DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s attorney general is asking a court to overturn Boulder County’s moratorium on oil and gas drilling, saying it violates state law and a state Supreme Court ruling.
The suit was filed in Boulder County District Court four days after the Feb. 10 deadline Coffman set for the county commissioners to lift the ban or face legal action. The county let the deadline pass without lifting the moratorium.
County officials had no immediate comment Tuesday, saying they were still reviewing the lawsuit. But County Attorney Ben Pearlman said last week the moratorium was legal because its purpose was to give the county time to update its land use regulations for oil and gas drilling.
He said the county was prepared to defend it in court.
The legal showdown between the Republican attorney general and Boulder County, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, is the latest eruption in Colorado’s longstanding tensions over energy development. Rich oil and gas fields sometimes overlap with fast-growing communities, especially on the Front Range urban corridor, generating complaints over round-the-clock noise, odors, traffic and potential health risks.
Last year, the Colorado Supreme Court tossed out drilling restrictions imposed by Longmont and Fort Collins, ruling that only the state could regulate the industry, not local governments.
But Boulder County maintained its moratorium, first imposed in 2012 and extended multiple times.
Coffman’s lawsuit disputed the county’s argument that the moratorium gives it time to revise its rules, saying that five years later the county still hasn’t updated them.
“It has instead repeatedly extended the moratorium and delayed its rulemaking,” the suit said.
In a news release, Coffman defended her decision to file the lawsuit against criticism from Democratic state Sen. Matt Jones of Boulder County, who accused her last week of acting on the industry’s behalf.
“It is not the job of industry to enforce Colorado law; that is the role of the attorney general on behalf of the people of Colorado,” she said.
Previous attorneys general have sued local governments over actions they considered illegal. Republican Gale Norton, who held the office in the 1990s, said last week she filed several lawsuits over local oil and gas restrictions.
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“Consistently over the last 20 years or so, local governments have lost every one of those lawsuits,” Norton said.
Coffman has not responded to questions about whether she consulted with industry representatives before challenging Boulder County.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Dan Haley issued a statement Tuesday saying that a long-term drilling moratorium is clearly illegal.
“Boulder County shouldn’t be surprised that the attorney general cares about the rule of law in Colorado,” he said.
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