Despite urging, Hickenlooper won’t ask oil and gas regulator to reconsider appeal of Martinez ruling

Gov. John Hickenlooper will not ask the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to reconsider its appeal of a recent court ruling requiring the agency to consider health and safety before approving drilling permits, Hickenlooper’s office announced this week.

We have made our position in this matter well known and believe that it would be inappropriate to apply pressure on this Commission to take further action,” the governor’s office told The Colorado Independent in a written statement Thursday.

In Martinez v.COGCC, filed in 2013, teenage environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and a group of other young plaintiffs proposed a new rule requiring that the agency not approve any permits unless science can confirm that the proposed drilling will not harm Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, adversely impact human health or contribute to climate change.

After an initial defeat, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on the side of the youth on March 23.

On May 1, all seven current members of the COGCC voted to appeal the ruling. Hickenlooper publicly called on the agency to let the ruling stand, but on May 18, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman filed an appeal on the agency’s behalf, apparently defying the governor’s wishes.

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Hickenlooper’s office does not believe the COGCC has the power to initiate an appeal, but the governor has said that his office will not seek to challenge the agency’s actions. Coffman argued that state law gives Hickenlooper the authority to appoint and remove members of the COGCC, but doesn’t afford him power over the agency’s decisions.

Coffman and supporters of the appeal have said that the ruling would dramatically alter the way Colorado regulates oil and gas. Presently, the COGCC interprets its mission as finding a balance between health and safety and oil and gas development.

Environmental groups have criticized the governor, arguing that he could have done more to keep the appeal from moving forward.

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Namely, they said, Hickenlooper could have asked the COGCC to reconsider its vote.

We … believe that there is more the Hickenlooper administration could have done and can do to keep this case from moving forward,” wrote Conservation Colorado Director Pete Maysmith and attorney Mike Freeman of Earthjustice in a statement last week.

The pair sent a letter last Friday to Colorado Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Wolk and Bob Randall, director of the Department of Natural Resources, who are both commission members, requesting another vote. “COGCC members serve at the pleasure of the Governor … and (in your cases) are part of his administration, and certainly can be expected to give his goals appropriate weight in deciding whether to challenge the Martinez decision,” they wrote.

By appealing the ruling, they wrote, “The Governor and the COGCC are making the case that public health and safety are not the commission’s top priority in managing oil and gas development.”

Responding to a request for further comment, Wolk’s spokesman referred The Colorado Independent to the statement from Hickenlooper’s office.

We ask respected civic leaders to serve on our Boards and Commissions to exercise their independent judgment, and we value and respect their service,” that statement concluded.


Photo credit: Allen Tian