Energy

Colorado Vote Could Make It Harder To Ban Fracking

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Colorado is voting on a constitutional amendment to make it more difficult for environmentalists to push local bans on hydraulic fracturing.

If passed, Amendment 71 would require a 55 percent supermajority vote to pass a future amendment and require collection of signatures from across the entire state. The only exception would be for new amendments designed specifically to repeal current amendments.

Environmentalists are not thrilled with Amendment 71, arguing it would make it harder for them to push environmental ballot measures.

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis claims the amendment is a “power grab by the political and corporate elites … almost entirely funded by the oil and gas industry.”

“Amendment 71 dictates who is allowed to change the state constitution and who is not,” Polis said. “Amendment 71 ensures that only corporations and the ultra wealthy will have the ability to change the laws, and it shuts the door on citizens and grassroots movements from doing the same.”

Currently, in Colorado, getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot can be done by collecting signatures from registered voters equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast last time. This generally equates to between 75,000 and 100,000 signatures. Once on the ballot, amendments can be approved by a simple majority of voters.

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports Amendment 71, saying that it “ensure[s] that our constitution is not held captive by the whims of the day.” They frequently note that it is far easier to pass a constitutional amendment than a typical law in Colorado and that the process for doing so is far easier than it is in most other states.

Opponents of the amendment, like Democratic Congressional Rep. Jared Polis claim that it is a “power grab by the political and corporate elites… almost entirely funded by the oil and gas industry.”

“Amendment 71 dictates who is allowed to change the state constitution and who is not,” Polis said. “Amendment 71 ensures that only corporations and the ultra wealthy will have the ability to change the laws, and it shuts the door on citizens and grassroots movements from doing the same.”

The amendment is largely based around the failure of environmentalists to get a pair anti-fracking constitutional amendments on the ballot in Colorado in September. State officials concluded they didn’t get the required 98,000 signatures to get two different ballot initiatives on the ballot.

Activists challenged the state’s decision in court, but ran out of money to support it.

Environmentalists attempted to get 11 different anti-fracking measures onto the ballot this year, including attempts to delay the fracking permitting process and an outright ban on fracking in Colorado. Initiatives 75 and 78, if they had made it on the ballot and been approved by voters, would have added language to Colorado’s state constitution allowing local governments to virtually ban fracking.

Banning fracking in the state require a constitutional amendment because Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year concluded that only the state government has legal authority to govern fracking, since any ban would be “preempted by state law and therefore, is invalid and unenforceable.” The oil and gas industry of most states is historically regulated by state, not local, government.

Environmental groups like The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, and others currently support local bans on fracking in the state. Recent campaign finance disclosure reports show that the initiatives’ backers have donated blood and treasure to supporting the measures.

Colorado Democrats have pushing fracking bans, but they were pulled from the ballot at the last minute in exchange for creating a commission to study existing regulations and propose changes. So far Hickenlooper, a former geologist, has opposed most of the proposals, as fracking and energy are a huge portion of the state’s economy.

The initiatives that almost made it would have blocked fracking within 2,500 feet of any “occupied structures” or “areas of special concern,” placing 90 percent of the state’s area and 95 percent of its energy development off limits, according to a state government report.

Economists estimated that the initiative would cost $14.5 billion in lost economic output and 104,000 jobs by 2031. Fracking has caused an economic boom in Colorado. In 2012, the oil and gas industry added $29.6 billion to Colorado’s economy, or about 10 percent of all annual economic activity in the state. The industries also supported 111,500 jobs, allowing the state to recover from the Great Recession faster than its neighbors.

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