Date: May 15, 2017
Jessica Goad, Conservation Colorado, 720-206-4235
Mike Freeman, Earthjustice, 720-989-6896
Two of the state’s leading environmental advocacy groups today called upon Governor Hickenlooper to accept the court’s decision in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and not appeal the case. Governor Hickenlooper has until this Thursday, May 18 to decide whether to appeal the decision.
“Several bills that would have done a better job of protecting Colorado communities from oil and gas failed in the state Senate during this past legislative session,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado. “Now, it’s up to the governor to take this opportunity to protect public health and the environment and do all that he can to prevent tragedies like Firestone. A critical way to achieve this is to ensure that the oil and gas commission fully utilizes all of the tools that it has been given to protect public health, safety, and welfare. One of these tools is a recent court decision that makes it clear that the agency does in fact have the ability and authority to protect Colorado communities from oil and gas drilling. In order to preserve this important tool, we urge Governor Hickenlooper to not appeal the Martinez decision.”
“All the Martinez decision says is that Colorado must protect public health, safety, and the environment when approving oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, Staff Attorney at the public interest law firm Earthjustice. “But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been telling Coloradans for years that it already does that. If the COGCC has been meeting its obligations to protect Coloradans the State should have no objection to the court’s ruling. By appealing the court ruling, the government and the COGCC would be making the case that public health and safety are not the commission’s top priority in managing oil and gas development.”
Background on the case:
In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and several other Colorado young people asked the COGCC to adopt a regulation stating that no drilling permits will be issued without a finding that drilling can occur without impairing Colorado’s air, water, and wildlife and that it does not adversely affect public health. The COGCC denied the request, holding that it lacked legal authority to issue such a rule. In March 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals set aside the COGCC’s decision. The Court held that state law makes “protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources” a prerequisite for approving oil and gas development. While rejecting the COGCC’s legal interpretation, the Court did not address whether the agency should adopt the specific rule language requested by the Martinez plaintiffs.
The American Petroleum Institute, which has opposed the Martinez plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is expected to ask the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals decision. On May 1, the COGCC voted to join the American Petroleum Institute in challenging the court decision.