Six youth plaintiffs on Monday appealed Denver District Court Judge Eric Elliff's adverse decision to their fracking and climate change lawsuit. In his decision, Judge Elliff affirmed the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's order to deny the fracking petition brought by the young plaintiffs, determining that the commission is required to “strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources."
Contrary to the plain language of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act, the court said that is appropriate for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to “balance" oil and gas development with the need to protect public health, the environment and wildlife. In reaching this conclusion, the court ignored plaintiffs' arguments that such an interpretation of Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation Act would allow for the continued infringement of their constitutional rights, including “the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness," rights that oil and gas development are harming. The court also ignored the plethora of evidence before it detailing the serious harms that oil and gas development is causing to Coloradans public's health and to the environment.
“For the future of all Coloradans, it was imperative for us to file this appeal. It's a preposterous idea that the commission need to strike a balance between regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting the health of Coloradans. The commission's priority should be the health and safety of us, the people. Right now, our government is putting their profits above our futures and that needs to stop."
The case was brought by six inspiring youth who are all members of the Boulder-based organization Earth Guardians. The youths' case against the commission arose out of a petition for rulemaking that asked the commission to stop issuing permits that allow oil and gas drilling until it is proven that drilling can be conducted without adversely impacting human health and safety and without harming the environment and wildlife. The commission denied the petition, finding that it did not have the authority to issue the requested rule and that “other commission priorities … must take precedence." The plaintiffs challenged this decision, arguing that the commission must place human health and safety above the interests of the oil and gas industry in Colorado.
“Without question, this decision places public health at a level that is only as important as corporate dollars," said Julia Olson, a native Coloradan and executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children's Trust.
“The health, safety and welfare of all Coloradans are now subordinate to the interests of fossil fuel industry's development of oil and gas resources. While no one suggests that public health, safety and welfare should be the sole factors, they should certainly be the primary factors in everything the state does, including natural resource development. This court went so far as to say that there is no legislative intent to make public health the primary factor in defendants' decisions to issue oil and gas permits."
The six youth plaintiffs and their attorneys are hopeful that the district court's decision will be reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
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