At least ten rural Colorado counties are taking aggressive steps to form a 51st state, saying their interests are not being met by moves to regulate the oil and gas industry, increase renewable energy, and better regulate guns. Organizers in Kansas and Nebraska are also interested in joining the state they call “North Colorado.”
Organizers met this week to draw up boundaries of the new state, as part of an ambitious schedule to draft a ballot initiative by August 1, and get a proposal before the voters in November. Congress must approve admission of a new state into the Union. But the U.S. Constitution also requires that secession of parts of any existing state be approved both by the voters and legislature of that state. This means Colorado would have to approve of the counties’ secession, as would Kansas and Nebraska if parts of those states wanted to join. One of the ten counties that initiated the movement, Weld County, is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island, according to a county commissioner.
One of the laws that movement representatives say “broke the camel’s back” requires rural energy cooperatives to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. The current goal is ten percent. While Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed the bill into law, he also signed an executive order committing to make an independent assessment of whether the 20 percent requirement is feasible, and to revisit the legislation next session if need be. The organizers also cite several failed bills to regulate the oil and gas industry that would have increased fines for violations of state law, and imposed other measures to address the fast-increasing number of both wells and oil spills and contaminations in Colorado over the last several years.
Proponents of the movement say the legislature is not recognizing its “main economic drivers, agriculture and energy.” But these energy-heavy rural counties are also particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation, which is why some residents have voiced strong opposition to the movement. “I don’t want be in a 51st state,” Washington County resident Steve Frey told the local CBS affiliate. “I don’t want any part of their fracking that they’re doing in Weld County.”
Reports on this week’s organizing meeting differ, with the Denver Post suggesting that fervor for the secession is already cooling because of a lack of public support. Some county commissioners are now endorsing another proposal to instead change the method of county representation in the state legislature, while others remain committed to secession.
The last state to secede from another was West Virginia in 1863. Maine, Vermont, and Kentucky were also formed from other states.