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Colorado Communities Battle to Ban Fracking

Citizens in cities on Colorado's front range are pushing back against the fracking boom by passing ballot measures to either prohibit the practice or ban it temporarily.

The town of Longmont was the first in Colorado to ban fracking in 2012, when voters changed their city charter to prohibit it. Governor John Hickenlooper's administration then sued Longmont over their ban, claiming only the state has the authority to regulate drilling.

Despite the lawsuit, in 2013 even more Colorado cities passed anti-fracking ballot measures. Fort Collins passed a five year moratorium on fracking within city limits, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued Fort Collins over the measure less than one month after it passed. By a close vote, the city of Broomfield narrowly passed a ballot measure similar to Fort Collins'.

After a recount determined Broomfield's measure had passed by 17 votes out of more than 20,000 cast, COGA sued Broomfield, too, saying only the state can regulate drilling.

Boulder citizens voted 78 percent in favor of extending an existing moratorium on fracking by five more years, and by a margin of 60.1 to 39.9 percent, Lafayette voters amended their city charter to make fracking for energy development out-and-out illegal. COGA sued Lafayette, too, at the same time it sued Fort Collins.

So far, Boulder has escaped a lawsuit since there currently are no active wells there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), whose district contains all of these embattled cities, defended their efforts to ban fracking within their borders. Polis posted a YouTube video in which he tells COGA to stop their lawsuits, saying it's “unAmerican” for COGA to sue Colorado communities “just because they didn't like the outcome at the ballot box.”

Colorado Senate Passes Split Estate Disclosure Bill on Unanimous Vote

bill requiring disclosure of a possible split estate condition upon the sale of residential property passed the Colorado Senate on January 24, 2014 in a unanimous vote.

The consumer protection and fracking-awareness bill orders sellers of residential property to disclose to buyers whether the surface of the property may be separately owned from the mineral rights beneath the land.

The bill also requires sellers to disclose any oil and gas-related activity that could possibly occur on or adjacent to the property, including drilling, surveying, oil or gas storage, well completion operations, or gas processing facilities.

The 2009 documentary “Split Estate” by Red Rock Pictures raised awareness of so-called “split estate” situations in which land owners in the Rocky Mountain region were completely unaware that they did not own the mineral rights to property beneath their land or homes. The movie showed families enduring tragedies after drilling operations suddenly sprang up next to their homes, including contamination of domestic water wells and springs, drilling rigs catching fire frighteningly close to their homes, and family members falling desperately ill after exposure to oil and gas exploration operations next to their residences.

Under the bill, the split estate disclosures would have to be listed in bold faced-type on the contract. If it passes the Colorado House and is signed by Governor John Hickenlooper, the measure will take effect just after midnight on August 6, 2014 – 90 days after the Colorado Legislature adjourns for the year. 

Study Links Gas Drilling to Heart Defects in Babies

newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells.

The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time – 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado.

Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers' residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents.

Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production.

The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.

FreedomWorks Continues Dick Armey's Defense of Big Tobacco

The third in a series about Dick Armey and his relationship to the tobacco industry throughout his career. See part one and part two.

In his last job as head of Freedomworks, Dick Armey became a more consistent and reliable ally for the tobacco industry for at least one of their pet issues: cigarette taxes.

Under Armey, FreedomWorks consistently took the tobacco industry's side by opposing cigarette tax increases. In 2005, FreedomWorks opposed a cigarette tax increase in Cook County, Illinois. In 2006, Armey and FreedomWorks opposed a cigarette tax increase in Hawaii. In 2007, FreedomWorks boasted about the effectiveness of a $12 million ad blitz by the tobacco companies aimed at killing a cigarette tax proposal in Oregon. In 2009, Armey spoke against cigarette taxes and FreedomWorks took positions opposing higher cigarette taxes. Armey also opposed a cigarette tax increase in Maine in 2011. In the meantime, Armey also continued using FreedomWorks to promote his flat-tax idea.

Dick Armey's Long History of Working With Industry-Backed Groups

The second in a three-part series about Dick Armey and his relationship to the tobacco industry throughout his career. See part one here.

There is no doubt that Dick Armey considered the tobacco industry a friend, as discussed in part one of this series. There is also no doubt that cigarette makers worked to stay on Armey's good side, and in ways beyond just giving him money.  

In 1993, Armey's son, David Armey, got a job with the Ramhurst Corporation, a company created through R.J. Reynolds' effort to set up astroturf  “smokers rights” groups throughout the country in the mid-1980s. RJR created these groups to give the appearance that smokers across the U.S. were coordinating a grassroots uprising against state and local smoking bans, which at the time were being  introduced more frequently across the country.
Ramhurst hired David Armey as a contract lobbyist to help the tobacco industry fight clean indoor air laws in the states. 

Dick Armey's Tobacco Ties: The Early Years

This is the first of a three-part series on Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) and his relationship to Big Tobacco throughout his career.

Dick Armey, who recently resigned from the Tea Party group Freedomworks, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1984, as a representative from Texas. A smoker, Armey first appeared on the tobacco industry's radar in 1985 after he appeared at a press conference in support of a bill aimed eliminating the federal tobacco support program – something the industry did not favor.

Even thought he opposed tobacco price supports, which put him squarely on the opposite side of that issue from the tobacco industry, Armey solicited a relationship with the industry.

In 1987, Armey wrote a
letter to Samuel Chilcote, President of the Tobacco Institute, saying he had a lot to learn about politics and asking if Chilcote would do him the “great personal favor” of sitting on his Political Action Committee Advisory Committee. Handwriting on the letter, apparently by Chilcote, cites a scheduling conflict, and indicates Chilcote likely did agree to Armey's request.

Nevertheless, after that the Tobacco Institute started regularly donating funds to Armey's re-election campaigns through its political action committee (“TIPAC”) in fairly small amounts at first – just $250 in 1987. The industry's donations to Armey grew steadily as his time and his influence in the House increased. By 1991, Armey was getting
$500 donations from TIPAC, plus additional donations from individual cigarette companies

By 2000-2001, Armey was routinely pulling in $1,000 donations from TIPAC and individual tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds (RJR), Lorillard and Philip Morris.

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