Tag Archive for City of Longmont

Our Longmont, others act to protect fracking ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2013

CONTACTS:
Kaye Fissinger, 303-678-7267 (Our Longmont)
Michael Bellmont, 303-678-9470 (Our Longmont)
Bruce Baizel, 970-903-5326 (Earthworks)
Shane Davis, 303-717-4462 (Sierra Club)
Sam Schabacker, 720-295-1036 (Food & Water Watch)

Coalition Acts to Protect City of Longmont’s Ban on Dangerous Hydraulic Fracturing

LONGMONT, CO – Today, a coalition of community, public health, consumer and environmental organizations filed a motion in the Weld County District Court to intervene in the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Longmont’s ban of the oil and gas practice known as “fracking” and related surface activities, such as storage of toxic post-fracking fluids. This ban was instituted by the citizens of Longmont in an amendment to the City Charter, Article XVI , the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act.

The people of Longmont by an overwhelming vote of 60% (more than 25,000 people), voted in the November, 2012 election to amend the City Charter to ban fracking, affirming their intention “to protect themselves from the harms associated with hydraulic fracturing, including threats to public health and safety, property damage and diminished property values, poor air quality, destruction of landscape, and pollution of drinking and surface water.” This historic ballot measure was spearheaded by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont).

“We are taking this action because we hope to affirm the rights of citizens and communities to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for themselves and future generations,” said Michael Harris, Director of the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law Environmental Law Clinic. He continued, “We are honored to represent Our Longmont, Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club and Earthworks.”

The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals certain inalienable rights. These rights are expressed in the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, which requires that oil and gas resources be extracted in a “manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare.”

“The extraction process of hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to be safe,” said Kaye Fissinger, managing member of Our Longmont. “Further, the State of Colorado has created a situation where the commission that oversees the oil and gas industry has an inherent conflict of interest. It cannot simultaneously foster the development of oil and gas and protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”

“The dangerous, toxic practice of fracking has been a matter of grave importance to the people of Longmont since October of 2011,” said Michael Bellmont, spokesperson for Our Longmont. “To assure the protection of those in our community, Our Longmont undertook a petition drive to place the charter amendment on the ballot. In November, our citizens exercised their rights to self-determination, also guaranteed under Article XX of Colorado’s Constitution. In light of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s attack, it is necessary that citizens participate in the judicial process to guarantee our constitutionally protected rights. It is for this reason Our Longmont and others have moved to intervene,” Bellmont said.

Food & Water Watch provided invaluable assistance to Our Longmont throughout the effort to qualify and pass Longmont’s charter amendment. Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Regional Director for the organization, said, “We were delighted to be able to help the citizens of Longmont prohibit the dangerous industrial practice of hydraulic fracking and are pleased to be able to continue to support them. We have every confidence that the courts will reject the claims of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and preserve Longmont’s constitutional and home rule rights.”

According to Eric E. Huber, Senor Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, “This lawsuit could have a precedential effect throughout Colorado as other communities work to pass similar prohibitions on fracking and the disposal of its waste products within their boundaries.”

Bruce Baizel, Director of Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said, “The citizens of Longmont took this action because they don’t trust state regulators to protect them. Rather than sue communities acting to protect their public health, industry and the state should be addressing legitimate community concerns by putting the public’s health before industry profits.”

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a constitutional right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations. www.ourlongmont.org,

Food & Water Watch is a consumer organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water. It’s essential that these shared resources be regulated in the public interest rather than for private gain. www.foodandwaterwater.org,

Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide, including 160 members in the City of Longmont. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. http://rmc.sierraclub.org

For 25 years, Earthworks has been dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions. http://www.earthworksaction.org.

Longmont ballot issue disclosure at risk

Eugene Mei, Longmont City Attorney, insists that a recent decision by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Sampson v Buescher makes it necessary to eliminate ballot issue reporting. His reading of the ruling more than suggests that the man is afraid. Is he afraid of lawsuits? Or is he afraid of a council majority who was thrilled at the Citizens United ruling that legalized corporate personhood, a council that would just as soon remove all campaign reporting, but likely worries at least a little about political backlash. Remember – the City Attorney serves at the will of the City Council.

Oversimplified, the ruling held that the application of the requirements to a committee that raised less than $1000 violated its members’ right to freedom of association.

But the ruling was not as cut and dried as Mei persists in asserting.

Council Member Sarah Levison provided a thoughtful presentation covering this case, the Citizens United case and the Doe v Reed ruling that allows for more breadth that the absolutist interpretation offered by our City Attorney.

Levison discussed the ruling with a number of authoritative organizations and entities. However, off camera, Eugene Mei boldly asserted, “I don’t care about people’s credentials. I’m not impressed.”

The ruling in Sampson v Buescher held that disclosure requirements were allowed when an organizations’ freedom of association was not significantly attenuated or when the contributions and expenditures are slight. [emphasis added] The court ruled that there was virtually “no proper governmental interest in imposing disclosure requirements on a ballot-initiative committees that raise so little money.” [emphasis added]

The case adjudicated covered monetary and in-kind contributions in the amount of $782.02 made by five people. And it was applied under the state regulations covering statutory towns, not home rule towns like the City of Longmont. Longmont’s issue committee regulations clearly do not require an attorney or rocket scientist to comprehend.

The subject case involved an annexation of a subdivision in unincorporated Douglas County into the Town of Parker. There were those who wanted it and those who didn’t. Those who wanted the annexation brought suit against the No-Annexation five for failure to register and comply with state regulations.

Their suit was as much about harassing those opposed to the annexation as it was about the law. However, the 10th Circuit failed to see or acknowledge the underlying motivation. The pro-annexation leaders followed their complaint with a subpoena with nine requests. As an example, one of the requests was for “All communications amongst [Plaintiffs] or anyone else concerning the issue of annexation of Parker North into the Town of Parker, Colorado. A lower court refused to quash the subpoena but did apply certain minimal limitations.

Further strong arming was evident by the pro-annexation original plaintiffs when they proposed a “non-negotiable offer of settlement.” The settlement required that the anti-annexation defendants “admit all charges against them and would either abandon their organized opposition to the annexation (including removing all signs and campaign material) or follow all laws governing issue committees.” The settlement offer allowed for only four days to respond.

Apparently having had enough the anti-annexation five filed their own suit alleging first amendment violations of free speech and free association.

The 10th Circuit discussed the Supreme Court’s recognition of “three proper justifications for reporting and disclosing campaign finances.” The third is extremely relevant to ballot issues and speaks to “informational interest.” The Court recognized that there was need to “analyze the public interest in knowing who is spending and receiving money to support or oppose a ballot issue.”

The 10th Circuit acknowledged that “the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a mixed message on ballot issues.” It further acknowledged that “the Court has never rejected a First Amendment challenge to a financial-disclosure requirement in the ballot-issue context,” although it has “spoken favorably” on three occasions. The 10th circuit court also acknowledged that “not all burdens on freedom of association are unconstitutional.”

The 10th Circuit’s ruling speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand it states, “It is not obvious that there is … a public [information] interest.” Yet it cites the Supreme Court ruling in the Massachusetts Bellotti case that stated that the people “may consider, in making their judgment, the source and credibility of the advocate.” That case appended a footnote saying that “[i]dentification of the source of advertising may be required as a means of disclosure, so that people will be able to evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected.” In that case, the Court wrote, “The integrity of the political system will be adequately protected if contributors are identified in a public filing revealing the amounts contributed; if it is thought wise, legislation can outlaw anonymous contributions.”

In the Colorado Buckley case, the “Court, without distinguishing between candidate and ballot-issue campaigns, wrote…that disclosure provides the electorate with information as to where political campaign money comes from and how it is spent, thereby aiding electors in evaluating those who seek their vote.” It went on to state that “disclosure requirements” expose “large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.” In Buckley, the Court affirmed that “the State legitimately requires sponsors of ballot initiatives to disclose who pays…and how much.”

After all the back and forth in the ruling of the 10th Circuit in Sampson v Buescher, the court comes back to “when contributions and expenditures are slight.” And it comes back to the requirements of the Colorado Statute, a statute that applies to statutory towns and home-rule towns in the absence of town ordinance.

In conclusion the 10th Circuit states: “Here, the financial burden of state regulation on Plaintiffs’ freedom of association approaches or exceeds the value of their financial contributions to their political effort; and the governmental interest in imposing those regulations is minimal, if not nonexistent, in light of the small size of the contributions. We therefore hold that it was unconstitutional to impose that burden on Plaintiffs.” [emphasis added]

And lastly the court says, “We do not attempt to draw a bright line below which a ballot-issue committee cannot be required to report contributions and expenditures….We say only that Plaintiff’s contributions and expenditures are well below the line.