Colorado Attorney General Sues Boulder County to End Fracking Ban
The AG's office had been threatening Boulder County with a lawsuit for several weeks over the county's moratorium on oil and gas development in unincorporated areas. The county first adopted the temporary ban back in Feb. 2, 2012 and has extended it several times.
In a Jan. 26 letter to county commissioners, Coffman gave a Feb. 10 deadline to rescind the moratorium as it violates state law. Last May, Colorado's Supreme Court rulings on two cases prohibited local governments from preventing oil and gas development through the use of local bans. In light of the court's decisions, Coffman called Boulder County's continued ban "clearly unlawful."
Colorado Supreme Court Upholds State Power, Says Cities Can't Impose Fracking Bans https://t.co/tvkesY0ZcG @FrackAction @MarkRuffalo— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1462224910.0
But Boulder County deputy attorney David Hughes disagrees.
"Our position is that we are complying with state law and if attorney General Coffman just held off and let us complete our process, we think that is a perfectly viable option," Hughes told KUNC. "A lot of the open space that we bought over the years, the mineral rights had already been severed, so the open space doesn't provide protection in those instances."
"In 2012 when the county adopted its regulations, it was looking at smaller well pads and now the trend is for these mega pads, we're looking at 20, 30 40 wells per pad," Hughes added. "Our regulations didn't really look at or address that issue."
As KUNC explains, "after the state Supreme Court rulings, Boulder County rescinded its moratorium on new oil and gas permits that was set to expire in 2018. It was replaced by county commissioners with shorter time-outs, usually four to six months long. Most recently commissioners voted in December 2016 to extend it until at least May 1, 2017, while they revise the county's oil and gas regulations."
But Coffman said in a statement about Tuesday's filing that the county had years to prepare with state law:
"The Boulder County Commissioners responded that they needed yet more time to draft regulations and prepare to accept new applications for oil or gas development. Because five years is more than reasonable time to complete such a project, and because Boulder County continues to operate in clear violation of Colorado law, the Attorney General today is filing suit in Boulder County District Court to compel compliance. It is not the job of industry to enforce Colorado law; that is the role of the Attorney General on behalf of the People of Colorado. Regrettably, Boulder County's open defiance of State law has made legal action the final recourse available to the State."
Incidentally, Coffman's lawsuit came just as the Colorado School of Public Health released a study that found that young Coloradans with "leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in the densest area of active oil and gas wells than those with other cancers."
County commissioners were critical of the lawsuit, saying they are already planning two public hearings next month to discuss the adoption of new oil and gas regulations for unincorporated Boulder County.
A statement from the commissioners reads:
"The Colorado Attorney General sent a special valentine to the oil and gas industry today by filing a lawsuit against Boulder County for our working to safeguard our community from the industrial impacts of oil and gas development.
"Drilling proposals of 20 to 40 wells per site are being proposed near residential neighborhoods, schools, parks and recreational areas up and down the Front Range, and we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the strongest possible protections in place for the residents of Boulder County and the world-class environment we have worked hard to protect and preserve.
"It's a sweetheart deal for the oil and gas industry, but a massive waste of Coloradans' tax dollars for the state to sue us on industry's behalf, and we are prepared to defend our right to safeguard the health, safety, and wellbeing of our constituents.
"As we stated when we first responded to the Attorney General's January 26 letter, Boulder County understands its legal constraints on adopting local bans and lengthy moratoria; however, the current moratorium is of a materially shorter duration and is consistent with Colorado law."
Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry applauded the AG's legal action.
"It's not about drilling, or fracking, or pipelines, it's about the law. And the law is clear: Long-term moratoriums—and this one is over five years now—are illegal," said Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in a statement. "Boulder County shouldn't be surprised that the Attorney General cares about the rule of law in Colorado."
According to the International Business Times, during her 2014 campaign for AG, "Coffman directly received nearly $20,000 from oil and gas interests—including maximum donations from fossil fuel companies' political action committees. She also was boosted in the 2014 election by the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which launched a $1.4 million political action committee that supported her candidacy. RAGA that year listed fossil fuel corporations and trade associations among its largest donors."
Democratic lawmakers in the state have denounced the lawsuit.
"We should all be outraged that the Colorado attorney general has chosen to use public tax dollars to bully Boulder County on behalf of the oil and gas industry," Democrat Rep. Jared Polis said in a statement to Denver7. "The oil and gas industry is more than equipped to bring their own lawsuits, and I suspect they have opted not to sue Boulder County because they know Colorado law allows for a short term fracking moratorium. What the attorney general has done today is a purely political waste of money, and it is not legally sound."
Democrat State Sen. Matt Jones also accused Coffman of colluding with the oil and gas industry.
"This is disgraceful. After seeing the Attorney General's and Oil and Gas industry's press releases about the lawsuit sent out almost at the same time, I think it's safe to assume the Attorney General is using the powers of her office and using tax dollars to intimidate and sue taxpayers at the behest of special interest industries," he said. "The question I have for the Attorney General is this: how many oil and gas corporations did she consult with before sending out her threat letter to Boulder County on January 26?"'
The fight between local governments versus oil and gas development runs deep. Last year, environmental groups tried to introduce two statewide measures to appear on Colorado's November ballot.
Colorado Anti-Fracking Initiatives Fail to Make November Ballot - EcoWatch https://t.co/fWogQ2N4B5 @FrackAction @joshfoxfilm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472511627.0
The first initiative would have amended the state constitution to enable local governments the option to enact regulations more protective of health and safety than those required by the state, largely addressing the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to strike down local fracking bans. The other initiative would create 2,500-foot buffer zones between homes, schools and sensitive areas like playgrounds and water sources, and all new oil and gas development. Both measures failed to make the ballot.
Records show that energy companies spent millions of dollars to stop the anti-fracking measures.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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