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Denver Chamber encourages legislative solution to local control question

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DENVER –The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3,000 area businesses, is encouraging a legislative solution to the question of whether local communities should be given greater control of oil and gas operations, FOX31 Denver has confirmed.

The Chamber, which is already mobilized to fight against proposed ballot initiatives that would give cities the ability to ban drilling altogether, would prefer to see state lawmakers pass compromise legislation as a way to avert a ballot measure fight this fall, although the organization stopped short of fully endorsing the draft bill proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state’s two largest oil and gas operators and Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, whose personal wealth is propping up the ballot measures thus far.

The Chamber decided to make its position public Thursday afternoon after weeks of discussions and a formal conference call among board members Thursday morning; and its announcement comes just a day after Colorado Concern, an organization representing more than 100 Colorado CEOs, also embraced a legislative solution and encouraged all sides to keep talking.

“Coloradans have a long history of working together to find solutions,” the Kelly Brough, the Chamber’s CEO, told FOX31 Denver Thursday. “Whether it is over the future of our education system, expansion of our transportation network or improvements in our environment and health, we have historically found a way through these challenging issues through collaboration and negotiation. It is our hope we can successfully find common ground on this issue as well.

“The Chamber has and continues to be very engaged in trying to find a solution that allows Colorado to take advantage of the economic opportunity presented by natural gas and preserves property owner rights while also protecting our environment. We’ve been working hard to find resolution on this issue and take it off the ballot.

“We strongly prefer a negotiated solution that is respectful of the various affected parties’ interests.  We have long been opposed to the ballot initiatives that would result in significant constraints being written into our constitution with catastrophic consequences. The constitution frankly isn’t the place to regulate oil and gas. Our existing oil and gas regulations are safe and consistent (considered a best practice nationally and internationally), while also providing flexibility to meet local needs and evolve as needed (either as the result of scientific evidence or new technologies).”

The Chamber is already mobilized in the fight against Polis’s ballot measures, which he has agreed to stop funding if the compromise legislation can be passed by lawmakers in a special session.

Should a legislative effort fail for a lack of support in the state senate, the Chamber will continue to work to defeat the ballot measures this fall.

“We appreciate the efforts of the parties involved in trying to find a legislative solution to this issue,” Brough said. “However, we are continuing our efforts through Coloradans for Responsible Reform to prepare for a fight at the ballot, should the negotiations not resolve the issue.”

The Chamber stopped short of fully endorsing the draft bill proposed by Hickenlooper, which would allow cities and counties to extend setbacks beyond the 500-foot mandate imposed by the state and to enact additional zoning and noise ordinances but not to ban oil and gas extraction outright.

The organization has a policy of not commenting on legislation until it has been officially introduced.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s board voted to oppose the governor’s draft bill on Monday.