EDITORIAL: Chief justice says anti-energy measures could harm public

By: The Gazette editorial
July 1, 2014 Updated: July 1, 2014 at 9:10 am
photo - Pair of oil pumpers and Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Pair of oil pumpers and Rocky Mountains, Colorado 

An effort to block five anti-energy amendments to the Colorado Constitution received the go-ahead Monday by the Colorado Supreme Court. Without commenting on merits of the jobs-killing measures, justices ruled language in the proposals does not violate the state's single-subject rule and meets standards for clarity.

The amendments would grant local governments the right to destroy the value of private property by limiting or banning production of oil and gas. Three others would greatly increase the authority of city and county governments to restrict oil and gas production within 1,500 feet of residences. Another proposed amendment would increase setbacks by a half-mile.

The proposals are backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. The Boulder Democrat has sold multiple companies for hundreds of millions of dollars and ranks among the three richest members of Congress. The congressman's support for more energy regulation began after he was bothered by temporary sights and sounds of middle-class oil and gas workers across the road from his Weld County vacation home.

The proposed amendments are an assault on the livelihoods of working-class Coloradans, businesses and other energy consumers. If successful, they would run thousands of high-wage jobs out of the state. But the pain wouldn't stop with oil riggers. The loss of energy and gas production would ripple through all segments of the economy, possibly igniting a statewide recession.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Nancy Rice argued the measures would grant "expansive powers" to local governments that would eventually "surprise voters" by eroding private property rights.

She also said her colleagues were wrong to find the measures in compliance with the Colorado Constitution's single subject rule. Each, she argued, vests "local governments with expansive authority to regulate oil and gas development." Additionally, the chief justice argued, each partially divests "property owners of the right to just compensation for the taking of private property." "The purposes of these two distinct subjects are not dependent upon or connected with each other. As such, the Proposed Initiatives violate the single subject rule," she wrote.

Rice said the amendments "unfairly mislead voters" with titles that are inconsistent with subsequent texts.

Rice criticized several of the measures for declaring they are "not a taking of private property" and do not require the payment of "just compensation."

"The public's welfare could actually suffer due to the Proposed Initiatives' elimination of an opportunity for just compensation," Rice wrote.

If one of these measures passes, we will lose more than the oil and gas industry. Our state would become a jurisdiction in which governments can whimsically snatch property rights, leaving investors holding the bag. It would send a message to the rest of the country that property investments are not secure in Colorado. Property values could suffer, and few would want to do business here.

A majority on the state's highest court could find no means to stop these dangerous amendments from moving forward. As such, they have left this to the voters. So let's be sure to vote the right way. Let's not become the state in which a majority negated private property rights. Let's not be the state that voted against good middle-class jobs. Let's not be the state that voted for a recession under the pretense of enhancing "local control."

This isn't local control. It's power and control. As the ballot measures state, this is a march to eliminate "just compensation." It's a move that empowers government control of property with three simple words: "not a taking."

Yes, it is.

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