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Colorado Town Sues State, Gov. Hickenlooper and COGA to Protect Right to Ban Fracking

Fracking

In a state wracked with clashes over its explosive expansion of fracking, residents of Lafayette, Colorado just outside Boulder, have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state of Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) from taking away the town's right to ban the practice.

Many Colorado citizens want the right to decide for themselves whether drilling sites like this one should be allowed in their communities. Photo credit: The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Citizens in Lafayette, which is a Home Rule Community under Colorado law, voted last November to pass a Community Bill of Rights under its Home Rule Charter that banned fracking and established the right of citizens to a healthy environment. In December COGA sued the city to overturn its Bill of Rights, claiming that while citizens don't have a right to clean air and water or self-governance, COGA has a constitutional right to frack under the state's Oil and Gas Act.

Citizens responded by filing a first-of-its-kind class action suit in June, arguing that parts of the Oil and Gas Act violate the right to local self-governance. The preliminary injunction, filed yesterday in the Boulder County District County, would prevent COGA's lawsuit from moving forward until its own is decided and declare parts of the Oil and Gas Act unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs are part of the Colorado Community Rights Network, a group founded late last year to protect the rights of communities to make decisions locally on issues like fracking. They are represented by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based group that provides affordable representation to communities clashing with deep-pockets corporations. CELDF executive director Thomas Linzey said of the Lafayette lawsuit:

The right to local, community self-government serves as the foundation for the American system of law. Yet the people’s right to self-governance has been routinely ignored by our elected representatives and overridden by the courts in favor of corporate rights. This class action lawsuit is merely the first of many by people across the United States whose constitutional rights to self-govern are routinely violated by state governments working in concert with the corporations that they ostensibly regulate. The people of Lafayette will not stand idly by as their rights are negotiated away by oil and gas corporations, and by their state government.

The lawsuit follows a recent deal between Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado congressman Jared Polis to remove four contentious pro- and anti-fracking measures from this November's state ballot in favor of an 18-member commission, with both citizens and oil and gas industry representatives, to work out an agreement on the issues to submit to the legislature for approval.

Many environmentalists took a dim view of this compromise, despite the likelihood that the industry would spend tens of millions of dollars to buy itself another ballot victory.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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