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Green groups file trio of initiatives, including right to a healthy Colorado environment

March 22, 2024, 8:13 am

 A gas drilling rig in Bent County, Colo., on Oct. 5, 2022 (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline).

A coalition of environmentalists filed a trio of ballot initiatives Thursday that could dramatically boost enforcement of Colorado air, water and climate protections, the coalition announced.

The three initiatives would make oil and gas companies “strictly liable” for any damage that results from their operations, allow any person to file a civil lawsuit to enforce state environmental regulations, and establish in state law that people have a right to “a healthy environment.”

“These are about giving us the tools to protect our communities,” Ean Thomas Tafoya, Colorado state director for GreenLatinos, a coalition member, said. 

The coalition, called Coloradans for Clean Air & Water, also includes Conservation Colorado, Healthy Air and Water Colorado, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

The initiatives come in response to the oil and gas industry’s own ballot initiative efforts, which are backed by advocacy group Protect Colorado and funded by such companies as Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and PDC Energy, CPR reported. Several fossil fuel-promoting initiatives have already earned approval from the state Title Board for supporters to circulate petitions and collect signatures for the proposals to appear on the November ballot.

The coalition is particularly concerned with two industry initiatives, Nos. 86 and 116. They would block restrictions on the kind of energy source, such as natural gas, that Coloradans could use.

“If passed, either of these measures could be used by the industry as a free-for-all, swinging the door wide open to try to invalidate numerous climate policies in an attempt to prohibit state or local regulations based on fuel type,” the coalition wrote in a memo that was shared with Newsline.

Newsline sent messages to oil and gas industry and initiative representatives but did not immediately receive a response.

Environmental advocates have backed a number of bills at the state Legislature in recent years, with a mixed record, but coalition members see advantages in the citizen initiative process.

“The ballot would be a vote of the people, and we believe that people are on our side, both broadly and specifically,” Jessica Goad, vice president of programs at Conservation Colorado. “Our polling on these measures that we’re filing today shows that we have a path to victory. These are very, very popular.”

The coalition’s “strictly liable” initiative would make industry liable for any damages it causes, including spills, toxic releases, fires, explosions and fracking-induced earthquakes. Under strict liability, a person would have to show only that damages occurred rather than prove cause, the coalition said.

The civil lawsuit initiative would allow so-called citizen suits, where any person living in Colorado could file a civil lawsuit to enforce state environmental regulations. Such suits are already permitted under the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The “healthy environment” initiative would add a provision to state law that declares every person has a “right” to clean air, water, “a safe climate and a healthy environment.” The provision is similar to one in the Montana state Constitution that was at issue in the landmark Held v. Montana ruling last year. That lawsuit was the first to challenge state and national climate and energy policies to make it to trial in the U.S., and the ruling was the first in which the plaintiffs won.

Initiative backers in Colorado this year must gather 124,238 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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