Toward the end of election night on November 6, backers of Proposition 112 began quietly hugging. They weren't celebratory embraces — these were deep and long, the kind you need after hearing bad news. A few people were crying.
Outspent nearly 38 to one, backers of the proposition that would have increased setback requirements between new oil and gas development and certain places such as schools, finally accepted defeat at what should have been a victory party at Zeppelin Station in RiNo. Although almost everyone there had 112 on the brain, the crowd had welcomed news all night of one Democratic win after another, especially in Colorado, where the governor's office and the state legislature became solidly blue.
Before the results on 112 were announced, Steve and Heidi Todd of Boulder sat in a booth, nibbling on finger food. Sporting a pro-112 T-shirt, Steve explained that he was retired and had thrown himself into the campaign backed by Colorado Rising, one that felt like an emotional battle against the growing fracking industry in Colorado.
"One thing we were banning was maximum profits," Steve said of the initiative, which opponents argued would have eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state.
Two years ago, Steve ran against Jared Polis as a write-in candidate to unseat the then-congressman in the 2nd Congressional District. He ran because Polis had supported the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership and, two years prior to their 2016 race, had backed out of two energy-related ballot initiatives at the last minute. One was essentially Proposition 112, and the other would have allowed local governments to have more control over fracking in their jurisdictions.
"He betrayed progressive voters," Steve said of Polis's surprise move.
Steve didn't win that race, and although he didn't know it at the time we spoke, he wouldn't win Proposition 112, either. But Steve and others at the party were hopeful that if Polis should take the governor's mansion — which he did, defeating Republican Walker Stapleton — he and state legislators would eventually come around to their side, despite the fact that Polis had opposed Proposition 112 during the election.
Accurately predicting at least some of the outcome, Steve posited: "It could be that both the House and Senate come under Democratic control" in Colorado.
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If so, he said, the first order of business on Polis's fracking agenda should be to dissolve the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which permits such development. Although the state agency is charged with "fostering the responsible development" of natural resources, environmental activists regularly accuse the COGCC of being a patsy for the industry.
"That a significant [amount of representation on the COGCC] has to be from the oil and gas industry tells you all you need to know," Steve said. "Let's get a new commission — not one that promotes business, but [one that backs] the people of Colorado."
Steve and other 112 backers have also invested hope in a case currently before the state's Supreme Court. The lawsuit, initially filed by six teenagers, including Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, would require the COGCC to consider public health and safety first when permitting oil and gas development, not balancing welfare with the industry's needs.
If the Martinez case proves successful, Steve concluded, "it would be a whole new ball game."