During my campaign, I have met with Coloradans across our state who are concerned about the safety of their families and the threat of potentially unsafe oil and gas development. Responding to that concern, counties, communities, and neighborhoods across our state are evaluating what measures are necessary to ensure that oil and gas development is safe and protects the public health.

The Attorney General’s office is responsible for working for the people of Colorado and protecting them by enforcing the law. As Colorado’s next Attorney General, I will set up a special unit in the Attorney General’s office to support and counsel local governments in their negotiations and dealings with oil and gas companies.

Under Colorado law, there are two levels of protection and oversight for oil and gas development. First, local governments engage in front line negotiations with oil and gas companies and develop “surface use agreements” and memoranda of understanding that embody a range of protective requirements. As the lawyer for the people of Colorado, the Attorney General needs to serve as a counselor to governmental bodies when they negotiate these agreements and implement protective measures. Second, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is charged with overseeing oil and gas drilling and protecting public health, safety, and the environment. The Attorney General is the lawyer for the Commission, enabling it to do its work effectively.

The Leadership We Need

Unfortunately, our current Attorney General has refused to work with local governments, choosing confrontation over collaboration. She has also sought to undermine the authority of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by appealing the decision in the Martinez case. Finally, she has undermined Governor Hickenlooper’s call for pragmatic problem-solving, refused to work collaboratively with others, and failed to stand up for the interests of Coloradans.

The petition filed by the plaintiffs in the Martinez case asked the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to stop issuing permits for oil and gas development until it found that they did not negatively impact the environment or contribute to climate change. Because of bad advice from the Attorney General, the Commission did not consider the merits of the rule because they believed that they did not have the authority to consider the request. That advice was wrong because the Attorney General misread the statute.

The Martinez case would have never reached the Court of Appeals if the Attorney General had given the regulators proper legal advice in the first place. Indeed, 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 Commission. Therefore, the Governor requested that the court’s ruling be allowed to stand. The Attorney General refused to follow that request.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that our Attorney General provided incorrect advice, refused to work with the Governor on a key environmental issue, and acted at cross-purposes with our state’s policy goals. In particular, our Attorney General 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.
Our Attorney General 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, our Attorney General chose to sue rather than work with them and did not consult with Boulder County before taking that action.

We Can Do Better in the Future

To ensure safe oil and gas development, I am committed to supporting honest, science-based evaluation of appropriate protective measures and working with local governments as they develop appropriate protective measures.

At the state level, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) is responsible—with proper legal guidance—for developing protective measures to address any adverse health impacts on our citizens. Over time, the science of how oil and gas wells contribute to air pollution has continued to develop. As the state agencies charged with oversight continue to monitor this issue, they develop appropriate rules for governing air quality and pollution mitigation measures.

At the local level, when communities consider pushing for protective measures like setback requirements, it is important to allow them flexibility to explore their options. Communities can, for example, enter into memoranda of understanding that allow replacements for existing facilities in order to reduce pollution, noise, and negative environmental impacts

As your next Attorney General, I will always work hard to think through issues carefully and do what I believe is best to protect our communities. In line with the Democratic candidates for Governor, I am not in favor of a proposed statewide categorical requirement that prescribes a 2,500-foot setback for all new facilities. One important concern I have with this proposal is that it would have the unintended consequence of preventing communities from taking measures to keep them safer. Notably, under this proposal, companies would have the incentive to keep older and dirtier facilities running for longer and communities could not authorize the retirement of such facilities in return for the establishment of new and safer ones. Moreover, it is not sufficient to focus only on appropriate setback requirements; it is also important to consider other protections, such as rules governing well casing, cementing, and blowout prevention.

As Attorney General, I will work with local communities to develop protections for the public health, safety, and the environment. To counsel and support their efforts, a new unit I will establish within the Office of the Attorney General will support local governments not only in their handling of oil and gas matters within their authority, but also in navigating the COGCC process.

If a community and an oil and gas company cannot reach an agreement, or if the agreement is subject to COGCC approval, this new unit will provide guidance to local governments that are participating in COGCC proceedings. Local governments seeking to protect the health and safety of their people may not have in-house attorneys with expertise in navigating the complex world of COGCC proceedings. By providing this expertise to local governments, the Office of the Attorney General will help ensure local governments are given good advice and their voices are heard in the COGCC process.

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In 2018, the citizens of Colorado will have an opportunity to elect an Attorney General who is committed to keeping communities safe, collaborating with local governments, and protecting our public health and environment. I will be that Attorney General. Please join me in fighting to protect the people of Colorado and our land, air, and water.