The Colorado Supreme Court today ruled in favor of the oil and gas industry in the Martinez case in which plaintiffs had asked that the state prioritize health and safety of the public and the environment before issuing oil and gas drilling permits.
photo credit: Frani Halperin, H2O Media, Ltd. The young plaintiffs and their lawyers speak to media after the Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments in the Martinez case in October 2018.
Five years ago the plaintiffs, a group of young activists led by Boulder’s Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, asked the state’s regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), to start prioritizing public welfare and the environment by issuing new rules. The commission said they are not required to prioritize health and safety, just balance them with development.
The young activists then turned to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled in their favor, saying the agency must elevate public health, safety, welfare, and the environment over development. After Governor John Hickenlooper stepped in and ordered COGCC not to appeal that ruling, the agency did so anyway under the leadership of then Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, along with industry associations.
Today’s court decision sides with the COGCC saying the agency was correct when it said the new rules the plaintiffs proposed exceeded its authority.
The Denver Post reports that today’s Supreme Court ruling goes on to say that the law’s provisions are clear that the COGCC is required to foster the development of oil and gas resources and protect the rights of mineral owners and producers while preventing and reducing the effects of development on public health, safety and the environment.
Oil and gas industry groups welcomed today’s decision while environmental groups decried it as another example of the state siding with the oil and gas industry.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, the lead plaintiff in the case told the Colorado Independent that today’s ruling isn’t a surprise. He says that the ruling provides a chance to prove that we need a complete restructuring of the system in place because it is currently not written for the best interests of the people and the communities.
Martinez and the other plaintiffs are calling on state legislators and Governor Jared Polis to change the state’s rules around oil and gas permitting.
In response to today’s ruling Governor Jared Polis said that today’s decision “only highlights the need to work with the Legislature and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to more safely develop our state’s natural resources and protect our citizens from harm.”
Environmental activists have been critical of lawmakers, particular Democrats, for upholding the status quo when it comes to oil and gas activity in the state. On the first day of the 2019 state legislative session Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, rallied at the capitol calling for a moratorium on all new oil and gas permits.