Gov. John Hickenlooper's greatest challenge has begun. How he responds will affect the pocketbooks of all Coloradans.
As petitioners try to get 12 anti-energy measures on November's ballot, Colorado legislators fell short of compromise legislation they hoped would end the petitions by appeasing environmentalists. Local politicians, legislators, environmental leaders, oil and gas representatives and Hickenlooper all tried to come up with a solution in the waning days of the legislative session, which ends Wednesday.
Most of the 12 measures would give local governments extraordinary authority to regulate and ban oil and gas production on private property. Sans the desired legislative fix, petition drives continue. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a wealthy Boulder Democrat, has reportedly pledged substantial financial support with the intent of getting at least one measure to pass.
In trying to craft a legislative solution, Hickenlooper warned of a campaign season that will bombard Coloradans with ads from those supporting and opposing the measures. While most Americans loath angry and divisive political ads, there is a silver lining to the governor's prediction. The ballot campaigns will pump millions in out-of-state money into Colorado, primarily the major media markets of Colorado Springs and Denver.
The bad news involves the very likely proposition that one or several of these ballot measures prevails, harming a mainstay of Colorado's economy.
Most people appreciate local control. As it pertains to fracking, they believe it will make energy production some other community's problem - and not much more. They are wrong. Colorado has the country's toughest oil and gas regulations. Our regulations already keep some production at bay. More could make our state the last place anyone wants to invest for energy production.
And no, it won't merely become some other community's dilemma. Each jurisdiction that bans or overregulates production will likely cause neighboring communities to follow suit. Owners of private land and minerals will lose their property rights. As a result, energy production will become nearly impossible throughout the state.
Without high-paying jobs provided by oil and gas, unemployment will rise and housing values will fall. State revenues will suffer, harming transportation, education and public safety. Our state will endure a protracted regional recession. Kansas, Wyoming, Utah and other mineral-rich states will enjoy the payrolls we chase off.
We applaud Hickenlooper for trying to establish a legislative workaround that would make these ballot measures vanish. He cannot single-handedly control the Legislature.
But here's what the governor can do. As a popular executive, respected by the business and political class, he can agree to star in some of those ads he warned about. He can take the lead in telling Coloradans how bleak life may become if voters inadvertently destroy oil and gas production for the irresistible sake of local control. He can explain that fracking produces natural gas and without it we rely more heavily on coal - a less eco-friendly fuel.
Governor, mince no words and spare no effort in convincing voters to avoid these traps. Remember, you'll be in the company of other respected Democrats - namely Ken Salazar and Wellington Webb - who are fighting to spare us from this misguided assault. Take charge in keeping Colorado's economy on track.