- - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Private property rights are the bedrock of America’s free society and prosperity. They endow us with the freedom to work hard to obtain and retain things of value: a residence, car, farm, business or weekend home. They are protected by our Constitution, which holds that no one can be deprived of property without “due process of law” and “just compensation.”

But if an anti-fracking fringe group gets its way, property rights could become a fond memory in Colorado. If its scheme catches on, these fundamental rights could become endangered far more widely.

Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) wants to change the state’s constitution to prevent land-and-mineral owners from producing oil and natural gas. CREED has launched a campaign to get enough signatures to put several initiatives on the November ballot.

Initiative 63 would add language guaranteeing the right “to a healthy environment.” Another would let localities pass ordinances, including bans on drilling and fracking, with primacy over state law. Initiative 78 would prevent drilling and fracking within 2,500 feet of occupied buildings or “areas of special interest.”

CREED defines “areas of special interest” as playgrounds, sports fields and virtually any body of water: lakes, rivers, intermittent creeks, irrigation canals and nearly anything except potholes.

My former home state already has strict setback standards and some of the toughest drilling rules in the United States. Wells cannot be drilled within 1,000 feet of schools and hospitals, and must be 500 feet from homes and commercial buildings. Additional setbacks cover recreational facilities and property lines.

Extending the setbacks to 2,500 feet (nearly one-half mile) would almost eliminate the state’s energy production — which many think is CREED’s intent. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission maps reveal that Initiative 78 would prohibit 90 percent of new wells and fracking operations. In the most energy-productive counties, 95 percent of energy development would be stopped.

A University of Colorado Leeds School of Business study projects that even a 2,000-foot setback could cut Colorado’s gross domestic product by as much as $11 billion per year and eliminate 62,000 jobs by 2030.

The initiatives severely impact property rights. If a revised state constitution imposes 2,500-foot setbacks, thousands of mineral-rights owners would be precluded from producing energy on their own land. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper says that could be considered a “taking,” in which the state essentially confiscates private mineral rights. That means it could ultimately be required to pay billions of dollars in “just compensation.”

CREED couldn’t care less. It despises fracking, wants hydrocarbons kept in the ground, and ignores two fundamental realities. First, government analysts say oil and natural gas will still supply 65-70 percent of total U.S. energy needs in 2040.

Second, industry and government data show that generating just 20 percent of U.S. electricity with wind power would require some 18 million acres of land, 186,000 turbines, 19,000 miles of new transmission lines, and 270 million tons of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and rare earths — and kill millions of birds and bats annually. Solar and biofuel “alternatives” also have major environmental impacts.

Might CREED support families and homeowner associations that want to keep wind turbines out of their neighborhoods, because of these impacts and the adverse effects that subsonic turbine noise has on human health? Will it support giving communities primacy over state laws that now preclude any local control over building wind farms or solar panel arrays? Just asking.

Initiative 63 could give neighborhoods or individual property owners the right to sue to block insecticide spraying to control disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, on the ground that these life-enhancing and life-saving “pollutants” could contaminate their “healthy environment.” CREED seems unconcerned.

The arbitrary, shortsighted and ill-informed nature of these initiatives is further illustrated by a Colorado Legislative Council memo that raises unanswered but basic questions. Is the environmental currently healthy? If not, when was it healthy? How will environmental health be assessed — and by whom?

Of course, these are minor details for zealots. They view fracking as endangering groundwater and Mother Earth — despite extensive evidence that refutes those claims. Even a landmark 2015 Environmental Protection Agency study failed to find a connection between fracking operations and drinking water contamination.

They certainly think they should be the ones answering questions like these — and deciding whose property rights, jobs, living standards and other basic rights should be protected, and whose should be sacrificed to advance activist agendas.

CREED and its radical allies like the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch and 350.org will not be deterred. They intend to stir up as much state and local mischief as possible, to impose their will on America — property and other fundamental rights be darned.

The money, power, energy and rights at stake here have made the ballot initiatives an expensive campaign issue, involving an estimated $200 million in ads for and against CREED’s attempted constitution rewrite.

As the Greeley Tribune recently editorialized, its antics are akin to a “toddler throwing itself on the floor, kicking and screaming in the hope it will get its way.” The observation is spot on.

Unfortunately, intolerant “progressive” toddlers are used to getting their way, in legislatures, in courtrooms and on college campuses. When will responsible adults finally inject some sanity?

• Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT.org) and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power — Black Death” (Merril Press, 2010).

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