Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a battle-hardened business coalition, is mobilizing to help the state’s petroleum industry fend off three ballot initiatives that target oil and gas development in the state.
“We will raise what we need to raise to be successful,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and co-chair of the effort.
Brough expressed a mix of resolve and frustration that the group, first assembled in 1994, must redeploy to fight what it considers ill-conceived and economically damaging initiatives trying to become part of the Colorado constitution.
One way to think of the CFRR is as the political equivalent of a tested military reserve unit that the chamber calls into action when it believes business interests in the state face a serious threat.
“We welcome anyone willing to publicly oppose these extreme measures that would eliminate responsible oil and natural gas development and let the government take private property without compensating the owners,” said Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, the first issue committee to oppose to the measures.
Earlier this year, there were 11 proposed initiatives targeting oil and gas and other business activities, but only three have survived ahead of an Aug. 8 deadline to submit signatures to make the November ballot. A fourth measure to limit business rights, initiative 40, failed to get any traction and its supporters dropped their petition effort this week.
Backers argue the initiatives will provide communities, property owners and the environment more protections. Similar measures were headed towards the ballot in 2014 when Gov. John Hickenlooper struck a deal that they be dropped so a blue ribbon panel could forge a workable compromise in a more deliberative way.
The rules that came out of that process, however, disappointed some environmentalists and local control advocates, resulting in the following measures:
Initiative 75 would give local governments a greater say in limiting oil and gas activity within their boundaries and implementing restrictions that go beyond state standards.
Initiative 78 would require new wells be setback 2,500 feet from inhabited dwellings and sensitive environmental areas.
Initiative 63 would permit local governments to implement environmental standards on businesses independent of state and federal law. While not specifically aimed at oil and gas drilling, the new rules could be used to block it.
Campaign funding numbers indicate a lopsided fight. Yes for Health & Safety, the issue committee backing initiatives 75 and 78, has raised $91,226 as of June 27, more than half of that coming from in-kind contributions by Food & Water Watch, a national environmental group.
Yes for Health had just under $26,000 in cash on hand as of the last report. Efforts to interview the group’s organizers before deadline were unsuccessful.
Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, the issue committee opposed, has raised $7.4 million this year as of June 27 and boasted a war chest of $5.4 million to fight whatever makes the ballot.
It recently won the endorsement from the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, which urged its members to contribute to Protect Colorado. Even the Denver Chamber donated $25,000 to the group last month.
But the chamber at the same time was activating CFRR, which back in 2014 received $2.4 million from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s largest trade group, to fight anti-fracking ballot initiatives.
While they appear to have the upper hand in fundraising, opponents of the measures are taking nothing for granted given the volatile political climate and the populist bent in the presidential race, which will dominate the November election.
“We don’t want to take any chances,” CRFF spokesman Dan Hopkins said. “It is an unpredictable year.”
Along with Brough, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Greeley mayor Tom Norton; former Denver mayor Wellington Webb; and Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Diane Schwenke will lead the CFRR campaign.
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