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Court opens door to prioritize clean energy

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Dear Editor:

When a lawsuit goes in your favor, you applaud the court's decision. When it goes against your interests you generally vilify it but often with politically correct terms like "disappointed with the court's decision."

The Colorado Court of Appeals gave millions of Coloradans hope in March 2017 that public health and safety would be prioritized over oil and gas development when it ruled in favor of the kids who bravely challenged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The Court determined that the COGCC had been incorrectly interpreting the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act (COGA) by applying a balancing test between two competing interests. The state appealed the decision, and the Colorado Supreme Court, however, reversed that decision last week.

The higher court read the language of the COGA differently, and interpreted its intent differently. It ruled that the act's intent, where the protection of public health and safety is concerned, is conditioned on the economic and technical feasibility to do so.

The problem with this interpretation is: who determines technical and economic feasibility when oil and gas regulations are a self-governing/self-reporting framework?

In other words, protecting public health and safety is not a priority if it costs the operator too much money. It's therefore okay for these operations to degrade people's health, and slowly poison them and the environment if protections are not profitable.

This type of thinking creates winners and losers. It creates a systemic disincentive to transitioning to a clean energy future that benefits everyone, not only the few. This thinking creates unwitting victims, with knee-jerk and misleading arguments such as the oil and gas industry will go out of business, workers will lose high paying jobs, people will go without heat, hot water, electricity, and more.

Prioritizing protection of public health, safety and our environment is not impossible, and should be our greatest aspiration and goal. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, our health is all any of us has, whether rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old. We depend on our environment -- the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

In November 2018, 1.1 million Coloradans voted for prioritizing public health and safety despite being outspent 40 to 1 by industry. What would have been the result if industry had not used its disproportionate resources to hang a cloud of fear over people?

Thank you Colorado Supreme justices for making us all see that the Legislature must act this session to prioritize public health and safety. The Martinez case has shown us how critically important it is for the Legislature to act clearly and definitively, and how the words they choose can foster victimization or liberate us all.

If we believe in prosperity for all, and that we should not have to absorb costs and damages created and inflicted by others, then it is time to focus on transitioning to a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, not creating loopholes that prevent us from reaching our potential.

Natasha Léger
Citizens for a Healthy Community

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