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 photo

Democratic 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.