What is the Martinez Case? Why Does It Matter for Colorado’s Future?

What is the Martinez Case? Why Does It Matter for Colorado’s Future?

For Colorado, the safe and responsible development of oil and gas is of paramount importance to our future. Fortunately, our state is led by Governor John Hickenlooper, who is committed to finding innovative solutions that promote responsible development while protecting important health and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, Governor Hickenlooper does not have a partner in the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s appeal of the court of appeals’ decision in the Martinez case shows how Attorney General Coffman continually disregards Governor Hickenlooper’s call for pragmatic problem-solving, has refused to work collaboratively with others, and has failed to stand up for the interests of Coloradans. Indeed, this case would have never reached the Court of Appeals if the Attorney General had given the regulators proper legal advice in the first place.

The petition filed by the plaintiffs in the Martinez case asked the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission to stop issuing permits for oil and gas development until it found that such permits did not negatively impact the environment or contribute to climate change. Rather than considering the merits of the requested rule, the Commission, on the advice of the Attorney General, determined that it did not have the authority to consider the request. Attorney General Coffman’s advice was wrong and misread the statute. As a result of the Attorney General’s bad advice, she created an unnecessary legal issue and diverted the Commission from a thoughtful evaluation of the public concerns over the environmental impact of oil and gas development.

After considering the relevant legal issues, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Attorney General gave the Commission bad advice in the first place. In particular, it ruled that the Commission had the authority to consider the proposed rule because Colorado law “mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.” As Governor Hickenlooper explained, the Court of Appeals’ ruling is aligned with the current practice of the Oil and Gas Commission. Therefore, the Governor was correct that there was no need to appeal the court’s ruling.

In the Martinez case, the court did not reach the issue of whether the approach suggested by the petitioner was an appropriate one. Consequently, that question remains within the Commission’s authority to consider. Consistent with the court’s opinion, the Commission should proceed to consider what rules are, and are not, appropriate to ensure responsible oil and gas development. With the benefit of the actual consideration of this issue, the courts could then evaluate whether the Commission’s actions follow the statutory standard. In this case, however, Attorney General Coffman mistakenly instructed the Commission that it lacked the authority to evaluate whether the petition should be granted and set the stage for an unnecessary and wasteful legal fight.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Attorney General Coffman provided incorrect advice, refused to work with the Governor on a key environmental issue, and acted to undermine the Governor’s environmental leadership. Attorney General Coffman previously undermined Colorado’s nationally praised rules for restricting methane emissions—which were reached through collaboration between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists—by suing the EPA when it was moving to adopt the Colorado model. Coffman also challenged President Obama’s Clean Power Plan initiative—over Governor Hickenlooper’s objection—even though Colorado’s clean energy policies positioned the state to comply with this plan. Finally, when Boulder County was in the final stages of adopting a new policy for allowing safe and appropriate oil and gas development, Attorney General Coffman chose to sue rather than work with the County to develop an appropriate policy.

In 2018, Coloradans will have the chance to select a new Attorney General. I am running to make sure that our next Attorney General will work with Colorado communities, environmentalists, and the oil and gas industry to ensure we enable safe and environmentally sound approaches to oil and gas development. In short, I want Colorado to be a national leader in using innovative, principled, and practical problem solving to address important issues.

Attorney General Coffman’s handling of this case—both at the outset and in appealing the Martinez decision—fails to advance sound policy or correctly interpret Colorado law. Instead, it is yet another example of a misguided lawsuit that undermines Colorado’s problem-solving attitude and our commitment to our environment and public health. Unfortunately, whenever there is a choice between collaborative, innovative, and thoughtful leadership or confrontation, our current Attorney General chooses confrontation. To support innovative leadership for our environment, please join our campaign and help Colorado remain a national model of environmental protection and responsible oil and gas development.

On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman challenged Governor John Hickenlooper’s leadership on oil and gas regulation and appealed a lower court’s ruling in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Commission that the Oil and Gas Commission should take full account of environmental and safety concerns in regulating oil and gas development. In so doing, she created an unnecessary and wasteful legal controversy, endorsed a limited view of the Commission’s authority, and went against sound legal and policy principles. In this blog post, Phil explains the importance of the issue and how he would approach it as our next Attorney General. Please note that this post was revised on May 21, 2017 to reflect that Attorney General Coffman erred not only in handling the appeal, but in providing mistaken legal advice at the outset of this matter.