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Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been one of the Nation's leading legal centers fighting environmental overkill and the use of so-called environmental statutes to achieve other public policy objectives. MSLF believes, not only in a sensible, science-based balance between environmental goals and economic growth, but in making people part of the environmental equation. MSLF has achieved a number of important legal precedents in its 25 year fight for reasonable environmental policy.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission v. Martinez

Why We Fight:

The principle function of government is to ensure the sanctity of private property.  The right to freely acquire, dispose, and, most importantly, use property is protected by the common law, state law, and the U.S. Constitution. 

Summary:

Whether Colorado law requires that oil and gas development be subordinate to environmental concerns such as climate change.

Legal Question:

Whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission misinterpreted C.R.S. § 34-60-102(1)(a)(I) as requiring a balance between oil and gas development and public health, safety, and welfare. 

Petitioners

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, American Petroleum Institute, Colorado Petroleum Association

Respondents

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, et al.

Amicus Curiae:

Mountain States Legal Foundation

Court:

Colorado Supreme Court

Completion of briefing and arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court

In late 2013, several minors, through their legal guardians, filed a petition for rulemaking with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is tasked with regulating oil and gas production throughout Colorado.  The minors sought to ban all new oil and gas drilling permits in the State of Colorado unless the Commission could prove that drilling would not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.  Both the Commission and the Denver District Court agreed the Commission lacks legal authority to issue such a rule.  On appeal, however, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that, under Colorado law, the right to develop oil and gas resources is totally subordinate to environmental fears. 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act requires the Commission to balance the need for energy development with environmental and public health concerns.  In fact, it directs the Commission to “[f]oster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of … oil and gas … in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife.”  In its ruling, for the first time ever, the Court of Appeals interpreted the phrase “in manner consistent with” as meaning “subject to,” which abandoned the General Assembly’s balancing test and instituted a new scheme requiring the Commission to deny all drilling permits unless property owners can prove that exploration and development will have no environmental effects—a nearly impossible hurdle. 

In addition to violating well-established rules for how courts interpret laws, the Court of Appeals’ ruling deprives existing oil and gas property owners of their constitutionally protected property rights.  It also potentially subjects Colorado taxpayers to billions of dollars in liability for the government’s seizure (“unconstitutional taking”) of their property rights.   

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