McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Wondering about ballot measures
There’s no way they will all be on the November general election ballot, but right now, there’s a list of about a dozen proposed amendments to Colorado’s constitution dealing with the oil and natural gas industry.
Get ready for a barrage of spinmeisters, folks.
While most, if not all, have yet to move to the signature-gathering stage, opposition groups are already out in full force, raising money and spreading their message of what a disaster the measures would be to Colorado’s economy and many people’s livelihoods, should they be approved.
According to the Denver Post, both sides of the measures reported they had so far raised more than $5 million, with opponents – the energy industry, business groups, chambers of commerce, etc. – raising 2 1/2 times more money than backers of the measures.
I had a brief visit last week from a spokesman for one of the opposition groups, Coloradans for Responsible Reform, who handed me a list of the proposed measures. Many are backed financially and politically by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who got involved after a gas well was drilled near a family-owned property. I recall thinking at the time that that wasn’t the smartest move by the industry. Get a rich, outspoken Congressman angry at you. That may not work out well for you.
At any rate, the descriptions of these measures from Coloradans for Responsible Reform are very similar in many ways. Several would increase the setback for new wells to anywhere from 1,500 feet to a half mile, compared to the current 500-foot rule. Others would give local governments more control over energy development within their borders, instead of the state having the top hand as it does now.
Most worrisome to the opposition groups are measures they say would allow local governments to prohibit or limit oil and gas operations with local laws and regulations more restrictive than state regulations.
That, they fear, would lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and another economic slump that some areas – I would suspect they’d say Western Garfield County among them – may never recover from.
I’ve said before in this space that many of the objections to drilling you read and hear about on the Front Range over the last few years were common in this neck of the woods years earlier. Numbers matter, and the loudest squeaky wheel gets the grease, I guess. When drilling was in a frenzy mode on the Western Slope, our smaller population numbers didn’t garner the attention the people on the Eastern Slope gained.
I also have to say that, after years of seeing lackluster local sales tax proceeds, businesses laying off workers and closing their doors, these measures might be what their opponents fear. Rifle’s economy hasn’t recovered like other areas of the state, and it’s because it’s overly reliant on the energy industry. Has been for decades and may be for decades more. That’s just the boat we put ourselves in. When it’s going full speed ahead, it’s great for the cash registers. When it’s in dry dock, pocketbooks snap shut.
But if local governments do what the opponents to these measures are – and will be – warning us about, should any of them be approved by state voters, maybe what we think is the bottom of the barrel is only one of the leftover puddles. If it drys up, could we?
We’ll see how things play out from here for these dozen proposals. If and when some of them make the ballot, like I said, be prepared for those endless TV commercials, warning of either the coming apocalypse or our salvation.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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