Texas Town Sues to Uphold Fracking Ban, Protect Democracy
The little guys aren't taking this one lying down. In November, voters in Denton, Texas—fed up with oil and gas drilling companies unwilling to work with citizens to put some reasonable protections in place and with state and local regulators for allowing new fracking wells near homes, schools, parks and hospitals—passed a ban on fracking, despite being hugely outspent. The Texas Oil and Gas Association, representing the fracking companies, and the state's General Land Office responded with lawsuits to protect their "right" to push fracking on unwilling residents.
Now Denton is fighting back with lawsuits of its own. Yesterday, with the fracking ban taking effect on Tuesday, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) and Earthworks, the groups that led the Frack Free Denton ballot initiative, filed intervention papers in both lawsuits, seeking to assert the right of citizens to decide what happens in their own neighborhoods. The groups are represented by the Texas local government law firm Brown & Hofmeister; attorneys from national environmental organizations Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are asking the permission of the court to act as co-counsel.
“Denton residents, with Republican and Democratic majorities, voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking,” said DAG president Cathy McMullen. “Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods. To suggest that we don’t have the legal power to similarly bar fracking, a much more dangerous process, is the height of industry arrogance.”
“The state and industry could have respected Denton communities’ health, safety and property,” said Earthworks’ energy program director Bruce Baizel. “They chose not to. The ban is the result. Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action.”
At issue is whether local communities have the right to regulate oil and gas operations within their borders or whether, as the lawsuits by the oil and gas interests claim, Denton's voter-approved ordinance is overridden by state regulators in contradiction of Texas' long tradition of home rule authority over gas and oil development. There are many other local oil and gas regulations in effect across Texas, including in Dallas just to the south of Denton, which seems to contradict the contention of the frack-friendly interests.
"The State of Texas has granted municipalities the right to oversee oil and gas operations," Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg pointed out. "The people of Denton have exercised that right, and we intend to help preserve it. Communities from California to Texas to New York are fed up with the abuses of the oil and gas industry. When state and federal officials won’t stand up for the public, citizens must have the right to use local democracy to protect themselves.”
“This fight cuts to the heart of our democracy, and it is far from over," said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Dan Raichel. "The people of Denton have voted to keep fracking away from their homes and schools—they will not be bullied by powerful oil and gas companies that want to make a profit at the expense of their health. Denton is a pioneer in Texas, but it is not alone. This community joins hundreds of others around the country—and in Texas—that are demanding the right to determine what happens within their own borders."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By John Rennie Short
As cities strive to improve the quality of life for their residents, many are working to promote walking and biking. Such policies make sense, since they can, in the long run, lead to less traffic, cleaner air and healthier people. But the results aren't all positive, especially in the short to medium term.
By Pete Stauffer
For those of us who love the coast, the negative impacts of offshore oil drilling are obvious. Offshore drilling has a proven track record of polluting the ocean, damaging coastal economies and threatening a way of life enjoyed by millions of people. Yet, the oil and gas industry—and the elected officials who prioritize them over the public interest—would like you to believe that offshore drilling is somehow a safe and necessary practice.
An indigenous environmental activist was killed in Morelos, Mexico Wednesday, three days before a referendum on the construction of a gas pipeline and two thermoelectric plants that he had organized to oppose, the Associated Press reported.
Samir Flores Soberanes had challenged the words of government representatives at a forum about the so-called Morelos Comprehensive Project a day before his murder, The Peoples in Defense of Land and Water Front (FPDTA), the group Soberanes organized with, said in a statement.
The White House is assembling a climate change panel to be headed by a known climate denier who once took money from a coal company to testify at a hearing and who has compared criticism of carbon dioxide to Hitler's demonization of the Jews.
William Happer, a Princeton physicist who has never trained as a climate scientist, joined the Trump administration in September 2018 as senior director for emerging technologies at the National Security Council (NSC).