Former Colorado State Representative Joe Salazar is assuming the role of executive director of Colorado Rising, promising to take on the “fossil fuel dragon” in a video that announced his new leadership role this week.

Colorado Rising is the group behind 2018’s Proposition 112, the measure that would have mandated setbacks for oil and gas operations to increase from the current standard of 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

During an introductory Facebook webcast, Salazar helped lay out plans for the group’s new mission in the wake of the ballot initiative vote, which was ultimately unsuccessful by a 10-point margin last fall.

“We’ve noticed that what is missing in Colorado is an organization with that litigation arm to be able to tackle the big dragon, the fossil fuel dragon. And also to hold our state administration agencies accountable to people,” said Salazar.

“We are going to build the organization much the same way as we see the ACLU and other organizations where we have a litigation component to Colorado Rising that will help with lawsuits on behalf of communities against the oil and gas industry or against polluters just in general,” Salazar said. “To protect communities, we need to have that litigation aspect on this organization in place.”

Salazar said that the group’s first legal action will be made public in the next few weeks.  He did not elaborate on the nature of the lawsuit but added that the group will be moving forward “with a piece of litigation that we’ve been looking at for a couple of months.”

As a state representative, Salazar introduced a bill last year that would have made a Colorado Court of Appeals decision on the Martinez vs. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) ruling law. The case in question addresses the appropriate scope and mission of the COGCC.  Plaintiffs argue that oil and gas permits should not be issued if any harm to human health or environment can be detected. The COGCC, on the other hand, maintains the position that its duty is to balance environmental considerations with fostering oil and gas development, based on statute. The Colorado Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs, but the case advanced to the Colorado Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October. A final decision on the case is expected sometime this spring.

In addition to providing legal support and pursuing litigation, Salazar mentioned that the group will look toward getting more involved in state politics and legislation.

“Of course we’re still going to engage in policy making, working with our elected officials at the State Capitol both the governor’s office as well as the legislative branch–as well as administrative agencies as well in rulemaking to start crafting smart, responsible, protective legislation and policy on behalf of the State of Colorado,” Salazar said.

Salazar also noted that Colorado Rising’s political activity will not be limited to lobbying at the State House. The group plans on targeting officials who do not align with its goals or policy priorities for removal from office.

“…[W]e are still going to be engaging in direct action. So protest and rallies as well as through the politics itself… and you know we are going to give people their chance to show people who they are as elected officials as we move forward this legislative session,” Salazar said.

But words alone won’t be enough, according to Salazar.

“But if it appears we have legislators and policy-makers who are not doing their part to protect us from climate change and from reversing the adverse effects of human activity on our environment, then we will be targeting those individuals for removal from office. Because right now, we are at a make or break moment. We have to get done,” he continued.

To help achieve these initiatives, Colorado Rising is also bringing on Suzanne Spiegel as the organization’s director of development. Spiegel is the founder of Frack Free Colorado and worked as a volunteer for Colorado Rising during the lead up to the 2018 election.

Colorado Rising’s new legal strategy is partially due to the constraints in Colorado law, as another ballot initiative won’t be an option until 2020. In that absence, Spiegel notes that litigation can fill the void of “tangible” action, and praised Salazar’s leadership on that front, with his experience as a legislator and attorney.

“What Joe brings is the ability for us to create new and better laws and to participate in the conversations around laws and to push the envelope,” Spiegel said. “And the thing about having a legal approach is that, in a time when we can’t run a state ballot initiative for the next two years, it really allows us to pursue actions that are tangible, and that have real impacts for communities.”

As a part of this effort, Colorado Rising announced it is working to establish a sister 501(c)3 organization.

“In Colorado there has been a vacuum of organizations that are working on this issue in a way that Colorado Rising has been in, will continue to do, which is courageously, which is without, you know, having our own sort of political agenda,” she added. “We’re forming a 501(c)3 organization that will have members, much like the ACLU…. What this is means is that you can become a member and give a monthly contribution to the organization. The other thing that it means is that when we are pursuing legal action in communities it allows members to be plaintiffs on those actions.”

As a part of the group’s new kick-off, Colorado Rising will host a rally Friday morning on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol to “demand a moratorium on drilling and permitting until a health impact assessment can be completed by the state and rulemaking based on its findings put in place.”

The group is also holding a strategy session later this month.

“We are going to be moving forward. We are going to be moving very hard and very aggressively this legislative session. It will all be very positive. We are not here just to blow things up. What we’re here for is to protect our future generations, we’re here to protect the environment for the state of Colorado and also the larger world community that we are part of,” said Salazar

“We want to put everyone on notice that Colorado Rising is rising,” added Spiegel.