Dec. 20–Renewing the push to strengthen Colorado’s oil and gas drilling regulations was a major area of focus Wednesday morning when Boulder County commissioners met with state lawmakers.
The conversation over breakfast marked the annual get-together of commissioners and the area’s state legislators held for the respective parties to share their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
While there was enthusiasm for continuing years-old efforts to curb oil and gas development from encroaching on certain areas, particularly now that Democrats’ control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, county commissioners also listed improving child welfare services as a goal for the state Legislature in the coming year.
The conversation additionally touched on expanding access to affordable housing across the state, implementing Gov.-elect Jared Polis’ vision for publicly funded universal pre-kindergarten and kindergarten education and battling the shortage of mental health facilities, the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse.
Oil and gas priorities
On the oil and gas front, commissioners asked lawmakers to support legislation that would “affirm and expand” the authority of city and county governments to regulate the locations of drilling operations through local land use codes. Currently, the industry is regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and does not have to comply with most local attempts to restrict operations, commissioners stated in their 2019 state legislative agenda.
The request for more local control has been made before to no avail.
The county also asked for repeal or amendment of HB14-1371, a law passed with minimal opposition in 2014 that directs tax revenue from oil and gas drilling only to the taxing entities where well heads are located.
The advent of horizontal drilling — a technique that allows drilling operators to tap minerals from as far as several miles away — is robbing taxing districts impacted by drilling of an equal share of the tax revenue, the county suggested.
Proposals by 8 North — which Boulder County has filed two lawsuits against in attempts to prevent public open space from being drilled — aim to locate dozens of wells just east of the Weld County line, but they would tap into 4,000 acres nearly exclusively in Boulder County.
“Boulder County supports repeal or amendment of HB14-1371 to require oil and gas property tax revenue to be allocated proportionally to all local government taxing entities located within a drilling unit,” commissioners wrote in their legislative agenda.
State Sen.-designee Mike Foote said he voted for the bill four years ago (when a state representative), and would need to learn more about why it’s not working before supporting the county’s initiative.
Outgoing Sen. Matt Jones, who will replace Cindy Domenico as a county commissioner in 2019, suggested the state Air Quality Control Commission be given more regulatory authority over emissions from oil and gas production sites.
“Not a lot of attention this year is being paid to the Air Quality Control Commission side of things,” Jones said. “That’s the other piece of legislation to have this year.”
Child welfare goals
While discussing legislative goals to improve child welfare services, Domenico gave an unexpected tip of her cap to the Trump administration for seeing through the Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law in February.
“It was an amazing action by this particular administration, and incredible, really … in terms of early action and prevention on the front end,” Domenico said.
The act seeks to curtail the use of “group homes” for children at risk of being separated from their families by placing new emphasis on family foster homes, and allowing for the use of federal funds, designated as Title IV-E funds, for “prevention services” that allow candidates for foster care to stay with parents or relatives.
Previously, Title IV-E funds could only be put toward the costs of foster care maintenance for children, adoption assistance, administrative expenses to manage the child welfare program, training for staff and foster parents and kinship guardianship assistance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
A letter this month from county commissioners to members of Polis’ Health and Human Services Transition Committee urged the law’s implementation in Colorado be accelerated to October — it has been slated to take effect in the state over the next five years, the letter said.
“Counties across Colorado along with the state have laid significant groundwork in prevention-focused work that aligns with Family First Prevention Services Act,” the commissioners’ letter said. “… We believe Colorado is well-poised to move forward next year, and there are implications if we do not.”
(c)2018 the Daily Times-Call (Longmont, Colo.)
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