Divide Emerges As Anti-Fracking Activists Split On Initiatives Push, Democratic Candidates Spar Over Federal Fracking Ban
The on-again, off-again, on-again battle over hydraulic fracturing regulations in Colorado is on again. For now.
Just a day after the anti-fracking group Colorado Rising pulled their support for another go at the ballot box in 2020, two former employees, Anne Lee Foster and Suzanne Spiegel, announced they’d push forward with an effort to get one of the initiatives they filed earlier in the year on November’s ballot.
These events unfolded against background discussions between Colorado Rising and proponents of competing ballot measures seeking to establish an independent oil and gas commission to seek a halt and mutual disarmament pact that would see both sides drop their expensive ballot measure fight in a year already consumed with deep economic uncertainty and the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
Those negotiations earlier in June were unsuccessful. And while Foster and Spiegel have decided to pursue another oil and gas setback measure nearly identical to 2018’s failed Proposition 112, the proponents of the independent oil and gas commission, Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors CEO Dave Davia and Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce CEO Diane Schwenke, are moving forward with their ballot initiatives as well.
Davia wants “scientists and engineers to decide energy regulation” in the state, while Foster and Spiegel believe their work carries on “against huge barriers” and that it is their “duty” to continue the fight for six possible anti-fracking measures.
This sets up a 2020 clash of the titans on oil and gas policy, likely to match the more than $40 million in expenditures made in 2018 to defeat Prop 112, which failed by 10 points. But that was a midterm election, and this year, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden offer radically different viewpoints on oil and gas production in the country.
An epic face-off will obscure the “fractured” anti-fracking movement itself, as the champion of 2018, Colorado Rising withdraws while former activists Foster and Spiegel look past their group’s decision to withdraw based on health concerns due to COVID-19 and the need for signature gatherers.
Foster and Spiegel won’t face oil and gas proponents alone. They quickly turned to the Colorado affiliate of 350.org, 350 Colorado Action, for help. The group backed Prop 112 previously. The new coalition expected to be called Safe & Health Colorado will seek to pass Initiative 174, a ban on new drilling at 2,500-feet, a measure nearly identical to Prop 112.
The political hokey-pokey surrounding the measures and whether Colorado Rising was going to negotiate an initiative cease-fire or withdraw the ballot initiatives ignored the fact that Foster and Spiegel, as the signatory proponents of the measures, held the power to decide the future of the anti-fracking push.
According to the Denver Business Journal, the pair of activists left Colorado Rising in April. The circumstances of the departure are not clear.
Colorado Rising and Anne Lee Foster did not respond to Western Wire emails for comment.
In the wake of their departure of two of the more prominent faces of the movement, Colorado Rising tapped an interim director of communications and marketing for their group, Rafael Espinoza. When former state representative Joe Salazar, now the director of Colorado Rising, announced the new hire on April 28, he touted the group’s “unprecedented period of growth and public awareness.”
Little over a month later, however, Salazar and the group are taking a back seat on the fracking battle, deferring to Foster and Spiegel and 350 Colorado.
The separation raises questions over whether a divide or a deeper rift has emerged between progressive anti-fracking forces both inside the Democratic party and with outside activist groups. While oil and gas interests were able to beat back the Prop 112 threat, the legislature in 2019 passed one of the most comprehensive regulatory bills in the form of SB181, which Gov. Jared Polis and other Democratic supporters hoped would spell the end of the “oil and gas wars” in Colorado.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper has taken a more moderate approach to fracking regulation, touting his record as governor in working with the industry, while former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff has adopted a hard line on climate and fracking, calling for an immediate federal ban.
A Democratic divide reappeared Tuesday night when both candidates were asked their view on the necessity and immediacy of fracking regulations, including a ban.
“I want to make fracking obsolete,” Hickenlooper said, calling climate change an existential threat. When pressed, Hickenlooper cited state constitutional rulings on takings in Colorado as the reason for stopping short of a fracking ban.
“It’s too late, we’ve run out the clock,” Romanoff said, supporting an immediate fracking ban.
“Not all Democrats think alike,” Romanoff added.
The senatorial candidates would only be able to support changes on federal lands, with acres of state and private lands still open to new oil and gas development. The Colorado ballot initiatives themselves, conversely, would not apply to federal lands.
What that means for Colorado is a debate that would continue to fester, with resolution through the initiatives continuing to persist.
In 2019, Republicans and other observers felt that while Prop 112 failed and a legislative fix at the State Capitol appeared to settle activists’ concerns, more “skirmishes” and future fights still lay ahead.
Concerns that remained even as the global pandemic crashed the state’s economy, and left oil and gas workers in peril as demand plummeted.
For their part, Salazar and Colorado Rising had called the SB181 regulations inadequate as late as April. They challenged Polis on oil and gas regulations and permitting amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In contrast to the 2019 boasting Salazar made when he declared he was ready to slay the “fossil fuel dragon” as the newly appointed executive director for Colorado Rising. But it looks like Colorado Rising’s withdrawal leaves the struggle to Foster and Spiegel and a new anti-fracking coalition.
Both pro- and anti-oil and gas forces face the same uphill climb: collecting nearly 125,000 valid signatures by August 3 in order to make the ballot. The signatures must be considered valid by the state’s Secretary of State.