Proposed ballot measures set off business alarms

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

A proposed ballot measure that would enable local government jurisdictions to ban economic activities deemed to threaten health, safety or welfare has raised concerns over potentially far-reaching effects on Colorado businesses.

“This issue is a job killer,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

A separate ballot measure that would obligate the state to protect air, water and other natural resources against impairments  has raised similar concerns.

The Colorado Community Rights Network, the organization behind a successful ballot measure imposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing in Lafayette, has proposed a statewide initiative giving local jurisdictions the right to ban any economic activities deemed to conflict with their perceptions of health, safety and welfare, “eliminating the rights, powers and duties of corporations and other business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from interfering with such locally enacted fundamental rights of individuals, their communities and nature.”

The measure is seen as an effort to further regulate oil and natural gas development, specifically to legalize local fracking bans that have been challenged by the state and energy industry groups.

Critics say the measure could create a patchwork of potentially hundreds of separate regulatory structures across the state that would make Colorado unattractive for oil and gas investment.

Schwenke said the implications go beyond energy development. “The Grand Junction chamber, along with many other business organizations across the state, is gravely concerned about this issue,” Schwenke said. “While it portends to be an issue about local control, what it does is create an uncertain environment that could find all kinds of businesses, not just the oil and gas industry, banned in certain communities.”

Ballot Initiative 72 has been cleared for title by the Secretary of State’s office, and now must receive enough signatures from across the state to be placed on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, another ballot initiative has been proposed that raises concerns over its potential effects on businesses.

Ballot Initiative 73 would establish that “public trust resources” — described by the measure as air, water, the environment and natural resources — are the common property of all the people and obligates the state to protect these resources against substantial impairment, including pollution from external sources.

The initiative also allows any Colorado citizen to sue at any level to protect public trust resources from impairment and calls for the criminal prosecution of  “any person, corporation, or other entity found to be manipulating data, reports or scientific information in an attempt to utilize public trust resources for private profit.”

While the proposed measure is earlier in the initiative process and it’s unclear what the full implications could be, business groups remain wary nonetheless.

Schwenke said she’s especially concerned about how the measure could affect water use. “Secure and reliable water rights are essential to business, jobs and the economy,” she said. “This initiative will create uncertainty and hurt the economy while stripping farmers and ranchers of the water they need to grow crops and trample 150 years of Colorado water law.”