Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper challenges State Attorney General over federal environmental rule lawsuits

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says only he has the power to decide whether to sue the federal government over environmental regulations. @bberwyn photo.

Petition to Colorado Supreme Court seeks clarity 

By Bob Berwyn

In a petition to the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says the state’s attorney general has wasted taxpayer dollars and undermined the authority of the executive branch by joining a series of lawsuits against the federal government.

Specifically, Hickenlooper said Attorney General Cynthia Coffman didn’t have the authority to enmesh Colorado in lawsuits against federal fracking rules, federal clean water rules and the EPA’s Clean Power plan.

The last may have been the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, as Coffman joined the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan over Hickenlooper’s expressed objections.

“This case can and should be decided by holding that the Attorney General lacks authority to bring these federal lawsuits absent gubernatorial approval,” Hickenlooper stated in the petition to the State Supreme Court. Colorado law is clear that the attorney general doesn’t have the legal authority to sue the federal government in federal court, according to the petition.

Hickenlooper is asking the Supreme Court to declare that the Governor, not the Attorney General, has ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the State of Colorado whether to sue the federal government, and to force the attorney general to withdraw from the lawsuits against the federal environmental regulations.

“The attorney general has filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits without support of or collaboration with her clients,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel to the governor. “This raises serious questions about the use of state dollars and the attorney-client relationship between the governor, state agencies and the attorney general.”

The petition states “The Governor’s disagreement with the Attorney General’s filings is not based on the legal merits of the federal lawsuits; it is about the direction of Colorado [executive department] policy, which is he is empowered to direct under our constitution and laws.”

“The Attorney General’s inflated conception of her powers is at odds with the role assigned her by Colorado’s Constitution and laws,” the petition continues.

According to the petition, the legal question of whether the governor or attorney general ultimately speaks for Colorado in dealing with the federal government on clean air, clean water, and energy issues is extraordinarily important. Hickenlooper says the attorney general has overreached by claiming broad powers to sue the federal government as the “people’s lawyer.”

According to the petition, the attorney general’s involvement in the lawsuits “interfere with the Governor’s execution of Colorado laws involving clean air, clean water, and energy.

“The Governor had determined as a matter of policy to work cooperatively with, not sue, the federal government and that policy was working until an Attorney General lawsuit halted what had been productive state and federal negotiations,’ the petition states.

For example, Colorado and the BLM had been negotiating on a fracking rule variance, but those talks ended when Colorado joined Wyoming’s lawsuit against the fracking rules.

 

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