Colorado’s oil and natural gas regulations have been under assault for years by national environmental activist groups. It started with local oil and gas bans, followed by statewide ballot initiatives, and then anti-industry bills in the state Legislature.
The activists have also used litigation to support their campaign, and in March, the Colorado Court of Appeals handed them a partial win. In a 2–1 decision, the court ordered regulators to reconsider an activist proposal to indefinitely ban drilling statewide. The ruling generated significant headlines, mostly because the activists used a group of children to serve as the public face of the lawsuit.
In May, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) filed an appeal, and it was the right call. Her action was unanimously supported by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a bipartisan panel that includes senior energy and public health regulators from the Hickenlooper administration. Even Boulder’s Democratic District Attorney, Stan Garnett, called for the case — Martinez v. COGCC — to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
In her appeal, Coffman said the Martinez decision — if left unchallenged — could lead to “rules that would entirely prohibit oil and gas-related activity.” Moreover, the ruling could overturn “comprehensive rules that make Colorado a nationwide leader in oil and gas regulation,” Coffman said.
State business leaders supported Coffman’s move, because the appeals court ruling would set a “perilous precedent” for regulation across all industries, not just oil and gas, said Mike Kopp, President and CEO of Colorado Concern, in an article for Western Wire. “[E]very industry in Colorado should now be concerned that economic and property rights considerations have been dangerously superseded. This is a grave threat to Colorado’s economy, the rights of property owners, critically important state revenue and the future of the nation’s energy renaissance,” Kopp added.
Time will tell what the state’s highest court decides. But in the meantime, let’s drop the pretense that a group of children brought this case. Because the children — as sympathetic as they may be — aren’t calling the shots. If you want to know who’s really in charge, check out the lawyers, who have a long history of working with fringe out-of-state activist groups.
One of those lawyers is Dan Leftwich. His law firm, MindDrive Legal Services, has spent years working with national “keep-it-in-the-ground” groups like 350.org, Greenpeace and Food & Water Watch in the campaign for a statewide oil and gas development ban in Colorado. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, Leftwich has also worked as an advisor to the Sierra Club, another member of the keep-it-in-the-ground coalition, which opposes all oil and gas production, no matter how it’s regulated.
Then there’s Attorney Julia Olson, based in Eugene, Oregon. According to E&E News, Olson partnered with the Sierra Club and Greenpeace to use children as a front for litigation against the energy sector. The group they created, Our Children’s Trust, has also enlisted children for litigation against the U.S. government and has lawsuits underway or planned against a dozen other countries, including Norway, France and India.
Using children in this manner isn’t new for keep-it-in-the-ground groups, however. It’s standard procedure. The Sierra Club, for example, has a tip sheet for activists calling babies “visual aids.” Food & Water Watch has even coached children on lobbying and sent them to the Colorado Legislature to demand a statewide oil and gas development ban, according to Energy in Depth.
Those children were being used then, and they’re being used now in the lawsuit to shut down oil and gas drilling across Colorado. It’s a dishonest gimmick to win media attention and public sympathy for activist groups that have been discredited over and over again. Anti-drilling activists have even seized on a tragic house explosion in Firestone, Colorado, as a way to promote their lawsuit.
Don’t forget: Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, 350.org and Greenpeace led the campaign that submitted half-empty boxes of petitions to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office last year. It was a show for the cameras, so they could falsely claim to have gathered enough signatures to put two anti-oil and gas measures on the statewide ballot. In reality, they didn’t come close. The debacle even triggered a forgery investigation.
Given their track record, the activists need some new faces in Colorado. But using children as a front for a lawsuit — and the anti-drilling agenda in general — shouldn’t fool anyone. In fact, the lead plaintiff in the case accidentally gave the game away in a 2013 television interview when the case was first filed. “I think our chances are really good of getting a statewide moratorium — I mean a statewide ban,” he told Denver CBS4.
Clearly, this lawsuit is just another attempt to ban oil and gas development, an industry that supports the livelihoods of more than 100,000 Colorado families and generates more than $31 billion in economic activity for the state. It’s more of the same from national interest groups who have spent years playing political games with the Colorado economy, rebranding themselves each time their agenda is rejected.
As the editorial board of the The Denver Post notes, the activists behind the lawsuit are trying to force state regulators “to focus on environmental protections to the exclusion of all else.” They would also subject the decisions of the COGCC to a “third-party organization … despite the fact [that] the commission is set up to have a diverse board that includes environmental and public health officials.”
“If this ruling were allowed to stand, its overly zealous protections could bedevil any number of industries, such as construction and agriculture,” The Denver Post editorial board observes. “We share the fear of many business advocates that, should the appellate rule stand, activists would have a powerful new tool to wield in future legal battles.”
Thankfully, Coffman and the COGCC have seen through this latest deception and will take this case to the state’s highest court. They are standing firm against activists who have no interest in oil and gas regulations, just oil and gas bans.
About the author: Simon Lomax is a research fellow with Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders focused on energy policy. Before going into advocacy, he was a reporter for 15 years and covered energy policy for Bloomberg News and Argus Media. The views expressed are his own. Find him on Twitter at @simonrlomax.