Next stop, November ballot
By Bob Berwyn
This week’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling on local fracking regulations is a huge slap in the face to Colorado citizens, but it shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The court has nearly always sided with the state’s extractive industries over protecting public health and the environment, including a 2009 decision overturning local regulations that would have prohibited potentially disastrous cyanide heap-leach mining.
Both rulings are couched in carefully phrased legalistic terms that are nothing but poor attempts to disguise and justify the deeply anti-democratic nature of such decisions. Both are examples of the growing gap between the will of the people and the imperatives of large corporations that do business with impunity and with no regard for the social, economic and environmental consequences of their actions.
Say it however elegantly you want, there’s is no moral basis for preventing Colorado communities from protecting their own self-interest and the health and well-being of their citizens.
When a high court sanctions that behavior by nullifying the vote of citizens, it makes a mockery of democracy and adds fuel to the revolutionary embers that are about to burst into flame in so many places around the world. Little wonder we live in a time of growing polarization and radicalization of politics.
Colorado’s oil and gas industry should enjoy its celebration of the ruling because it will be short-lived. Given the national political picture, it’s not unlikely that a ballot initiative aimed at curbing fracking will pass easily, even as the industry will spend millions on propaganda to try and defeat such measures. Given the industry’s track record, Coloradans can expect a legal challenge to such a constitutional amendment on fracking.
As such, the oil and gas industry will have to take responsibility for the growing resentment Coloradans feel toward the government and its corporate allies — resentment that will start to manifest in more and more social unrest, economic upheaval and displacement. If we can’t figure out an orderly transition away from fossil fuels, the change will come dramatically and with more serious consequences for society. Instead of hanging on to the old energy economy, fossil fuel companies should be investing their considerable resources into leading the way toward a zero-carbon, renewable energy future.
Here’s what Colorado Oil and Gas Association president and CEO Dan Haley had to say on the ruling:
“COGA has always maintained that these bans and moratoriums on responsible oil and gas development are illegal, and we’re pleased that today the Supreme Court of Colorado has agreed with us. This is not just a win for the energy industry but for the people of Colorado who rely on affordable and dependable energy and a strong economy. It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated. Bans and moratoriums on oil and gas are not a reasonable or responsible way to address local concerns.
“With this legal battle over, we look forward to working with Longmont, Fort Collins and other local communities to find a balance that allows for responsible oil and gas development while still meeting the needs of local communities under Colorado’s already rigorous regulations.”
On behalf of the conservation community, Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman offered these comments:
“We’re still reviewing them, but we’re disappointed by the decisions,” said Freeman. “Fort Collins and Longmont lie right on the edge of some of the most heavily-fracked areas of Colorado, where drill rigs have gone up next to elementary schools and in the middle of residential neighborhoods. These two cities have seen the oil and gas industry routinely contaminate rivers, streams and land in nearby areas with spills of toxic fracking wastes.
“Local governments should be able to use their authority to ensure that fracking doesn’t cause the pollution, 24-hour noise and semi-truck traffic that have occurred in numerous Colorado communities.
“These rulings are not the end of the story, however. Communities will now find other ways of protecting their citizens from fracking, and the supreme court’s ruling likely will give even more momentum to efforts at changing the law in Colorado.”