The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday reversed the Colorado Court of Appeals decision in the youth-brought lawsuit, Martínez 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.
“The Supreme Court’s decisions in Fort Collins and Longmont, and now Martínez, 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,” stated
Julia Olson, a Colorado native and the executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs. “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 Martínez, 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.”
Martínez 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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