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Colorado Editorial Roundup

Removing lead from homes in Superfund study area:

The Pueblo Chieftain, June 8

At last, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken a good, positive step by agreeing to clean up lead inside 19 homes in the Eilers-Bessemer Colorado Superfund Study Area.

Residents of the South Side study area have been concerned that Superfund designation would stigmatize their neighborhood through a long, drawn-out search for contamination — with precious little actual cleanup in sight. But the EPA relented under pressure from the Pueblo community to begin indoors cleanup June 20, much sooner than previously anticipated.

The EPA has agreed to clean up excessive levels of lead found inside 19 homes out of the 300 houses already sampled in the study area, which comprises a 1-mile circle around the Eilers neighborhood. The EPA intends to get the 19 homes cleaned as soon as possible.

Sabrina Forrest, EPA manager of the Colorado Smelter project, said her agency won’t repaint homes but will clean their interiors, even replacing rugs if necessary.

This is good news, a sign that the EPA is willing to accelerate cleanup where needed. That’s the goal of homeowners who fear prolonging the process would continue to put their property values under a cloud. Karl Stock of the Federal Housing Administration even offered encouragement, that people should be able to buy and sell houses as long as the potential contamination is addressed.

Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki then told Stock the federal agency should develop a legal guarantee that agents, sellers and others could use to assure people any contamination will be cleaned up by the EPA.

A guarantee may be more than the federal government is willing to deliver. But at least the EPA is committed to some cleanup sooner, rather than later.

We hope the feds remain responsive to the needs of the people involved, not just the process.

A grant program for Weld County students:

Greeley Tribune, June 13

More than half of the Weld County students who could take advantage of free money to help pay for college aren’t.

That’s difficult to understand. After all, for families facing the prospect of steep tuition bills, it’s free money. The money, which comes from the innovative Weld County Bright Futures Grant Program, could help hundreds of families pay for the soaring costs of a college education. That means many students who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to go to college would have an opportunity to earn a college degree, if they seek out the Bright Futures grant.

If you’re not familiar with the program, here are the details:

-The Bright Futures grants are worth $3,000 per year for four years. Students can use the money at just about any post-secondary education institution they want. Students have until Aug. 1 to apply this year.

-The grants are available to all students who graduate from high school starting this year who legally reside in Weld, if they have been residents of the county for at least two of the past four years; one of those being the year of graduation from high school.

-Additionally, some honorably discharged military veterans in Weld are eligible, as are residents who earned a GED after May 2016 and have lived in Weld for four years prior to applying.

-The money for the program comes from donations. The Board of Weld County Commissioners set aside $15 million to fund tax breaks for property owners who donate.

Still, students have been slow to take the money. More than 2,200 graduates in Weld should be eligible for the grants. So far only 705 students have completed the application. Donations to fund the program, too, initially were slow to arrive. To date, the county has received $1.08 million in donations. Residents have until Wednesday to donate to take advantage of the tax credit on 2015 property taxes. (Property taxes for 2015 also are due Wednesday, by the way.) Residents can donate anytime between Friday and June 15, 2017.

That said, both grant approvals and donations have been gaining steam recently. To be sure, more are needed, and we hope you’ll donate or apply, but clearly things are picking up.

We’ve said before that we’re fans of the program. It’s transformational for this community. Earning a college degree is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Even for students whose families aren’t technically below the poverty line, though, college can seem out of reach these days. Bright Futures makes it possible. And we were thrilled to see that the overwhelming majority of students who have completed their applications — 77 percent — will use the money attending a Colorado school. Even better, a large chunk of students who are staying in state — 49 percent — will attend Aims or the University of Northern Colorado right here in Greeley.

When the program succeeds, we’ll all benefit. We’ll have a stronger economy, a better workforce and more members of the community who are capable of reaching their full potential.

We hope you’ll support Bright Futures with a donation. And, if you’re headed to college and haven’t yet done so, we hope you’ll apply.

An initiative impacting the oil and gas industry:

The Daily Sentinel, June 14

If Initiative 78 passes this fall, it would end most oil and gas drilling statewide.

That’s not an overstated reaction from the oil and gas industry. It’s the conclusion of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory agency, which simply applied the parameters of the proposed constitutional amendment to a map of Colorado. The results are eye-popping, if not ridiculous.

Rather than asking voters to support an outright ban on drilling and fracking, the measure’s proponents crafted a more insidious, less harmful-sounding proposal that achieves the same outcome.

The proposed measure would require a 2,500-foot mandatory setback between oil and gas development wells and related facilities and any occupied structures or “areas of special concern.”

On their own — minus any understanding of the impact on jobs, the economy or state revenues — increased setbacks sound like a good thing.

But Initiative 78 would make 90 percent of acreage statewide off-limits to hydraulic fracturing or future oil and gas development, effectively booting the industry out of the state.

That’s clearer now that the COGCC has mapped out how the setbacks would affect development. Some advocates say Initiative 78 is a response to a failure by the COGCC, lawmakers and the industry to do more to address public concerns.

Even if that’s true, the measure is an extreme overreaction that won’t solve anything. The measure would conflict with Colorado’s constitutionally protected mineral rights, setting the stage for a legal battle that could be very costly for taxpayers. The legal question would center on how far the state can go in usurping property rights. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that cities could not ban fracking in their city limits.

Worse, the measure throws collaboration and compromise out the window. As COGCC Director Matt LePore noted, backers of the measure “are proposing to amend the state Constitution in a way that offers no flexibility, no variance, no exception, one-size-fits-all for an industry that is anything but homogenous.”

Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, pointed to the COGCC’s stakeholder process that has yielded “robust regulations” that ensure environmental protection.

Initiative 78 is just one of several measures that seek to limit drilling in some form or fashion. Those seeking to put these measures on the ballot need more than 98,000 signatures.

Those who sign must understand that they’re signing off on the death of an industry whose contributions totaled $126.5 billion in output in Colorado between 2008 and 2012 and supported more than 93,500 jobs, according to the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.

Extremism isn’t the Colorado way. Backers of the measure want voters to believe it’s a health issue. But they refuse to acknowledge that the financial health of the state and every resident also hangs in the balance.

Verifying signatures on ballot petitions:

Denver Post, June 11 

The saga of phony signatures on ballot petitions of a candidate for U.S. Senate is progressing as it should, with an arrest and 34 felony charges against a woman who collected signatures. But what’s to prevent this sort of fraud from occurring in the future?

Not much, as it happens, and that needs to change.

The actual signatures on candidate petitions and citizen ballot initiatives are not verified by the secretary of state’s office when it checks to make sure the names represent eligible voters. And there’s good historical reason for this practice. Until about a decade ago, Colorado didn’t have a statewide voter database, let alone a comprehensive set of signatures on file.

In other words, officials couldn’t have verified petition signatures even if they’d wanted to. There was nothing to verify them against.

But that is no longer the case. Signature verification is possible today. The biggest obstacle now is the resources to conduct the comparison. And yet the magic of modern software may be able to keep the expense within reach.

The argument for signature verification goes beyond the phony entries on Jon Keyser’s petitions to get on the GOP primary ballot. Signature verification also protects genuine voters who make inadvertent minor mistakes in filling out a petition line and have their names disqualified even though their signatures would have been possible to confirm.

This is not a hypothetical concern. Several voters who signed Ryan Frazier’s petitions for the Republican ballot for U.S. Senate accidentally transposed numbers in their address. And while that is legal reason enough to boot them off a petition, such signatures obviously should be accepted if they can be matched to those in the voter file.

Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler argued in a legal brief on Frazier’s behalf that Colorado statute already gives the state the authority to verify signatures. He pointed to statutory language saying the secretary of state “shall review all petition information and verify the information against the registration records,” and “after review, the official shall notify the candidate of the number of valid signatures.”

Gessler told us that since “all” information includes the petition signatures and since “registration records” include voter signatures, you could argue the secretary of state is even obligated to compare signatures.

Gessler also adds that computer software exists — and is even owned by a few counties — that can drastically reduce the percentage of signatures that must be subjected to human inspection. That’s obviously critical for ballot petitions that might have 150,000 or more signatures.

To be sure, Gessler acknowledges he never bothered to initiate signature comparison while he was in office. However, the recent debacle in which three of four GOP Senate candidates who petitioned onto the ballot were at first disqualified and then put on the ballot by a judge — one with what turned out to be forged signatures — is unprecedented.

Either the secretary of state or lawmakers should figure out what it would take to verify signatures on petitions and devise a plan to achieve that goal. Otherwise signature verification will remain a hit-or-miss project depending on the efforts of lawyers, journalists, activists and the private companies paid to collect them.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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