Let’s talk about local control.
It’s one of those malleable concepts that gets selectively applied to support or oppose a particular argument. For example, the oil and gas industry opposed the patchwork of regulations that could arise from municipalities exercising more autonomy (local control) in siting drilling operations under Senate Bill 181. But the industry doesn’t want a statewide standard for air quality. More on that momentarily.
When voters passed a statewide minimum wage in 2016, they didn’t differentiate between economic conditions in small towns like Meeker or Delta and the Front Range urban metropolis. We opposed a one-size-fits-all wage policy because many businesses on the Western Slope were operating on thin margins and didn’t need the added burden of increased labor costs meant to address cost-of-living challenges in resort towns and Denver.
Along the same lines, it appears that Colorado voters will decide whether to bring wolves back to the state. Where are those wolves going to roam? Not the Interstate 25 corridor. They’ll be in western Colorado, but it won’t be our votes alone that decide the issue.
Now state air quality regulators are trying to decide whether proposed new oil and gas regulations should be uniform statewide or less strict outside the Front Range.
Rural Coloradans already enjoy better air quality than Denver, which has an ozone problem. Stricter regulations are already in place in Front Range counties to improve the air quality and the Air Quality Control Commission will decide whether to apply even stricter regulations statewide.
As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported in Wednesday’s edition, supporters and opponents of a statewide standard are making very similar arguments. One popular refrain is that the health of Western Slope residents should matter as much as those on the Front Range.
Here’s an example of the opposing view using the exact same sentiment: “Please think long and hard before you start imposing rules that damage citizens in this part of the state because we’re just as important as folks on the Front Range,” Rio Blanco County Commissioner Gary Moyer told AQCC members during Tuesday’s hearing in Rifle.
We’re all for protecting the public’s health. These regulations, if adopted on a statewide basis, would help ensure that western Colorado doesn’t create its own ozone problem. But, we still don’t like one-size-fits-all rules.
A coalition of 23 Colorado counties and town that encompass 45% of the state’s active oil and gas wells supports most, but not all, of the proposed emission controls, and is concerned that the most restrictive controls imposed on the lowest-producing oil and gas wells will have serious negative consequences for their economies and do little or nothing to improve air quality.
SB 181 put greater emphasis on protecting health, but it still requires that costs and benefits be balanced. Is it balanced to impose an economic burden to prevent a problem we’re not yet experiencing? Besides, lawmakers sold SB 181 on a theme of providing local governments with increased authority to regulate oil and gas development within their jurisdictions.
It includes a provision that local government and state agencies share regulatory authority over oil and gas development, and that “a local government’s regulations may be more protective or stricter than state requirements.”
Why not give communities the option of imposing the stricter Denver-area regulations if their citizens demand it? That means leaving a two-tiered system in place.
State Sen. Ray Scott says the stricter rules are a fait accompli. Maybe he’s right. If stricter rules are imposed on rural Colorado without that determination being made locally, then put us down for importing wolves to Rocky Mountain National Park.