Peak & Prairie
June / July 1999
The Capitol Report
Summertime at the Legislature
Eid, Legislative Coordinator
During the summer and fall months—when the legislature is not in session—interim committees have more time to explore important issues. Full-day meetings are held. Field trips are taken. Recommendations are generally made for bills to be introduced the following year.
On April 19, the Legislative Council gave approval for the formation of six interim committees that will meet this summer. The issues to be addressed include: (1) developing a workplan for a fiscal study of state and local governments; (2) child care; (3) treatment of mental illness in the criminal justice system; and (4) telecommunications.
The remaining two issues are of special interest to the Sierra Club: (5) a study of development and growth and (6) regulation of oil and gas production.
At least a dozen measures dealing with development and growth appeared before the legislature during the regular ‘99 session. These included bills (supported by the Sierra Club) that would have required comprehensive plans and urban growth boundaries. They also included bills (opposed by the Sierra Club) that favored individual property owners over the community-at-large (takings and vested rights).
None of the bills in the first category passed. Lawmakers were unwilling to approve measures that would have imposed controls on development and sprawl. Several bills in the second category moved forward. Legislators seemed anxious to restrict the ability of local governments to manage growth. When HB 1192 (takings) was killed by a Senate committee, a virtually-identical bill (SB 218) was introduced less than ten days later.
Seldom has a legislature seemed more out-of-touch with its citizens. The refusal to address growth/sprawl issues—when the majority of Coloradans identify these as of primary concern—seems to defy the popular will. Formation of an interim committee to discuss development is the first positive sign that the General Assembly may recognize the importance of these issues.
The other interim committee-regulation of oil and gas production-is not good news for environmentalists. That committee was promoted largely by the oil and gas industry. It is being formed to assess “the scope of existing regulations” and “the effectiveness of rule-making procedures” of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Industry representatives will be trying to convince the committee that they are over regulated.
In 1994, after years of dissension between farmers and drillers in northeastern Colorado, SB 177, Regulation of Oil and Gas, was passed. This bill was a comprehensive rewrite of the charge of the COGCC—granting to the Commission “the authority to regulate oil and gas operations so as to prevent and mitigate significant adverse environment impacts.”
SB 94-177 provided for a body of regulations to address all aspects of oil and gas production. In the intervening years, the COGCC has completed rules that cover, among other things: water quality; reclamation; safety, plugging, and abandonment of wells; and financial surety.
During the same period, concerns with drilling have shifted from Weld County to the West Slope (La Plata and Garfield Counties), and from impacts on farmers to impacts on homeowners. Residents in areas like Battlement Mesa have become alarmed about the downspacing of wells, and the cumulative impacts of more roads, dust, noise, land disturbances and disruptions in the feeding and migration patterns of wildlife. The COGCC has no satisfactory policy for addressing cumulative impacts.
This summer the stage is set for competing interests to try to convince the interim committee of the merits of their respective positions. The oil and gas industry will be seeking a lessening of regulations. West Slope citizens and local government officials will be seeking more protection for their quality of life. In addition to six legislators and one county commissioner, the interim committee will be composed of “two representatives from locally interested citizens’ groups that represent landowner, mineral owner, and environmental interests such as the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance and the Western Colorado Congress, and one representative each from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association.”Interim committees generally begin work in July. All meetings are open to the public. Agendas and minutes will be posted on the legislative website: http//www.state.co.us. The Sierra Club is planning to monitor both the committee on development and the committee on oil and gas.
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