Activist on Colorado Task Force Mocks Panel by Pushing Fracking Bans
A member of the Colorado oil and gas task force with close ties to the activist group Earthworks is using his position to promote the same kind of local energy bans that the 21-person energy panel was formed to prevent.
The proposal from self-described activist Jim Fitzgerald closely resembles a so-called “local control” ballot initiative that almost made the ballot last year. It was opposed by a huge bipartisan coalition, including Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who said the initiative was a “radical” measure that would “drive oil and gas out of Colorado.” The task force was established under a deal to keep anti-energy initiatives off the ballot in 2014.
Now, Fitzgerald wants the task force to endorse a plan that would give local governments the power to effectively block oil and gas permits approved by state regulators. According to his proposal, “final approval” of all permits would rest with local governments, which could then “withhold approval” to give them “real control.” Under Fitzgerald’s proposal:
Fitzgerald’s proposal is broad enough that local governments could impose blanket bans on permitting, and it would replace the state’s current regulatory system for oil and gas development with protracted litigation. It is, in effect, the same or even worse than last year’s “environmental bill of rights” initiative, promoted by millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis (D) to legalize local energy bans. Another group called Local Control Colorado – which was actually part of Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch’s campaign to ban oil and gas development statewide and nationally – also supported the ballot initiative.
‘Whatever it takes to defeat them’
Before Rep. Polis and Gov. Hickenlooper reached an agreement to pull down this measure, and another that would have quadrupled the minimum distance between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings, the governor vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defeat the initiatives:
“It is clear these initiatives will kill jobs and damage our state’s economy. The oil and gas industry can operate safely, but it will be crippled if these measures pass. These are radical ideas that have no place in our state Constitution. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to defeat them…
We will always look for ways to improve safety but we do not need extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado.”
“This sets in place a way to keep the pressure on legislators … and it leaves the door open for 2016, when there’s a more favorable electorate.”
Since then, anti-energy groups have waged a campaign to mislead and pressure the task force into recommending the same “ban fracking” agenda they tried to get on the ballot last year. That strategy now appears to have resulted in the recommendation from Fitzgerald, one of the co-founders of the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Earthworks actively supports local energy bans in Colorado and recently admitted it’s waging a “war on fracking.”
False claims about ‘powerless’ local governments
Anti-energy activists consistently portray Colorado’s local governments as “powerless” when it comes to regulating oil and gas development within their jurisdiction. Yet this portrayal has been refuted by Geoff Wilson, general counsel at the Colorado Municipal League, who previously told the Denver Post:
“I think we’re doing better than we ever have. You know, things were really awful in the early 1990s. The oil and gas companies weren’t very sophisticated in how they dealt with the local communities that were hosting their activity. And we in local government weren’t very knowledgeable about this industry. And both of those things have changed in the years since.”
The task force members themselves have heard from local government officials from across Colorado, who told the panel they support the existing framework of regulations governing land use and energy production. The task force was even the focus of a resolution approved by a “significant majority” of Colorado’s county commissioners stating that local governments have “sufficient authority to regulate, and collaborate with, the state’s oil and gas industry.” Adopted at a meeting of Colorado Counties Inc., the resolution states “a vast majority of Colorado counties have already proven their ability to successfully regulate and negotiate in good faith with the industry to strike a balance between private, state and local interests.”
Despite the groundswell of support for existing regulations, activists continue the charge that local control is an issue that should be addressed by the task force. That is why it is not surprising to see activists asking the task force to recommend the same “radical ideas” they had hoped would be on the ballot.