COCRN Materials Prepared for the Press
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a Pennsylvania-based anti-fracking organization best known for backing initiatives targeting the oil and gas industry in Ohio and Illinois – and even threatening local communities with bankruptcy – has now set its sights on Colorado.
CELDF, under the guise of Coloradans for Community Rights (COCR), has officially launched a campaign to place a ban-fracking initiative on Colorado’s 2016 ballot. The amendment is similar to initiatives CELDF has pushed across the country. According to the Colorado organization’s web site, these initiatives are based on the notion of upholding the “rights of nature.” Keep in mind that this is the same group that recently filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania on behalf of the ecosystem.
A look at CELDF’s efforts shows that jurisdictions that adopt a version of the community rights amendment are often subject to expensive legal bills arising from the resulting court challenges to the amendment. In Colorado, a CELDF-authored amendment cost the city of Lafayette taxpayers nearly $60,000 in legal fees. Reuters reports:
“The city of Lafayette, Colorado, has already paid some $60,000 so far defending its 2013 CELDF-authored community bill of rights in court, knowing the effort is a form of legal disobedience with little hope of yielding a courtroom win.”
And a similar story is unfolding in other communities as well. But the most well-known case occurred in Mora County, New Mexico where county commissioners repealed their community rights amendment in the face of rising legal bills. From Reuters:
“We weren’t comfortable using our county as the test case to try to overturn two centuries of law,” said Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia. In Grant Township, residents so far have remained willing to fight. The community has spent just a few thousand dollars of its annual $250,000 budget defending its CELDF-drafted community bill of rights. But it may have to spend more.”
But shockingly, CELDF has shown an indifference to the costs incurred to taxpayers as a result of their efforts and has even publicly suggested that bankrupting a town may be “exactly what is needed.” CELDF founder Thomas Linzey speaking with Reuters:
“And if a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.”
CELDF and Colorado Community Rights
As EID has previously reported, the new campaign is a reboot of last year’s Amendment 75, which was dropped after failing to earn the support necessary to make the ballot. While oil and gas development is a focus of the new initiative, organizers are indicating that they are targeting a host of issues. As the Colorado Statesman reports:
“The proposed state constitutional amendment establishes “rights of natural persons, their local communities, and nature,” and gives them the right to supersede the competing rights of “corporations and other business entities operating, or seeking to operate, in the community.”
But that focus has quickly drawn the ire of business groups who fear the initiative would supersede state law with grave implications for Colorado’s business environment. Also reported by the Colorado Statesman:
“Many of our community leaders are also small business owners who strive to provide jobs and wages that support local families,” said Bob Golden, president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and a board member of Vital for Colorado.
“Yet this shortsighted initiative could close those businesses who get on the wrong side of city council members and turn our planning commissions into mob rule,” he said.
National Activist Assistance
The Colorado Community Rights campaign is part of a larger effort that appears to have become a signature issue for CELDF. The organization is perhaps best known in Colorado as the group behind a ballot measure banning oil and gas development in Lafayette, CO, which was later overturned by a judge. But this new statewide ballot push is a dramatic expansion of their previous efforts in the state that is part of a nationwide campaign to take their local campaigns to state ballot boxes. From the CELDF’s web site:
“For over a decade, we have worked at the local, municipal level to establish Community Rights. Today, we are building on our grassroots organizing to drive change to the state level, bringing together communities from across states in which we’ve been organizing to build State Community Rights Networks.”
And the ties between CELDF and the Coloradans for Community Rights campaign could not be stronger. CELDF hosts a page about the Colorado efforts on their national web site and has even been promoting fundraising to their national network of supporters. In fact, CELDF’s heightened involvement signals an expansion of a campaign that had previously failed to gain the support necessary to make the Colorado ballot.
But the organization is also known for taking extreme positions on issues that are often met with legal challenges and broad opposition. In fact, the Ohio Secretary of State even recently determined that CELDF’s anti-fracking ballot proposals in that state would not be allowed to proceed, citing the measures as a “violation of provisions of statutory and Ohio constitutional law.” According the Secretary’s press release:
“The issue of whether local communities can get around state laws on fracking has already been litigated,” Secretary Husted said. “Allowing these proposals to proceed will only serve a false promise that wastes taxpayer’s time and money and will eventually end in sending the charters to certain death in the courts.”
As EID has reported, Colorado’s “ban fracking” activists frequently mislead the public, elected officials and the news media into believing their efforts are strictly grassroots. But more often than not, these groups have the backing of national political organizations like CELDF. And the results of their efforts can have damaging economic consequences for those who adopt their national agenda.
In CELDF’s case, the results cannot be clearer. In Mora County, New Mexico, county commissioners voted 2-1 in May 2013 to adopt CELDF’s anti-fracking ordinance. At the time, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times reported on the news, bringing national attention to the issue. But not long after, the legal bills began to mount, and taxpayers in one of New Mexico’s most impoverished counties turned against the policy. As Mora County resident Frank Splendoria recently said, CELDF made “suckers” out of local residents:
“It was totally foolish to begin with, to even try this. How do you pass an ordinance that’s going to override the state and the federal constitution? … I don’t know if they were playing us in Mora County as suckers or they were sincere in their beliefs. I would probably tend to the former rather than the latter, given that Mora County was the first county to try this and failed miserably at it… I don’t know where we would find the money. If you look at the county’s budget, they barely have enough money to provide the bare essential services … (The ban) hasn’t made any sense to anyone with any sense to begin with.”
And with Reuters reporting that CELDF is behind more than a dozen anti-fracking ordinances across the country, this latest Colorado effort will be more than the loose coalition of grassroots activists that organizers are attempting to portray.