Guest Columns

LINZEY: COLORADANS DESERVE BETTER

How Congressman Jared Polis and Food and Water Watch sold out Colorado

GUEST COLUMNIST

Well that didn’t take long. For all of the grandiose political statements about supporting Colorado communities that have banned oil and gas drilling, the whole house of cards fell overnight.

First came Food and Water Watch, a non-profit organization, which led its supporters across a bridge to nowhere. After announcing that it would run a statewide ballot initiative to bolster the authority of communities to ban oil and gas extraction, the group instead drafted a measure that didn’t. When confronted, the group then tried to redraft the initiative, but then threw in the towel.

Then came Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder, who proposed eight ballot initiatives intended to put more controls on the oil and gas industry. Communities across his district are voting to ban fracking. But just this past week, in a compromise intended to help re-elect Colorado Democrats rather than protect communities or the environment, Polis caved. He agreed to pull his initiatives from the ballot in exchange for feel-good measures that will have no real impact on the industry itself.

The agreement reached between Polis and Governor Hickenlooper has two parts. The first is the governor’s promise to assemble a “stakeholder” group — including industry representatives and others — to talk about how to better regulate fracking. And second, Hickenlooper agreed to pull the state out of a lawsuit against Longmont to overturn the city’s ban on oil and gas extraction. The state had entered the lawsuit on the side of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the industry’s main lobby group.

Talk about peanuts.

First, the Longmont case is essentially over. The trial court ruled several weeks ago that state law preempted Longmont’s ban. Removing the state from the lawsuit does nothing to protect Longmont from fracking. With or without the state’s involvement, the industry will continue to defend the lower court’s decision to override the city’s ban, which the city is now appealing.

Second, any follower of politics knows that convening a stakeholder group is the equivalent of the U.S. Congress announcing a blue ribbon study commission. It’s a perfect recipe for making sure nothing happens.

The so-called “task force” is charged with drafting state regulations for oil and gas operations — not recognizing community authority to ban them. And as communities across Colorado know, even when we better regulate shale gas drilling, we’re still getting fracked.

Hickenlooper, a supporter of the oil and gas industry, is ensuring that corporations play a major role in the task force. In fact, the president of XTO Energy, Randy Cleveland, has been named its co-chair. XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil, is a major oil and gas corporation.

It begs the question, since when should oil and gas corporations have a voice equal to the citizens of Colorado? Perhaps someone should remind Congressman Polis and Governor Hickenlooper about the Colorado Constitution, which recognizes that “all political power is vested in, and derived from the people.”

The people. Not corporations.

Only one group — the Colorado Community Rights Network — successfully drafted an initiative this year that would recognize the right of communities to ban oil and gas extraction. The Community Rights Network had to fight industry challenges throughout the state review process, as oil and gas corporations sought to keep the initiative from ever reaching the ballot.

The proposed initiative recognized the authority of Colorado communities to not only ban fracking, but to control and ban any corporate activities deemed harmful to people and nature. In addition, it would have authorized communities to redefine corporate “personhood” and other corporate rights which inevitably interfere with the rights of people and nature. Currently, the law elevates corporate “rights” over our rights. The initiative was an attempt to reverse that.

While the Colorado Supreme Court gave its approval for the “right to local self-government” initiative to be circulated for signature petitioning, the industry was successful in delaying it long enough to keep it from reaching this year’s ballot.

Thus, oil and gas corporations have bought themselves a free ride until 2016, which is the next time that such initiatives can be placed on the statewide ballot. It was a good investment, as they were able to buy it so cheaply, with the help of a Democratic Party on the run and environmental organizations unwilling to challenge the status quo.

Coloradans deserve better.

Thomas Alan Linzey, Esq. is the executive director and chief counsel of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit law firm which assists communities across the country to elevate community rights over corporate “rights.”