Don’t take the bait

By Joel Dyer at The Boulder Weekly

Longmont Council member Bonnie Finley - with a surprising motion that should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention.

Longmont Council member Bonnie Finley – with a surprising motion that should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention.

It was a nearly packed house Tuesday, Aug. 26, in the Longmont City Council chambers as citizens who believe that local communities should have the final say over fracking in their neighborhoods turned up in good numbers.

The Council was voting on whether the city should continue its support of the fracking ban that Longmont voters placed into their city charter via the ballot box in 2012.

You may recall that Tuesday’s vote was necessitated by Boulder County District Court Judge D.D. Mallard’s ruling in July that found Longmont didn’t have the authority to ban hydraulic fracturing within its city limits because the state was in charge of regulating the practice and a precedent had been set in 1992 when Greeley tried to ban drilling within its city limits only to lose that right in court after being sued.

Public comment went as expected with one speaker after another imploring council to appeal Mallard’s decision. Many reminded the seven-member council that 60 percent of Longmont voters supported the fracking ban and that those citizens expect council to fight for their ban as long and as far as possible. In some instances that reminder sounded like a plea and in others a threat.

And then something a bit unusual happened. After virtually no discussion, pro-oil and gas industry Councilwoman Bonnie Finley, the same Bonnie Finley who has fought for years now to allow the industry to drill and frack Longmont at will, opened her mouth and said she wanted to make a motion that was going to surprise people.

“There’s a need for clarity on the issue,” she said. “That’s why I am supporting this [appeal], and that’s why I believe we should go all the way.”

And then she said one more thing.

“And I also believe we should invite other communities with similar interests to join our case.”

The crowd went wild. The other members of council, both those who were recently voted in by the antifracking crowd and those who are more industry-friendly, quickly echoed Finley’s sentiments. They all agreed with great enthusiasm that all the other communities along with Boulder County that have fracking bans or moratoriums should hitch their antifracking wagons to Longmont’s appeal.

Translation: Look at this really great giant horse Finley is offering to us as a gift. Let’s take it inside the fort, celebrate our victory and get a good night’s sleep.

For those unfamiliar with Longmont City Council, for more than a decade Finley has been employed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry a.k.a. the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. Her job at the state level is government affairs and membership retention. So who are some of the members that she is working to retain? How about trade groups like the Colorado Petroleum Association, Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the American Chemical Industry, all groups whose profits are increased by way of drilling and fracking. COGA is even one of the organizations who is suing Longmont over its ban.

The fact that Finley has not recused herself from votes on issues like fracking — an issue wherein her employer has a stated position and is actively trying to sway public opinion and lobbying to create a more oil-andgas -friendly regulatory environment at the state and local level — is an appalling abuse of Longmont’s democratic process. It’s like giving the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry a proxy vote at the center of one of the most important issues in Colorado history. It is also an incredible oversight by her council peers that they have not demanded that she recuse herself in light of this clear and substantial conflict of interest.

So why the sudden change of heart by Finley at Tuesday’s council meeting? First, I think that everyone on council knew that the city was going to appeal, so one dissenting vote wouldn’t have mattered.

Second Finley’s or her boss’s or COGA’s, however you want to interpret who controls this council seat, suggestion that all the communities with bans and moratoriums join Longmont’s appeal is pretty shrewd. After all, even the anti-frackers applauded the suggestion. But it may well be a Trojan horse of sorts.

The oil and gas industry is certain that it will eventually prevail in defeating the Longmont ban. They may yet be wrong, but truth be told, they think they will win sooner than later as the courts seem to be rushing through the fracking cases these days.

After the great Jared Polis debacle left the industry with a two-year drilling window before the next attempt can be made by citizens to create a constitutional amendment that can protect communities from the dangers of drilling and fracking, getting the rigs going in Boulder County potentially has a 24-month timeline.

So getting Lafayette, Boulder, Broomfield and Boulder County all into one court case wherein their concerns and legal arguments could all be dismissed at the same time would really help the industry exploit this small window of opportunity to drill up Boulder County . If each of the towns and the county fight their lawsuits and presumed-to eventually-be-filed lawsuits individually, it will no doubt drag things out much longer, regardless of the final outcomes, quite likely well past the Polis/industry created twoyear drilling window.

So thanks for your motion Bonnie Finley and thanks for your vote to appeal. But as for your invitation to get all the governmental entities to join Longmont’s appeal, I think that the elected officials getting your invitation will see it for what it is, an attempt to get the rigs drilling more quickly in Boulder County. Thanks but no thanks.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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