Dozens of local and state officials throughout Colorado have a message for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper: Don’t appeal.
At issue is a decision the governor plans to announce Thursday involving whether the state will ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a recent court ruling involving the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
The case, one that could dramatically change the way the state regulates the industry, stems from a 2013 lawsuit brought by 16-year-old Boulder hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced “shoe-tez-caht”) Martinez and a handful of other young environmentalists. Specifically, they petitioned the COGCC to withhold new permits for drilling in Colorado, “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”
The COGCC was created by lawmakers in 1951 to regulate Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry. The agency’s mission and values statement describes a balancing of public health, economic, and oil and gas industry interests. “We are as committed to protecting public health and the environment as we are to fostering the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas resources,” the statement reads in part.
The nine-member commission appointed by the governor balked at the teenagers’ petition, so the youth took their case to court. Denver’s District Court sided with the COGCC’s interpretation of its mission, and the teenagers appealed again — this time to a state Court of Appeals. In late March, the Appeals Court, ruling 3-2, overturned the lower court’s decision.
Justices for the Court of Appeals looked at how lawmakers have amended the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act over the years and found the amendments “reflect the General Assembly’s general movement away from unfettered oil and gas production and incorporation of public health, safety, and welfare as a check on that development.”
On May 1, the COGCC voted unanimously to ask the state’s highest court to hear an appeal — known in legal terms as petitioning for certiorari. A spokesperson from the Colorado Petroleum Council, which is part of the national American Petroleum Institute that represents the oil and gas industry, has said the appeals court ruling could “threaten the state’s economy, property rights, jobs, and state revenue.”
Hickenlooper, a former geologist with a background in the oil and gas industry, didn’t respond directly when asked by The Colorado Independent if he had the sole authority to decide whether to appeal or not, but said he would continue to review it until Thursday, May 18.
In the meantime, the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, LOGIC, released letters signed by dozens of Colorado public officials urging the governor not to appeal. The letter cites the April 17 home explosion in Firestone that killed two and gravely injured another when an abandoned gas flowline leaked under a house.
“We respectfully urge you to override the COGCC vote and decline to file a petition for certiorari review of Martinez,” the letter reads. “We further ask that, if the Court grants certiorari on the petition of industry, that you decline to further participate in the litigation.”
The public officials urging the governor to not appeal include Democratic state senators Matt Jones, John Kefalas and Stephen Fenberg. Also included as signatories are representatives KC Becker, Adrienne Benavidez, Mike Foote, Joann Ginal, Matt Gray, Edie Hooton, Susan Lontine, Joseph Salazar, Jonathan Singer, and Faith Winter, all Democrats.
Local governments on board include the Boulder County Commission and the Longmont City Council, as well as the mayors of Boulder, Erie, Lafayette, and Louisville. More than a dozen city council members from around the state also signed on.
The letters come a day after two environmental groups, Conservation Colorado and EarthJustice, similarly urged the governor not to appeal.
“We’re aware of the requests from interested parties,” said Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman Jaque Montgomery.
Meanwhile, The Colorado Independent asked four Democratic candidates for governor what they would do if they were in Hickenlooper’s shoes.
Their answers are here.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Thornton’s mayor was a signatory on one of the letters. That was incorrect. It was the mayor pro tem.
Photo credit: Hugo Chisholm, Creative Commons, Flickr.