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By Tripp Baltz
Sept. 28 — Supporters of two anti-fracking ballot measures in Colorado said they are dropping their 2016 campaign but will turn their attention to defeating a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for future citizens’ initiatives to succeed.
The advocates of Initiatives 75 and 78—which the oil and gas industry called de facto bans on hydraulic fracturing—said Sept. 28 that after weighing the extensive costs, they wouldn’t challenge a recent ruling by the Colorado secretary of state that they hadn’t submitted a sufficient number of signatures to get the proposed amendments on the November ballot.
Micah Parkin, spokeswoman for 350 Colorado, one of the organizations supporting the anti-fracking measures, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 28 the campaign decided it would make more sense financially and practically to save its resources to bring the proposals again in 2018 rather than to pursue an appeal now.
The Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking campaign said it would turn to defeating Initiative 71, known as the “Raise the Bar” amendment, which it called an industry-backed effort to make it harder for other citizens’ initiatives, such as future grassroots campaigns to restrict fracking and other drilling activities via ballot measure.
“We may have run out of time to make it onto this year’s ballot, but volunteers are working against 71 now and gearing up for the next round, because ultimately we have no choice but to keep fighting to protect our communities, state and democracy itself,” Tricia Olson, executive director of the Yes for Health and Safety Campaign, said in a statement.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R) determined Aug. 29 the number of valid signatures in support of initiatives 75 and 78 fell short of what was needed for the proposals to qualify for the ballot. The group said the time and cost associated with filing a court appeal of Williams’ decision would be too great to move forward.
Protect Colorado, the issue committee that took the lead in opposing initiatives 75 and 78, said they were de facto bans on fracking and other drilling activities. Initiative 75 would have given local governments expanded authority to regulate, even ban, fracking. Initiative 78 would have increased the current statewide setback from 500 feet to 2,500 feet. The setback is the minimum distance required between wells and occupied buildings such as homes, schools, and hospitals.
Olson said Protect Colorado receives primary funding from two of the largest oil and gas operators in Colorado, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc. to oppose initiatives 75 and 78. The group has now raised $1 million for the “Raise the Bar” amendment, she said.
“Should the initiative pass in November, it would make grassroots initiatives prohibitively expensive in Colorado due to stringent distribution requirements,” OIson said.
“Raise the bar is an effort to prevent future initiatives designed to protect communities from fracking,” said Razz Gormley of Frack Free Colorado in a statement. “This is corporate money, primarily from the oil and gas industry, being spent to take direct democracy away from citizens.”
Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, told Bloomberg BNA the group receives financial backing from 34 funders, not just Anadarko and Noble. The “Raise the Bar” campaign isn’t just about stopping anti-drilling initiatives but also about addressing the problem of how easily Colorado’s constitution can be amended. Colorado’s constitution has been amended more than 150 times by citizens’ initiative, legislative referenda and other means, according to the Raise the Bar campaign. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution has 27 amendments.
Colorado law requires gathering nearly 100,000 signatures to place a proposed amendment on the ballot, but those signatures can come from registered voters anywhere in the state. The initiative would require campaigns to collect signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 senate districts. Additionally, ballot issues would need 55 percent of the voters to pass instead of a simple majority.
“The Raise the Bar campaign would be offended by the idea that oil and gas is running the show,” Crummy said. “They’ve been going for quite some time. They started this campaign before we had any involvement.”
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