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Business, agricultural interests express concerns about local control compromise

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Fracking equipment. (Photo: MGN Online/SpiroFlo)

DENVER — Backers of proposed legislation that would allow local Colorado communities more power to regulate oil and gas drilling have been working all weekend to broaden support for the bill from stakeholders and lawmakers, but it hasn’t been easy.

The Colorado Petroleum Association was quick to come out against the draft bill, first circulated on Friday after two months of negotiations sparked by Boulder Congressman Jared Polis’s decision to help put his personal wealth behind a series of ballot initiatives that would have given local communities the power to go as far as banning fracking outright.

On Sunday, a coalition representing a cross-section of interests–business, agriculture, construction–sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who helped negotiate the agreement with Polis and the two largest oil and gas operators in the state, and to state lawmakers, who will be called back for a special session if there’s enough support to pass the bill.

That remains a big if.

Many of the industries represented in the letter appear concerned that the oil and gas industry is getting special treatment and that there hasn’t been adequate time for broader input from stakeholders, nor will there be before the bill could be before lawmakers in a special session, given the imperative of passing something before the ballot initiatives are certified for the November ballot.

Under the compromise agreement, Polis has promised not to fund the local control ballot measures or to pursue any other initiatives through the 2018 election as long as the draft bill is passed and signed into law without any amendments.

The letter from Action 22, Colorado Association of Home Builders, Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Corn Grower’s Association, Colorado Dairy Farmers, Colorado Farm Bureau and Progressive 15 is reprinted below in full:

June 8, 2014
The Honorable John W. Hickenlooper
Governor
State of Colorado
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792

Dear Governor Hickenlooper:

On May 22, we sent to you a detailed letter outlining our concerns with both the process and
substance of the proposed local control/oil and gas legislation. We want to preface our
comments by thanking you for the chance to review specific draft language.  We understand this
draft to be a compromise negotiated by you, Congressman Jared Polis and two individual oil and
gas companies.

From what we have been able to review and analyze, the draft language fails to take into
consideration the property rights of the surface property owners. We are concerned that this
bill will have the unintended consequence of rekindling past split estate fights over such issues as
surface damage and compensation for surface damage. We are concerned that the draft
language gives to the oil and gas industry protections that will be afforded no other industry or
business in the state. We all know how valuable the oil and gas industry is to the state’s
economy but whether it is real estate, agriculture or small businesses, our members also
collectively contribute billions of dollars annually to the state. The agricultural sector, alone,
contributes $40 billion annually to the state’s economy. The homebuilding industry, which at
the height of the Great Recession suffered unemployment rates in excess of 30 percent, is just
now starting to recover and once again employ Coloradans and build homes. The welfare of
our industries and businesses deserves attention equal to that of our friends in the oil and gas
industry.

The draft’s reference to protecting the oil and gas industry from operational conflicts as it
relates to local regulation is a privilege that none of us currently enjoy. It would be
inappropriate for the state legislature to elevate oil and gas operational conflicts above all other
industries. This would have the very clear effect of pitting our industries and members against
the oil and gas industry. While there are times when our individual industries and members may
disagree with one another, we would like the opportunity to resolve those conflicts through
good faith negotiations and not enter into those conversations with one particular property
owner elevated far above the other.

We continue to have serious concerns about the lack of stakeholder input. While we have
received a detailed draft, we still have not had a reasonable amount of time to review and
appropriately vet the language. Our understanding is that decisions may be made very quickly
and we continue to express our concern that decisions thus far have not fully considered the
lasting and very real consequences to our industries. We still have not, despite our request
being made more than two weeks ago, been invited to participate in a full stakeholder process.
All of us have a solid track record of participating in stakeholder meetings where we are able to
exchange ideas and ask questions directly of other stakeholder groups.

Our understanding is that Congressman Polis, the principal proponent of the most extreme of
the oil and gas ballot measures, has agreed to withdraw these initiatives, but only if the
legislature adopts the draft proposal without amendments and this commitment lasts only until
2018. It is concerning to us that we aren’t being offered a fair opportunity to provide suggested
amendment language to address our concerns. We are all representatives of industries that
have operated in Colorado for decades; our agricultural members have been farming and
ranching in Colorado since before statehood. Four years of reprieve from Congressman Polis’
extreme ballot measures in exchange for lasting negative impacts to property rights and our
ability to continue in our industries doesn’t appear to be a fair deal. Nothing would prevent
other operatives or activists from filing similar measures in future years or from filing similar
measures within local jurisdictions.

Finally, if a special session is called the citizens of Colorado deserve to know that their tax
dollars are being prudently spent; the consequence is taxpayers and voters will only become
more disillusioned by government filled with discord and political bickering. In the end, we all
will lose.

Should you or your staff have any questions about our comments or if you require any
additional information about our feedback, please do not hesitate to contact any of our
executives.

Sincerely,

Cathy Garcia, President/CEO
Action 22, Inc.

Amie Mayhew, Chief Executive Officer
Colorado Association of Home Builders

Mark Linnebur, President
Colorado Association of Wheat Growers

Terry R. Fankhauser, Executive Vice President
Colorado Cattlemen’s Association

Mark Sponsler, Chief Executive Officer
Colorado Corn Growers Association

Chris Kraft, Chair
Colorado Dairy Farmers

Chad Vorthmann, Executive Vice President
Colorado Farm Bureau

Cathy Shull, Executive Director
Progressive 15