After the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures in Colorado last year, national activist groups are regrouping at the local level. This is history repeating. Several years ago, the push for a statewide oil and gas ban started with local campaigns, led by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch and other out-of-state groups.
Today, the activists are using local governments once again to win statewide attention. This time, they are trying harder to conceal their national ties and portray their lobbying as authentic and spontaneous. But if you know where to look, it’s clear these revamped local campaigns are just as contrived as ever.
Take the anti-oil and gas campaign in Thornton. Officials there are debating new local restrictions on oil and gas development, including wider drilling setbacks than state law allows.
The state attorney general’s office recently warned Thornton officials about the proposed regulations, according to ColoradoPolitics.com. In a letter to the city, assistant attorney general Kyle Davenport cited the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling on local and state authority over oil and gas. In that landmark case, the court said a local ordinance “that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes” is preempted and will be struck down.
Even so, Thornton officials seem unfazed by the potential for litigation. Perhaps they are getting different legal advice, but if so, where is that legal advice coming from?
Both groups have close financialand political ties to Tom Steyer, the anti-oil and gas billionaire from California. In 2016, Conservation Colorado endorsed an anti-fracking ballot measure that would – you guessed it – legalize local energy bans. “When national politics are daunting, it’s time to back to the basics: Organizing local support,” the group said last year.
Were Thornton taxpayers told about this? Do they know their oil and gas attorney sits on the board of an anti-oil and gas group? Do they know that expensive legal battles between local officials, state regulators and the energy industry play right into the hands of the environmental lobby?
Are Thornton officials being advised – or lobbied – by their own lawyer?
So that’s the inside game. Let’s examine the outside game.
“I’ll take care of any responses and questions … and Food & Water Watch can do the heavy lifting in terms of calling folks,” he told activists recently while distributing campaign flyers under the Facebook pseudonym “Greg Charles.”
Food & Water Watch also sponsored an activist training session with Josh Joswick of Earthworks to “build power at the local level.” Joswick has called the campaign against energy development a “back-alley fight,” urging his fellow activists to “fight it any way you can,” including with local regulations.
Eichhorn also testified in favor of Thornton’s proposed regulations last month, without disclosing his role with a national group that wants to “ban fracking everywhere.” He wasn’t alone.
National environmental groups have a First Amendment right to lobby and campaign at any level of government they choose, of course. But let’s be realistic about who’s really running these local campaigns, and what they really want.
The League of Conservation Voters, a left-leaning environmental group, plans to spend $100,000 on ads to “urge” Rep. Doug Lamborn, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other three other members to Congress to back off national monuments.
Zinke is reviewing large national monuments designated by presidents since 1996, including the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. Colorado leaders have received assurances that Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez won’t be on the hit list.
Zinke’s report is due in a week, Aug. 24.
The campaign also targets Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Doug LaMalfa of California.
National monument status protects valued American assets from energy production and other development, say supporters.
The League of Conservation voters notes that Lamborn is a membrer of the “anti-public lands Congressional Western Caucus” and supports Zinke’s review.
In 2015, when President Obama set aside 21,000 in Browns Canyon between Buena Vista and Poncha Springs as a national monument, Lamborn said he was outraged because of its grazing and water resources.
Lamborn called it “a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region.”
“In its original conception, the Antiquities Act was intended to protect ruins and artifacts on federal lands. Since then, the law has become another tool for federal overreach that allows the federal government to control large areas of land without any input from Congress. I am pleased to join many of my colleagues in the Western Caucus in this letter to Secretary Zinke. Our letter recommends that the Department of the Interior review monument designations—including marine monuments and several sites in the West. I believe that this review of monuments will allow for greater state control of fisheries and better management of our natural resources and recreation areas.”
Coloradans cherish public lands, said Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization.
“While the Trump administration’s mysterious review criteria spared Canyons of the Ancients, this unprecedented attack opens the door to drastic changes to public lands across the West,” Braden said in a statement released by the League of Conservation Voters.
Lamborn’s office declined to comment about the ads, which started running Wednesday on Facebook and Instagram.
Another set of ads urge Americans to call Zinke’s office to oppose reclassifying or amending monuments.
“It’s time for Secretary Zinke to stop playing games with our public lands, our waters and our national monuments,” Gene Karpinski, the league’s president, said in a statement. “People across the country have spoken out and shared their stories of the value these special places bring their communities, from boosting local economies to preserving our cultural heritage for the next generation.
“But Zinke is treating our national monuments like contestants on a reality TV show, and his anti-public lands allies in Congress are enabling this dangerous agenda. Let’s be clear: If the Trump administration attempts to revoke protections for our national monuments, the millions of families who hike, fish, and enjoy our parks and public lands won’t sit on the sidelines while they sell out these special places to polluters.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include other members of Congress who are the focus of other ads.
Although he might be better groomed and more sharply dressed, close your eyes and former Vice President Al Gore sounds for all the world like an Old Testament prophet, ringing the alarm over impending floods, fires and pestilence. Only instead of wielding stone tablets and a staff, Gore conveys his warnings with handouts and a slide show. And while his detractors likely hear only wailing and raving, when Gore talks about his mission to reverse a looming climate crisis, he sounds curious and amused as often as he does urgent and worried.