Dem pulls anti-fracking support at last minute for Colorado ballot

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) is pulling support from two controversial initiatives meant for Colorado's November ballot that sought to restrict fracking for natural gas in the state.

Polis played a leading role in bankrolling the two measures and planned to submit more than 200,000 signatures Monday, the deadline for them to make it onto the ballot this fall. The green group behind the initiatives said it would officially pull them once the natural gas industry removes ballot motions of its own.

The anti-fracking measures created a rift among Colorado Democrats in recent months and threatened to hurt Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper in their reelection bids.

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According to Colorado's KDVR News, Polis negotiated with Hickenlooper over the weekend to drop the initiatives in exchange for a broader process that will allow input from the businesses and property owners who want to weigh in on oil and gas developments in their towns.

The initiatives would have forced hydraulic fracturing wells to be 2,000 feet from schools, hospitals and other community facilities, and established an "environmental bill of rights" giving local governments precedence when laws conflict with the state's.

Hickenlooper announced on Monday plans to drop the state's lawsuit against the town of Longmont, which  challenged the voter-approved ban on fracking, as a piece of the deal.

The industry has agreed to drop two of its own initiatives that would have prohibited towns from banning fracking from receiving tax revenues from oil and gas development.

Polis's decision to drop the ballot initiatives could help Colorado Democrats patch up the damage caused by the intraparty battle heading into the fall elections.

Environmental activists had stood with Polis on the push, while Hickenlooper and Udall, facing tough campaigns, had voiced opposition, putting them at odds with their base as they looked to avoid alienating independent voters in the state. The decision will likely be a relief for Democratic strategists who were worried about navigating the emotionally charged issue this fall.

Polis has been praised as rising Democratic star, with talk that he's in the running to be the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"You allegedly have this ambitious individual who wants to be a part of Democratic leadership," Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan Colorado pollster said of Polis in a interview last month.

Ciruli added that the ballot initiatives weren't helping Polis in that regard, instead putting him at odds with the party. His decision to bury the hatchet with Hickenlooper might help show he's willing to be a team player.

Paul Betzer, attorney at Snell & Wilmer, and a member of Colorado's oil and gas association, said his clients are happy about the outcome and the industry will continue to engage local stakeholders and said it will be important that the process moving forward allows "us to operate in a way that doesn't diminish our capacity to explore for oil and gas."

Despite the deal between Polis and Hickenlooper, the environemental group responsible for gathering the signatures said it would not formally pull the measures until it received confirmation that the industry initiatives were withdrawn.

"Until we receive confirmation that industry has withdrawn initiatives 121 and 137, our campaign is moving forward. We would be happy to meet with our opponents at the Secretary of State’s office to mutually withdraw all four initiatives at an agreed upon time," Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy said in a statement Monday. "Our campaign supports the plan Rep. Polis and Gov. Hickenlooper laid out today and will be watching closely to see how it unfolds in the coming days."

The environmental group submitted the signatures for both anti-fracking measures to Colorado's secretary of state Monday afternoon.

Groups have until Sept. 5 to withdraw the anti-fracking and pro-industry initiatives, keeping with the deal brokered on Monday.

In a previous statement, the group touted the initiatives as sensible "commonsense protections for our children and communities," that would help cut back on fumes and spills.