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Houses in the Poudre River Ranch subdivision in west Greeley sit near a oil and gas rig. (Greeley Tribune)

Greeley residents decry council resolution opposing state initiatives to regulate oil, gas industry

By Analisa Romano | The Greeley Tribune, Colorado

Much to the chagrin of Weld Air and Water, a group that has opposed some drilling within city limits, the Greeley City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution opposing a stack of statewide initiatives that seek to further regulate the oil and gas industry.

The 19 proposed ballot questions, most of which aim to allow more local control and increase setback distances in varying degrees, are in the early stages of the initiative process, meaning many won’t make it to the actual ballot this November.

But council members and Greeley Mayor Tom Norton — who last week joined alongside the likes of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in leading Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a “citizens brigade” formed to combat many of the same statewide initiatives — said it’s important to begin drawing attention to the issues now to help voters make an informed decision come election time.

Members of Weld Air and Water said taking a formal stance on the initiatives this early in the election season shuts down the opportunity for residents to discuss and debate the issues with their elected officials before they take any formal stance.

They said the city council shouldn’t pass a resolution on initiatives that don’t even have final wording in place and that may not make it to the ballot.

“This resolution tells us to close our eyes” and trust that council members know what is best without question, said Fred Cleaver, a member of Weld Air and Water, who spoke on behalf of the group on Tuesday.

“Our issue was that we haven’t had the democratic process,” he said after the meeting.

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The resolution specifies that ballot questions 75, 82, 83, 85-93, 103 and 115-120 pose “serious and substantial risk to Colorado’s economic recovery.”

“I firmly believe that passage of any of these ballot measures is going to have a very harmful effect on Greeley … to be able to come out of a recession or continue to progress,” said Greeley City Councilor Randy Sleight.

Some initiatives listed in the resolution are more broad, including one (Question 75) that would allow cities and counties to hold elections that could disregard state or federal regulations or kick out any business from that jurisdiction, and another (Question 103) that would give any Colorado citizen the right to sue the state if he or she disagrees with its environmental laws.

“I believe many (ballot initiatives cited in the resolution) would create an adversarial relationship between residents and businesses,” Sleight said.

Weld Air and Water also asked Norton to recuse himself from any discussions on the resolution due to a conflict of interest as co-chairman of Coloradoans for Responsible Reform.

Norton, in an interview after the meeting, said he doesn’t stand to benefit financially or otherwise from any action the council takes in relation to the group, and he said the goal of the organization is to educate voters.

“How can it be a conflict when you’re trying to inform the public about a situation?” Norton said.

He said he was on a subcommittee of Coloradans for Responsible Reform as director of the Colorado Department of Transportation when it first formed 20 years ago, and former Gov. Bill Owens himself was a part of that group when they worked to get voter support for other statewide ballot initiatives at the time.

Norton said he also publicly opposed a statewide initiative on the Colorado Lottery’s Great Outdoors Colorado when he was a state senator because it took capital funds away from a backlog in building maintenance.

The Greeley City Council regularly adopts resolutions opposing or supporting different measures going through the state Legislature or that are on the ballot, Norton said. He said it is important for the city to present its stance as one unified front.

Cleaver also said council members’ actions on Tuesday undermined what has come out of the FrackingSENSE forums, which the city is sponsoring. Much of the information presented has left experts with few conclusions, he said, and council members should take that into consideration.

Norton said the resolution does not conflict with the results of the forums, and he said it doesn’t affect the city council’s ability to change any policies or practices after the forums or other developments regarding the oil and gas industry.

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