A sigh of relief

Opponents of two proposed ballot initiatives that sought to create new extensive limits on oil and gas development were prepared to mount a full-court press to explain why the measures were bad for Colorado.

That campaign appears unnecessary now after supporters of the measures failed to collect enough signatures to put the questions before voters.

Initiative 75 would have given local governments authority to ban hydraulic fracturing and otherwise regulate the industry, and Initiative 78 would have created 2,500-foot setbacks between oil and gas operations and homes, surface waters and other resources. On Monday the office of the Secretary of State said neither would appear on the ballot.

Opponents are hailing the failure of the signature drives as a clear message that voters don’t want to resolve these complex issues at the ballot box.

“Once again, Coloradans have shown great common sense in rejecting extreme ideas,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and one of five co-chairs of Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a coalition of groups representing virtually every sector of Colorado’s economy including agriculture, health, business, tourism, trade and labor.

“Coloradans understand the critical link between the energy industry and our economy,” Schwenke said. ” They also understand that Colorado’s requirements for air quality and water testing at drill sites are among the strictest in the nation.  Our residents were not about to be misled.”

We were prepared to join the opposition movement — and may yet if initiative proponents successfully challenge the ruling. But for now, we agree that voters made the right call here by refusing to entertain “solutions” that could have proved disastrous for the economy and state and local governments.

Had these measures appeared on the ballot, the mere suggestion of regulatory uncertainty would have disrupted the market. That’s a win for the energy industry, which supports more than 100,000 Colorado jobs.

But it’s also a win for the 600,000 mineral-rights owners in the state. The specter of lawsuits over property rights has been removed. Legal battles over “takings” could have bankrupted local communities and tied up courts for years, said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Local and state governments will continue to get severance and other tax funding for schools, parks, libraries and roads, he added. That’s a win for taxpayers.

“That sound you hear is the state of Colorado breathing a collective sigh of relief,” Haley said.

As The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported, supporters of the initiatives have said they were necessary because of a failure of state regulators to pass setback and other rules that adequately protect residents and natural resources from oil and gas development.

Their concerns are certainly worth addressing, but preferably in the collaborative give-and-take style that has come to be known as “the Colorado way.” The ballot initiatives throw collaboration and problem-solving out the window by creating winners and losers. We can do better than that.


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