Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, announced at a press conference on Monday that he would be withdrawing his support for ballot initiatives restricting fracking in Colorado. The move comes as a relief to fellow Democrats worried that the initiatives would’ve driven out Republican voters in the fall.
In exchange for withdrawing the controversial initiatives, Polis won a blue-ribbon panel that will be set up to analyze whatever problems might exist. The panel will propose fixes over the next six months to a year.
The initiatives had so scared Democrats that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had spent the better part of the last month trying to come up with a legislative compromise so he could call the state legislature back into a special session to waylay Polis. But with an Aug. 4 deadline to lock in ballot initiatives, hope for a legislative fix was dwindling.
Meanwhile, Democrats have privately and publicly called on Polis to withdraw the initiatives, but he has refused to do so, saying the Democratic base supports these moves. While that is true, many Democrats worried the fracking issue could draw pro-Republican advertising into the 2014 election in Colorado, motivating more Republicans to vote while hurting Democratic chances among independent voters.
At stake was Democrat Hickenlooper’s tough reelection, along with the reelection of fellow Democratic Senator Mark Udall—and, given the electoral map, potential control of the U.S. Senate. Oil and gas groups were gearing up to pour in $20 million in Colorado to defeat the initiatives, which they say would’ve essentially halved or effectively halted fracking in Colorado. Fracking generated $29.5 billion in economic activity in Colorado in 2012, creating 111,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $74,811, according to the Colorado Petroleum Association.
Polis argued that it’s such a big issue for his constituents, he cannot ignore the problem. He has also introduced federal legislation, which has stalled in the GOP-controlled House.