Mountain States

Lafayette City Council to Vote on Ordinance ‘Not Written on Behalf of Our Residents and in Our Own Tone’ Tonight

This evening, a divided city council in Lafayette, Colo., will be voting on the final passage of a so-called “climate bill of rights” that was drafted by out-of-state activists and stripped down earlier this month – to the frustration of extreme anti-fracking activists, who heckled, badgered, and shouted their way through the last meeting in early March. Although the bill has been characterized as a “nice, symbolic ordinance” by supporters, it may attract lawsuits (to be paid for by taxpayers) and deter business (at the expense of local coffers) if passed.

As it was originally presented to the council, the bill provided for a “right to a healthy climate” that is “violated by the extraction of coal, oil and gas, and disposal of drilling waste,” and it authorized “nonviolent direct action” by prohibiting law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining those attempting to “directly enforce the prohibitions of the law.”

The language of the bill was so extreme, however, that it failed to receive the backing of the council even for a roll call vote in early March. Afterwards, Councilwoman Merrily Mazza, the bill’s main and possibly sole champion, told the press that the initiative really is just a “nice, symbolic ordinance”:

“It’s a nice, symbolic ordinance … but with the direct action clause stripped out of it, it took the bill’s teeth out.”

This evening, the council will be voting on this scaled down version of the bill, which the Daily Camera has described as “nothing more than a symbolic gesture void of any legal leverage to enforce.”

Well, the bill may be symbolic, unconstitutional – and also out of place in Lafayette. At the last meeting, Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg took issue with how the ordinance “was not written on behalf of our residents and in our own tone,” alluding to language that was pulled from a similar ordinance in Grant Township, Penn:

“I’ve been very clear that the clarity of [the language of the ordinance] is very problematic, and some of you have pointed that out. Change the language if you want it to be more clear. Change the language if you want it to be a better representation of Lafayette. This was written for a couple of counties in Pennsylvania. It was not written on behalf of our residents and in our own tone.”

That’s because these bills are drafted and peddled by Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which seeks to introduce similar bills of rights all over the country – and saddling local communities with the tab for the legal bills that come with defending the measures in court. CELDF founder Thomas Linzey has even suggested that bankrupting towns may be “exactly what is needed” for its campaign to succeed.

In addition to leaving Lafayette vulnerable to costly lawsuits – again – the bill could send chills through the business community in the area, with a broad coalition of business and agricultural groups calling it an “overly broad,” “unconstitutional,” and “plainly illegal” measure that “screams that Colorado is not a good place to do business or live.”

No wonder Lafayette residents have written in local papers that the bill under consideration was “an unconstitutional, dangerous dictate,” “a disturbing and radical move” that “defies the very tenets of our nation, state, and local government,” and a “seriously flawed document which if passed, significantly impacts the property rights of every citizen of the city of Lafayette.”

Energy In Depth hopes that the city council will keep these voices in mind as it votes this evening.

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