Oil, gas critics will push for fines

DENVER – Critics of the gas and oil industry will try again this year to raise fines for spills and pollution.

Environmental groups are also pushing for legal changes to solidify the right of towns and counties to regulate drilling inside their boundaries, but they are not sure if legislators will introduce a bill this year.

The 2014 legislative session began Wednesday, and the debate over whether local governments can ban hydraulic fracturing has only gotten more intense since the 2013 session ended without a clear resolution on the topic.

In November, voters in Fort Collins, Boulder and Broomfield voted to join Longmont in banning fracking. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has sued, arguing that state law does not allow local governments to regulate drilling practices.

Environmentalists argue that local governments have land use control over all industries, including gas and oil. But Gov. John Hickenlooper sides with the gas industry in saying the state has sole control.

“This is something we’d love to see the Legislature take a leadership role on and solve,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.

However, Maysmith isn’t sure if any legislator will introduce a bill for his group to support.

Instead, conservationists are making a priority out of a bill by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, to stiffen fines on the industry. A similar bill failed in the 2013 session.

A new issue this year for environmentalists is paint recycling.

About 1.2 million gallons of paint in Colorado each year could be recycled, said Hillary Collins of the Colorado Association for Recycling.

“It’s estimated that 10 percent of all new architectural paint sold every year goes unused. I think we’ve all had that experience,” Collins said.

The bill she is backing would make the paint industry responsible for setting up a system to make it easier to recycle unused paint. Right now, people have very few places to take their excess paint, and most of it ends up in the landfill, she said.