The year is 2020, and we have consequential elections happening at all levels in these United States. The results of our voting this year are going to be critical for our Republic and society at large, let alone the survival of life on our planet. All this is happening in the context of great turmoil over social justice issues and in the midst of a terrible pandemic. But elections have consequences, and they are to be taken seriously at all levels of government.
The Larimer County Commissioners are elected in two stages: first by district, then in a county-wide election. There are three districts, which divide the county into roughly three equal parts; a map of the county districts can be seen here. Candidates for commissioner are first elected in a primary election within their district, and are then voted on in a county wide election. Each political party could have as many as two candidates per election, running against each other in a district primary; the third commissioner is elected on a staggered term, offset by two years.
The three member board of the Larimer County Commissioners has traditionally been dominated by the Republican Party. In 2018, John Kefalas, a Democrat, was elected in District 1 to a four year term. The other two commissioners, Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly, both Republican, are both term limited this year, each after serving for twelve years, or three terms.
The commissioners have great influence over how county resources are directed. This year was especially significant because the county had to develop its local oil and gas regulations, as directed by Senate Bill 19-181, the groundbreaking new law passed in April 2019. The Larimer Alliance was formed in the summer of that year because we knew that the commissioners would be developing these new regulations.
The first action that the commissioners took was to form an Oil & Gas Task Force in the fall 2019, composed of 15 individuals selected from a pool of about 90 who volunteered, and charged them with developing these local regulations in conjunction with the County Planning Department. The Alliance considered the selection of the Task Force members biased in favor of the industry from the start, which consequently developed regulations which we considered lacking, particularly regarding setback distances, and in environmental monitoring of air and water quality.
As such, representatives of the Larimer Alliance spoke at many of the weekly meetings public comment period. We urged the commissioners to strengthen the regulations; but when the final votes were taken on the regulations in March 2020 the two Republican commissioners overruled the one Democratic commissioner on every point.
With this election in November, there is an opportunity to elect a Democratic majority to the board, which could make a significant difference in how our local oil and gas regulations are implemented going forward.
Following the primary results last June, Republican Bob McCluskey will face Democrat Kristin Stephens in District 2; while in District 3, Republican Ben Aste will be running against Democrat Jody Shadduck-McNally.
The Larimer Alliance submitted the following questions about oil and gas development to the candidates running for the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners:
- Have you received or will you receive campaign contributions from companies whose primary business is in development of fossil fuels?
- SB19-181 substantially revised Colorado’s law governing oil and gas development, including local government authority. Do you think that Larimer County’s recently enacted oil and gas regulations provide sufficient or insufficient protection for public health, safety, the environment and wildlife resources? Please specify what you want changed in the County’s oil and gas regulations, if anything.
- What role do you think Larimer County should strive for in facilitating the transition away from fossil fuels?
- A substantial body of peer-reviewed scientific research shows significant negative health impacts from close proximity to oil and gas operations. Do you support a 2000 or 2500 foot setback for homes, schools, hospitals, parks, playgrounds and water sources from new oil & gas operations? Please explain why or why not.
We received comprehensive responses from the two Democratic candidates (Shadduck-McNally and Stephens), but only one of the Republican candidates (Aste).
We have provided the responses from the candidates below. At this time the county’s regulations on oil and gas projects are minimal at best. New state regulations are being formulated with encouraging signs of proactive care for our health, safety, and the environment. It will be important to have elected officials in our county government to advocate for proper control of these operations locally, and to stand for us at the state level on behalf of the people of Larimer County.
The Larimer Alliance will continue to keep our community informed on critical issues related to oil and gas development in our county, both during the election and beyond.
YOUR VOTE IS YOUR POWER! USE IT!