Polis To Industry: Initiative 97 Too Extreme, ‘Would All But Ban Fracking In Colorado’
Congressman Jared Polis declared that a proposed oil and gas setback that could appear on Colorado’s November ballot represented a near-ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state and clarified his opposition to the measure Wednesday at an oil and gas industry luncheon in Denver.
Both gubernatorial candidates, Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Polis, spoke separately before a standing-room only crowd at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s Energy Summit at the Colorado Convention Center.
“This divisiveness, frankly, is even on the ballot,” Polis said, describing the current political environment. “I want to be very clear today where I stand on this, as I said during the Democratic primary. I oppose Initiative 97,” Polis said, adding that he also opposes Initiative 108, a measure that provides for compensation for government takings.
“Both are simply the wrong solutions for Colorado,” Polis continued.
“Initiative 97 would all but ban fracking in Colorado, a position I never supported no matter how much Walker Stapleton may wish I had,” Polis quipped.
Meanwhile Stapleton pulled no punches, going after his Democratic opponent who previously supported expanding the state’s setbacks as recently as 2014.
“I’ve opposed an energy ban disguised as Initiative 97,” Stapleton said. He then recounted Polis’ previous financial support of a 2,000-foot setback measure in 2014, which Polis pulled at the 11th hour in a deal with Gov. John Hickenlooper to create a blue-ribbon commission.
“Ask most operators, they will tell you the difference is negligible, but the result is the same—the energy industry being driven out of Colorado,” he continued, comparing the 2014 proposal’s setback to Initiative 97’s larger distance, 2,500-feet, and criticized the Colorado Democratic Party’s decision to back the measure. He called it a “jobs-killing measure, plain and simple.”
Polis’ restatement of opposition makes him the latest top-ranked Democrat in the state to publicly declare against Initiative 97, joining Hickenlooper and former Obama Interior Secretary and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar. Salazar called the measure “fundamentally unconstitutional” last month.
The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission released a study in July that said the measure would put more than 85 percent of the state’s non-federal land off-limits to new oil and gas development.
“Colorado’s economy today is the envy of the nation. If we want to keep it that way, we can’t ignore the role that the oil and gas industry has played in our growth,” Polis said, “or the significant wages and tax revenues that the oil and gas industry creates in our state.” However, he said, Colorado should not ignore the “conflicts between homeowners and operators, between surface rights and mineral rights, between state government and local government.”
“When oil and gas workers providing for their families say they’re afraid that new regulations will cost them jobs, the response can’t be indifference,” Polis said. The response to environmental groups can’t be claims of “overregulation” either, he continued.
Regarding setbacks, Polis said he would pursue a bipartisan approach for stronger measures for “when the landowner and operator can’t reach a surface use agreement.” Setbacks from schools should include property lines and outdoor areas, not just classrooms, Polis said.
“We also need to provide certainty around local control in Colorado,” he said, saying that disagreements result in a “flood of costly litigation, and that’s bad for all sides.”
“It’s bad for consumers, it’s bad for homeowners, it’s bad for local governments, and it’s bad for the energy industry,” Polis said. He pointed to litigation over hydraulic fracturing and a lack of clarity at the local level that he believed contributes to the drive for litigation.
As recently as Sunday, Polis was asked by supporters to clarify where he stood on setbacks at a campaign rally hosted by Indivisible Colorado, a progressive group launched in the wake of the 2016 election.
“Well, I think people kind of understand that I try to push where I can to protect our health and safety, for greater setbacks that allow property owners to have more rights. People also realize that I have to operate in the political arena to accomplish things, they often involve compromise, they often involve ‘not your way or the highway,’” Polis said. “They involve working to make progress in the right direction. So I think I have shown that I can do both. I think I have bold goals and people will understand that we’re going to do everything we can to make progress towards those goals.”
Polis said that much will “depend on the electorate, and who they represent.”
Stapleton also said elections matter.
But even the defeat of Initiative 97 won’t remove the threat to the oil and gas industry, Stapleton argued, if Democrats control both legislative bodies and the governor’s mansion come 2019.
“How long do you think it will be before another setback bill hits the new governor’s desk?” Stapleton said. He pledged to work collaboratively with the industry while maintaining a balance between regulation and economic growth, the “essence of the Colorado way.”
“I want future generations in this state to grow up in a Colorado with abundant economic opportunity,” Stapleton said. “Our energy industry’s future is directly aligned with Colorado’s economic future.”
Stapleton lauded the hundreds of thousands of workers who provide “abundant, readily available, clean, affordable energy” to the state’s residents. He also pointed to the revenues from severance taxes that fund critical infrastructure across Colorado, including water storage.
“It’s inconceivable to think we can transition to 100 percent renewables in the near future. Our current governor [Democrat John Hickenlooper] has even called that proposal, ‘pretty radical,’” Stapleton said, throwing a punch at Polis’ 100 percent renewables by 2040 plan, a key plank in his campaign platform.
“The cost would be most expressly felt by Coloradans who can afford it the least,” Stapleton said. He called Polis’ plan a “top-down mandate” that could bankrupt the state.
Stapleton backed the Jordan Cove project proposed for Colorado’s Western Slope. The project consists of a liquefied natural gas export facility that would send Colorado’s natural gas to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it can be exported internationally.
“We also need to look for new ways to grow our economy, and one of the ways we can do this is to export Colorado’s clean energy all around the world,” he said. “I have for many years now been a strong supporter of the Jordan Cove pipeline project in western Colorado, because I recognize it will bring more jobs and economic opportunity to all of Colorado, especially our Western Slope communities.”
“This project holds transformative potential for western Colorado,” Stapleton said, demanding that Polis give a clearer answer on whether or not he supports the project. Stapleton cited the support of Polis’ fellow Democrats, Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, both of who have supported the Jordan Cove project and have actively appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the project.
Stapleton argued that improving Colorado’s economic prospects with a project like Jordan Cove does not mean sacrificing environmental concerns.
“We must remember that these two goals are not mutually exclusive,” he said. Stapleton called the oil and gas industry a “regulated, accountable, and responsible energy industry.”
“We can have it all. We can have it all and anyone who says differently is presenting you with a false choice,” he said.
COGA expressed gratitude to both candidates for speaking Wednesday.
“We were fortunate to have our next governor speak to our members during our annual Energy Summit. There were no real surprises, as both candidates made it clear that they oppose the half-mile setback being pushed by activists, characterizing it as ban. Modern society depends on oil and natural gas products, and these candidates seem to understand that important fact,” said COGA President Dan Haley in a statement.
At a panel of state legislators speaking at the COGA conference yesterday, a bipartisan group of 11 Colorado House and Senate members denounced Initiative 97, saying it “goes too far.”
Polis was interrupted by protesters several times during his speech. The protesters shouted at Polis to comment on the safety of fracking and civil disobedience, among other issues, as they were escorted from the ballroom.