For Immediate Release
CO Supreme Court Hands Another Victory to Oil and Gas Industry
Colorado Supreme Court Rules Against Colorado Youth in Anti-Fracking Case Against the State and Hands Another Victory to Oil and Gas Industry
Court finds Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission “could not” balance oil and gas development and public health and safety
Denver, Colorado - Today, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the Colorado Court of Appeals decision in the youth-brought lawsuit, Martinez v. COGCC and found, contrary to the arguments of the Commission and the youth, that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cannot condition oil and gas development on protecting public health, safety, and welfare and the environment. Justice Gabriel, in a unanimous decision, acknowledged the civic engagement and concerns of the youth plaintiffs’ and even found that their interpretation of the Act, which would have required the Commission to prioritize public health over oil and gas development, was reasonable. However, the Court ultimately rejected plaintiffs’ reasonable interpretation of the Act, determined that the Act was ambiguous, and held that the Commission did not have authority to promulgate a rule protecting public health if it precluded new oil and gas development.
According to the Supreme Court:
“[T]he pertinent provisions make clear that the Commission is required (1) to foster the development of oil and gas resources, protecting and enforcing the rights of owners and producers, and (2) in doing so, to prevent and mitigate significant adverse environmental impacts to the extent necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare, but only after taking into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility.”
“In light of our above-described construction of the pertinent provisions of the Act, we conclude that the Commission correctly determined that it could not, consistent with those provisions, adopt such a rule. Specifically, as set forth above, we do not believe that the pertinent provisions of the Act allow the Commission to condition one legislative priority (here, oil and gas development) on another (here, the protection of public health and the environment). Accordingly, in our view, the Commission properly exercised its discretion in declining to engage in rulemaking to consider Respondents’ proposed rule.”
In describing the Act, the Court ignored the Act’s clear requirement that the Commission promulgate rules to “protect the health, safety, and welfare of the general public” (§ 34-60-106(11)) and instead found that if the Commission determines that is it not cost-effective or technically feasible to protect public health, the Commission cannot do so.
The case was brought by seven young Coloradans who are all members of Earth Guardians and are represented by Julia Olson, Dan Leftwich, and Kate Merlin, and supported by the organization Our Children’s Trust.
Julia Olson, a Colorado native and the executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs, said:
“The Supreme Court’s decisions in Fort Collins and Longmont, and now Martinez, make clear that until the Oil and Gas Conservation Act is amended or set aside as unconstitutional, the Oil and Gas Commission has unfettered discretion to promote Colorado’s dangerous and pervasive oil and gas development at the expense of the people. The Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court today, is unconstitutional because it allows the State to deprive Coloradans of their health, safety, and basic security. We will not stop supporting and working to protect youth in Colorado in their fight against fossil fuel development. This is a call to action for the people to rise up.”
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 18-year-old plaintiff and plaintiff in Juliana v. United States, and Youth Director of Earth Guardians from Boulder, said:
“It is so disappointing for the youth and the people of Colorado to hear the decision form the Colorado Supreme Court today. To know that the judges in the highest court of my state believe that the interests of the oil and gas industry come before the public health, safety, and welfare of my fellow Coloradans is shameful. But I want you all to know that this fight for climate justice is far from over. My fellow plaintiffs, youth around the world, and I will continue to stand up for our right to a healthy future.”
Emma Bray, 19-year-old plaintiff from Denver, said:
“The last couple years have proven that youth have the opportunity to be heard in the courts and the community. Not a single person, company or corporation can silence the young generation’s voices. We will continue the fight for our earth and our future, despite the mountains we need to climb and the setbacks that we will overcome. Regardless of the Court’s decision in our case, the fight will continue.”
Itzcuauhtli M., 15-year-old plaintiff from Boulder, said:
“When my mom and dad grew up they were never faced with having to stand up to defend their communities, their states and their futures. It is unjust that the Supreme Court would jeopardize our future and the future of their own children by supporting the interests of the oil and gas industry.”
Dan Leftwich, of MindDrive Legal Services, LLC and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs, said:
“The Court says the legislature did not intend to prioritize one policy goal over others, but its opinion does just that. Its interpretation of section 106(2)(d) of the Act gives the authority to the Commission to ignore significant adverse impacts to public health, safety and the environment if an operator claims such protections are not ‘cost effective’ or ‘technically feasible.’”
Press Conference: Our Children’s Trust will host a press conference today at 10:30 am PST via Facebook Live on the Our Children’s Trust Facebook page. Hear from Julia Olson and ask your questions for her in the comments.
Martinez v. COGCC was one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, including the landmark federal lawsuit Juliana v. United States, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
Counsel for plaintiffs include Colorado Environmental Law, LTD., Katherine Marlin, Boulder, Colorado; Minddrive Legal Services, LLC, James Daniel Leftwich, Boulder, Colorado; Wild Earth Advocates, Julia Olson, Eugene, Oregon.
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Our Children's Trust is a nonprofit organization advocating for urgent emissions reductions on behalf of youth and future generations, who have the most to lose if emissions are not reduced. OCT is spearheading the international human rights and environmental TRUST Campaign to compel governments to safeguard the atmosphere as a "public trust" resource. We use law, film, and media to elevate their compelling voices. Our ultimate goal is for governments to adopt and implement enforceable science-based Climate Recovery Plans with annual emissions reductions to return to an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm.