Conservation groups get OK to intervene in oil and gas rules lawsuits filed by Garfield, Weld counties

Post Independent oil and gas graphic

In a win for western Garfield County residents seeking tighter regulations on oil and gas development on the Western Slope, a Denver judge ruled last week that seven conservation groups can intervene in two lawsuits — one filed by Garfield County and another by Weld County challenging new regulations enacted by the state.

At the heart of the suit is a new suite of rules passed by Colorado’s Air Quality Commission in December 2019 as part of Senate Bill 181, which Garfield County opposed and some western Garfield County residents supported.

Garfield County filed suit challenging some of the new rules in March and is leading the charge with 23 other county and municipal governments from around the state. However, it is currently the only county putting funding toward those efforts.

But allowing the intervention could result in “special interests” determining policy that hurts Garfield County’s local economy, said, Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liason, in a statement after the ruling. He said the county respected the outcome but questioned the logic of conservation groups knowing better local policy than Garfield County.

“We’re perplexed that these private entities with special interests might somehow be deemed equally suited to develop sound policy as Garfield County, the public entity that is responsible for the well-being of its residents ranging from public health to economic viability of our community,” Wynn said.

He explained that Garfield County accepted roughly “90 percent” of the new regulations enacted last year, but took particular issue with increased regulations and testing requirements for smaller or low-emitting facilities, among other new regulations.

In a news release sent out Tuesday on behalf of the conservation groups LOGIC, Western Colorado Alliance and Conservation Colorado, Battlement Mesa resident Betsy Leonard expressed appreciation for the work Western Colorado Alliance is doing for residents such as her who are adversely affected by nearby gas development — and called out Garfield County Commissioners for funding efforts to fight the new regulations.

“I’m sick and tired of my elected representatives in Garfield County telling me that my voice doesn’t matter, and spending $500 an hour on a Denver law firm to do so,” Leonard said. “This is just another example of the county government working on behalf of the industry and against the health and safety of its own residents.”

To date, Garfield County has allocated $1.5 million toward legal efforts out of the oil and gas mitigation fund. Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted at Monday’s regular meeting that those funds do not come from residential property taxes.

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