, Republicans and business leaders are lining up in opposition
With the potential for devastating economic consequences for the state, elected officials, influential members of both parties and the business community are speaking out against the initiatives.
Chief among them is Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper who has been pushing back against comments made by Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and, as the Denver Post points out, the position of his own favored presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, on the issue of local control. As the Denver Post reports:
“It is a responsibility to make sure that we keep those sites safe. But if you turn over total responsibility to the local communities, they are subject to the voters who aren’t anywhere near the (fracking site) but will, in many cases … vote to ban any oil and gas activity at all. The people who own the minerals, they don’t have a vote.”
Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials and business leaders has announced that they will be working “to defeat proposed ballot initiatives detrimental to the state’s economy and endangering thousands of jobs.” And a press release announcing their efforts included a number of prominent Colorado Democrats speaking out against the initiatives. From the release:
“Once again, the alarms are sounding as misguided groups are gathering signatures to place ill-conceived, vague proposals on the ballot. While their advocates say the measures are designed to protect Colorado, their poorly defined attempts will instead undermine businesses across the state, damage our economy and kill jobs,” said Ken Salazar, former United States Senator and Secretary of the Interior.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb added:
“No matter where you live, when you shut own one sector of the economy, it impacts everyone. Citizens in every community should be concerned. Even if there is no direct oil and gas development in a city like Denver, we still benefit with revenue and jobs. And the fact is these proposals extend well beyond oil and gas. Any business anywhere could be shut down for anyone’s political agenda,” Webb said.
National activist groups hoping to impose their extreme political agenda on Colorado are not only threatening the state’s economy, but would have the effect of sidelining a significant portion of our nation’s energy reserves and employment. The only remaining question is whether they have amassed the necessary signatures to trigger an all-out fight for Colorado energy development.
But perhaps more importantly, this anti-fracking campaign is out of touch with scientific consensus, the majority in the Democratic Party and with the needs of everyday Americans who rely on affordable and reliable energy.