Not in my backyard (NIMBY) politics is an unfortunate affliction that seems to affect folks across the political spectrum. It's a disease that harms economic progress and stirs up plenty of emotions and community anger. We're seeing this affliction rear its ugly head in oil and gas regulations as new reserves have suddenly become accessible across the Front Range, and a variety of cities and counties are attempting to institute their own oil and gas rules and regulations.
Thanks to the over-reaching numb-skullery of a few overzealous local government types, the issue has been catapulted into the Legislature. It's an issue fraught with peril for both the right and left, but most especially the left.
For the left, environmental activists are leading the charge on trying to stop oil and gas development with scare tactic campaigns to convince citizens that their faucets will light on fire and their entire families will die of cancer if oil and gas development is allowed to proceed in their community. It is an issue devoid of science, but full of political rhetoric and emotion, in a constituency that Democrats cannot afford to offend.
For the right, it involves a number of local conservative leaders betraying their pro-energy independence beliefs on a state or national level to fall prey to petty local NIMBY politics.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil once said, all politics is local. But in this case, state law trumps local politics.
As Speaker McNulty said in his opening speech, and Governor Hickenlooper reiterated this morning in his State of the State address, cities and counties can't try to run their own domestic energy regulatory regimes.
"Colorado has a long history of respecting local control issues," said McNulty. "While we do respect local control, we understand that there are areas that have historically been the responsibility of the state, including the development of traditional energy. This session, we will fight to preserve the historic relationship between the state of Colorado and energy development."
Governor Hickenlooper, concurred, saying "In that same spirit, we intend to work with counties and municipalities to make sure we have appropriate regulation on oil and gas development, but recognize the state can’t have 64 or even more different sets of rules."
More to the point, as an article in The Denver Post noted yesterday, local communities do not have the authority to ban oil and gas drilling outright. What they will end up trying instead is to weigh down the process with burdensome and redundant regulations whose only effect will be to harm the local economy and deplete limited local government dollars. In areas that play into these NIMBY-instincts, energy companies will either shy away from working in those communities or take the case to court, costing both the company and the local government large amounts in lawyer fees.
On the state level, and especially in the Legislature, oil and gas fights have rarely, if ever, benefited the Democrats. Just ask Bill Ritter. Anyone remember the town hall meeting with over 2,000 people who came to complain about Ritter's ridiculous oil and gas regulations?
With unemployment over 19.5% in 17 Colorado counties, including many with large oil and gas deposits, like Mesa and Weld, this issue will have significant resonance this legislative session, as it's not simply an oil company vs environmentalist fight, but one with very direct and real job prospects for thousands of Colorado families.
As this issue comes up in the Legislature, it will be especially interesting to see how the Democrat leadership handles it, as well as the moves, both public and private, of Congressional candidates Sal Pace, Brandon Shaffer and Joe Miklosi.
Will they be able to hold their enviro-radical allies at bay or will their intra-party debate spill out in public, creating gaping wounds between an essential leftist constituency and their elected leaders who seek higher office?
Additionally, will this be another area where Governor Hickenlooper sides with Republicans, much to the chagrin of the far-left members of the Democrat caucus, as he did on last year's budget cuts?