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Environmentalists propose 3 more questions in ballot-box battle over oil, gas drilling in Colorado

Environmentalists and community activists have filed three statewide ballot proposals in a counter-move against the oil and gas industry’s attempts to sway public policy by putting a slew of questions before voters. It’s the latest salvo in an escalating conflict over efforts to move away from fossil fuels in Colorado and the industry’s pushback against what it sees as attempts to shut down drilling.

The filing of the three measures Thursday follows submission of seven proposals by the industry and its supporters that would ban state and local laws, ordinances and codes that favor or discriminate against types of energy sources. Environmentalists, activists and local government leaders worry that if approved, the laws and constitutional amendments would upend work to address climate change and move to zero-carbon energy.

“We thought we had no choice as environmental and public health organizations but to use every tool available to us, including filing ballot measures to defend the work that we’ve done over the last 10 years on climate and clean energy,” said Jessica Goad of Conservation Colorado.

“We really feel like we have an obligation to protect Colorado’s environment and people and to fight back against what we see as a very reckless oil and gas industry,” Goad added.

The proposals by a coalition called Coloradans for Clean Air and Water would hold oil and gas companies accountable for harm to public health and the environment and establish in state law the right of every Coloradan to clean air and water.

Advance Colorado, a conservative issue and advocacy organization, has filed three industry-related measures titled “Consumer Energy Choice.” Ballot measures backed by the industry-financed organization Protect Colorado also aim to protect consumers’ right to choose the kind of energy sources they want to use for heating, cooking and other activities.

A report filed in December by Protect Colorado with the secretary of state’s office shows that the organization received $3.39 million in contributions and spent $2.25 million for the period. The oil and gas companies that contributed included Occidental Petroleum, Chevron, Phillips 66 and Bayswater Exploration and Production.

State officials are reviewing some of the proposals and have cleared others for sponsors to start gathering signatures. It takes 124,238 valid signatures of registered voters get the measures on the ballot

“Our measures are simply focused on consumer choice. There has been a growing push to ban everyday appliances like gas stoves and lawnmowers,” Michael Fields, president of the Advance Colorado Institute, said in an email.

“We want Coloradans to be able to choose to continue to use products that are in common use. And, ultimately, we believe the voters will agree with us,” Fields said.

On the other hand, Dan Haley, CEO and president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement that the ballot measures “filed by dark money environmental groups do nothing to help the environment, and only serve to punish hard working men and women in Colorado.”

“Our industry believes Coloradans deserve a voice in determining the future of the state’s energy policy, while others would sooner threaten our state’s economic future merely as a fundraising tool,” Kait Schwartz, director of API Colorado, a branch of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

When he was running for office, Gov. Jared Polis said his goal was to make Colorado’s electric grid fossil-fuel-free by 2040. His administration has called for 1 million electric cars and SUVs on the state’s roads by 2035.

The Colorado General Assembly has passed bills on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources. A 2022 law requires municipalities that update their building codes or adopt new ones to ensure that new or renovated buildings can accommodate solar power and electric vehicles and appliances.

A bill before the legislature that has spurred the oil and gas industry to hold a rally at the state capitol and launch TV ads would halt new oil and gas permits by the end of 2029. The industry has said if passed, the measure would put oil and gas companies out of business in Colorado and deal a huge blow to the state’s economy because of the loss of jobs and revenue generated by the industry.

The bill’s proponents say that new wells could be drilled for the next few years and that nearly 50,000 wells are currently in production in Colorado. They also point to state and local goals for renewable energy, electrifying buildings and transportation and the need to bring Colorado into compliance with federal air-quality standards.

Colorado is among the country’s top 10 states for oil and gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Industry representatives say companies have worked diligently to cut emissions and meet the requirements of a 2019 law that overhauled oil and gas regulations. When Polis signed the law, he said he hoped that the “oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state” and driven battles at the ballot box were over.

Coloradans for Clean Air and Water said the ballot measures it filed Thursday are an attempt to keep the state on the path toward clean energy, one that people have shown they want through their support of politicians with a pro-environmental agenda. Coalition members are Conservation Colorado; Sierra Club; GreenLatinos Colorado; Healthy Air and Water Colorado; Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

The three proposals would:

• Make oil and gas companies strictly liable for any damages to human health or property resulting from spills, fires, explosions or earthquakes caused by fracking, injection of oil and gas waste or water contamination.

• Allow Colorado residents to protect clean air, water, and public health by upholding oil and gas regulations in state courts.

• Establish in state law the right of each person to have clean air and water and a healthy environment and the ability to sue if the state undermines that right.

“We know from polling, public testimony and through Colorado’s robust environmental and conservation community that people almost unanimously support clean air, water and renewable energy,” Margaret Kran-Annexstein, Colorado Sierra Club said in a statement

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