Mountain States

Activist Group Known for Bankrupting Communities Begins Pushing Colorado Ban-Fracking Initiative

A national activist group that is threatening to bankrupt communities with fracking bans can begin gathering signatures for its ballot initiative. KUNC reports:

“The petition format for the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, also called Initiative 40, was approved by the Colorado Secretary of State’s title board Wednesday.”

The initiative campaign targeting the state’s oil and gas industry comes via the Colorado Community Rights Network (COCRN), which is a local offshoot of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). This is a group that has faced an embarrassing string of defeats in the courts recently with a Mayor of one Ohio town even calling them “plain ignorant.”

Similar to CELDF’s other “Bill of Rights” initiatives; COCRN’s proposal would allow local governments to supersede property rights and state law without reprisal including banning fracking or any other commercial activity. The measure would even establish “rights of nature” that raised considerable questions from Colorado state attorneys.

EID has highlighted many times how the group behind the measure has little regard for what happens in the resulting wave of litigation that has become standard for communities that adopt their community rights concept. With their measures almost always challenged in court, as was the case in Lafayette, CO, the efforts have a history of leaving communities on the hook for high legal bills. CELDF’s founder even told Reuters that bankrupting a community might be “exactly what is needed.” Reuters reports:

“And if a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.”

Speaking at the “Stop the Frack Attack” summit that was recently held in Denver, Cliff Willmeng, a chief-backer of the Colorado initiative said the cost of fracking outweighs the cost of lawsuits. From the Colorado Independent:

“We won’t save the planet casualty-free,” said Cliff Willmeng of the Colorado Community Rights Network, the amendment’s sponsor.

Willmeng, who is now running for Lafayette City Council, said the cost of fracking outweighs the cost of lawsuits.”

Reports have also detailed how the City of Lafayette, CO, has racked-up more than $60,000 in taxpayer-funded legal bills defending its 2013 CELDF-authored community bill of rights against court challenges. And another famous case unfolded in Mora County, New Mexico where county commissioners repealed their community rights amendment in the face of rising legal fees. From Reuters:

“We weren’t comfortable using our county as the test case to try to overturn two centuries of law,” said Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia. In Grant Township, residents so far have remained willing to fight. The community has spent just a few thousand dollars of its annual $250,000 budget defending its CELDF-drafted community bill of rights. But it may have to spend more.”

The extreme nature of CELDF’s national campaign against oil and gas development is perhaps most apparent in comments from Mora County, where resident Frank Splendoria said, CELDF made “suckers” out of local residents:

“It was totally foolish to begin with, to even try this. How do you pass an ordinance that’s going to override the state and the federal constitution? … I don’t know if they were playing us in Mora County as suckers or they were sincere in their beliefs.” (Emphasis added)

And to make things even worse, the group’s founder Thomas Linzey has even been calling on activists to “ratchet up” civil disobedience and begin “filling up jails.” From an interview with Chris Hedges:

HEDGES: “Well, you have talked about it as a kind of military operation. Explain what it would look like.”

LINZEY: “Well, I think it means thinking about civil disobedience differently than we’ve thought about it before. So it’s not just to make a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project itself. And that means, I think, successive days. It means rotating people through. It means bringing people in from other places. It means filling up jails.” (emphasis added)

So with the group now kicking-off signature gathering operations, Coloradans can expect the extreme rhetoric espoused by CELDF and their local counterparts to show up in public parks and in front of grocery stores as the group attempts to collect nearly 100,000 signatures by August, 2016. But it is important to remember, the Community Bill of Rights is not just about oil and gas development; it’s a risky proposition backed by a group that has no regard for the mess they leave in their wake.


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