Unfounded finger-pointing surrounds decision not to call a special session

Since we left the Capitol in early May, legislators have been kept in suspense as to whether we would be called back this summer by the governor for a special session on gas and oil issues, as framed by some proposed ballot initiatives. The governor has just declared that he has been unsuccessful in getting agreement on a compromise that he supported, and he will not call us back to the Capitol this summer.

I’ve noticed some media reports that his failure is a result of Senate Republican opposition as we would not vote for the compromise, with a cursory mention that some Senate Democrats wouldn’t vote for the proposal either. The narrative, or finger-pointing, that a solution could’ve been reached but for obstinate Republicans deserves addressing because it’s the same tired line I heard repeatedly in Washington, D.C., while there last week seeking more stable transportation funding for the states.

In Colorado, only the governor calls a special session, and all legislators are obligated to show up, even if they fundamentally disagree with the purpose of the “call.” Much time and energy has been spent trying to see the future on what Hickenlooper’s decision would be. While his angst over the proposed initiatives is understandable to me, I was very opposed to both the process and the policies being proposed, and, as my district, you deserve to know why.

Recently, Colorado adopted new gas and oil laws and regulations, and they’re looked to nationwide as highly protective of Colorado residents and our environment. To add more regulations, especially that would vary across the state, could cost our local economies much more than would be gained. Responsible energy development is an achievable goal, and Colorado is poised to do just that.

My votes in favor of the new laws affecting industry operations were not party-line votes, and they were not easy decisions for me. However, I felt that for the benefit of the state and, ultimately, a more stable business environment for energy development, these changes were necessary. Local government input was definitely included in the new regulatory approach, and my home county, La Plata County, with its long history with energy development, was looked to as a role model for how counties and industry could balance their respective needs.

In addition, I carried a bill that better balanced the rights of surface owners with the rights of mineral owners seeking to develop natural resources below the surface. In my law practice before serving in the Legislature, I worked with a number of farmers and ranchers who felt seriously disadvantaged when negotiating a surface-use agreement with the mineral owner. This legislation passed and provides for “reasonable accommodation” of the surface owners when the mineral rights are developed. I’ve been told that this new approach indeed has leveled the playing field in these negotiations.

We have a strong framework for the industry to work within presently. Yet that gets lost in the high-pitched fervor surrounding resource development happening now in Front Range communities.

Colorado’s easy-to-manipulate ballot initiative process has made us the petri dish for special interests seeking to advance their personal agendas. Sometimes these special interests are wealthy people, as in this case, and not the “grass roots” as envisioned by the early 20th-century populists who established the citizen initiative process in Colorado.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.