Takings Will Coloradans vote away their peaches and plums? Their bees?

A bee pollinating an apple blossom.

Within six months, the European Union will ban all outdoor use of the class of pesticides known as neonicotiniods. Neonics (for short) have been linked to bee kills, are toxic to birds, and even threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems. While neonics are under attack from environmental activists in the US as well, anti-regulatory ideology at the Federal level makes it unlikely that we will follow the EU’s example. States, counties, and municipalities, however, are free (so far) to enact their own bans.

But in Colorado this right to protect the environment is under threat not from farmers who use the pesticides, or chemical companies who make them. It is under threat from an entirely different industry: Big Oil.

Protect Colorado, a Colorado Political Committee formed in 2014 with ties to both real estate and fossil fuel development, has a reassuring name but an insidious mission: It wants to stop environmental and land use regulation in its tracks. Thanks to a donation of $423,750 from Anadarko Petroleum, and another $250,000 from a consortium of smaller extraction companies, it is gathering signatures to place six initiatives on November’s ballot to trick Colorado into neutering its environmental movement, by making any regulation far beyond the state’s meager budget capability to afford.

The Ballot Initiatives

You can find all six ballot initiatives here, but this is the first amendment being proposed:

108. Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution requiring the government to award just compensation to owners of private property when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of the property?

It sounds fair, doesn’t it? If I have a couple of drinks, stay out late, get confused driving home, and smash my car into my neighbor’s garage door because I turned up the wrong drive, am I not liable for the damage? I must pay my neighbor for the garage door, and the car inside as well! Why should the rules be any different for government?

But it’s not the same at all: the innocent-seeming language of these proposals was designed to deceive! (Try reading the other five, each worded in increasingly obscure language in the hopes of finding a frame that voters will embrace.) These measures would upend the entire theory of government as protector of the people and make it instead the slave of the ownership class.

Similar legislation, which would force governments to compensate property owners if new laws reduced their property’s “fair market value,” have failed at the state level several years running. So this year, their proponents are running them as ballot measures.

These measures are ultimately about fracking: They are meant to undermine voter attempts to prevent the Oil and Gas Industry from drilling close to population centers, by making regulation too expensive to pursue. Colorado law already tilts the playing field toward the goal of oil and gas development, by preempting local regulation of extraction. If even one or two of these measures pass, the hands of state, county and municipal rule-makers will be completely tied. Big Oil will have free rein, with no future regulation possible at all.

112. Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning government taking of private property and, in connection therewith, declaring that property is damaged when the enactment of a law, regulation, or regulatory condition limits or prevents the property from being used for a purpose that was allowed at the time the property owner acquired title, and requiring the compensation for the damage to equal the difference in the fair market value of the property before and after the effective date of the law, regulation, or regulatory condition?

But it’s not just environmental protections that are under threat: It is the entire regulatory apparatus. It is our building codes, our water rights, and possibly even taxation itself.

Science is real and Risk is life

It’s not that the farmers who oppose neonics have no reason to push against regulation.

The use of neonics is standard practice in the cultivation of several food crops widely grown in Eastern Colorado: corn, soy, and sugar beets. None of these plants require bees or other insects as pollinators, being primarily wind-pollinated. Without pesticides all three crops are vulnerable to insect predation, and over 90% of these principle cash crops on the plains are GMO and grown with pesticides.

But others’ interests will suffer without government protection.

Fruit crops are also critical to Colorado’s economy. Peaches, apples, cherries, plums, apricots and pears from the Western slope and melons from the Arkansas valley are bee-pollinated. The economics that lead beet farmers to protest the banning of neonics are real, but they are the same economics that threaten Colorado’s fruit crops with collapse.

Or maybe you live in Well(d) county, and you’re part of a mineral rights pool. That royalty check from the extraction company comes in mighty handy. It must be a coincidence that your neighbor’s child has leukemia. These amendments look pretty good if they seem to protect your financial interest.

But ultimately, they don’t. Because what they do is force government to ignore science, and we do that at our extreme peril. If the bees all die, we’ll have migrant workers out in the fields at Rocky Ford pollinating melon vines with an itty-bitty paintbrush. Fracking risks our ability to drink clean water and breathe clean air. Fossil fuels risk the very future of our planet.

Furthermore, if you stop and think about it, whether you lean left or right, these measures are against your ideology. They would legislate our current understanding of the world, making it impossible for government to react to new knowledge. They are conservative only in the sense that they preserve the status quo in a changing world. But the broader world learns; it innovates; it grows. And it will not stop.

Ultimately, these ballot measures protect property and profit, but only for some. Conservative values say that self-reliance, individualism, and independence are the great virtues. They say that we each must accept life’s risks on our own: Don’t tax us to give health care to other people. Government’s role should not be to protect us against life’s unexpected changes.

These ballot measures amount to free property insurance funded by taxpayers. For the ownership class. They protect today’s businesses against tomorrow. They absolve Big Oil for the consequences of its actions. They remove the need for corporations to plan for the long haul. They incent rigidity and allow industries to monetize their bad investments at our expense.

Do we really think it is right to stop government from doing what it does best — protecting us from things we can’t avoid, like wars and weather and famine? From pollinator extinction? From global warming? Is the role of big government to prevent today’s entrepreneurs from having to take risks to get rich, at the cost of tomorrow’s?

We don’t think so. The deceptive language of these initiatives makes them undeserving even of a vote. If you’re confronted by a (well-paid!) petitioner for any of initiatives 108–113, please don’t sign. Refuse, in the name of common sense. And refuse, in the name of Freedom!

A gas well flaring in the Pawnee National Grasslands, northern Colorado. Courtesy of Wild Earth Guardians.