Colorado Fracking Ban Push Attracting Deep Pockets From Out Of State

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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A Colorado group pushing a ballot measure to allow local governments to ban fracking might soon be getting a windfall from California billionaire Tom Steyer, whose representatives visited the state last week and met those organizing the campaign.

Steyer, a hedge fund manager and an environmentalist, has pledged to spend $50 million of his own money on candidates and causes fighting against climate change. He also vowed to raise an equal amount from other donors.

Advisers to Steyer’s nonprofit, NexGen Climate — which has an affiliated super PAC — visited Colorado last week and met with representatives of Local Control Colorado, according to Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E).

“In the parlance of job seeking, it would be called an informational interview,” Rick Ridder, the spokesman for Local Control Colorado, told the website. “We seek the broadest coalition possible, and if their group is a part of that, we’d look forward to having their support.”

Ridder’s group is pushing several measures, including those that would increase the distance oil and gas operations have to be from schools, homes and other places to as far as 2,650 feet. The current setback is 500 feet.

Another measure would allow local municipalities to set their own rules for oil and gas operations, including by banning them.

Those who support the measure, however, insist it’s not a ban.

“Local control is not a ban; it’s not even a de facto ban,” said Cathy Collentine of the Sierra Club of Colorado during a conference call with energy analysts last week.

“Passing a ballot initiative around local control doesn’t change where you can or cannot drill or frack at this point,” she said. “It only changes it if the community passes something, whether it’s a moratorium or an outright ban.”

She admitted that as the election gets closer, supporters will have to fine-tune their semantics.

“A lot of those messaging points are going to be a little bit nuanced in that way,” she said.

According to E&E, Steyer “has yet to settle on which races to play in,” testing the waters in a number of places where Democrats are vulnerable. In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall is in a neck-and-neck race with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, and energy is a thorny issue for Udall. He called himself a “champion of Colorado’s natural gas industry” after proposing a fast-track approval for liquid natural gas exports — which presumes a support for fracking to get the natural gas — but he’s the only Democrat in a tough race who hasn’t taken a solid position on the Keystone XL pipeline. Polls show most Coloradans support building the pipeline, including a plurality of Udall supporters.

Steyer’s group also attended “a series of meetings with political, community and enviro leaders in the state,” an unnamed source told E&E.

If NexGen lends financial support to Local Control Colorado’s efforts, it won’t be the first time the group has enjoyed the largess of the wealthy. Millionaire Democratic Rep. Jared Polis is reportedly backing the ballot initiative as well.

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