While Donald Trump is busy wreaking national political havoc this week, overlooked was an example of his uncanny ability to unsettle down-ballot races and campaign issues as he stumps through swing states on his Stream of Consciousness Tour.
In Colorado this week, the Republican nominee for president backed the language of an anti-fracking ballot measure under consideration, catching activists on both sides of the energy fight by surprise.
When reporter Brandon Rittiman asked Trump about the measures during his recent swing through Colorado Springs, Trump’s characteristically off-the-cuff answer put him on the side of environmental activists funded by prominent liberals Jared Polis and billionaire Tom Steyer who want to change the state constitution to allow municipalities to ban oil and gas exploration.
“Well, I’m in favor of fracking, but I think that voters should have a big say in it,” Trump told Rittiman. “I mean, there’s some areas, maybe, they don’t want to have fracking. And I think if the voters are voting for it, that’s up to them… If a municipality or a state wants to ban fracking, I can understand that.”
Trump’s position represents an upending of the traditional alliances in the energy-rich state, where Republicans and many Democrats, including Sen. Michael Bennett and Gov. John Hickenlooper, oppose measures to limit fracking. They counter the arguments of environmental activists with arguments for property rights and economic development. Nationwide, even when employing the language of local control, such measures are almost exclusively funded and championed by the Left as an attempt to ban fracking piecemeal when they can’t ban it outright, which is why the policy battle between local bans and blanket bans animated the Democratic primary fight.
In her trip to Colorado this week, Hillary Clinton affirmed her position is the same as Trump’s.
“Well, I have long been in favor of states and cities within states making up their own minds whether or not they want to permit fracking,” she said.
There are two fracking measures under consideration for the ballot in 2016. One measure would amend the constitution to allow cities in the state to ban oil and gas development entirely. The state Supreme Court has ruled against such bans in the past. Another measure would ban new development within “2,500 feet of an occupied structure.” A study of this measure’s impact by state government determined “90% of surface acreage in Colorado would be unavailable for future oil and gas development or hydraulic fracturing under” it.
Trump’s statement aligns him with environmental activists noted Josh Penry, a GOP strategist working with industry opposition to anti-fracking efforts, adding his answer is indicative of a larger problem with the candidate: “Trump really needs to bone up on the issues. Crimea isn’t a punchline in a Justin Timberlake song, and local bans on energy development are politically and legally taboo even in a swing state like Colorado. Wanna be president? Sweet. Do your homework.”
Supporters of the anti-fracking measures quickly made hay of Trump’s position, no doubt appreciating the last-minute boost as they gather signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Clinton backer Hickenlooper jabbed, “I don’t think he understands, completely, the issue, but that’s not unusual for him.”
Trump has spoken in favor of fracking and oil development in the past, but as with other issues, confuses his backers and opponents alike with the details. The similarity of Trump’s and Hillary’s positions has the energy industry unsure of their traditional alignment with the GOP.
An oil industry executive spoke to The Hill anonymously, echoing the mixture of increasing fear and diminishing hope many national Republicans are experiencing:
‘He said states and municipalities,” the executive noted. “That’s a big leap, and I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate the big leap he just took.’
‘The hope from the industry perspective is that if [Trump] gets elected, he would surround himself with detailed-oriented folks, and we’d be able to at least work with them,’ the refining official added.
Proponents of the anti-fracking measures argue hydraulic fracturing can be harmful to environmental health, quality of life, and property values. Opponents say the measures invite lawsuits, violate property rights, raise energy prices, and harm Colorado’s economy.