Colorado anti-fracking activists are looking beyond the 2014 election to pass tight restrictions on oil and gas operations, reviving a measure that was shot down by the Colorado Supreme Court in June.
The measure, which supporters hope will be on the 2015 or 2016 ballot, would create a constitutional right to clean air and water and designate the state’s natural resources as “public trusts” to be protected from “substantial impairment, including pollution from external sources.”
It allows anyone in Colorado to sue over pollution and requires that any company or agency proposing an activity on public lands — such as drilling for oil or natural gas — prove that it won’t harm the environment before proceeding.
“If an action or policy has a suspected risk of substantially impairing public trust resources, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action,” the measure reads.
A version of the ballot measure was one of several floated earlier this year that would have greatly restricted how or where oil and gas production could occur. Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis supported several measures that would have given local governments the ability to restrict such operations, including fracking, more strictly than the state.
Polis pulled the initiatives after striking a political deal with Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to form a task force instead, angering scores of backers who supported the measures.
The public trust initiative was scuttled for different reasons. In June, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Title Board, which reviews ballot proposals, made an error in allowing its backers to send a substitute representative to a hearing when one of the primary backers couldn’t attend.
The ruling torpedoed the measure because the Title Board wasn’t scheduled to meet again before the 2014 election, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria backed both the previous measure and the recent one. Doe raised hackles by comparing an opponent to a proposed fracking ban in Loveland to a Nazi and calling her a “talking dog” in an article.
That so many anti-fracking measures expected to be on the ballot haven’t materialized has taken some of the wind out of expensive campaigns by environmentalists in Colorado. Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate, the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund are campaigning in Colorado to highlight climate change and support green-friendly candidates, especially incumbent Democrat Mark Udall.
But at least one political analyst thinks the environmental groups are fighting an uphill battle, despite the millions earmarked for the various campaigns.
“[T]he environment doesn’t rank highly on the list of top issues that voters care about,” Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Report told the Denver Post.
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