Polis, Dems, Greens Tout “End of Oil Wars” In Signing of SB 181
For Gov. Jared Polis and other top members of his Democratic caucus at the Colorado State Capitol, the signing of Senate Bill 181 to reform oil and gas regulations is the first key step in not only transforming the industry in the state but putting to rest some of the acrimony that has festered in recent years, particularly among members of his side of the aisle.
Polis and other members of Democratic leadership see the bill as a way of avoiding the cyclical ballot initiatives in 2014, 2016, and 2018 that drew passion and millions in campaign spending but were ultimately inconclusive.
“Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over,” Polis said Tuesday. “Let me be clear: This bill gives the industry and residents certainty and comfort and Colorado will be the better for it.”
Polis’ comment echoes that of House Speaker KC Becker, who said on election night last November, “We really need to put the oil and gas wars to bed.” Becker, along with Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, spearheaded the legislation through the 2019 Colorado General Assembly.
Several backers of previous oil and gas ballot measures appear to have fully signed on to the legislation’s lasting impact, including the group who led the 2018 effort to pass stringent setbacks on the industry.
Colorado Rising, who backed the failed Proposition 112, a ballot measure to setback oil and gas operations 2,500 feet from “sensitive” locations, last fall and neither fully backed or opposed SB 181, embraced the new legislation after the signing. “While SB-181 does not address all of the concerns and threats associated with industrial fracking activity, it is a desperately needed tipping back of enormously unbalanced scales in favor of people and environment. SB-181 is the most substantial shift we have seen in decades and puts communities on much better footing when confronted with industrial oil and gas in their backyards,” wrote Anne Lee Foster, Communications Director for the group.
The largest environmental groups in the state, like Conservation Colorado and their Executive Director, Kelly Nordini, hailed the bill as a “new chapter” in the state’s relationship with oil and gas.
“Today marks a new chapter in Colorado’s history. For the first time ever, our state is on track to put the health and safety of workers and residents, and our environment ahead of oil and gas industry profits. This policy is nearly a decade in the making, and we applaud our elected leaders who fought for so long to make it a reality,” Nordini said in a statement.
Jim Alexee, Director of Colorado Sierra Club, said, “Coloradans now finally have a voice.”
Matthew Garrington, State Campaigns Manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, also offered full-throated support for Colorado’s “leadership,” saying that “SB 19-181 is a victory for the people of Colorado.” Josh Joswick, Issues Analyst and Community Organizer for the Oil and Gas Accountability Project said, “There has never been any Colorado legislation as comprehensive and impactful as SB 19-181. The people beset by the callous onslaught of oil and gas development now have a state government that is prioritizing their interests over the industry’s. This is long overdue and much appreciated.”
The groups were joined by Earthjustice, National Resources Defense Council, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, and Battlement Concerned Citizens in a joint statement of support for SB 181 issued through Conservation Colorado.
Sara Loflin, Executive Director of League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC) attended the bill signing and thanked the group’s supporters for their efforts in helping to pass the bill.
“Today, I had the honor of standing with Governor Polis as he signed SB181 into law. I want to be very clear. SB181 is now law because of you. Because of the countless years, days and hours you spent testifying in hearings and participating in conversations with legislators…. because of the thousands of emails and phone calls and attendance at town hall meetings…. because of your dedication to showing up and making clear the experiences of impacted Coloradans. SB181 is now law, and for that, I thank you all,” she wrote.
In a fundraising email 350 Colorado was quick to capitalize on the bill’s signing. “While we wish this bill went further to ensure all communities are protected, it is certainly something to celebrate! For years, 350 Colorado and allies have worked tirelessly to shift the narrative and build powerful campaigns,” the organization wrote.
They also added that the next step for the organization was to build “a toolkit to help local communities pass moratoriums while rulemaking commences,” a point of contention throughout the debate over SB 181.
Whether the support of these key environmental groups, along with the Democratic leadership, will do enough to settle the debate, at least for a while, remains unclear. Other local—and vocal—environmental groups were not on board with SB 181 or the politicians and activists who outwardly supported it.
Some Anti-Fossil Fuel Groups Opposed
Not all anti-fracking groups eagerly took up a positive reaction to the signing of the bill Tuesday, with some claiming to be excluded from the event.
Notable anti-fracking groups like East Boulder County United (EBCU) felt left out, attacking the bill and the politicians responsible for it.
In a Facebook post dated April 12, EBCU wrote, “‘Sweeping oil and gas rules’ so empty they rely on Jared Polis’ right-hand man to implement them for over 5 million people living in Colorado.
That’s how you maintain power while driving local consent.”
They also criticized the bill signing itself in two separate subsequent posts. “Only thing missing from the photo op are the grassroots and climate science,” EBCU wrote, adding later, “EBCU was not invited to the SB 181 gala yesterday.”
Cliff Willmeng, a prominent activist and Green party candidate for Boulder County Commissioner last fall, helped found EBCU. He called Polis a “poster child” for oil and gas interests in the state and the bill ineffectual, as it will not stop drilling in Colorado.
“When we say the fight against fossil fuels is inherently a fight against two political parties, the government, the professional environmentalists and the industry we aren’t making it up. All of the major environmental groups are in attendance to support Governor Jared Polis, a man that was the literal poster child of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association all the way through his campaign,” Willmeng wrote on Facebook. “The latest Colorado drilling policy that will stop no drilling by design.”
Polis has been criticized by anti-oil and gas activists in the past, including filmmaker Josh Fox last fall when Polis was campaigning for the governor’s seat. Fox, a previous Polis ally, supported Proposition 112—a measure Polis opposed—and had distanced himself from the former Congressman in 2014 after the Democrat pulled a pair of ballot measures he had financially bankrolled in exchange for a blue ribbon, oil and gas task force. Democrats like former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Polis’ predecessor, hoped to avoid a Democratic catastrophe at the ballot box in 2014, and Polis withdrew his measures.
His 2014 actions led to feelings of betrayal among Colorado activists who viewed the “compromise” as “political expediency” and “failure”—an act that “blatantly hijacked Colorado’s democratic process,” according to one activist.