Don’t Believe The Hype: Local Control a Political Winner

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on a new poll that validates something we've been saying for weeks: measures working their way toward the ballot to enhance local control over oil and gas drilling are also good politics. We understand this fact may upset some conventional wisdom:

According to the statewide poll by RBI Strategies, which is running Polis’s campaign, 51 percent of Coloradans are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, by local communities than is currently provided by the state.

Just 34 percent of respondents say they’re more likely to support a candidate who opposes increased local control of drilling.

The survey challenges the conventional wisdom that a ballot measure to give local communities control of oil and gas drilling will backfire for Democrats, making them the targets of an estimated $50 million in spending by the oil and gas industry in an effort to defeat the measure. [Pols emphasis]

Multiple sources also tell FOX31 Denver that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner, whose race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall could determine control of the Senate next year, is rumored to be back-channeling with stakeholders and urging them to reach a compromise on legislation that could keep Polis’s initiatives off the November ballot.

Cory Gardner's spokesman denies that any such urging has taken place, but it wouldn't surprise us in the least. Despite the insistence from the oil and gas industry and supporting operatives that these measure could prove divisive to Democrats heading into this year's tough elections, we've flatly rejected this as scare tactics–designed to self-fulfill a self-serving prophecy. We believe that the fallout risk is much greater for politicians who choose not to side with local communities. And with a few exceptions, that's generally Republicans.

As we've said previously, any legislative deal on local control over oil and gas drilling must be strong enough to meaningfully placate conservationists and nervous local communities, or there's no reason not to take the issue to the ballot. Given the success local communities have already had with "fracking" moratoria, you can see why the industry is in a panic to head this effort off. Once you get past the wall of misinformation thrown up by the industry's pitch men, local control has a very good chance of passing statewide–and boosting politicians who get on board with it, not hurting them.

As negotiations for a deal continue, everyone needs to keep in mind who has the upper hand, morally and popularly, in this debate. And as this poll shows, it's not the oil and gas industry.

The Keystone XL Pipeline: 2014′s Fakest Issue

The Hill's Laura Baron-Lopez:

The American Energy Alliance is spending over $400,000 on a new ad accusing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) of opposing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The conservative super-PAC claims Udall, who is up for reelection this year, wants to kills the $5.4 billion project. The ad is set to run through May 23…

Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said the reason the senator didn't vote for the Republican and Democratic budget amendments on Keystone last year was because he felt it wasn't Congress' place to do so.

"Sen. Udall still believes Congress should not be injecting politics into the review process," Saccone said.

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels explains, the American Energy Alliance is on a familiar team:

The alliance has ties to the the wealthy Koch brothers, who helped found Americans for Prosperity. That group also is attacking Udall on the air.

Politico reported in 2012 that American Energy Alliance is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research, and both groups were funded partly by the Koch brothers and their donor network.

The controversy over completing the Keystone XL pipeline's Phase 4 connection between Hardisty, Alberta and Steele City, Nebraska, which would expedite shipments of Canadian tar sands heavy crude oil through to, among other locations, Gulf Coast oil export terminals, has been the subject of a massive public relations campaign by the oil and gas industry spanning several years. Over time, the case for building the Keystone XL has been hyped into an essential struggle for American freedom itself, not to mention the American economy, whose very existence apparently depends on being able to ship Canadian heavy crude oil to global markets a little bit faster.

If that sounds kind of silly, that's because it is.

The estimates of "job creation" from the construction of the Keystone XL Phase 4 line from proponents have ranged from highly optimistic to downright laughable. Media Matters documented some years ago how FOX News has estimated for its viewers anywhere between 50,000 and a million jobs created by Keystone XL, both of which having simply no basis in reality whatsoever. Now, don't get us wrong here–Keystone XL opponents haven't done themselves any favors by portraying this incremental increase in Canadian tar sands oil shipping capacity as the tipping point for end of the world. More expansive arguments about fossil fuels and climate change aside, the principal environmental risk posed by the Keystone XL is to the Sand Hills wetlands area of Nebraska. That's a significant issue, but not probably enough to inspire a March on Washington.

Here in Colorado, there's even less reason to get worked up about Keystone XL. The Suncor refinery in Commerce City already refines Canadian tar sands crude via our existing pipeline connection to Alberta, in addition to our booming local production. If anything, there's a very sound self-interested argument for Coloradans to oppose the Keystone XL, one that has nothing to do with climate change or oil pollution:

The purpose of the $7.6 billion Keystone is to move 830,000 barrels of oil a day from landlocked Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, obtaining new customers and a higher price for heavy Canadian crude, Canadian regulators said in a 2010 report. The oil sold for $23.38 less per barrel in 2011 compared with heavy grades of Mexican crude, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The Canadian plan was to use their market power to raise prices in the United States (UNG) and get more money from consumers,” Philip Verleger, founder of Colorado-based energy consulting firm PK Verleger LLC, said in an interview. Prices may gain 10 to 20 cents in central states, he said. [Pols emphasis]

Producers including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Suncor Energy Inc. (SU) and Cenovus Energy Inc. (CVE) may reap as much as $4 billion more in annual revenue if prices rise as expected following the construction of the 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) Keystone XL conduit, the 2010 report says.

Clearly, it's time to take to the streets of Denver and demand in the name of freedom that this oil export pipeline be constructed right now! So we can pay more for the same oil we already get! You can shovel all the money into this as an electoral message that you want–in Colorado, it's wasted money. The Koch brothers will love it, but Keystone XL won't be costing any Colorado Democrats their jobs.

You Say You Want a Special Session? Well, You Know…

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Post's Anthony Cotton reported Friday:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday said the chances of getting lawmakers to reach a deal on local control of oil and gas development and avoid a costly election-year fight over several ballot measures was "about 50-50."

…The discussion among oil and gas companies, communities and environmentalists revolves around how much control local communities should have in regulating the industry over fracking, oil and gas development, and related concerns.

If a deal is reached, the state legislature, which adjourned Wednesday, would return for a special session meant to create law that reaches a compromise. If the talks fail, the two sides would be headed toward a lengthy, expensive battle that would see numerous ballot initiatives brought before voters across the state.

Negotiations have reportedly continued since then into this weekend, and as of last night there is still reportedly no firm agreement on a legislative deal to enhance local control over oil and gas drilling. At this point, assumptions we can't wholly validate either way seem to be guiding these negotiations. On the one hand, there is a persistent assumption that any oil and gas local control ballot initiative will prove "divisive" among Democrats seeking re-election this year. On the other, there is widespread cynicism among conservationists that these negotiations will produce legislation strong enough to satisfy the concerns of residents worried about "fracking" in their residential communities.

And folks, we've got to be honest–when the "negotiators" spout a bunch of nonsense, it's harder to be optimistic.

"On the one hand, you have an industry that could provide 110,000 jobs, where you don't have to have a college degree for many of them and pays an average salary of $106,000. Do you know how hard it is to find something like that?" Hickenlooper said. "But if you're on the other side, you don't care about any of that if it's your house and you're worried about the health of your children."

Sorry, but this statement from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is totally ridiculous. Last year, a University of Colorado study found that Colorado employs about 51,000 people in the oil and gas industry–"including those working at gas stations and convenience stores with gas pumps." We're pretty sure there are no filling station attendants anywhere in the world making over $100,000 per year. And even if Colorado were to "ban fracking," which no ballot initiative underway in Colorado today is trying to do, we would still have gas stations.

In our experience, there is no surer way to alienate someone than to demonstrably bullshit them.

From the outset, the oil and gas industry and their supporters have relied on misleading claims and exaggerations like you see above to make the case that they should be able to drill anytime, anywhere, regardless of the land use already in existence at the surface. The historic support the industry enjoyed among the public in the past in Colorado has been eroded–both by false statements from public officials like the example above, and by a perception that state regulatory officials were consistently favoring the industry over local residents. This loss of confidence in state regulators, which has accelerated in recent years under Gov. Hickenlooper, has led directly to bans and moratoria on "fracking" passing in numerous residential cities along the northern Front Range.

And this is what Gov. Hickenlooper and other Democratic fixers for the oil and gas industry need to get through their heads: this isn't about Jared Polis. Last week it was confirmed, as conservationists had long suspected, that the air quality deal celebrated by Hickenlooper and the industry was needed to address emissions that are in truth vastly worse than previously believed. At the same time, the industry prevailed on two Democratic Senators, Mary Hodge and Pat Steadman, to kill even a study of the health effects of oil and gas drilling on Front Range counties in the legislature.

It doesn't matter how many Democratic politicians the industry can co-opt to represent them, how many times they mindlessly repeat the words "fracking ban" when no statewide ban is being proposed, or how many newspapers the industry can buy "sponsored content" sections in to print one-sided whitewash consumed as news. The passage of the "fracking" moratoria bans in Front Range cities, actual votes taken by Colorado citizens, speaks louder than any of that stuff. And–this is key–the industry and their political allies have no answer for them other than "we're going to sue you."

Bottom line: if there's going to be a special session to pass legislation on this issue, it had better be a real solution, one where local communities are meaningfully empowered to protect themselves, and the industry is making real concessions that the public can trust. Because if it's not, there's simply no reason for the voters to not take action themselves this fall. Framed as a issue of the health and safety of our kids and families versus a hazardous industrial practice, this is a political winner for every Democrat who is on the right side of it.

As for the ones who aren't? It's possible they have a political problem that no one can spin.

Grass Roots Government – Greeley Style?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Chutzpah.

That's the first word that came to mine as I read my email from the Centennial Institute's John Andrews, introducing the Weld County Model of governance.  The first sentence was filled with the descriptors "big", "oil-rich", "self-confident",  "the birthplace of last year's secession movement". How could I possibly stop myself from perusing the bravado? Particularly when the letter head included the words *faith* *family* *freedom* *future*?

Weld County: the birthplace of the 51st state.  Bootstraps.  Independence.

If only it was that simple. Or true. If only this utopian style of governance could be replicated across every county in Colorado!  Although it would be mathematically impossible to achieve such a statewide fete based on the Weld County Model -  why be confused by facts when one can be seduced by the patriotic words of Mr. Andrews?

I tend to dismiss any narrative of independence in these contexts (in particular, neo-conservative institutes offering to sell me a $20 hard copy of their in-depth analysis).  The fact is, we live in a very interdependent world.  A world where Weld County beef finds its way to Japan, Weld County mozzarella adorns pizza pies from coast-to-coast, Weld County oil permeates a global market – yet Weld County severance taxes can't find their way from Greeley to Denver.

Not only does Weld County benefit from the largess of the federal treasury in its agricultural sector to the tune of $450 million in the years 1995-2012 ($146 million of those dollars paid to farmers to retire their land from production), they are part of a fabric of agricultural communities across the eastern plains (the proposed 51st state) that were the recipients of a collective $3.64 billion in that same time frame

Before you come to the conclusion that I'm anti-agriculture or anti-safety nets, let me say this: I believe in safety nets, whether those safety nets are targeted at farmers, struggling families or elderly. I'm simply unwilling to promote the faux idea that any one of us are authentically independent.  The magic isn't in our mythical independence, but in our rich history of supporting the commons.  Whether it's roads, interstate highways, the rural electric system, our hydro and water storage projects, education, public safety – to name a few – we built that.  And with that infrastructure came a bounty of opportunities for enterprising Americans to do what we do best: invent. create. solve big problems.

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Rep. Don Coram and his War on Rural Coloradans

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"Members, this is a war on rural Colorado. This product on the Uravan mineral belt is their only option for jobs.  With this bill, that option is lost." Rep. Don Coram on SB 14-192

What Colorado State Representative Don Coram calls a “War on Rural Colorado” others might call the “holding environmental scofflaws accountable” or “making polluters clean up their mess before we trust them to not make another”  act. 

And surprisingly enough (if apparent conflict-of-interest is surprising among good-old-boy politicians) Rep. Don Coram fought legislation that could force himself to comply with cleaning up a toxic mess for which he himself is responsible.

As passed the Senate Bill 192 requires radioactive contamination to groundwater wells be cleaned up to levels that meet the standards of the Water Quality Control Commission for the well's historic use. But as originally proposed the bill would have placed stricter controls over all the 32 uranium mines that are still operational in Colorado, and on any new operations that apply for licenses.

As the Durango Herald noted in an editorial blasting Rep. Coram:

State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was on the wrong side of history Monday on several fronts. In opposing Senate Bill 192, he took on the role of a lobbyist, argued against a popular and prudent environmental protection and, at the same time, played off of the unrealistic hopes of economically challenged towns. It was not his finest hour.

SB 192 is a bill meant to address the kind of environmental disaster experienced by Cañon City when the Cotter uranium mill poisoned a neighborhood’s groundwater. It sets minimum standards for groundwater cleanup before a company can be absolved of further responsibility. It also mandates that uranium and thorium mines be licensed by the state health department if they use a process that involves injecting water into rock formations.

Remediation for ‘Collateral damage’ might as well be another name of the Department of Energy’s ‘Legacy Management’ program.  The ‘legacy’ is the mess of toxic waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years.  Colorado’s toxic legacy has already cost the American taxpayer billions—and led to the removal of an entire town, a trail of cancer casualties, and the ruin of lives from the busts that inevitably, almost inexorably, follow booms in company towns built to be solely reliant on single, highly volatile extractive industry.  

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BREAKING: No Local Control Compromise This Session

UPDATE #2: Conservation Colorado's Pete Maysmith:

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith released the following statement today on the failure to reach an agreement on legislation to enable local governments to have a say over heavy industrial drilling and fracking in their neighborhoods and communities.

“Coloradans concerned about the impact of drilling and fracking in their communities are indebted to Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Representative Sue Ryden today.  Both leaders worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to reach a compromise that protects Coloradans and their communities. As Colorado’s oil and natural gas boom continues, cities and counties must have the best tools at their disposal to craft protections that ensure drilling and fracking near homes, schools and neighborhoods is protective of our public health, environment and Colorado quality of life.

Conservation Colorado had hoped all parties could find the proper balance to address the heavy industrial drilling and fracking happening in communities across Colorado.  As the session ends without resolution to these important issues, Coloradans will have to consider if there are alternative forums to protect Coloradans and hold the industry accountable for their impacts on our communities."

—–

UPDATE: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

Without a legislative compromise, it’s all but certain that a series of ballot measures that would allow local communities to ban fracking outright will continue on a path toward the November ballot.

The measures, which are being financed by Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, go much further than the proposed legislation that was in the works, which would have merely allowed cities and counties control over setbacks (how far wells must be set back from homes and schools) and inspections.

Polis had been willing to drop his ballot measures if lawmakers had reached a deal, according to numerous sources involved in the negotiations; although Republicans, many of whom were open to a compromise, didn’t trust that that would have been the case.

—–

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Press release from Colorado House Democrats breaks the news–there will be no compromise legislation giving local governments greater regulatory control over oil and gas drilling this session. Barring the extraordinary, this likely ensures constitutional measures on this hotly controversial subject are headed to the statewide Colorado ballot this fall:

Rep. Su Ryden (D-Aurora) and Majority Leader Diecky Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) announced today that negotiations intended to harmonize state and local authority over oil and gas development have made progress but failed to produce an agreement in time to introduce a bill in the 2014 session. 

Here is a joint statement by Rep. Ryden and Rep. Hullinghorst: 

“Addressing Colorado citizens’ concerns about the impacts of oil and gas development on their lives and their communities is a top priority for us as policymakers. To address those concerns, we have been involved in extensive discussions involving a variety of stakeholders, incuding other legislators, the conservation community, oil and gas operators and the Hickenlooper administration.   

“Those discussions focused on harmonizing local and state authority in regards to energy production. It is of critical importance to people across this state to balance local communities’ ability to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of Colorado families while also creating a consistent and predictable regulatory framework that allows for responsible energy development. 

“Our conversations have been productive, but we haven’t yet struck an accord with all of the stakeholders, and we’ve run out of time in this session to pass consensus legislation.   
  
“We want to thank all those who have put their time and energy into the conversation, and hope that all involved and other interested parties are ready to continue in a good-faith dialogue about how to meet the reasonable expectations of local communities impacted by energy development as well as the needs of operators. We hope we will continue moving toward these shared goals.” 

We'll update with further developments shortly–this may not be the last word.

Republicans Cry “Terrorism” As Local Control Negotiations Falter

SATURDAY UPDATE: Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call sounds the retreat, Boulder Daily Camera:

"Of course it's ridiculous that over differences of opinion on an important issue, people are calling each other names," Polis said. "There's plenty of arguments on all sides. We want to have a strong energy sector in Colorado, but we also want to protect homeowners, and we need to find a balance between the two."

Call, in a statement Friday afternoon, apologized for the tweet.

"It's a fact that Congressman Jared Polis' proposed regulations will put thousands of Colorado jobs and our state's economic future at risk," he said. "While I passionately believe that we must protect these jobs and energy development in our state, I understand that my comment has distracted from this important conversation.

"I apologize for that, and I sincerely apologize to Congressman Polis."

—–

UPDATE #2: The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports, prospects for a compromise dimming as GOP rhetoric against Rep. Jared Polis waxes incendiary:

"My constituents want to see this addressed. We're fully prepared to go to the ballot box on this," Polis said Friday. "It looks increasingly unlikely the legislature will succeed in addressing this issue."

Some House Republicans assailed Polis Friday for "economic blackmail."

"I am amazed that Democrats in the legislature are following along like a flock of sheep," said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. "We hope Colorado is paying attention — Polis' jihad [Pols emphasis] against responsible energy development is reckless, and the Democrats under the Gold Dome are committed accomplices."

Got that? Polis is a "terrorist" (below), waging a "jihad" against energy. No mistaking what they're getting at. In addition to being over-the-top offensive, as we understand it, a "jihad" is struggle against those who do not believe.

Kind of like the oil industry drilling in your neighborhood, right? It seems they've got it backwards.

—–

UPDATE: Getting ugly out there, Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call just Tweeted and then deleted:

callterrorists

So, um…no. Not really very helpful, chairman.

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

—–

​As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover reports, a deal may be near on legislation to give more control to local governments to regulate oil and gas drilling in their boundaries–legislation that needs to be tough in order to placate supporters of a number of land-use local control ballot initiatives, including measures supported by Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, working their way through the system:

Backers say they believe something is likely to come on Friday.

Rep. Su Ryden, the Aurora Democrat who will serve as the sponsor, said in an interview Thursday that she is hoping to write the measure as broadly as possible to not tie the hands of either governments or drillers, and to allow the parties to negotiate compromises that work for everyone.

While the bill will deal with allowing local governments to regulate noise and distances between wells and homes, it likely won’t be prescriptive on how little or how much they can mandate in most instances, she said.

“It’s sort of silent on a lot of things. It doesn’t really get specific on what those particulars might be, because it allows them to be flexible and negotiate,” Ryden said.

The stakes are high in these negotiations. In addition to conservationists who need to be happy with this compromise in order to consider abandoning their ballot initiatives, the oil and gas industry needs to either be willing to make real concessions or risk killing the whole thing. Overarching both of these factors is the practical for Democrats to avoid divisive infighting in an already difficult political climate, though we've heard pretty convincing arguments that the Democratic base would indeed rally around a local control ballot measure, without collateral damage to energy-friendly Democrats who stay neutral or oppose–the ties binding Democrats, according to this line of thinking, being stronger than any single issue.

That's the status as of now, and a deal will appear today, Monday, or not at all. Stay tuned.

Rep. Jared Wright Goes Full-on Rogue In Career’s Final Days

Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita).

Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita).

​"One-and-done" GOP Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita) is ending his second and final legislative session with quite a flourish, as the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:

Rep. Jared Wright doesn’t care what the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce thinks about a bill he’s backing on uranium mining.

The Fruita Republican is co-sponsoring a bill with a Boulder Democrat, Rep. KC Becker, aimed at protecting the state’s groundwater supply from radioactive contamination…

While the bill primarily is aimed at helping residents around a Superfund site near Canon City, some Republicans fear it is overly broad.

We've followed Rep. Wright's stormy one-term career as an elected legislator, which almost never got off the ground after revelations about his departure from the Fruita Police Department and his questionable personal financial troubles sent his Mesa County GOP benefactors running for the proverbial exits. Despite that rocky start, as a fairly reliable Republican vote in the General Assembly, we think Rep. Wright might have gotten a pass to run for re-election–before a disastrously idiotic mistake, leaving a loaded handgun in a legislative committee conference room, made him an unacceptable liability to his fellow gun-toting Republican legislators. Not long after that incident, Wright held a "shotgun press conference" announcing he would not seek re-election and endorsing his erstwhile GOP primary opponent.

Great movie.

Great movie.

But since then, we've seen flashes of a whole different Rep. Wright. Wright was the only House Republican to vote in favor of a bill to study the health effects of oil and gas development in several Front Range counties, voicing arguments in favor of the legislation that made surprisingly good sense. Likewise, with the bill he's co-sponsoring with Democrat K.C. Becker on uranium groundwater contamination, Wright is articulate and on point.

Too much so for his Republican colleagues:

“Representative Coram, I respect your expertise, I just happen to disagree with you on this issue,” Wright said. “I represent an area that abuts a quarter of your district and I don’t see this resulting in job loss.”

“With all due respect, Representative Wright, your district came out in opposition,” Coram added. “The Grand Junction chamber of commerce came out in opposition. Club 20 is in opposition. I don’t know who you’re talking to in your district, but the people who have talked to me have certainly been in opposition.”

“I represent the people of my district, the people of the state of Colorado, Representative Coram. Not one group or organization,” Wright countered. [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Wright has given us lots of material in only two years on the Colorado political radar, most of it in the form of schadenfreude. Here in what are effectively the last few days of his political career, with all the pressure off, no benefactors to please, nothing left to lose, he might actually be just a little bit inspiring.

Don’t Believe Industry and Enablers’ Lies: Local Control is About Local Control

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

So here is a question for people that ought to know better: What do Colorado’s “Local Control” Initiatives Set Out to Do?

It is not surprising, I suppose, that the oil and gas industry–faced with having to explain why allowing a local town the authority to create a larger set back than the standard imposed statewide, based on its particular circumstances, for industrial activity like oil and gas drilling, fracking, and development must be stopped–would resort to telling lies.  It is, however, disappointing when big name Colorado politicians and so-called civic leaders jump on the Bullfeathers Bandwagon

Kelly Brough, of the Metro Chamber of Commerce went so far as to call set-backs (requiring that oil and gas operations be located a certain distance from occupied buildings, for instance) a statewide fracking ban.  

“Whether it’s framed as local control or setbacks, the real intention of filing these is to create a ban on fracking in Colorado." 

This is so transparently dishonest it ought to be embarrassing.  The various local control and other oil and gas regulatory initiatives do not set out to impose a state wide fracking ban.  This is the case regardless of ‘fracktivist’ support behind the initiatives, inartful comments by organizers and proponents, or the typical agitprop BS from the scaremongers in industry.  

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Local Control “Grand Bargain” In The Works?

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover and Cathy Proctor report:

The oil and gas wars that many predicted at the Colorado Capitol still may be coming as the 2014 legislative session wanes, as industry representatives and elected officials are discussing a bill that would give local governments more control over drilling regulations.

A draft bill that was revised late Tuesday and was given to the Denver Business Journal would grant local governments regulatory authority — provided the rules don’t conflict with state statutes — over noise and over setback distance between a well site and schools, hospitals and homes. It also would give cities and counties the authority to conduct inspections and monitoring and to charge a “reasonable” fee to cover its costs.

House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said early Tuesday that she doubted such a bill would materialize this session because there is only a week left until the May 7 adjournment of the General Assembly. But several sources close to the negotiations said that discussions about the bill picked up throughout the day as a number of oil and gas companies began to see it as a favorable alternative to facing a proposed ballot measure in November that could allow local governments to push setbacks for well sites as far as 1,500 or 2,500 feet from homes and schools and permit local fracking bans…

A last-minute bill to increase the power of local communities to regulate drilling reflects a very simple reality, one that we've acknowledged in this space discussing the possibility of a much more stringent statewide ballot initiative:

Capitol sources say that some oil and gas companies, fearing the potential of losing to [Rep. Jared] Polis’ well-funded ballot effort, [Pols emphasis] are pushing to pass the proposed bill because they consider it to be much less extreme. But there a rifts over what details would be acceptable not just to that industry but to other industries that could be affected.

Negotiating a deal that would be good enough to please both local control initiative proponents and the oil and gas industry is a tall order, but some of the same people involved in the 2010 "Clean Air Clean Jobs" compromise to convert coal-fired power plants along the Front Range to natural gas are working to align these disparate interests enough to strike a deal. This late-session negotiation comes as other bills favored by conservationists, like a mere study of the health effects of oil and gas drilling which passed the House last week, die with help from Democrats in the one-vote Democratic majority Senate. 

Apropos, a couple of weeks ago, Eli Stokols reported for Politico Magazine about the larger issues surrounding this debate. Without expressing an opinion on its conclusions, as negotiations progress, it's clear Stokols wrote a prescient story:

Ted Trimpa, a Denver power lawyer and strategist once dubbed “the Democrats’ Karl Rove,” was instrumental in helping Polis and the three other millionaires build Colorado’s progressive infrastructure and consolidate power over the last decade. Now he finds himself trying to hold it all together.

He worries that the ballot initiative would splinter a progressive coalition in Colorado that’s been so successful that it’s now seen as a blueprint for Democrats and Republicans in other states—its many successes attributable to an unusual and lasting harmony, an ability to avoid sticky policy fights that distract from the shared goal: winning.

Resolving Colorado’s fracking fight quickly may yet provide other states with a blueprint of how to deal with local control issues around oil and gas, a national example of how compromise and consensus can be achieved even in our polarized times. But if Polis’s measures move toward the November ballot, the country may find out that Colorado isn’t such a model after all, that coalition politics aren’t as easy as this state has made them seem.

“We’re a state known for the two sides working together,” Trimpa tells me, “but if this initiative makes the ballot, the age of that will be gone for a very long time.”

It is what it is, folks, and few of us are privy to the action going on behind the scenes. Politically, there's an undeniable need for Democrats to present a unified front in this tight election year. On the other hand, coalitions only work when sufficient common ground exists to move forward. This has always been the great challenge of holding together the center-left Democratic coalition that has held control of this state for going on a decade, and this isn't the first time the ability to hold that coalition together has been put to a high-stakes test.

We'll update as soon as we learn more–and that won't be long with session's end just days away.

Drilling in National Parks: A Terrible Idea

For many, the words “national park” conjure up memories of magnificent vistas, park rangers, impressive wildlife and time well spent with loved ones. Of national parks, Republican President Teddy Roosevelt once mused, “Our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

Every year, America’s national parks provide countless invaluable experiences to the millions who visit them, and contribute billions to our national economy. Yet while most Americans recognize the unique cultural and natural heritage of our nation’s “best idea,” a misguided politician from Texas recently came up with what is surely one of America’s worst ideas.

Developing Oil and Gas in National Parks?

Last month, Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) floated the fringe idea that the government ought to open up oil and gas development in national parks, like Grand Canyon, to help spur an already booming energy sector. While at an oil and gas convention in Ft. Worth, Texas, Rep. Olson said, “Guys on the West Coast … west of the Mississippi, they know they’ve got oil and gas under the land that they can’t touch because it’s on a national park or some sort of federal land.”

But while Rep. Olson’s rhetoric is yet another hat tip to the oil and gas industry, he’s also found himself on the wrong side of the facts. The truth is, the oil and gas sector doesn’t need any more help. The U.S. is currently producing more crude oil than it has in almost 30 years and is on track to produce more gas than Americans will consume next year. In fact, the oil and gas industry is producing so much American crude oil, they have plans to begin exporting it to other countries.

Not Enough Land?

In 2013 alone, the Bureau of Land Management (the public agency tasked with managing oil and gas leasing) offered up nearly 6 million new acres of public land for oil and gas drilling, yet industry bid on just over a million. To put that into perspective, Yellowstone National Park is just over 2 million acres in size. That means industry isn’t even interested in what’s already available, because the vast oil and gas plays responsible for the recent energy boom are situated on private lands, not in national parks.

Adding further insult to injury, drilling in national parks would be a great deal for industry and a bad deal for American taxpayers.  In Texas, taxpayers receive a royalty rate of 25% for oil and gas produced on state owned land. In contrast, taxpayers receive a royalty rate of just 12.5% for the oil and gas developed on federal land. Put simply, Americans are getting taken to the cleaners each year to the tune of millions in lost royalties.

Economic Powerhouse

Apart from being scenic treasures, national parks are a powerful force for the American economy. A recent National Park Service study found that visitors to national parks spent $14.7 billion last year alone. This spending added $10.8 billion to local economic output and contributed another $6.5 billion to the nation’s gross national product. What’s more, the outdoor industry, largely supported by public lands, adds a further$646 billion to the U.S. economy annually. But you don’t have to look any further than the government shutdown last year to see the economic impact of our national parks. It’s estimated that during the 16-day shutdown, $414 million in spending vanished as gates were closed.

Fortunately, past elected officials from both political parties had the foresight to protect iconic places like Glacier, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Arches, precisely because of their intact ecological, scenic, cultural and economic value. This seems to be an insight lost on some elected officials, like Rep. Olson.

A Place for Common Sense

Thankfully, most people don’t share Rep. Olson’s viewpoint. In fact, recent polling showed that the majority of Americans want more protections for national parks. And new tools at the government’s disposal, such as Master Leasing Plans (MLPs), are in place to make sure we balance energy development with conservation — a position a large majority of Westerners support. In a bi-partisan fashion, politicians have spent nearly the last 150 years protecting treasured landscapes because of their enduring cultural value. That spirit of compromise is worth celebrating. And there’s no better place to do that than in America’s national parks.

Is Cotter the toddler ever going to clean up?

A basic lesson we all learn early on in life is that if we make a mess, we need to clean it up. It's a common courtesy thing – we take responsibility and clean up after ourselves so that our neighbors don't have to.

But the Cotter Corporation is throwing a big tantrum while refusing to clean up their mess in Cañon City. One of Colorado's biggest messes has been going on for over 30 years. Residents in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Cañon City have been exposed to contaminated wells for over 30 years. An entire generation has grown up in Cañon City surrounded by uranium pollution and now their children are growing up in it too. Ranchers have struggled. Businesses have shuttered. And Cotter doesn't care.

How would you feel if that was your water? 

The Uranium Processing Groundwater Protection Act or SB 192, which would finally get crybaby Cotter to clean up its mess and protect Coloradans from future messes, is a smart bill. It's also long overdue. Residents are depending on this bill to get their town and livelihoods back. They're tired of their backyard being a notorious Superfund site. That's why the Act has 111 local, diverse businesses and organizations in support.

Senator Grantham (R- Cañon City) has heard their stories – from the local monastery that depends on well water, to the ranchers who rely on clean streams, to the residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood who have dealt with contamination since the – all deserve their water to be clean and protected. They have the right to use their water without worrying about radioactive contamination.

Yet, Senator Grantham still voted against his own constituents. Party politics and special interests apparently deserve more protections than his neighbors.

The Act would also safeguard Colorado citizens by regulating a new water intensive technique of extracting and processing uranium, which has never been tested or used in a commercial setting in the U.S. The bill will ensure that the same licensing process required for other uranium processing and radioactive waste disposal projects should also be required for these new technologies and also bring Colorado into compliance with federal requirements.

Unfortunately, if SB 192 doesn't pass before the end of the session, it may be too late to protect Coloradans and the residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood from future contamination and force Cotter to clean up their mess as they try to work a backdoor clean up deal. That's just not right.

Cotter can throw a tantrum all they want, but in the end Coloradans deserve to be able to use the wells on their land for irrigation and the water rights they are entitled.

Ruh-Roh, Republicans: Gardner, Fracking Attracting More Money to Colorado

Republican Congressman Cory Gardner is well beyond the "honeymoon" stage of his initial campaign announcement in late February, which puts us well into the next act of examining his record as an elected official. And it's not just abortion and Personhood that is perking up ears across the country.

Bad News for Republicans in Colorado

Ruh-Roh, Republicans!

Gardner's extreme partisan record on environmental issues is drawing new interest to Colorado's Senate race. Last week, the League of Conservation Voters kicked off a $1 million ad buy criticizing Gardner for his anti-environment record and naming him to their "Dirty Dozen" program. On the heels of that announcement came news this week that the CREDO SuperPAC has included Colorado in its small list of targeted Senate races; CREDO plans to spend at least $500,000 for both TV ads and to hire some 30 organizers.

Both Gardner and the Oil and Gas industry would be right to be a little nervous about the level of support in Colorado from LCV and CREDO, but they may have a far bigger concern on their horizon. Colorado Pols has learned that representatives for Tom Steyer were in Colorado this week to discuss Steyer's potential involvement in both the Senate race and a possible ballot measure related to concerns about fracking safety. Steyer is a retired billionaire investor who is becoming increasingly active in progressive political issues. As the New York Times reported in February:

The donor, Tom Steyer, a Democrat who founded one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, burst onto the national political scene during last year’s elections, when he spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia and millions more intervening in a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts. Now he is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.

In early February, Mr. Steyer gathered two dozen of the country’s leading liberal donors and environmental philanthropists to his 1,800-acre ranch in Pescadero, Calif. — which raises prime grass-fed beef — to ask them to join his efforts. People involved in the discussions say Mr. Steyer is seeking to raise $50 million from other donors to match $50 million of his own.

We understand the legislature is furiously working on something that would make a fracking ballot measure unnecessary, but Steyer has openly looked at funding such a measure in California in 2016, and his involvement could certainly change the dynamic here in Colorado — both for Gardner and any potential ballot measure.

Don’t Even Study Fracking? Really?

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

​The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports on passage yesterday of House Bill 14-1297, a bill to study the health impacts of hydraulic fracture drilling ("fracking") in certain affected Front Range counties:

The Colorado House approved a controversial bill Thursday that some Republicans believe is designed to give opponents of hydraulic fracturing fodder to ban the practice in the state…

The measure, HB1297, cleared the House on a 38-27 vote. It calls for a study of the health and “quality of life” impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.

Although the bill, which heads to the Senate for more debate, confines that study to six Front Range counties around the Denver metropolitan area, it is seen by some Republicans as a plan by Democrats to slant it to be anti-fracking.

Interestingly, a single Republican legislator did vote in favor of this bill yesterday, outgoing Rep. Jared Wright of Fruita. We've been hard on Wright over the scandals that nearly cost him election in the first place and appear to have now ended his brief legislative career–not to mention leaving a loaded gun unattended in a Capitol committee hearing room–but we'll be damned if Wright doesn't make perfectly good sense regarding this bill.

“We want to know that we’re not just blindly going forward with technology. That we do it the right way,” Wright said. “I believe it can be done the right way, and frankly, I don’t have a doubt that it is being done the right way. I think the results of this study will be that our operators are doing their jobs and doing it in the careful way that we ask them.”

Rep. Wright tells Ashby that while he shares traditional GOP skepticism about government studies, he has "read this bill in-depth and I feel like it’s well laid-out, and I think it’s certainly the intention that it’s done the right way." Obviously, if Wright is right, Republicans and their energy industry benefactors have nothing to fear from an objective study of the health effects of fracking in Colorado. It will reinforce the argument they make about the safety of the practice. And if Wright is wrong, and fracking is not being done "the right way"…what responsible lawmaker would argue against finding that out?

We ask rhetorically, since 27 Colorado Republicans voted against this bill yesterday.

LCV Hits Gardner With $1 Million Ad Campaign

UPDATE: The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee has a response from Republican Cory Gardner's campaign:

“The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is an extreme anti-fracking group that works every day to attack Colorado’s energy economy and calls Senator Udall one of their ‘staunchest allies in the U.S. Senate.’ While Senator Udall says he is a ‘champion of natural gas,’ the LCV has called this resource ‘dirty energy,’ said Alex Siciliano, Gardner’s spokesman. “If Senator Udall and the LCV had their way, Colorado would lose tens of thousands of jobs, and working families across the state would see huge increases in their energy bills. The LCV and Mark Udall are out of touch with Colorado’s economy and energy resources.”

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From a League of Conservation Voters release today, a big media buy hitting GOP U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner on his environmental record:

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) today announced that they’ve added Congressman Cory Gardner to their Dirty Dozen program and kicked off a $1 million television ad campaign highlighting his Big Oil ties. The first ad, “Wrong Way,” reminds Colorado voters that Gardner has taken more than $450,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry while repeatedly voting to protect their tax breaks, subsidies and giveaways. It begins airing this week in the Denver media market. 

“It’s no surprise that corporate polluters are already trying to buy climate change denier Cory Gardner a Senate seat in November. Cory Gardner has repeatedly helped Big Oil avoid paying their fair share while taking contributions from them hand over fist,” said Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters.

“Cory Gardner’s extreme agenda may work for his special interest allies, but it’s the wrong path for Colorado. With Cory Gardner, Big Oil wins and Colorado families lose,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.

The ad highlights that Gardner has repeatedly sided with Big Oil by voting against eliminating billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to the nation’s most profitable oil companies. Gardner also voted for the extreme fiscal year 2012 Ryan budget, which would retain $40 billion in oil subsidies, and even signed a pledge that would protect billions in Big Oil subsidies. Gardner’s votes have come at a time of record profits for the oil and gas industry. Documentation for the ad can be found here.