Since we left the Denver Capitol in early May, legislators have been kept in suspense as to whether we’d be called back this summer by the governor for a special session on oil and gas issues, as framed by some proposed ballot initiatives. The governor has just declared that he’s been unsuccessful in getting agreement on a compromise that he supported and he’ll not call us back.
I’ve noticed that the media reports that his failure is a result of Senate Republican opposition as we wouldn’t vote for the compromise, with a cursory mention that some Senate Democrats wouldn’t vote for the proposal either. The narrative, or finger-pointing, that a solution could have been reached but for obstinate Republicans deserves addressing because it’s the same tired line I heard repeatedly in D.C. while there last week, seeking more stable transportation funding for the states.
Under Colorado law, only the governor calls a special session and all legislators are obligated to show up, even if they fundamentally disagree with the purpose of the “call.” Much time and energy has been spent trying to see the future on what Hickenlooper’s decision would be. While his angst over the proposed initiatives is understandable to me, I was very opposed to both the process and the policies being proposed and, as my district, you deserve to know why.
Very recently, Colorado adopted new oil and gas laws and regulations and they are looked to, nationwide, as highly protective of Colorado citizens and our environment. To add more regulations, especially that would vary across the state, could cost our local economies much more than would be gained. Responsible energy development is an achievable goal and Colorado is poised to do just that.
My votes in favor of the new laws impacting industry operations weren’t party line votes and they weren’t easy decisions for me. However, I felt that for the benefit of the state and, ultimately, a more stable business environment for energy development, these changes were necessary. Local government input was definitely included in the new regulatory approach and, my home county, La Plata County, with its long history with energy development, was looked to as a role model for how counties and industry could balance their respective needs.
In addition, I carried a bill that better balanced the rights of surface owners with the rights of the mineral owners seeking to develop the natural resources below the surface. In my law practice before serving in the legislature, I worked with a number of farmers and ranchers who felt seriously disadvantaged when negotiating a surface use agreement with the mineral owner. This legislation provided for “reasonable accommodation” of the surface owners when the mineral rights are developed and I’ve been told that this new approach has indeed leveled the playing field in these negotiations.
We have a strong framework for the industry to work within presently. Yet that gets lost in the high-pitched fervor surrounding the resource development happening now in the Front Range communities.
Colorado’s easy to manipulate ballot initiative process has made us the petri dish for special interests seeking to advance their personal agendas. Sometimes these special interests are wealthy individuals, as in this case, and not the “grassroots” as envisioned by the early 1900’s populists who established the citizen initiative process in Colorado.