Response to the Dever Post’s op-ed of August 20, The need to raise the Bar for amending Colorado’s constitution

It’s never a good idea to limit the people’s rights in a democracy, for as Tom Paine remarked correctly, “The strength of government and the happiness of the governed” is sustained only when the common people have freedom to “mutually and naturally support each other.”

 

One of the first instruments of mutual, democratic support in Colorado is the initiative, or the right of the citizens to write law.  But this essential right is threatened by a proposal from rich and powerful interests who would suppress it with proposed constitutional amendment 71, called Raising the Bar.  They are fast about the business of trying to make a case for radical change where none exists.   They claim that we-the-people have gone mad and are destroying their constitution by adding new amendments to it, willy-nilly.  As a result the state constitution isn’t as lovely as it could be if it were treated as a religious relic.

Continue reading “Response to the Dever Post’s op-ed of August 20, The need to raise the Bar for amending Colorado’s constitution”

Be The Change USA denounces Colorado Supreme Court decision

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                   MAY 3, 2016

 

Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the rights of the people in Longmont and Ft Collins.  In so doing they ruled against the rights of all Colorado citizens to legislate on matters dealing with oil and gas development.

Under our state constitution, the right of citizens to legislate, Article V, has been termed a first right, superior even to that of the legislature’s.  The Court ignored this right in its decision.

The citizens in those cities, by means of direct popular vote, had attempted to postpone or ban oil and gas drilling within their city limits because of overriding public health and safety concerns.  These concerns are universally recognized as legitimate except in some political circles

The court also ruled that citizens have no inalienable rights as guaranteed in our Bill of Rights because the legislature had preempted those rights in the Oil and Gas Conservation Act.  By this legislation, those rights belong to a small state agency, the COGCC, that works primarily to encourage oil and gas development.

Phil Doe, Environmental Director for Be the Change said: “If your ears don’t prick up at this decision, then you need a good ear doctor.  Cut away the lofty language used to disguise greed and plunder, and what the court said is that we have no inalienable rights when it comes to oil and gas development.  The legislature took those rights and gave them to their true friends on 16th Street.  This will not stand.  The power structure can only steal from us if we let them.”

Barbara Mill-Bria, Be the Change’s president said: “This may be a long hot summer. You can’t vote against the interests of the people over and over again without blowback.  The people are not happy waking up to find an oil rig in their back yard and being told they have no real say in the matter.  This is the opposite of democracy.”

Wes Wilson, Science Advisor, Be the Change, said: “You know, at some point people will start to understand that we’ve been sold a bill of goods.  Less than two percent of the state is in incorporated cities and towns.  Is there nowhere that Little Timmy and Maria are to be allowed to play without the threat of a gas well spewing poison on them.  Hell, apparently every acre in the state is up for grabs.  And the Supreme Court is in on the job.”

Dan Leftwich, attorney for Be the Change said: “Article V of the Colorado Constitution was amended in 1910 because the people were concerned about the corrupting influence of special interests in state government. That is the situation Colorado citizens are encountering today as special interests use the state’s power to preempt local communities from protecting their health, safety and the environment.  In Article V, the people reserved the power to pass legislation of every character, independent of the general assembly, precisely to put such decisions beyond the reach of the state. These fundamental rights cannot be preempted because they are superior to the powers of the legislature, the executive branch, and the municipal governments in which these initiatives were enacted.  These rights were not presented to the Supreme Court because the voters were not represented there, only the municipal governments that were opposed to these initiatives from the beginning.   As a result, the Court’s opinions issued today are not controlling precedent where the people’s right of initiative is raised as a defense.  Today marks a new chapter, not the end of these disputes.”

 

Contacts: Dan Leftwich,  720-212-0831(office), 720-470-7831 dan@minddrivelegal.com

Phil Doe, 303 949 6986, ptdoe@comcast.net

Phil Doe testifies in favor of HB 16-1310

Today, Be The Change Environmental Director Phil Doe testified in favor of Colorado HB 1310, which holds operators liable for oil and gas operations in the state. Below is Phil’s testimony:

 

We strongly support HB 16-1310.

Fracking is a dangerous industrial activity. A recently published scientific study, only five days old, gives added muscular support to this widely held and demonstrable assertion.

Reviewing nearly all the peer reviewed research papers on fracking published between 2009 and 2015, the authors of this new study found that:

1. 685 papers on the various health and safety aspects of fracking had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

2. 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes;

3. 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination;

4. and 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

This study did not treat seismicity directly, but it still gives added compelling evidence, if any were needed, of the danger associated with fracking, one of which this bill addresses. Moreover, HB 1310 moves in the direction of sanity and supports our state constitution’s admonition in the Bill of Rights concerning political power and to whom it rightfully belongs:

“All political power is vested in and derived from the people,… originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

The Oil and Gas Conservation Act is an abuse of this constitutional guiding principle, and this is really what I came here to say, for it steals away the people’s right to self determination and bestows it ignominiously on the oil and gas industry. If this were not true, if this had not been done, you would not have the growing rebellion by citizens in cities and towns threatened by fracking, and you would not have this bill before you today.

In summation, I implore you all to review a decision made by your legislative predecessors. They gave the COGCC the right of preemption. In so doing they took away the rights of the people to self-determination on all matter oil and gas. They acted unlawfully, unconstitutionally, in my opinion, for they effectively revoked the constitutional guaranteed right of the people to legislate directly through the initiative process, Article V–The right to determine by popular vote what is best for their city, neighborhoods, and, yes, even state.

Such an abridgement of rights cannot stand, for as Tom Paine correctly observed in the Rights of Man, “The strength of government and the happiness of the governed” is sustained only when the common people have freedom to “mutually and naturally support each other.”

Also, I would like to invite your attention to a very recent legal review of the whole initiative process and how the state has acted illegally to thwart the peoples right to direct democracy. The author is attorney Dan Leftwich. His brilliant paper can be found at : http://minddrivelegal.com/blog/

Phillip Doe
Environmental Director
Be the Change

Wes Wilson responds to Denver Post critique of HB1355

A few days ago, the Denver Post published an editorial – Colorado oil and gas bill deserves defeat – that urged legislators to defeat HB1355, which decrees that “local governments can determine where new industrial activities occur within their jurisdiction through zoning ordinances and resolutions.” In response, Be The Change’s Environmental Advisor – Wes Wilson – wrote the following letter:

 

The Post’s editorial board deliberately and doggedly continues to ignore health damages from fracking. Dr. Lisa McKenzie and her colleagues at the Anschutz Medical School demonstrated that living next to oil and gas wells in Colorado increases the chances of birth defects.1

Dr. Theo Colborn’s careful year-long study of toxic emissions from drilling found cancer-causing benzene, methyl chloride, and a host of other toxic gases that harm health.2 These toxic emissions were ubiquitous even among properly operating wells.

Governments must act to protect public health and safety, for these are its highest functions. Clearly, in satisfying these overarching concerns, government can and must restrain mineral rights development when health and safety are threatened. County commissions and city councils have the authority to restrict gravel mining to comply with their zoning rules to preserve property values and protect publlc safety. The regulation of the oil and gas industry must be subject to the same standards. Moreover, a takings claim under the 5th amendment would be difficult to demonstrate given the industry’s track record of being able to drill horizontally from to 2 to 3 miles out. Moreover, a claim of takings would be impossible to make given the present depressed price for oil and gas. These prices make fracking uneconomic and have much of this heavily leveraged industry sliding into default and bankruptcy. There is little likelihood this trend will change in the near or mid term.

Oil and gas production contribute to climate change; their toxic emissions damage the health of those living nearby; and most of the organic compounds that make Colorado’s Front Range unable to comply with federal ozone standards come from oil and gas operations. The editorial board at the Post must stop bobbing like an Ostrich, tell the people of the dangers associated with fracking, or lose its right to be a voice of the people. It has no right to lie, repeatedly, as a public voice. As a voice of corporate interests, it of course does.

1 Lisa McKenzie, et. al. Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306722/

2 Colborn, et. al., An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations, http://endocrinedisruption.org/assets/media/documents/HERA12-137NGAirQualityManuscriptforwebwithfigures.pdf

 

Wes Wilson, Environmental Advisor
Be The Change USA

Phil Doe makes impassioned plea to pass HB-1310

A few weeks ago, Be The Change’s Environmental Director, Phil Doe, testified in support of Representative Joe Salazar’s bill – HB-1310 – which shifts the balance of rights in split estates from mineral owners to the surface owners. The bill holds oil and gas operators strictly liable for damage to the health of the surface owner, to the land, and to earthquake damage caused by deep well injection.  The bill has passed the Colorado House and now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.

 

We very much support HB 1310.  It is deeply needed.  It moves in the direction of sanity and supports our state constitution’s admonition in the Bill of Rights concerning political power and to whom it rightfully belongs:

“All political power is vested in and derived from the people,… originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

The Oil and Gas Conservation Act is an abuse of this constitutional guiding principle, for it gives away the people’s right to self determination and bestows it ignominiously on the oil and gas industry.  If this were not true, if this had not been done, you would not have the growing rebellion by citizens in cities and towns threatened by fracking, and you would not have this bill before you today.

I spoke at the Greeley city council meeting the other night.  I was there to support the people’s right to determine what was best for the “good of the whole.”  The city council, by a 5-2 vote, voted for what was best for the property rights of a small fracking company headed by recent School of Mines graduates loaded down with speculative money from Wall Street.

The majority of the council, led by Mayor Tom Norton, asserted, tangentially, that the property rights of the few were superior to the rights of the many.  Individual speculative profits trumped citizen issues of public health and safety, or the good of the whole, if you will.

The growing contempt for government we find in this country derives from decisions like that seen in Greeley the other night.  The out of town speculator, pockets loaded down with out of town money got over two hours to make his case before the council.  The citizens, armed only with their concerns, were given 3 minutes apiece.

Finally, I implore you all to review a decision made by your legislative predecessors.  They gave the COGCC the right of preemption.  In so doing they took away the rights of the people to self-determination on all matter oil and gas. They acted unlawfully, unconstitutionally, in my opinion, for they effectively revoked the constitutional guaranteed right of Home Rule, Article V, the rights of citizens to determine what is best for their city and neighborhoods when the issue is of dominant local concern.  There is nothing more local than the threat of an oil well in your backyard, accompanied by the realization that the state has taken away your rights to petition the government.  Really, as it now stands, your only option is to move.  But who’d buy the property?

 

Phil Doe – Environmental Director, Bet The Change USA

 

Be The Change USA endorses letter to Obama: “Keep it in the ground”

DENVER— The following Local, regional and national organizations sent a letter today to President Obama calling on him to “keep federal fossil fuels in the ground” and cancel the Bureau of Land Management’s federal oil and gas lease sale slated for Nov. 12 in Lakewood, Colo., owing to concerns over runaway greenhouse gas pollution and the climate crisis: Continue reading “Be The Change USA endorses letter to Obama: “Keep it in the ground””

Be The Change letter to the PUC regarding Boulder municipalization

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Following is a letter from Be The Change’s Board of Directors to the Colorado Public Utility Commission regarding Boulder’s bid to operate their own municipal utility grid:

 

November 2, 2015

To the Public Utility Commission:

Subject: PUC Hearing scheduled for November 4, 2015

In our opinion, the City of Boulder has every right to expect the PUC to hear its proposal to own and manage the utilities that serve its people.  This right is a constitutional guarantee gained by the people from the Home Rule provision of the state constitution, Article XX, added by a vote of the people in 1902, and strengthened by amendment in 1912.

It came about because of legislative over reach.  In a nutshell, the people of Denver thought that, with regard to internal matters, they should have the right to determine how local government worked on their behalf.  The legislature thought otherwise.  The people won.  They should win in this case as well.

We point you in particular to Article XX, Section 6.  It says in part that a city charter shall be its “organic law,” extending in scope to “to all local and municipal matters” and shall “supersede within said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith.”  One might argue, given the clear constitutional language guaranteeing self-determination for home rule cities, it would be unconstitutional for the PUC not to hear Boulder’s proposal.

Furthermore it is our understanding Boulder would like to move more quickly toward renewables, wind and solar, and away from the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act’s dependence on switching from coal to natural gas for electrical energy.

Growing evidence suggests that, over the short term, natural gas may be accelerating climate heating, even more than CO2 from coal–because a unit of unburned or leaked natural gas traps over 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than an equal unit of CO2 from coal over a ten year span. The ten-year time horizon is thought critical to controlling other feedback loops, such as the thawing of methane sequestered in Arctic tundra.

If so much of the natural gas were not escaping into the atmosphere before being burned, this dire prediction would not be the case. But as Robert Howarth, Cornell University professor and chair of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University demonstrated in a peer reviewed scientific paper released only weeks ago, the leak rate from shale gas in particular is alarming and climate threatening.

His research shows the leak rate for fracked wells over their life cycle, from well to consumer, to be in the 12 percent range. He concludes, “There is no bridge fuel, and switching from coal to shale gas is accelerating rather than slowing global warming.”

He concludes by reminding people that the way out is through renewables, and that studies done at Stanford show that ”we can move from a fossil fuel-

driven economy to one driven totally by renewable energy sources (largely solar and wind) in a cost-effective way using only technologies that are commercially available today. The major part of the transition can be made within the next 15 years, largely negating the need for shale gas, with a complete transition possible by 2050.”

Boulder citizens and civic leaders seem to have anticipated Dr. Howarth’s conclusions and recommendations.  We think it supremely important to this and future generations that you hear Boulder’s proposal for ownership and management of its utility. The language in Article XX of our State Constitution demands nothing less.

 

Thank you,

 

Barbara Mills-Bria

President

Be the Change

 

Phil Doe

Environmental Director

Be the Change

 

Wes Wilson

Science Advisor

Be the Change

O&G Task Force member slams COGCC rule-making

Jim Fitzgerald, a Bayfield rancher, activist, and member of Governor Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force, sent the following letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in response to  their current rule-making regarding the Task Force recommendations.

The Task Force was formed last year as part of a back-room compromise between the governor and Jared Polis, who in turn withdrew two ballot measures that would have increased drilling setbacks and given local governments a veneer of control over O&G operations within their jurisdictions.  In February, the 21 member Task Force sent the Governor nine recommendations regarding O&G operations in Colorado, which many regarded as ineffectual.

Here is the text of Jim’s letter to the COGCC:

 


 

Commissioners,
Consider this as comment on your current rulemaking about Task Force recommendations from a very disgruntled member of that Task Force. The issues you are currently considering are only a small portion of what you should be considering for adoption. The COGCC must consider all thirteen of the oil and gas task force proposals which received 11 or more votes from the 21 member task force.
Gwen Lachelt, the former chairwoman of the oil and gas task force told the Durango Herald (Oct 10) that the rules currently proposed by the COGCC “gut” the intent of the task force. Not only do they gut our intent, they simply disappeared 13 proposals which received positive votes from a majority of the task force. In order to understand how so many intelligent people could waste so much time in the production of something so useless, it’s important to describe the outrageous rigging of the process by the governor’s office.
The 21 members of the task force (including myself) were recruited and assembled under Executive Order B 2014 005. Section II E of that Order stated that: “Recommendations of the Task Force regarding new or amended legislation shall be made by a two-thirds vote of the membership.” It was understood by many , if not most of the members that any proposal that did not require new or amended legislation and which received a simple majority of support would be forwarded for consideration for a rulemaking by the COGCC. After several weeks of meetings, Mike King from the Department of Natural Resources informed our group that all proposals would need a two-thirds vote in order to be considered for adoption. There was no vote on this change. It was simply announced. Therefore when the Keystone Center issued the final report they made the bizarre decision to place 13 proposals which received 11 or more votes in the section of “Minority Report”. The result was that several important proposals to give local governments more standing have not been considered even when they had as many as 13 positive votes. Thirteen out of 21 is not a minority. (See recommendations #7, #12, 12a, and #2 for example.)There were several other important proposals with majpority votes which were excluded.
The governor has chosen to make a mockery of the entire Task Force purpose and process. There were many who chose to participate in that Task Force who did so with much skepticism about accomplishing a whole lot. But I believe that even the most cynical of us never thought that there would be such shameless manipulation to ensure an outcome that had been pre-decided. An outcome that did not reflect in any way the hard work and sincere effort that the majority of Task Force members put into this.

 

Jim Fitzgerald

Wes Wilson urges tighter control of fugitive methane

In testimony at an EPA public hearing this week, Wes Wilson of Be The Change USA urged regulators to tighten control over methane emissions from oil and gas wells. Below is Wes’s complete testimony at the hearing.

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“I worked here — at EPA’s Regional Office in Denver — as an environmental engineer for over 35 years. I represent BE THE CHANGE, a Colorado non-profit organization dedicated to better government.

I’m here today as a concerned citizen to testify that these rules are inadequate as a remedy and not in time to be effective.

Continue reading “Wes Wilson urges tighter control of fugitive methane”

Colorado is ever riper for oil and gas exploitation

  

By Phil Doe

It is a truth universal that when a politician establishes a task force to examine an explosive public issue, often an issue of his own making, said politician will term the task force’s recommendations remarkable in both their wisdom and farsightedness.

This truth was borne out on February 24th when Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Fracking issued its carefully vetted and resultantly sparse recommendations. He personally selected the 21 members, so of course it was fitting he label them Blue Ribbon and congratulate them on a job well done. The majority were oil executive cronies or political yesteryears friendly to him or the industry. Continue reading “Colorado is ever riper for oil and gas exploitation”