By Mike Foote

POSTED:   02/07/2017 07:45:45 PM MST

 

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s recent threat to sue Boulder County over its oil and gas moratorium did not just come out of nowhere. Industry lobbyists have been working behind the scenes for months to get someone else to threaten the county government. They finally found an accomplice. I am glad the Boulder County commissioners are standing strong against her.

This isn’t the first time a city or county has been threatened for exerting their right to local control. As we saw recently with a well blowout that spilled 28,000 gallons of oil, gas and wastewater in Weld County, drilling can be a dangerous activity. Cities and counties have sought to have a meaningful say in where and when the industry can drill.

But some oil and gas companies prefer not to work with local communities. It is harder to control them. Sure, the industry recites the usual pieties about “working together to find solutions,” but experience shows the industry cooperates with local communities much like a hammer cooperates with a nail.

In one public forum after another, in front of city councils, county commissions or planning boards, industry representatives threaten litigation if a local government approves a drilling restriction or other limitation. The message is loud and clear — they drill where they want, or else.

The attorney general’s recent threat is merely the latest in a long line of efforts by the industry to silence local concerns. The only difference this time is it appears on a document with official state letterhead rather than that of a private company.

But to be clear: the attorney general is not threatening to sue on behalf of the state agency whose rules are supposedly being violated. Neither Gov. John Hickenlooper nor his Department of Natural Resources requested the action. The attorney general’s client in this case is a private corporation.

This is odd because the oil and gas industry employs plenty of top-notch lawyers. They are very experienced in filing lawsuits against local governments and appearing in court. But they must be deficient in some way because the industry has turned for help to a public law office financed by the state’s taxpayers.

If this threat really is part of the attorney general’s effort to pro-actively enforce state laws, I look forward to hearing about similarly aggressive enforcement of Colorado’s environmental laws against operators who cause spills and contamination around the state hundreds of times each year.

Short of that, the industry has plenty of lobbyists and lawyers who should be doing their own dirty work.

Mike Foote is a state representative from House District 12, which includes Louisville, Lafayette and part of Longmont. He lives in Lafayette.

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