In Opposing Setbacks Ballot Measure, Polis Turns Back on Activists While Addressing Colorado’s Oil and Gas Industry
While speaking to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s (COGA) annual Energy Summit Wednesday in Denver, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Jared Polis made clear his position on the industry-killing Initiative 97: he opposes it.
It was the Congressman’s clearest declaration yet against the ballot measure, which would impose 2,500 foot setbacks throughout Colorado, putting more than 85 percent of non-federal land off limits to oil and gas development. That would amount to a huge economic hit to the state, which enjoys $31 billion in GDP contributions from the sector per year.
Knowing his audience, Polis toed the line on his rhetoric and preached for the importance of finding common ground but respecting disagreements. But this line solicited cheers from the crowd:
“As I said during the democratic primary, I oppose initiative 97.”
He continued by calling 97 and Initiative 108 “wrong solutions for Colorado,” pointing out what activists won’t—the fact that increased setbacks is just another way to ban oil and gas activity in the state.
“The conflicts that presumably spurred each of these initiatives – 97 and 108 — comprised only a small fraction of oil and gas development in our state. And yet the reach of these measures would be much broader. Initiative 97 would all but ban fracking in Colorado, a position I never supported no matter how much Walker Stapleton may wish I had.”
In his remarks, Polis made clear that he thought activists were going too far in pushing the measure. Polis now joins Colorado’s most prominent Democrats like current governor John Hickenlooper and former Interior Secretary and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar in opposing 97.
The position puts Polis in more alignment with his Republican challenger Walker Stapleton than some of his most ardent supporters, like the Sierra Club, which has contributed $600,000 to Polis this election cycle and has also endorsed Initiative 97.
As Polis tries to move more toward the middle heading into the 2018 elections, today showed it may be a rocky transition. During his remarks, he was heckled several times—not by industry voices but by environmental activists, one of whom had to be removed from the venue by staff.
Polis’ pronouncement drew headlines like this one: “Both Colorado governor candidates blast oil-well setback initiative at industry gathering” – Denver Business Journal.
But let’s not forget, this is the same Jared Polis who, in 2014, bankrolled a similar measure that would boost setbacks to around 2,000 feet. He angered activists back then by pulling the measure before it made it to the ballot when Gov. Hickenlooper set up a bipartisan oil and gas task force that was able to strike a compromise on the issue.
This is also the same Polis who hosted a press conference for “ban fracking” activist and Gasland director Josh Fox outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. For a full list of all Polis’ anti-oil and gas activity look no further than this round up.
So, for the second time in four years, Polis has rebuffed activists in favor of a more moderate position on oil and gas issues. Last time Polis gave up on the setback issue, former allies turned against Polis and opted to picket his town halls and stage protests. Now that Polis has opposed increase setbacks again, we’ll see how the environmentalist factions respond.