Polis Commits To Signing ‘Martinez’ Bill Pushed By Climate Activists If Elected Governor
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), speaking at a rally earlier this month, endorsed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ decision in the so-called Martinez case, telling his supporters he would sign a bill regulating oil and gas permitting based on climate change concerns expressed in the lawsuit if it came before him as governor.
Colorado’s lawsuit, initiated in 2013 by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and several other teenagers, is part of a nationwide effort to bring “children’s” lawsuits by Our Children’s Trust, and funded by deep-pocketed anti-fossil fuel philanthropic foundations, as reported by Western Wire.
“[O]f course I support the Martinez decision that says health and safety should be the primary concern for the COGCC [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission] in siting oil and gas. They need, and they are, operationalizing the Martinez decision. If the legislature wants to put that in statute, I would certainly sign that as well,” Polis said.
Last March a three-judge panel at the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that COGCC must take into consideration whether drilling activities “adversely impact human health” or “contribute to climate change” before issuing a drilling permit to an operator. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman asked the state Supreme Court to review the decision in May 2017.
Polis also made an effort to reassert his standing on the issue of regulating hydraulic fracturing, which has been a source of controversy for the influential Democratic legislator since 2014, when he struck an eleventh hour deal to pull a pair of ballot measures that threatened his party’s prospects in Colorado.
“On the fracking issue I’ve been active for many years in really two areas. One is making sure that local communities have a seat at the table. I’ve tried to help craft model legislation, I was unable to get our current governor fully on board with it,” Polis said. The second area, the Boulder Congressman said, was his support for the Martinez decision.
Polis has expressed views on oil and gas that has at times seemed contradictory. In August, Polis touted the oil and gas industry as part of a “robust energy sector in Colorado” at a Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry event.
Despite his earlier statements at the Boulder event this month, Polis concluded by acknowledging the critical role of oil and gas in “our energy profile” in home heating and transportation, admitting that he too had driven himself to the event, presumably in a petroleum-fueled vehicle.
“And of course, again, we currently all mostly drove here. We have heating in our homes, we have electricity,” Polis said. “The sooner we can get to renewable energy, we can then leapfrog these discussions. But in the meantime, of course oil and gas is a part of our energy profile and I drove here myself, so…” Polis concluded.
The congressman, in his fifth term, sponsored federal legislation to switch the nation’s electricity generation to 100 percent renewable by 2050 by phasing-out fossil fuels, supported by national anti-fossil fuel groups like 350.org, League of Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club. As a candidate for Colorado’s highest office in 2018, Polis announced a plan to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy a decade earlier—2040.
The Polis campaign did not return Western Wire’s request for comment.
Polis’ support for a bill that would enshrine the Martinez decision could refer to legislation currently making its way through the State House in the 2018 legislative session.
This month, Colorado State Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) introduced HB18-1071, “Regulate Oil Gas Operations Protect Public Safety,” based on the Martinez decision.
A fierce anti-fossil fuel advocate, Salazar has frequently supported legislation and other efforts targeting Colorado’s oil and gas industry, including supporting national anti-fracking groups like 350.org.
“Current law declares that it is in the public interest to “[f]oster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” Salazar’s bill states. “The Colorado court of appeals, in Martinez v. Colo. Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. . . has construed this language to mean that oil and gas development is not balanced with the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources. Rather, that development must occur in a manner consistent with such protection.”
Salazar’s bill would replace “foster” with “regulate,” while adding an entire new section to the statute.
“Duties of commission – protection of environment, health, and climate. . . The commission shall regulate oil and gas operations so as to prevent and mitigate significant adverse environmental impacts on any air, water, soil, or biological resource resulting from oil and gas operations to the extent necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” the bill concludes.
The bill goes on to say that it “codifies the result reached in Martinez.” It is scheduled to be heard in the House Health, Insurance, & Environment committee on February 1.
The Colorado Court of Appeals sided with the young defendants who brought the case in March 2017. After the decision, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office opposed appealing the ruling, arguing that it was not a “significant departure from the commission’s current practice.”
Others, like the Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board, argued that Hickenlooper’s position endangers the entire oil and gas industry within the state.
“What the students asked for in their petition is beyond unreasonable. If turned into a rule, it would cripple Colorado’s oil and gas industry, which seems to be their intent,” the board wrote. “If we required as much of all other human activities, the state would need to forbid marijuana cultivation and consumption, farming, bicycling and most other forms of transportation. All human activity has a cumulative effect on the environment. One cannot power a city without affecting the environment.”
Coffman disagreed with Hickenlooper and sided with COGCC, filing an appeal of the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Salazar, who is also running for the Democratic nod for attorney general in 2018, seeks to put the appeals court ruling in statute.
Speaking at a 350.org “Tour de Frack” rally last December, Salazar said, “I don’t believe the data”—referring to studies about oil and gas development.
At a 2017 rally against fracking, Salazar said he would “bring bills to go after the oil and gas companies,” according to video obtained by Energy In Depth.
“I don’t want to be in the spirit world thinking to myself that I did absolutely nothing to … help clean up this planet. … That would be something that would relegate me to the depths of hell, and I don’t want to be relegated to that.”
A year earlier, Salazar sponsored HB 1310, a bill that would have made lawsuits against oil and gas operators for damages related to seismic activity an easier proposition drew concerns from the governor’s office.
“First, the department hasn’t seen widespread problems with property damage caused by seismicity in Colorado, generally, and we haven’t seen widespread seismicity caused by oil and gas operations,” a spokeswoman for Hickenlooper told the Denver Business Journal.
She called the bill a “bit of a solution in search of a problem.”
Salazar said he would reintroduce the bill in 2018.