Rep. Polis Drawing Attention for Anti-Fracking Push in Colorado

Maybe he'll support it if they add fracking as a technology in "Civilization."Official Congressional photoDemocratic Colorado Rep. Jared Polis has gotten some attention here at Reason for the extent to which his political views align with common libertarian philosophies. We have a big profile of him in June's issue of Reason magazine, which can be read here and watched here.

But a big political fight going on in Colorado is a good reminder that a chunk of his political philosophy is at odds with what many libertarians stand for. Fracking has become contentious subject in the Centennial State, and Polis is using his influence and money (he's one of the richest congressmen) in a fight to let communities regulate (and therefore ban) fracking in their neighborhoods. Politico has published a couple of stories laying out the conflicts within the state and suggests that Polis' activism may be disrupting the Democratic establishment in Colorado, as environmental activism butts heads with economic development:

His move isn't just an existential threat to what's now a $29 billion annual industry in the state. It's a brazen political power play that's likely to release a torrent of outside spending in swing-state Colorado, jeopardizing the reelection of two fellow Democrats whose names will appear above his own on the November ballot: Gov. John Hickenlooper, an oft-mentioned presidential contender, and Mark Udall, whose reelection bid could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Ted Trimpa, a Denver power lawyer and strategist once dubbed "the Democrats' Karl Rove," was instrumental in helping Polis and the three other millionaires build Colorado's progressive infrastructure and consolidate power over the last decade. Now he finds himself trying to hold it all together.

He worries that the ballot initiative would splinter a progressive coalition in Colorado that's been so successful that it's now seen as a blueprint for Democrats and Republicans in other states—its many successes attributable to an unusual and lasting harmony, an ability to avoid sticky policy fights that distract from the shared goal: winning.

Resolving Colorado's fracking fight quickly may yet provide other states with a blueprint of how to deal with local control issues around oil and gas, a national example of how compromise and consensus can be achieved even in our polarized times. But if Polis' measures move toward the November ballot, the country may find out that Colorado isn't such a model after all, that coalition politics aren't as easy as this state has made them seem.

"We're a state known for the two sides working together," Trimpa tells me, "but if this initiative makes the ballot, the age of that will be gone for a very long time."

I contacted Polis' office in D.C. on Tuesday to see if they wanted to comment about the congressman's involvement in fracking regulation measures, but they haven't responded as yet.

The group Polis' name is being attached to, Coloradans for Local Control, has a bare-bones site here. Its ad, apparently running now in Colorado, can be watched on YouTube here. There is also a group called Local Control Colorado whose site that seems like it could or should be connected as well, but it's not clear. According to Politico, Polis is ready to push for several ballot initiatives that regulate fracking to be put on the November ballot.

Local Control Colorado does offer wording on a ballot initiative. Their proposal goes beyond just fracking and includes all forms of oil and gas development: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, local governments may restrict the time, place or manner of oil and gas development, including but not limited to prohibitions or moratoria." It also says municipalities cannot enact rules that are less restrictive than state or federal laws.

It's a "local control" proposal that only goes one way—to restrict.

Last summer Reason's science correspondent, Ron Bailey, debunked some of the fearmongering around the fracking process. He also noted how fracking is reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, an important discovery if we're actually serious about fighting man-made climate change. Any potential health hazards around fracking should be treated like any other industrial process—with a strong respect for property rights (of both the frackers and the neighbors) and legal liability for any destructive outcomes.

UPDATE: Rep. Polis has responded in the comments below and linked to some of his arguments in favor of fracking regulations. Take a read and see if he makes a compelling case for you.

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  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    How about this crazy idea of local control? Everybody gets to control their own property. If I want to frack or let someone frack on my land I can, and if I don't I don't, and the same goes for everyone else. Can't get much more local than that.

  • ||

    I don't think that is quite what he has in mind. Community level, not individual level.

    Besides, drilling on one owner's land takes resources out from under many owners in what is called a section, and everyone in the section gets a check from the sale of the resource, so the rules apply section-wide.

  • poloniusium||

    I'm not indignant. If communities want to impoverish themselves, that's their business. And give them credit for letting 'local', presumably county, governments decide, rather than trying to ban it at a state-level.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    When it comes to allowing it they want a state wide standard, they just want local options to restrict it further than that standard.

  • Root Boy||

    I know they already have some bans in place (Boulder and I think Westminster) but I guess the state wants to make state law take precedence?

    Meh. I'll get interested when some town tries to ban windmills. Then we'll see how deep their local control tendencies are.

  • Cytotoxic||

    No that isn't 'their business'. The Community has no right to interfere with my perfectly safe fracking.

  • creech||

    It seems to me that landowners who have mineral rights would suddenly lose these rights if oil and gas drilling was banned. Sounds like a "taking" to me and local taxpayers should be on the hook for the current value of the stream of royalty payments these landowners are robbed of.

  • poloniusium||

    Good point.

    How much of the frackable land in Colorado is owned by local governments? Not much, I imagine.

  • R C Dean||

    Google "regulatory takings". Interesting stuff. This probably doesn't qualify (but it should).

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A state known for two sides working together? Isn't this where counties want to secede and gun control cost a couple Dems their seats?

  • Paul.||

    gun control cost a couple Dems their seats?

    Politics works in Colorado.

    There is of course, the uncomfortable fact that those gun laws remain in force.

    So a couple of Dems took one for the team. That makes them martyrs. Pretty soon, liberals will be naming their kids after them.

  • Root Boy||

    Yep, hi cap mags are still illegal (sort of), AR15s are illegal in Denver, and you have to pay extra for all the background checks outside of what you pay for an FFL transfer.

  • R C Dean||

    you have to pay extra for all the background checks outside of what you pay for an FFL transfer.

    I'm sure Bo, who brooks no burden on a Constitutional right, is opposed.

  • John||

    If he is anti-fracking, he is also anti-science and anti-property rights. In short, he is a fucking moron.

  • nonluddite||

    He can't be anti-science--he is a member of the "Party of Science"!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "...Polis has gotten some attention here at Reason for the extent to which his political views align with common libertarian philosophies....a chunk of his political philosophy is at odds with what many libertarians stand for"

    Let's see...how about working with him on issues where you agree and opposing him where you disagree?

  • Christophe||

    Yes?

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I'll discuss this more when they have a CoCon post.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    SoCon.

  • Christophe||

    I see where you're going. General agreement, although I reserve the right to call Polis/our hypothetical SoCon assholes and treat them with suspicion.

  • JW||

    Fracking has become contentious subject in the Centennial State, and Polis is using his influence and money (he's one of the richest congressmen) in a fight to let communities regulate (and therefore ban) fracking in their neighborhoods.

    "We've had enough of all of the prosperity that comes from cheap energy and a thriving natural gas industry!"

    Follow the money. He stands to benefit financially from this, somehow.

  • Raston Bot||

    Well, it is called horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

    I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!

  • ||

    If only there was a real live Ellis Wyatt to fuck the morons that agree with this good and hard.

  • albo||

    Anti-frakkers are ill-educated children stamping their feet in frustration at something they don't understand.

    NY has a moratorium, and PA has thousands of fracked wells that have been producing for years. The border between them has always been rural and relatively poor. Now the PA side is seeing a good deal of growth, while the NY side remains the state's Appalachia, simply because progressives who don't know squat run that state.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Let's be honest, all the Polis-love was liberaltarian desperation to prove that libertarians couls so work with the Left.

    Wrong.

  • Jared Polis||

    The argument comes down to individual rights.... It's a complex one and the libertarian perspective is not immediately clear. Can someone else engage in an activity next to your house which causes you economic damage and reduces the value of your home without compensating you? A recent study found that fracking nearby resulted in 4-15% decrease in home value:
    http://switchboard.nrdc.org/bl....._evid.html
    Currently there is nothing someone can do to prevent fracking nearby.... I think the liberarian perspective would allow for covenants in HOAs or even through local government to settle property disputes like this between neighbors, provide a mechanism for accounting for externalities. Currently any attempt at addressing this is pre-empted by the state. Here are some more thoughts on the topic:
    http://gazette.com/guest-colum.....le/1519709

    Fundamentally I believe in a regulatory marketplace.... people who want to live in areas that allow fracking, marijuana, gambling, and prostitution should be able to and people who want to live in areas that don't should also be able to.

    Jared Polis

  • x4rqcks3f||

    A recent study found that fracking nearby resulted in 4-15% decrease in home value:

    That likely has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with how others perceive your property, a perception that you have no claim over.

    Fundamentally I believe in a regulatory marketplace

    We know. Grow up.

  • nonluddite||

    "Fracking should be 1,500 or 2,000 feet from homes (unless the homeowner agrees to allow it to occur closer)."

    Actually this would work well in urban areas, since there is no fracking at the surface and most of the time is over 2,000 feet below it.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Is that really you?

    The case for private ownership of natural resources is weak, and you've picked the stronger side of the argument. I suggest if you want to make this argument to *libertarians*, look into Geolibertarianism, the Lockean Provisio, Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice, and Georgism.

    I think they make for a much stronger argument than your "you have a right to prevent your neighbor from decreasing your property value" argument.

    I can't tear down my house, because having it there makes your house more valuable? Sounds like pretty weak sauce to me.

    Good luck.

  • Christophe||

    "Currently there is nothing someone can do to prevent fracking nearby"

    False: get contractual agreement from other landowners, in writing. Maybe you'll have to compensate them (because they're giving up potential revenue), maybe reciprocity is good enough because they see things the same way you do.

    HOA/other contractual agreements are entered into voluntarily can't be revised unilaterally by one party (or worse, by a third party). This is why they're a superior solution to using the force of law to impose arrangements onto people (who oftentimes didn't agree to it).

    I mean, thank you for showing up and defending your position (and regulatory pettiness at the local level scares me a lot less than federal overreach), but this is libertarian basics, really.

    Given the strong environmentalist backlash, the most likely outcome of your proposal is that many counties will have the urbanites voting against fracking anywhere, blocking activity well outside the area where they live, for ideological reasons rather than because of impact. That's not a positive outcome in any remotely libertarian worldview.

  • prolefeed||

    Fundamentally I believe in a regulatory marketplace.... people who want to live in areas that allow fracking, marijuana, gambling, and prostitution should be able to

    So, this proposal allows local communities to override state laws forbidding fracking?

    It doesn't?

    Fuck off, you lying slaver.

    Oh, and if I want to smoke weed, bang hookers, gamble, and make money extracting mineral resources, I don't want my neighbors to get to vote to restrict my natural rights.

  • Warren's Strapon||

    This is the point I was coming in to make. Christophe made another good one above. My work here is done!

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    If I put in a beautiful garden and spruce up my house and generally raise its value, that raises values nearby too. Do my neighbors owe me anything for increasing their property values? Of course not! I'd be laughed out of court if I sued them over it.

    So why do my neighbors get to complain if I let my lawn go to the weeds or put in drought-resistant plants, paint the front door in zebra stripes, and park a couple of junker parts cars in the side yard?

    It has to work both ways. Either my property is mine alone, or it's communal; which is it?

  • KPres||

    "Can someone else engage in an activity next to your house which causes you economic damage and reduces the value of your home without compensating you?"

    Shorter Polis:

    Keep them damn black people outta here!

  • buybuydandavis||

    His position sounds perfectly libertarian to me, and more than the people posting comments above.

    I'm all for fracking, but the use of natural resources seems quite properly a government decision best left to local control as a matter of public policy. The issue of the rightful use and ownership of natural resources has a long history in libertarian thought, and his solution is much more consistent with that tradition than the propertarian absolutists posting here.

    This is a particular blind spot of many libertarians, who think some people own the planet, and others are obliged to acquiesce to their decisions regarding it. This is *actually* a case where Obama would be right - "they didn't build that."

    Since it's all about horizontal drilling, those communities banning development are largely just screwing themselves, as nearby communities will be drilling the reserves out from under their feet.

    In general, that's the way it works. Local control will mean more freedom.

  • prolefeed||

    Local control will mean more freedom.

    Right, a law giving my neighbors the power to take away my fundamental rights, and forbidding them from restoring those rights that have already been taken away, will mean more freedom.

    They have a lot of "local control" in North Korea, too.

  • KPres||

    Hey, see nice tree in your front yard? Guess what, your neighbor can come over and chop it down if he wants because it's a "natural resource" and you don't own it.

    Jesus, these people are dumb.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I like it when people reply with idiotic falsehoods.

    Yes indeed, North Korea is all about decentralized democratic control.

    Thanks for playing.

  • Warren's Strapon||

    I'm all for fracking, but the use of natural resources seems quite properly a government decision best left to local control as a matter of public policy.

    Except that's not actually what he's advocating; communities can only increase restrictions, not decrease them. It's not really local control when there's only one option.

  • Christophe||

    "Propertarian absolutism" isn't about some people owning the planet, or about "rightful use" (by what standard?). It is much more properly understood as the understanding that:

    - "Commons" don't work
    - Political control is least optimal (pessimal?) form of decision making, and should be avoided whenever possible.
    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coase_theorem means that as long as transaction costs are low, property will end up used for its most economically efficient purposes, regardless of initial distribution.

    So while we can debate the fairness or justice of the initial apportionment (with some reasonable basis), using *that* to make all ownership contingent on the political class is "cutting off your nose to spite your face" writ. large.

    If you want to see the logical conclusion of no ownership of natural resources, the disaster that is the indian reserves in Canada, where all of the land/resources is communally owned and controlled, should be sufficient.

  • Christophe||

    This was meant as a reply to buybuydandavis. I blame the sqrlz.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Because economic efficiency overrides all other considerations, don't you know.

    People who are getting screwed will take a little less efficiency, and a bit more justice.

    "Political control is least optimal."
    "all ownership contingent on the political class"

    Property is political control, contingent on the political class. The men in blue suits who will shoot me for being on "someone else's" property are part of that political control.

    Do you mean central planning? The usual plan is for property taxes on the possessors, to compensate the dispossessed. Doesn't require central planning, and doesn't imply functional use as a commons either.

    All of which I would guess you already know - you're just making bad arguments because there aren't any good ones available to you.

  • CraterMaker||

    Which does more economic damage? The temporary reduction in your neighbors property values, or the prevention of the fracking? Cheap energy is the death knell to alternate energy, the margins are already pretty slim even with the redistributive hand of government tipping the scales.

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