DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall moved quickly Wednesday in coming out in opposition to two ballot initiatives that would restrict oil and gas drilling after a legislative compromise aimed at averting the fight over the measures fell apart.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who’d tried for more than three months to negotiate an agreement to give local communities more control over fracking without allowing them to ban drilling altogether, announced Wednesday that he would not be calling a special session to pass the compromise draft bill, a story FOX31 Denver first reported Tuesday night.
Hickenlooper was motivated by policy implications, not wanting to enshrine oil and gas regulations that could devastate the state’s $29.5 billion oil and gas industry in the state constitution, as well as political implications, with Democrats worried that the industry’s campaign against the ballot measures could help Republicans this fall.
Udall, regarded as a conservationist, has the most at stake this fall.
Moments after Hickenlooper’s official statement on the compromise falling apart, Udall issued a statement that he opposes the ballot initiatives, which are being pushed by Democratic Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, who has already spent millions in support of the initiatives that would quadruple the distance wells must be set back from homes and schools and create an environmental bill of rights for local communities.
Here is Udall’s full statement:
“As a native Westerner, I know it is critically important that we safeguard Colorado’s land, water, and air for future generations. Our energy industry contributes to our special way of life by strengthening our economy, creating good-paying jobs, and helping our nation achieve true energy self-reliance.
“Fracking can be done safely and responsibly, and new technology has allowed us access to large sources of clean burning natural gas. But for many Coloradans who are seeing drilling rigs pop up near their homes, schools and parks, fracking is more than an abstract process — it’s an industrial activity that is increasingly being conducted in urban and suburban areas.
“Colorado has served as a model for the nation on finding the right balance between protecting our clean air and water, the health of our communities, and safely developing our abundant energy resources. In my view, these proposed ballot initiatives do not strike that balance.
“I believe that Colorado can and must do better, which is why I oppose these one-size-fits-all restrictions and will continue working with all parties — including property owners, energy producers, and lawmakers — to find common ground. That’s the Colorado way.”
The statement followed a call from Udall’s opponent, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, urging Udall to stand against the ballot measures.
“Now that a special session is no longer a possibility, Sen. Udall’s refusal to stand against an energy ban is more concerning than ever,” Gardner said. “If Sen. Udall truly cared about protecting Colorado’s economy, he would oppose these harmful ballot measures.”
Polis continues to face pressure from fellow Democrats to drop the ballot initiatives, but his own statement Wednesday morning indicated that he’s not about to do so.
“I want to thank all of the stakeholders who were involved in the crafting of a legislative solution to the fracking chaos currently enveloping Colorado,” Polis said. “From oil and gas companies to Gov. Hickenlooper to Majority Leader Hullinghorst, all parties were committed to putting forward a good-faith compromise that, while not perfect, offered a legitimate solution to the fracking debate that has echoed from living rooms in Weld County to the Chambers of the Capitol in Denver.
“When they began their work, they all knew that the chances of success were slim, but that the effort was worth it. Unfortunately, special interests and out-of-state organizations, worried only about politics and partisanship turned this into a battle of personal attacks and scare tactics. Now, as it has become clear that the path to passing a legislative compromise has been obstructed, we must turn to the people of Colorado to solve this problem.
“I have said from the beginning of this debate that my one goal is to find a solution that will allow my constituents to live safely in their homes, free from the fear of declining property values or unnecessary health risks, but also that will allow our state to continue to benefit from the oil and gas boom that brings jobs and increased energy security,” Polis continued. “I stand by this goal, I am confident that the majority of Coloradoans share this goal, and I am committed to continuing to work to protect our Colorado values.”
Hickenlooper, Romanoff will also oppose initiatives
Hickenlooper, who has long indicated that he will oppose the initiatives should lawmakers fail to reach a legislative solution, plans to discuss the matter further on Thursday.
The governor is holding a 4 p.m. press conference at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which supported his proposed compromise but continues to campaign against the initiatives.
Additionally, Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff voiced his opposition to the ballot measures for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
“When I was Speaker, I led a House that was willing to sit down and reach across party lines to find common ground,” Romanoff said in a statement to FOX31 Denver. “I’m disappointed that election-year politics are blocking a responsible agreement on this issue.
“We need a common-sense approach that protects our health and our environment, creates good jobs, and accelerates our transition to a clean-energy economy. I’m not convinced we need to amend the state constitution to achieve those goals — and I don’t think we should take the possibility of a future agreement off the table.”
Romanoff’s opponent, Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, had pressured him to take such a stand earlier Wednesday while urging Polis to abandon the initiatives.
“Breakthrough advances in energy development have America racing toward energy independence,” said Coffman in a statement. “As a combat veteran myself, I know that means we’ll need fewer combat veterans in the future. I fear Jared Polis’s fracking ban initiatives would undermine Colorado’s contribution to the nation’s energy policy.
“There are plenty of things for Republicans and Democrats to fight about this November. Energy independence shouldn’t be one. Polis should walk away from the initiatives.”