In June, in a sparsely populated county in northern New Mexico, a primary election surprisingly unseated an incumbent County Commissioner. No one seemed to notice. But, apparently, high-ranking Democrats to the north were paying attention.
The northern New Mexico county is Mora. The high-ranking Democrats: from Colorado. The election upset was about Mora County’s oil-and-gas drilling ban.
In April 2013, the Mora County Commission voted, 2 to 1, and passed the first-in-the-nation county-wide ban on all oil-and-gas drilling. It was spearheaded by Commission Chairman John Olivas—who also served as northern director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Since then, two lawsuits have been filed against the little county because of the anti-drilling ordinance.
A little more than a year after Olivas’ pet project, the Mora County Water Rights and Self-Governance Ordinance, was passed, he was ousted. Olivas didn’t just lose in the Democrat primary election; he was, according to the Albuquerque Journal, “soundly beaten” by George Trujillo—59.8% to 34.2%. Both Olivas and Trujillo acknowledged that the ban had an impact on the outcome, with Olivas saying: “In my opinion, it was a referendum on oil and gas.” Trujillo campaigned on a repeal of the ordinance (which, due to the language of the ordinance will be difficult to do) and has said he is open to a limited amount of drilling in the eastern edge of the county.
Mora County’s ban on all drilling for hydrocarbons, not just fracking, was incited by an out-of-state group: the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF),which has also been active in Colorado.
CEDLF holds Democracy Schools around the country where attendees are taught the “secrets” of peoples’ movements focusing on the rights of communities, people, and the Earth. In Mora, CELDF’s Democracy School was organized by Olivas’ mother—who, along with his friends, also chaired subcommittees believed to have been organized to monitor Olivas’ interests.
In Colorado, a Boulder-based Democrat Congressman and environmental activist, Jared Polis, has worked hard to collect thousands of signatures—spending, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “millions of dollars of his own cash to promote the measures”—to get two anti-oil-and-gas initiatives on November’s ballot. His blue-haired mother (No, I am not elder-bashing. She has it dyed blue and purple) has campaigned with him.
Polis’ proposed Initiative 89 would have given local governments control over environmental regulations under an “environmental bill of rights”—which mirrors language promoted by CELDF and used in Mora County. Polis also backed Initiative 88 that would have limited where hydraulic fracturing could be conducted.
The presence of Initiatives 88 and 89 on the ballot sparked two opposing measures: Initiatives 121 and 137. No. 121 would have blocked any oil-or-gas revenue from any local government that limits or bans that industry—an idea also proposed, but not passed, in the New Mexico legislature. No. 137 would have required proponents of initiatives to submit fiscal impact estimates.
Much to the horror of environmental activists, the battle of ballot initiatives ended before anyone ever got to vote on them.
On Monday, August 4, Polis and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper held a news conference where they pushed for a compromise to avoid a “messy ballot fight.” Instead, they are proposing an 18-member task force to issue recommendations to the Colorado Legislature next year on how to minimize conflicts between residents and the energy industry. Later in the day, an agreement was reached and both sides pulled the opposing measures.
Backers of proposed Initiatives 88 and 89 are outraged. They feel Polis sold out.
Hickenlooper said the suggested restrictions, if passed, posed “a significant threat to Colorado’s economy”—which they would. However, given the history of the lowly New Mexico county commissioner, the compromise may be more about “a significant threat to Colorado’s” Democrat party.
A November 2013 Quinnipiac poll found that most Coloradans support fracking—only 34% oppose it. Noteworthy is the political divide: 80% of Republicans support fracking, only 9% oppose it. More Democrats oppose fracking, 54%, while only 26% support it.
But the numbers indicate that Republicans are most likely to come to the polls in November to insure the economically advantageous activity is not curtailed—and this scares Democrats such as Hickenlohooper and Senator Mark Udall, who are both up for reelection in November. Udall, according to the WSJ, “ran in 2008 as a full-throated Green-energy champion.” His 2014 Republican opponent Congressman Cory Gardner (photo) points to the economic benefits of fracking, as seen in North Dakota and Texas.
Had the measures not been pulled, the WSJ reports: “the issue would have been at the center of the fall debate.”
In addition to driving Republicans to the polls, the anti-fracking measures didn’t have a high probability of survival. While Colorado communities have previously passed anti-drilling initiatives—Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Longmont—the most recent attempt in Loveland failed after an organized industry effort to educate voters on the safe track record of fracking and its economic benefits. Additionally, in late July, a Boulder County District Court judge struck down Longmont’s fracking ban. The Denver Post reported: “Under Colorado law, cities cannot ban drilling entirely but can regulate aspects of it that don’t cause an ‘operational conflict’ with state law.”
In New Mexico, the lawsuits have not yet made their way into court, but it is expected that, as in Colorado, the courts will rule in favor of state statutes. Constitutionally protected private property rights should triumph.
Polis, who made his millions from the sale of the Blue Mountain Arts greeting card website, presented his initiatives as a “national referendum on fracking.” As the WSJ states: “In that sense he was right.” Colorado Democrats realize that allowing an anti-fracking fervor to drive an election is a dangerous decision. The Democrats support for banning fracking—while killing jobs, hurting the local and national economy, damaging America’s energy security, and threatening private property rights—should unseat two top Democrats by driving Republicans to the polls. And, this could become the national referendum on fracking.