Colorado governor John Hickenlooper reached a last-minute deal on fracking yesterday with Boulder representative Jared Polis, who agreed to end his support for two state ballot measures that would have tightened up the rules for oil and gas drilling.
In exchange, Hickenlooper will create an 18-member legislative advisory commission to study fracking and make policy recommendations, and the governor will also drop a legal challenge against the city of Longmont’s fracking ban.
Polis, a green Democrat who had spent millions bankrolling the anti-fracking ballot initiatives, and Hickenlooper, an establishment Democrat who once drank fracking fluid to demonstrate its safety, are both calling this last-minute deal a victory.
Then again, they both politically profit. The governor faces a close race for re-election, and the issue of fracking proved divisive in Colorado, splitting both high-level Democrat politicians and their voting base. Meanwhile Polis, a rising Democratic star, can say he’s forced concrete actions to address the concerns of his environmentally minded constituents– all without disrupting party politics.
The deal is also rippling across the Senate race in Colorado. Senator Mark Udall, the Democrat contender, proved reluctant to wade into the fracking debate, opposing the ballot measures only after his opponent made them into a campaign issue. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Rep. Cory Gardner, Mr. Udall’s Republican opponent, said Monday that Colorado already had stringent energy regulations and that Mr. Polis “should have dropped these destructive initiatives long ago. I have opposed the anti-energy initiatives from the beginning and will continue to promote our state’s robust and diverse energy portfolio.”
Monday’s deal also drew criticism from the state Republican Party, which said in a statement that it showed that Democrats “want even more control over Colorado’s already heavily regulated energy industry.”
Mr. Udall praised Monday’s deal and said it “averts a divisive and counterproductive ballot fight.”
The fight for fracking in Colorado isn’t finished. Both green groups and the energy sector have introduced ballot measures of their own to address energy extraction, and it’s unclear whether they will also withdraw them. And it remains to be seen how influential the advisory commission will be. Meanwhile, municipalities may continue to consider fracking bans or moratoriums on a local level.
Whatever the outcome, expect the Colorado fracking fight to remain closely watched. A similar establishment-versus-environmentalist Democratic split may play out nationwide as green liberals like Tom Steyer spend big to promote policies that further regulate the traditional energy sector. And, as I have written before, Colorado is a purple state where it’s fairly easy to get ballot initiatives before voters; as such, it’s often used to pilot controversial policies (think weed). The environmental left will learn from its victories and failures in Colorado, employing successful tactics elsewhere.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.