In a 2-1 decision Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's order denying a youth-brought rulemaking petition against fracking and a lower court's order upholding the denial. The court remanded the case to the district court and the commission, finding that the commission erred in its interpretation of Colorado law:
"We therefore conclude that the commission erred in interpreting [the Oil and Gas Conservation Act] as requiring a balance between development and public health, safety and welfare."
"The clear language of the act ... mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources."
The commission had argued that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act required it to strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources.
The six plaintiffs in the case are Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Itzcuahtli Roske-Martinez, Sonora Brinkley, Aerielle Deering, Trinity Carter and Emma Bray. All are members of the Boulder-based youth group Earth Guardians.
The youth hand-delivered their petition for rulemaking in November 2013 to the commission. Their petition asked the commission to develop and implement a rule to stop the permitting of fracking until and if, oil and gas development can be done without causing harm to humans and without impairing Colorado's natural resources, including atmospheric resources and climate change.
"By its decision today, the court has concluded that the commission has full statutory authority to adopt Petitioner's proposed rule," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "The commission can no longer decide to prioritize oil and gas development over the health and safety of Coloradans. This is an enormous victory for these youth. We look forward to helping the youth of Colorado go back before the commission on remand."
Martinez, youth director of Earth Guardians, shared his excitement on the win. "Our movement to fight for the rights of people and our environment is evolving," he said.
"From the streets to the courtroom, the voices of the younger generation will be heard and the legal system is a tool for our resistance. Small wins build up to create massive change. I'm very optimistic about the potential this lawsuit has to protect my Colorado. Now more than ever, we will see people reclaiming the power."
Martinez is one of 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, a climate case brought in federal court and headed to trial this fall in U.S. District Court in Oregon. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is an intervenor defendant in both Martinez's Colorado and federal case. API represents the interests of the oil and gas industry supporting the commission in Colorado and the Trump administration in federal court. On Friday, attorneys representing Martinez and his co-plaintiffs in that case, served API and the federal government with requests for emails to or from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's pseudonym,Wayne Tracker.
Climate Kids Demand Feds to Turn Over 'Wayne Tracker' Emails https://t.co/j6xZFVkmYH @climate_rev @sandbagorguk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1490130905.0
Judges ruling on the side of youth plaintiffs were Judge Terry Fox and Judge JoAnn Vogt, with Judge Laurie Booras dissenting. In Booras' dissent, she wrote:
"I respectfully dissent from the majority's conclusion that the statutory scheme of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (the Act), §§ 34-60-101 to -130, C.R.S. 2016, requires protection of public health, safety and welfare as a determinative factor, instead of requiring balancing between those considerations and oil and gas production."
In this Colorado case, however, the youth won their right to have their health, safety and welfare take precedence over oil and gas drilling. They will head back to district court with the support of Coloradans from across the state, hundreds of whom marched in support of their case prior to their hearing before the Colorado Court of Appeals last month.
Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
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By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
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4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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