Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Legislature missed an opportunity to spare their constituents a heated campaign about proposed ballot initiatives governing gas and oil development in the state. Despite Hickenlooper’s efforts to bring stakeholders on various sides of the issue together in support of legislation that would grant communities more control over gas and oil extraction activities, there was no consensus and, therefore, no need to call legislators back for a special session. Instead, proponents will now proceed with at least two ballot initiatives that carry far greater potential implications for gas and oil development, as well as a divisive and polarizing election season.
The legislation in question would have extended to communities the right to determine setbacks from existing structures, regulate noise and require inspections and monitoring to meet their permit conditions. It would have also prevented communities from banning gas and oil development outright and imposed a series of conditions to be met before a temporary moratorium could be issued. Further, the measure made clear that any local regulation that ran afoul of a state rule would be trumped by the latter. It is no wonder stakeholders could not come together on this measure. As Hickenlooper told The Denver Post in June, “Right now, both sides are furious and don’t like it.”
While that is not necessarily a bleak omen, it turned out to be one in this case. In a better scenario, the measure as drafted could have yielded negotiations that got all sides some of what they wanted and a lot that they could stomach, if not embrace wholeheartedly. That is the nature of consensus, and it is an exercise that environmentalists and the gas and oil industry know well in Colorado. In this case, though, it appears that entrenched positions ruled the day.
Those positions will carry forward into the debate over proposed ballot initiatives that would require that drilling activity be set back 2,000 feet from homes and would insert an environmental bill of rights, affording communities greater control over industrial activity, into the Colorado Constitution. These are relatively extreme answers – to be codified in the state constitution – to ongoing questions that require some balance and compromise from all parties.
Hickenlooper’s failure to bring those parties to compromise is unfortunate, but it was not for lack of effort and dedication. Nevertheless, the special session that was not to be could have stemmed the flow of campaign rhetoric sure to accompany the gas-related ballot initiatives. That rhetoric will surely seep into candidate races, as well – Hickenlooper’s and others. Indeed, Sen. Mark Udall and his challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, are busily staking their positions on the matter. And it is an important one. How regrettable, then, that cooler heads could not convene to hash it out via legislative means.