BusinessElection 2018EnergyNews

Signatures turned in on oil and gas, payday loan initiatives

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 6, 2018 - Updated: August 7, 2018

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Members of the Secretary of State’s Office staff wade through more than a half million petition signatures turned in Aug. 6 for ballot measures. (Photo by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics)

Petition signatures for proposed Colorado ballot measures to cap payday loans and to increase the setback for new oil and gas drilling activity around homes made their way to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office Monday.

Backers of Initiative 126, the payday loan initiative, turned in 188,045 signatures at 11 a.m. Monday. Supporters of Initiative 97, the setback measure, turned in more than 170,000 signatures about 90 minutes later.

The race to the finish for Initiative 97 was hampered by problems with one of the measure’s petition firms, which temporarily held onto petitions with 15,000 to 20,000 signatures two weeks ago. The measure’s volunteers also claimed they were harassed by backers of the oil and gas industry in recent weeks.

> RELATED: Transportation measures’ backers park petitions at secretary of state’s office

A last-minute surge of volunteers helped proponents collect the signatures they needed, said volunteer Suzanne Spiegel of Boulder. She called the effort “astounding and inspiring.” More than 750 worked on collect signatures statewide, said another backer, Anne Lee Foster.

“We need to protect the health and safety of Coloradans,” Spiegel told reporters Monday. “The state isn’t doing that and people are getting sick. … It’s on us, the people of Colorado, to protect our neighborhoods.”

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Supporters of Initiative No. 97, which would create a 2,500-foot setback for oil and gas activity, drop off some of the 170,000 petition signatures Aug. 6. (Photo by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics)

Initiative 97 would increase setbacks for new oil and gas development from the current 500 feet for homes and 1,000 feet for schools to 2,500 feet for both.

The 2,500-foot setback was chosen based on a Colorado study that showed the gravest health impacts occur within a half-mile of oil and gas development, Foster said. That distance is also a standard evacuation radius used by first responders when there is an explosion or leak at an oil site, according to Foster.

This isn’t the first time at the rodeo for Spiegel. She was also involved in the 2016 anti-fracking measure that failed to collect enough signatures to make it onto the ballot. But Spiegel said this year’s effort drew more attention and support after a 2017 explosion caused by gas vapors from a cut flow line in Firestone killed two people.

Those who haven’t thought about this issue are thinking about it now due to fumes, noise and health problems such as nosebleeds, Spiegel said.

Spiegel added that the oil and gas industry is trying to “block democracy, undermine our voice and give Coloradans no say in what happens in our own homes and communities.”

“People know the truth when they hear it, and more and more people are experiencing the dangers of this industry first-hand,” Foster said. “We won’t need as much money as the oil and gas industry. We have the truth and the people.”

Should the measure be certified for the ballot, proponents will have to fight against a well-funded opposition, led by Protect Colorado, which has raised more than $43 million since 2006 to fight measures like this.

Opponents cite a state analysis of the measure saying that it would prevent new oil and gas development on about 80 percent of non-federal land in Colorado.

Before the petitions had even been logged in with the Secretary of State’s office, Vital for Colorado, a pro-oil and gas nonprofit, was ready with a criticism of the ballot measure. The group released a list of 20 business organizations and Republican current and former elected officials opposed to Initiative 97. They promised to defeat the measure come November.

“As we have seen in past years, a diverse coalition of business, labor and political organizations will continue to stand firm against the Boulder activists and out-of-state groups trying to choke out an entire industry and the livelihoods that depend on it,” said Peter Moore, a Denver business attorney and president and CEO of Vital for Colorado. “If this measure qualifies for the ballot, more than 20 organizations have already declared their opposition to Initiative 97, and we have only just begun to fight.”

Another statutory ballot measure that made it to the finish line on signatures, Initiative 126, would cap payday loan interest rates, including all fees, at 36 percent.

Corrine Fowler of the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans said her group is thrilled to turn in 188,000 signatures. She said the effort was made more difficult by people who “interacted” — and not in a good way —  with their petition signature gatherers.

“It was a very different gathering effort than I’ve ever seen before,” Fowler told Colorado Politics.

Fowler said the 36 percent interest rate would put payday lenders on the same footing as any other lender in Colorado. “It was an easy signature to get. People understand this is a predatory product and no one should be charging 200 percent interest on a $500 loan.”

As to the claim that such a measure would drive payday lenders out of Colorado, Fowler said, “No lender should be charging 200 percent interest, period. If payday lenders can’t operate within the terms of fair lending, maybe they shouldn’t be operating in Colorado at all.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.