Martinez v. COGCC: A Summary

On March 23, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Martinez v. COGCC and charged the COGCC with fostering “responsible, balanced” development, production and use of oil and gas “in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.” This language elevated the public health and safety above the economic interest of the industry.

On May 1, the COGCC voted unanimously to appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. Since the COGCC serves at the pleasure of the governor, there was immediate speculation as to what course of action Gov. John Hickenlooper would take. Many Colorado cities, counties, and over 1500 Colorado residents flooded Gov. Hickenlooper’s office with communications asking him not to appeal the case.

After discussion at Broomfield City Council, Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens wrote a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper on behalf of the city to ask him not to appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. The May 11 letter stated that, “We [Broomfield] share the Court of Appeals’ concerns that public health, safety and welfare, and the environment should be paramount when considering regulation of the oil and gas industry.”

In a much-anticipated announcement on May 18, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered the Deputy Attorney General not to appeal the Colorado Court of Appeals Martinez decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. However, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman defied the order and immediately filed the appeal.

Due to the immense consequences of this case, people on both sides are waiting for an announcement from the Colorado Supreme Court as to whether or not they will review it. If the Colorado Supreme Court refuses to review the case, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling will stand and the COGCC will have to reset itself to prioritize public health and safety in making oil and gas development decisions. If the Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, then everyone will have to wait for the outcome of the case to see what ramifications the eventual decision brings.

Jean Lim, Wildgrass