POLITICS
2:14 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

To Resolve Feud Over Fracking, Colo. Democrats Turn To Plan C

Originally published on Mon August 11, 2014 6:51 pm

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has announced a last-minute compromise to avert a costly political battle over oil and gas drilling. As Dan Boyce of Inside Energy reports, the deal is meant to find a solution to disputes related to fracking — but it also serves the political interests of Colorado Democrats.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The governor of Colorado is convening a special task force to work on resolving conflicts between residents and the state's oil and gas industry - conflicts arising from fracking. And the agreement on that task force has made the political establishment in the state breathe a huge sigh of relief. From member station KUNC, Dan Boyce explains.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: Colorado has been the focus of a lot of attention recently because of high profile disputes resulting from new oil and gas operations getting closer to homes and communities. Here's Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper trying to put some of that attention to rest.

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GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: We're here to announce our intention to create a task force that is charged with that goal.

BOYCE: A task force bringing together industry, environmentalists and the community - and he unveiled it on the very day signatures were due for a handful of competing oil and gas ballot measures.

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HICKENLOOPER: The way this compromise is reached is by pulling back all four of those ballot initiatives.

BOYCE: Two anti-fracking initiatives competing against two pro-industry initiatives - these cropped up after Plan A failed. State lawmakers were unable to pass a compromise. Now the task force will make recommendations to the legislature for 2015.

JERRY SONNENBERG: I wasn't a part of the compromise.

BOYCE: Republican State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg was leading one of the pro-industry ballot measures. He had no intention of pulling his initiative until he received a call from his oil and gas connections

SONNENBERG: They needed stability for their stockholders so they could continue to do business without a cloud of a ballot initiative.

BOYCE: See, if these measures would have made it on the ballot, the state was looking at a record-breaking political ad-spending showdown in the tens of millions of dollars. Floyd Ciruli is an independent pollster and Colorado political analyst. He says industry didn't want that - Governor Hickenlooper didn't want that...

FLOYD CIRULI: The entire Democratic establishment came out against it with the exception of Mr. Polis.

BOYCE: He's talking about Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, a self-made tech millionaire who's been making a name for himself in national politics as well. This year he was putting all his financial and political weight into supporting both of the anti-fracking initiatives, yet when Governor Hickenlooper announced task force, right next to him...

CONGRESSMAN JARED POLIS: I'm very glad to stand with the governor today, to present a thoughtful path forward.

BOYCE: ...Cogressman Polis. Political analyst Floyd Ciruli says Polis was under ever-increasing pressure to back down.

CIRULI: I think that the pressure got so large that he began weighing the risks.

BOYCE: The risks of splitting Democratic voters - both the Governor Hickenlooper and Democratic Senator Mark Udall are running for reelection this November. Both came out against the anti-fracking ballot measures that many of their environmentalist constituents strongly supported. Ciruli says Hickenlooper and Udall's campaigns would have been drowned out by the political ad war over those initiatives.

CIRULI: A significant part of which was going to attack them as being on the wrong side of the environment.

SONNENBERG: The truth is, there are a number of people within the Republican Party that are not happy with me.

BOYCE: Again, this is Republican State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg, who pulled his pro-industry ballot measure...

SONNENBERG: ... Because they do think that was a political tool that would've hurt Democrats.

BOYCE: But he says he's been convinced the oil and gas industry will be better off with this Plan C - this task force compromise. And it's a plan Colorado politicians hope could be a model for other energy-producing states. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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