Colorado Supreme Court Takes Up Children’s Climate Lawsuit

colorado supreme court

The future of oil and gas production in Colorado will be at stake in March when the Colorado Supreme Court hears opening arguments in a lawsuit pitting a group of six children backed by an environmental activist group against the Colorado government’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

In 2013, six youths assembled by the group Earth Guardians filed a petition requesting COGCC halt new oil and gas permitting until operators prove they can conduct drilling without adversely affecting human health, safety, and the environment. COGCC denied the petition, saying its legal charter requires the commission to assume oil and gas production is in the public interest.

Historically, COGCC placed the burden of proving likely harm on those who would deny particular permits before it would reject an oil or gas permit. Represented by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based group currently filing climate-change-related lawsuits nationwide, the youths sued, and in March 2017 a state appeals court ruled in their favor, saying the COGCC must establish proof of public health and safety before deciding on the merits of proposed oil and gas production.

Upsetting the Balance
COGCC unanimously voted to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, saying the appeals court decision contradicts the commission’s legal obligation to balance drilling’s economic benefits against public health concerns.

Arguing on behalf of COGCC, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) successfully requested the state Supreme Court take the appeal. Coffman says the balancing test COGCC used prior to the appeals court ruling was clearly established by the legislature when the commission was created.

Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, says she hopes the Supreme Court will overturn the lower court’s decision.

“We are pleased the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to take this case, since the appeals court’s ruling lacked a sound legal basis,” said Bentley. “If not overturned by the Supreme Court, the appeals court’s flawed decision imperils jobs, incomes, and development of natural resources in our state, and all for no good reason since Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry has proven to be a good steward of the environment.”

‘Cynically Using Children’
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says environmental groups are using children to pursue goals that will lower their future standard of living.

“It is shocking to see the lengths to which opponents of affordable and reliable energy are willing to go,” Rucker said. “By cynically using children to spearhead a lawsuit that serves the narrow interests of green elites, Our Children’s Trust and their ilk are really undermining the future of today’s children.

“They are condemning future generations to live in a world of energy scarcity and energy poverty, at a time when our energy abundance and technological prowess promise to open up opportunities unimaginable only a few years ago,” Rucker said.

Editor’s Note: This article was published in partnership with The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News newspaper. ECN’s managing editor is H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., and ECN’s senior editor is S.T. Karnick. 

PHOTO: Colorado Supreme Court. Photo by Jeffrey Beall. Photo slightly cropped. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Bonner Cohen

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has held since 2002.

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