In the week since Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) announced that she will, over the governor’s objections, appeal a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that would upend the decades-long oil and natural gas regulatory permitting process in the state, key officials within the state on both sides of the aisle have applauded her decision.
The appeals ruling pertains to a lawsuit filed by teenage environmentalists, who as Energy In Depth noted, are backed by a number of national “ban fracking” groups, and would make proving that proposed development does not “adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change” a condition of the permitting process. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which regulates the industry in the state, voted unanimously to appeal the decision earlier this month, and Coffman’s decision means the case will now go to the state supreme court.
Key Colorado officials have spoken out in support of Coffman’s decision to appeal the appeals ruling.
Peter Moore, the chairman of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of groups that support energy development, lauded Coffman’s decision:
“The attorney general showed real leadership today and the business community is thankful for it. … The activist groups behind this lawsuit want to ban one of Colorado’s most important economic sectors, not change the way it’s regulated. They have said it themselves.”
Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Haley also praised the AG’s decision, as the Daily Camera reports:
“The court ruling ‘disrupts decades of regulatory precedent,’ Haley said, interpreting the COGCC’s enabling act as a directive ‘to balance a variety of development interests including the environment when making decisions.’
“‘This balancing act in Colorado allows for development and protects our environment,’ he said. ‘Those who filed this lawsuit have said they want to ban oil and gas in our state. That irresponsible position, funded by the same out-of-state groups that have relentlessly tried to ban our industry via the ballot box, must be met head-on.’”
The Colorado Mining Association tweeted after the decision:
The Martinez case has huge implications beyond oil and gas regulation! Thank you @COAttnyGeneral for your leadership! https://t.co/QjoQpseamU
— Colorado Mining Assn (@ColoradoMining) May 18, 2017
Before the decision was made, many noted the absurdity of the lawsuit – and why an appeal was merited. As the editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette put it, the petitioners’ request is “beyond unreasonable”:
“What the students asked for in their petition is beyond unreasonable. … If we required as much of all other human activities, the state would need to forbid marijuana cultivation and consumption, farming, bicycling and most other forms of transportation. All human activity has a cumulative effect on the environment.”
Loren Furman of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry said,
“This case has serious implications across the economy, not just the energy sector, and it deserves to be heard by the state’s highest court. The members of the COGCC unanimously called for an appeal and their recommendation should be honored.”
Even Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett (D), who had previously run for Colorado Attorney General, said in a Facebook post that not appealing the Court of Appeals decision would be a “mistake,” that the pressure placed on the governor on the issue is “misdirected,” and that “[p]olitical pressure with regard to court opinions and decisions is rarely a good idea” (emphasis added):
“I am 100% pro environment and as concerned about fracking as anyone. But as a lawyer who has practiced for 35 years and appeared many times in the Colorado Appellate courts, I think it is a mistake not to seek Colorado Supreme Court review of the court of appeals decision in the Martinez v. COGC[C] case and the pressure being put on the Governor in that regard is misdirected. A court of appeals opinion is of some value as precedent, but not nearly as valuable as a Colorado Supreme Court Opinion. We have a good supreme court who may well uphold the Court of Appeals. Moreover, the Supreme Court will address this issue eventually one way or another and this looks like a pretty good record to present to them. Political pressure with regard to court opinions and decisions is rarely a good idea and would be much better focused at electing a legislature more inclined to listen to the public’s concerns.”
When asked by the Colorado Independent, U.S. Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) said, “The proposed rule seems overly broad.”
In an opinion piece, Mike Kopp of Colorado Concern, a policy and lobbying organization representing business interests in Colorado, wrote:
“This legal challenge to COGCC’s mission was brought forward by an activist group that has filed petitions in all 50 states. This case is not about how Colorado is managing its natural resources but rather the agenda of activists who don’t want to see oil and natural gas produced anywhere.”
While the small group of national “ban fracking” activists may have been disappointed by Coffman’s decision, Colorado lawyers, business groups, industry officials, and other prominent voices agree that the attorney general made exactly the right decision.