Groundbreaking Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiative Clears Key Hurdle in Colorado

Fracking protest

The citizen-led anti-fracking battles in Colorado ratcheted up a notch May 22 when the Colorado Community Rights Network announced that Ballot Initiative #75, the Community Right Amendment (also known as “Right to Local Self-Government”), has cleared its final legal hurdle with the Colorado Supreme Court and has the go-ahead to start gathering signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Initiative #75 would give cities and towns the right to regulate or ban outright any for-profit enterprise that threatens the environment or the health, safety or welfare of its citizens. In addition to letting localities regulate drilling as they see fit, it would give citizens the right to ban pursuits such as hazardous waste dumps, factory farms or genetically modified crop farming within their cities' borders.

Currently, only the state has the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling in Colorado, but as drilling companies exploit more land for energy production, rigs are springing up next to homes, schools, playgrounds and shopping areas. Citizens are alarmed when they find out they have little power to stop it. 

Historic Measure Would Rein in Corporate Power

Ballot Initiative #75 is a constitutional amendment that would stop the state from pre-empting local drilling bans. In a nutshell, it would elevate citizens' rights over corporate rights and would be the first state law of its kind in the country.

The prospect of the new law has Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper running scared and energy companies gearing up to spend tens of millions of dollars to try to defeat the initiative.

Hickenlooper is a former petroleum geologist who has sided with energy interests in Colorado's fracking debate. He has sued communities that have enacted local fracking bans, an unpopular action that has earned him the nickname “Governor Frackenlooper.”

Hickenlooper is hoping groups backing Initiative #75 and a slew of other anti-fracking measures will agree to a four-year time-out on their initiative efforts to allow time to work on his compromise legislation. He hopes to push his compromise legislation through a special legislative session. Colorado's regular legislative session ended in early May, but Hickenlooper is hoping to reconvene state legislators to pass his bill. 

Governor Tries to Short-Circuit Ballot Initiatives

Hickenlooper proposes letting local governments impose stricter environmental rules on drilling than state rules and allowing localities to impose “reasonable” fees on energy companies to cover the cost of inspecting and monitoring drilling operations, but his proposal also contains some plums for energy companies. It would stop local governments from banning drilling outright and if localities fail to act upon drilling applications within 180 days, the applications would be deemed approved. 

Despite this, energy industry groups are unhappy with the governor's proposals and think they give local governments too much control over their operations. The Colorado Petroleum Association complained that Hickenlooper's legislative proposals would “drive up the costs of doing business and create disincentives for oil and gas development in the state.”

Proponents of Ballot Initiative #75 say Hickenlooper's compromise legislation is merely an effort to short-circuit their groundbreaking initiative and keep it from going to a democratic vote of Colorado citizens. 

Stay tuned for the next episode in Colorado's fracking wars. 

Photo: Erie Rising via Flickr