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Dire Warnings for Other States (and the Planet) as Big Oil Pushes Sneaky "Nuclear Option" to Protect Profits via Colorado Ballot

"Colorado Amendment 74, pushed by the fossil fuel industry, seems to be one of the most dangerous propositions in the country," declared Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

An oil derrick rises up in a neighborhood in Weld County, Colorado. (Photo: Steve Nehf/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

If you don't live in Colorado, you may not have seen the folksy television ads, mailers, and door hangers aimed at drumming up support for Amendment 74, a simple-sounding measure that would radically alter the state's constitution to give fossil fuel giants the power to sue state and local governments for imposing regulations that threaten their dirty profits.

"If Amendment 74 is successful in a swing state like Colorado, oil and gas companies will have birthed a new template that could be replicated in other locales."
—David Sirota, Capital & Main

But while the heated fight over Amendment 74—which is on the ballot in the Nov. 6 midterm elections—has received virtually zero national attention, environmentalists and journalists reporting on the industry-backed proposal are warning that it could provide a playbook for Big Oil to skirt health regulations on a country-wide scale, potentially dooming the kinds of ambitious climate policies that scientists say are necessary to avert planetary catastrophe.

"If Amendment 74 is successful in a swing state like Colorado, oil and gas companies will have birthed a new template that could be replicated in other locales," notes Capital & Main journalist David Sirota, who on Tuesday published a deeply reported piece on the amendment and its potentially devastating consequences in the Denver-based Westword. "It is a model that could block all future state efforts to reduce fossil fuel extraction, carbon pollution, vehicle emissions, and climate change."

Amendment 74, argues Sirota, is "the most dangerous state constitutional amendment in modern American history."

The fossil fuel industry's decision to dump millions of dollars into pushing Amendment 74 was sparked by the emergence of Proposition 112, a ballot initiative crafted by local activists that would require all new oil and gas development projects to be located a minimum of 2,500 feet from "occupied buildings and other areas designated as vulnerable."

"The state has failed to protect us, so we've taken it into our own hands," said Heidi Henkel, founder of Broomfield Moms Active Community, an advocacy group that is fighting to shield residents from the dangerous health impacts of fracking.

Recognizing that it had a serious fight on its hands with Proposition 112, the fossil fuel industry decided to counter by pushing Amendment 74, which Sirota describes as Big Oil's "nuclear option."

"If 112 passes and Amendment 74 passes, it makes 112 meaningless," warned Mike Foote, Democratic member of the Colorado House of Representatives. "That's the point."

"At a minimum, it seems obvious that we must protect communities from the environmental damage that fracking causes. In my view Colorado voters should support 112."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Because industry attorneys and political operatives successfully cloaked Amendment 74 in language that suggests its main objective is to protect individual property owners from government overreach, the proposal has proven to be remarkably popular in opinion polls.

One survey conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder's American Political Research Lab earlier this month found that 63 percent support Amendment 74. The amendment needs just 55 percent of the vote to pass.

"Opponents fear that the amendment's terse ballot language could lead voters to approve it without fully understanding its colossal implications," Sirota notes. "If it does pass—if the oil and gas industry successfully detonates its economic nuclear weapon—communities across Colorado will be ground zero in a blast that could reverberate at every level of society."

In the days leading up to next week's midterm elections, local activists have been working tirelessly to inform voters about the true intentions and malign interests behind Amendment 74 as well as its dire implications.

"I've pleaded, and cajoled, and yelled, and screamed, and cried, and done everything with all kinds of people in town here over the last six months," Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, told Sirota.

Earlier this week, Amendment 74 also received some attention from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the nation's most popular politician.

"Colorado Amendment 74, pushed by the fossil fuel industry, seems to be one of the most dangerous propositions in the country," Sanders wrote in a tweet on Sunday. "It could open the flood gates for oil, gas, and other corporate interests to bankrupt the state. This extremely dangerous amendment must be defeated."

The Vermont senator went on to urge Coloradans to support Proposition 112.

"Given the crisis we face with climate change, in my view we should move toward a total ban on fracking," Sanders wrote. "At a minimum, it seems obvious that we must protect communities from the environmental damage that fracking causes. In my view Colorado voters should support 112."

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