In Colorado, fracking might be more common than marijuana. It’s certainly more controversial.
The state’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is finding himself surrounded — quite literally — by fights over fracking, a drilling technology that’s key to extracting oil and natural gas but controversial for its environmental risks. Numerous suburban communities north of Denver are debating to what extent, if at all, they should allow fracking.
National Journal spoke with Hickenlooper about his state’s recent elections that affected fracking, as well as education reform. Edited excerpts follow.
What does the fracking debate in Colorado bode for the rest of the country?
I think we are a harbinger of what’s going to happen across the country, and that’s partly why we’ve really put our shoulder to the wheel trying to create a very robust regulatory environment.
Colorado is not the only state dealing with these issues. In different ways, Wyoming, Utah, and Texas all have strong regulatory frameworks. One of the things we’ve talked about — there’s no consensus yet — is to get all of our state regulatory leaders together and say, “Would we be willing to compromise as states and create a Western regulatory framework, which obviously would have a lot of benefits if we got there?”
Four Colorado cities — Boulder, Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Broomfield, voted on anti-fracking measures. The first three passed by comfortable margins. Broomfield’s measure initially failed; a recount had it passing, and another recount is now required. With your election coming next year, do these anti-fracking votes imperil your efforts?
I don’t know. If I worried about each decision I made and how it affects my reelection, I’d give myself a headache. The way we try to do it, we make good decisions and have a collaborative approach and a healthy dose of common sense, and then the reelection will take care of itself.
Is it politically realistic for Democrats to embrace a ban on fracking, not just in Colorado but nationally?
I try not to look at these things [based on] whether they’re politically wise. If you look at the last 12 months, that’s probably pretty evident. The real question for Democrats and Republicans is, is fracking truly harmful? Part of what we have is two issues — one is the environmental-safety issue around fracking and are there problems, are people in the area subjected to undo health risks? The second one is land-use planning. Do we want to have industrial processes close to our schools and homes? And on the latter one, most people would say they prefer not to have a drill rig there for three months or collection tanks for 10 years. They would much prefer not to have that happen. That’s when it gets back to the split-estate issue [where surface landowners don’t own their subsurface mineral rights.]
Rumors suggest that activists may push to get a statewide fracking ban on the ballot in 2014. What would happen if that passed?
If it was really passed and upheld, it would certainly have severe economic impacts. We have pipeline systems, so we could still get natural gas to people’s furnaces. It’s not like we would run out of natural gas. It would stop almost all drilling. You can’t drill economically without fracking anymore.
National environmental groups are now coming in and galvanizing residents against fracking. We saw a similar phenomenon here with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control campaign. Do you think outside groups should be asserting themselves in Colorado as much as they are?
It’s not a question of whether they should or shouldn’t. Colorado is a bellwether state. We didn’t plan this. If you look at 2009, 2010, and 2011 — those years at the bottom of the great recession when there were no jobs anywhere — more young people moved to Denver than any other city in America. Not per capita, but real numbers. I think all those young people coming into your community means you are going to be on the cutting edge of a lot of issues, like education reform, like gun safety, like oil and gas exploration.
This is the United States of America. We have free speech. It’s a basic tenet of everything. We accept it. What I try to do is hold people accountable for making sure that they don’t distort the facts.
Do you take the rejection of the ballot initiative on education, including a tax increase, as a warning that voters still don’t trust government to spend their money wisely?
Yeah, part of it. Part of it was what I heard from people — that they thought it was too much money, and I think there was an inherent mistrust. I think that is a fair analysis. Talk to Arne Duncan, the Education secretary. This was one of the most significant, one of the most comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive, education reform in the history of the United States. We had some great, great stuff in there. It just didn’t — and we could see it was coming. The feeling out there was, it was just too much, and mistrust is fair.
What We're Following See More »
"The Senate standstill over a stopgap spending bill appeared headed toward a resolution on Friday night. Senators who were holding up the measure said votes are expected later in the evening. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin had raised objections to the continuing resolution because it did not include a full year's extension of retired coal miners' health benefits," but Manchin "said he and other coal state Democrats agreed with Senate Democratic leaders during a caucus meeting Thursday that they would not block the continuing resolution, but rather use the shutdown threat as a way to highlight the health care and pension needs of the miners."
Donald Trump transition team announced Friday afternoon that top supporter Rudy Giuliani has taken himself out of the running to be in Trump's cabinet, though CNN previously reported that it was Trump who informed the former New York City mayor that he would not be receiving a slot. While the field had seemingly been narrowed last week, it appears to be wide open once again, with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson the current favorite.
The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.
The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act today, sending the $618 billion measure to President Obama. The president vetoed the defense authorization bill a year ago, but both houses could override his disapproval this time around.