DENVER – A week after canceling a $1.3 million advertising buy, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis on Monday announced that his campaign has agreed to pull two ballot initiatives that could expand local regulations on hydraulic fracturing.
Polis joined Gov. John Hickenlooper, a fellow Democrat, for a last-minute news conference, in which the two elected officials announced that they had finally come to a tentative agreement. The deal calls for a task force to recommend legislation rather than take the issues to the polls.
The grand bargain was uncertain until around 7:30 p.m. when Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, agreed to drop a competing ballot initiative.
With that, the great local control ballot battle of 2014 appeared averted.
“Today’s first step can put citizens directly at the negotiating table and makes meaningful progress toward sensible protections for our communities,” said Polis, a congressman from Boulder.
Hickenlooper has been trying for four months to strike a deal that would avoid the costly ballot initiatives. Contributions between all sides of the debate already have surpassed $13.5 million.
Hickenlooper announced the creation of an 18-member task force, which would have industry, environmental and local government representation. La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat from Durango, has been appointed chairwoman.
“The work of this task force will provide an alternative to ballot initiatives that, if successful, would have regulated the oil and gas industry through the rigidity of constitutional amendments and posed a significant threat to Colorado’s economy,” Hickenlooper said.
Polis was financing two ballot initiatives that would increase setbacks of wells from 500 to 2,000 feet and authorize local governments to enact rules and regulations more stringent than that of the state.
In addition to creating the task force, Hickenlooper said he also would encourage the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to drop an ongoing lawsuit against Longmont for having enacted rules and regulations that overstepped the state’s authority.
Polis’ drive was called into question Friday when finance reports revealed that the campaign he was funding, Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, canceled a $1.3 million advertising reserve.
When The Durango Herald asked the campaign Friday, a spokeswoman responded, “We are just moving things around and switching the weeks of the buy. We had to cancel and get a refund. We will reuse the funds when we make the next purchase next week.”
Still, speculation grew.
“We believe that announcing a media buy they couldn’t afford was just a trick to put more pressure on state officials ...” said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a business-oriented group that opposes the ballot proposals.
The fate of the questions rested with McNulty, who proposed a competing ballot initiative that would have limited revenue collected by local governments that restrict gas and oil development.
McNulty said mounting pressure forced Polis to drop his drive.
“After another bizarre day of Polis-authored drama, we now know we have a big win to celebrate,” McNulty said. “In a decisive fight for the future of energy policy in Colorado, Congressman Polis and the fractivists have lost. Colorado and U.S. energy independence are the big winners.”
Polis also asked that a separate competing ballot proposal be withdrawn, which would require the disclosure of fiscal impact estimates for proposed ballot initiatives.
Pat Hamill, chairman of Colorado Concern and chief executive of Oakwood Homes, said he is willing to drop the fiscal-impact effort.
For her part, Lachelt acknowledged the difficult task ahead.
“I’m not naive,” said Lachelt, who has been working on gas and oil accountability in Southwest Colorado for more than 25 years. “It’s certainly my hope that whatever legislature convenes ... that they will take these recommendations seriously ... But we could spend a lot of time developing the best protections possible and have it fall on deaf ears.”