Environment

Amendment would let local Colorado governments regulate big industry

Gas and oil drilling, fracking, mining and other industries would need local approval to operate if amendment is passed

Fracking opponents demonstrate at the Democratic Governor's Conference in Aspen, Colo. on July 13, 2013.
Christopher Goodwin/Getty Images

A proposed amendment to the Colorado state constitution would give local governments around the state the authority to restrict or ban oil and gas drilling and other industrial activities – even those permitted by state law – if they pose a threat to the health and safety of residents.

The "right to local self-government" act is being proposed by the Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN), a new organization that is gaining considerable traction, and will be submitted to the state in its final form within the next week. The act will need 86,105 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The act states that it would give local governments the authority to remove the "rights, powers, and duties of for-profit business entities, operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from usurping or otherwise conflicting with the fundamental rights of people, their communities and the natural environment."

Ben Price, project director at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is providing legal counsel to the CCRN, says the measure is less about regulation and more about the protection of individual rights for the citizens of Colorado.

"The oil and gas industry have said they are going to use the state legislature and courts to get what they want, and they've been catered to pretty well. The people are pushing back," Price said, noting that people are taking the matter into their own hands because legislatures are not putting their needs first.

"The idea of consent of the governed says the people directly affected should make that decision,” he said. “We’re not saying people should have a voice — we’re saying people should have the authority to decide."

The measure would have wide-reaching implications. It would allow communities to regulate not just oil and gas drilling or fracking – a move already made in some Colorado counties – but other industrial practices such as the genetic modification of crops, the construction of dams and the use of cyanide in gold mining.

There measure is likely to face stiff opposition from many sides.

Two counties in the state, Lafayette and Fort Collins, are already being sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) over restrictions on their activities, something the association says is not within their rights as the industries are regulated by the state.

In an email to Al Jazeera, a COGA spokesman called the local regulations "very far reaching," and said they were "broadly opposed by those who regard economic growth and business stability a priority."

"These radical measures will have implications beyond oil and gas development and energize Coloradans who support responsible and affordable energy development against such actions. We anticipate community and civic leaders will continue to communicate with citizens about the loss of economic vitality, tax revenues, and the other negative impacts that communities will face if industries are banned in Colorado," the email read.

COGA also sued Longmont County over a similar regulation in 2012. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s regulatory agency, has also joined a lawsuit against Longmont for overstepping their boundaries on regulations.

Should the act pass, it would be the first of its kind on a statewide level.

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