Afternoon headlines March 1, 2017

Broomfield City Council last night struck down a proposed six-month moratorium on fracking by a vote of 6-3, ending a lengthy and contentious public comment process that has lasted nearly two months.

Council members praised operator Extraction Oil & Gas for its apparent willingness to negotiate with the city on its plans to drill 139 wells on four different sites, a project that has sparked fervent public backlash. In response, Extraction has promised to install what it considers adequate health and safety protections, including the use of pipelines instead of storage tanks which it says will reduce harmful emissions.

Extraction has also agreed to delay part of its application process until May, effectively self-imposing a short-term pause on drilling. A neighborhood group delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures, calling upon the council to hold off on the moratorium vote until then. But council members instead chose to postpone the vote indefinitely, saying they could revisit the issue with an emergency motion if Extraction fails to uphold its promises.

Many on council expressed a feeling of powerlessness, wanting to protect the community against adverse health impacts but knowing that fracking is inevitable.

Broomfield is just one of several communities currently reckoning with its lack of control over the oil and gas industry. Boulder recently renewed its own fracking moratorium despite a threatened lawsuit from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who made good on that threat two weeks ago. Lafayette has proposed a “climate bill of rights,” which will enshrine the right to a clean environment in the city code and legalize civil disobedience in defense of that right.

Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas, which has attended community meetings and spoke at a massively attended public forum last week at Broomfield’s 1stBank Center, was pleased with the results. A spokesman called the project “truly a remarkable esign and one of the best-planned facilities anywhere in the nation to our knowledge.”

Some residents at last night’s meeting weren’t impressed by the company’s promises to put in noise reduction technologies and costly landscaping. Those measures, they say, distract from the project’s essential problem: threats to health and safety.

Those hoping to chip away at disclosure requirements for paid political speech will be disappointed by this week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a lower court’s decision that groups must disclose who pays for ads about political candidates during election season.

The case stems from 2014, when the Independence Institute, a Denver-based libertarian think tank, sued the Federal Elections Commissionover in defense of radio ads that ended with a call for listeners to contact Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. Ads like these are known as “issues ads,” which do not expressly advocate for or against a candidate.

Because Udall was up for reelection in less than 60 days from when the ad ran, the FEC would have barred the Independence Institute from running it without disclosing who paid for it. The group sued the FEC in federal court, saying the agency was infringing on its free speech rights.

A three-judge court in November ruled the group could not air its ads without disclosure. The Supreme Court upheld the lower federal court ruling against the group Monday, without comment, essentially saying the lower court got it right.

Independence Institute chief Jon Caldara wonders why his group’s First Amendment rights disappear after a certain date on a calendar? “It seems to me that if we have the right to say something on Monday, then we have the right to say it on Tuesday,” he said this week upon hearing the Supreme Court’s decision.

Colorado attorney Chris Jackson, who practices political law and appeals, wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision to uphold disclosure laws.. But Caldara said he believes if President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Colorado judge Neil Gorsuch, were on the court, justices might have chosen to take up the case and hear more about it.

A bill to make tampering with oil and gas operations a felony cleared the state Senate Tuesday. But it is unlikely to have the same luck in the Democrat-controlled House. The measure seek made interfering with oil and gas industry equipment punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $100,000 fine, Sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, it drew intense pushback from Senate Democrats this week who say the bill is an effort to clamp down on peaceful protest. They also say the law is a solution in search of problem in Colorado. There have been 10 cases of trespassing on oil and gas operation sites in the past three years, with just one conviction, for trespassing. House Democrats in recent weeks have pushed back ion several oil and gas issues, including sending a message through a budget request to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Coffman filed a lawsuit two weeks ago against Boulder County for extending its moratorium against oil and gas drilling The Attorney General cited a 2016 Colorado Supreme Court decision that said local municipalities did not have the authority to ban oil and gas operations in their cities.

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