Mountain States

Worn-Out Lafayette City Council Approves Stripped-Down Anti-Fracking Bill. Now What?

Last night, a weary Lafayette City Council passed a stripped-down “climate bill of rights” by a 4-2 vote after the original measure failed to win support from council members. With the amended bill drawing a “rare agreement of displeasure” from Colorado’s business community and anti-fracking activists alike, according to one press account, Lafayette city council members may be right to move on to matters more relevant and pressing to the community.

After months of heated debate over the measure – with anti-fracking activists heckling, badgering, and shouting their way through a previous meeting and forcing reprimands from the council – only a handful of people attended last night’s meeting. As East Boulder County United, the activist group backing the measure, observed, “Contrary to the prior meeting packed with over 100 community members, tonight’s meeting was nearly empty.” In fact, only one member of the community spoke up about the bill – and his opposition to it – during the public comment period.

Yesterday evening’s meager showing reflects the defeat dealt anti-fracking activists at the city council’s previous meeting in early March, when the ordinance as originally written and presented to the council did not even have the confidence of the council for a roll call vote. After much debate, the ordinance was eventually stripped down to “essentially become nothing more than a symbolic gesture void of any legal leverage to enforce” that “would not ban fracking operations in the city,” as the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

The bill’s main champion Councilwoman Merrily Mazza told the press that the initiative had become just a “nice, symbolic ordinance”:

“It’s a nice, symbolic ordinance … but with the direct action clause stripped out of it, it took the bill’s teeth out.”

In the end, however, even proponents of the measure acknowledged that the bill was not directly about Lafayette at all, but rather about oil and gas development in neighboring cities and counties. Admitting that no permit for oil and natural gas development had been filed in the city for decades, Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg said last night, “We have an interesting situation in [sic] here in Lafayette, where it’s not in our backyard, but in our neighbor’s backyard.”

For a bill that is scarcely relevant to Lafayette, it could nevertheless leave the city vulnerable to costly lawsuits – again – while sending chills through the business community in the area. A broad coalition of business and agricultural groups has sounded the alarm about the ordinance, calling it an “overly broad,” “unconstitutional,” and “plainly illegal” measure that “screams that Colorado is not a good place to do business or live.”

The amended bill was “still a slap in the face of the business community” and “not a serious or thoughtful effort to address any potential legitimate concerns Lafayette may have about businesses working in their city,” said Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and Chief Executive Dan Haley in a statement issued earlier this month.

Considering how state and federal regulators and prominent leaders on both sides of the aisle in Colorado have voiced their confidence in and support for safe and responsible oil and natural gas development, putting the issue to rest may be the best course of action for Lafayette.

Back in 2013, the Obama Administration’s Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy told a Boulder crowd that “[r]esponsible development of natural gas is an important part of our work to curb climate change and support a robust clean energy market at home.”

Just last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment unveiled a landmark health assessment that found that “the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] oil and gas operations,” and that “results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”

Colorado’s Democratic leaders have been united in repeatedly rejecting local and statewide campaigns to ban oil and natural gas development. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has called “ban fracking” initiatives “radical ideas that have no place in our state constitution” that “will kill jobs and damage our state’s economy.” Last year, when asked whether local governments should be able to ban fracking with voter approval, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) answered, “No.” And former Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr. (D) – once called the nation’s “Greenest Governor” – has said that local governments “should not ultimately be able to ban” fracking,” and that if fracking were banned, “it would be harder for us to get to our place of transition on clean energy and climate.”

So what happens next? Concluding its coverage of last night’s proceedings, the Daily Camera reports that the future of the ordinance “remains uncertain.” But as city council members expressed themselves, perhaps they ought to focus their time, energy, and resources on issues that affect Lafayette residents more directly going forward.

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