Polis blinked even though polls showed support for his cause
Gov. John Hickenlooper has earned high marks from both sides of the oil and gas spectrum for his negotiated truce between advocates for more rigid restrictions on drilling in communities and energy companies.
He also showed he is the undisputed top dog in Colorado Democratic politics.
Challenged within the party by Rep. Jared Polis, who threated to run two ballot measures to rein in oil and gas drilling near occupied buildings, Hickenlooper emerged from the scrap as the clear victor.
Eli Stokous and Heather Mills of Denver station KDVR explained: “The Boulder congressman, who was prepared to turn in more than 200,000 signatures ... in support of two ballot measures that would have allowed far greater local control of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, reached an agreement ... to stand down on the initiatives and allow a broader stakeholder process to take place.
“At the last possible moment, Polis blinked.”
Initiative 88 would have raised the current 500-foot setback requirements of drillings rigs from homes to 2,000 feet.
Initiative 89 would have established a Colorado Environmental Bill of Rights, guaranteeing Coloradans clean air and water.
Hickenlooper’s compromise included instructing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to begin enforcing a 1,000-foot setback of oil and gas wells from inhabited buildings.
Polis, having financially backed the two initiatives, called the agreement a “victory for the people of Colorado.”
“Citizens will be on equal footing with the oil and gas industry,” Polis said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but today represents real progress.”
As Denver station KDVR reported, “Facing mounting pressure from a coalition of business and industry groups, mainstream environmental groups and the state’s Democratic political establishment,” Polis was forced to compromise.
Rather than introducing a potentially disastrous ballot initiative, Polis agreed to postpone action on local control of drilling until next January, when the issue would be taken up by the Legislature.
Ironically, a poll conducted last May by Benson Strategy Group concluded that a majority of Coloradans supported the measures proposed by Polis.
Support for a law expanding set-back rules “was strong across all major subgroups and even led (initially) among registered Republicans by a 62 percent to 26 percent margin,” the poll revealed.
The second measure dealt with conflicts between state and local drilling regulations. In cases of conflict between state and local regulations, the more restrictive rules would apply if the bill passed the Legislature.
This measure also polled positively with a majority of potential Colorado voters.
As announced jointly by Hickenlooper and Polis at a state capitol press conference last week, the plan calls for formation of an 18-member task force to draft regulations to minimize conflicts between urban homeowners and energy companies over the siting of wells within communities.
The committee would be comprised of representatives of the business, environmental, health and other groups, including ordinary citizens, with an interest in the energy industry.
Given the dismal histories of most such blue-ribbon commissions, it would be wildly optimistic to expect too much from these well-intentioned citizens when they meet next year.
In the meantime, however, Hickenlooper and Polis have taken the issue off the ballot in November.
One advantage of Hickenlooper’s plan is that it may help to mend — or, at least, paper over — a growing rift in the Democratic party between proponents of loose oil and gas regulation, and those who demand more strict rules for drilling, especially within communities.