For those of us who reside in Colorado municipalities, we should be alarmed. As I have mentioned before, home rule cities are being sued by the state of Colorado.
The issue is the continuation of who has ultimate authority on setting rules, standards and regulations involving oil and gas exploration known as fracking.
This is a relative new issue for Colorado compared to other states, but nonetheless, local government officials are beginning to take a hard line. Residents want protection from the potential environmental impacts caused by fracking along with quality of life factors.
Governor Hickenlooper has boldly stated that the state will sue the latest city to adopt more stringent rules pertaining to fracking. The city in question is Fort Collins and it is following Longmont, which has already been sued by the state.
Both cities are home rule, which means their citizens adopted a self-governing home rule charter and established their own set of policies pertaining to governance.
The Colorado Constitution grants the power of home rule to municipalities which follow the procedures to gain home rule status. Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn, Federal Heights, Broomfield and Arvada are all home rule cities. In fact, in the Denver metro area, very few suburban cities are not home rule.
The issue is quite simple. It’s all about local control. Does the state, under the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, have the legal authority to dictate to home rule cities on the various rules, regulations and standards pertaining to fracking operations?
The commission had recently moved toward a little more conciliatory position in meeting cities part way in such regulations as the distance required from existing residential subdivisions. But the modifications adopted by the commission have fallen short of what municipal residents want and are demanding. Thus, City Councils are being pressured to step up and adopt more stringent policies than the state to control oil and gas exploration companies.
There is plenty of pressure being applied by oil and gas exploration companies to maintain the status quo. And they are not alone.
Many farmers and ranchers are siding with the oil and gas interests as they see potential revenue being threatened with more stringent regulations.
Someone needs to provide some leadership on this issue. With the vast majority of Colorado citizens residing in incorporated municipalities, it is clear that their voices should be heard. At the same time, the oil and gas interests have mineral rights that must be honored.
So, Hickenlooper and the leadership of the state Legislature — it is past time to work this out. How many home rule cities are you going to sue before this issue is laid to rest?
And even if the state wins in court, there is nothing to prevent the citizenry to force a statewide referendum on the powers and authority of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Can we avoid such a costly approach?
Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.