Nobody wins so everybody wins?
The 11th-hour fracking compromise brokered by Gov. John Hickenlooper removed four initiatives from November’s ballot, averting a costly winner-take-all political battle that threatened the viability of the oil and gas industry in Colorado.
Instead, nobody is “perfectly happy,” but the deal serves all parties, Hickenlooper said Monday during a press conference inside the Capitol. The compromise calls for the formation of a task force that will recommend legislation to minimize conflicts that arise over drilling locations.
We’re grateful the governor was able to convince all stakeholders that they had something to gain by giving up their ballot proposals. We’re not convinced that the two anti-fracking initiatives would have even been certified by the secretary of state’s office. But the risk was too great to chance.
We don’t think policy questions of this magnitude should be decided at the ballot box and certainly not through constitutional amendments.
In making the announcement, Hickenlooper was joined by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, the brains and deep pockets behind the two drilling-control initiatives. From our vantage point, Hickenlooper succeeded in spite of Polis, not because of him.
Polis brought little to the negotiating table but threats, creating an absurd political theater in which Democrats — often viewed as pro-environment, pro-regulation — saw their interests aligned with the oil and gas industry. Democrats feared that Polis’ measures would drive Republicans to the polls in droves to oppose them.
It takes an exceptional provocateur to step on that many toes, and for what aim? A leadership position with the Democratic National Committee? More clout in the U.S. House of Representatives? We’re skeptical that Polis’ motives were driven purely by environmental concerns. And even if they were, he made the best interests of the state secondary to his own political agenda, giving rise to comparisons of negotiating with terrorists.
Republicans seemed confident that the Polis-backed initiatives would fail, so it’s something of a curiosity as to why they agreed to the deal. In doing so, they avoided the chance — however slim — that the initiatives would pass and embed regulatory uncertainty in the state’s constitution.
Hickenlooper defused this torpedo, which won’t resurface until the task force takes it up next year. It’s expected to advise the state legislature on the best ways to address the concerns of residents, regulators and industry about oil and natural-gas drilling.
Our hope is that the task force can address this issue in a way that will blunt future attempts to ban fracking in the state. If this year’s battle is any indication, the drilling controversy isn’t going away anytime soon.