DENVER –State Rep. Frank McNulty Thursday became the first Republican lawmaker to come out in support for a last-minute legislative compromise to give local communities more control over oil and gas drilling.
McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told FOX31 Denver that a bipartisan compromise to avert a high-stakes campaign fight over proposed ballot measures that would allow communities to ban fracking altogether is far better than risking the passage of those measures and the millions of dollars it would cost the industry.
“There’s a level of uncertainty [with a ballot measure] to that that puts us all at risk,” McNulty said Thursday afternoon, as backroom negotiations continued on a possible local control bill that could still be introduced and passed before the legislative session ends next Wednesday.
“I know that there are people on the Republican side who are open to a legislative fix. We shouldn’t leave these things to hang out there until November. We should resolve what we can now.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat facing reelection this fall, agrees with McNulty. He stated Wednesday that a compromise is preferable to putting a more extreme proposal before voters.
“I think this is something that can be done legislatively, rather than in 30-second soundbites,” Hickenlooper said. “I have no problem sending things to the voters. But often times, if something like this ends up on the ballot, there will be $30-50 million spent on ads.”
Many Republicans see business and industry groups organizing in opposition to the ballot measures and lick their chops, optimistic that the outside spending aimed at turning out voters who are more sympathetic to the industry could help Republican Cory Gardner unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
But others, like McNulty, are looking beyond any short-term political gain at what could be a devastating blow to a booming industry that’s earning $29 billion in Colorado annually.
“This has a real impact on Colorado families if it goes through,” he said.
Sources tell FOX31 Denver that energy companies with the biggest interests in Colorado are open to a deal, but that larger companies that don’t operate in the state — Exxon, Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute — are hesitant to compromise, preferring to try and help Gardner win a Senate seat than to engage in a compromise that could help Democrats like Udall.
Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat who saw a well drilled across from his own home last year, is funding the local control ballot measures, which he believes represent his constituents’ concerns.
While many establishment Democrats, aware of the political risks of a divisive ballot measure fight, are annoyed with Polis, many Republicans are wary of the congressman too, which isn’t making a legislative compromise any easier.
“There are things that are really challenging down here,” McNulty said. “Too many people just don’t trust Jared Polis and don’t believe that these ballot measures go away if we do arrive a bipartisan fix.”
Hickenlooper’s office, which has taken a more active role in recent weeks in trying to broker a legislative compromise, spent much of Thursday meeting with stakeholders on all sides, including Polis’s representatives.