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Opinion Columns

Opinion: For Colorado local governments, suing over climate change is not the answer

There’s an old saying that you should “dance with the one who brought you.” In Colorado, the oil and gas sector has been a major bright spot for jobs and economic growth, adding close to $13.5 billion to our state’s gross domestic product and providing important stability during the current coronavirus crisis.

Around 90,000 Colorado families today make their living from the oil and gas industry, and estimates are that about 1.4 million more will earn jobs in the manufacturing sector by 2040 because of abundant natural gas supplies.

Despite these massive contributions to our state’s economy and quality of life, some Colorado local governments aren’t dancing with the oil and gas industry at all. In fact, they’re suing them.

Ken Summers

In 2018, Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County chose to follow the lead of cities such as New York and San Francisco in suing major energy companies over climate change.

Just as New York City and San Francisco did, these local Colorado governments allege that oil and gas companies — ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy in this case — should be held financially responsible for events such as wildfires that have been linked to climate change.

To date, such lawsuits have fallen flat on their face, partly because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously years ago that matters involving climate change should be settled by Congress, not by courts.

Those clear legal precedents aren’t stopping Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County, though, as they argued in May to a three-judge panel that their climate change lawsuits should be heard by Boulder District Court rather than by a federal judge. That’s because these local governments believe a Colorado court is more likely to award them a winning result and a massive payday.

In truth, suing oil and gas producers over climate change has never made much sense. After all, these companies produce products that consumers want, including fuel for our vehicles, raw materials that other manufacturers turn into everyday products and a host of other products that sustain modern life.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Suing energy manufacturers, even if these local governments are successful, will do nothing to achieve their stated goal of stopping climate change or making a more sustainable world. 

On the other hand, suing our oil and gas industry does jeopardize Colorado jobs and threatens a major cog in our economy. Revenue from oil and gas companies produces almost $1 billion in state and local tax revenue each year and contributes 81% of the money that the School Trust provides Colorado schools, including schools in Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County. 

Local governments bite the hand that feeds them at great peril, especially when climate lawsuits don’t actually do anything for the climate.

Oil and gas companies are providing more than just money and jobs to Colorado, though. They’ve also proved a stalwart ally in the fight against coronavirus.

For example, the Colorado Oil & Gas Association has connected its industry’s workers to relief efforts through the Food Bank of the Rockies, raising important funds for those struggling through this time. Large energy companies such as Chevron, Marathon, ConocoPhillips and Shell have donated large sums and devoted resources to ease the fallout of the coronavirus crisis. 

Notably, ExxonMobil, one of the energy companies named in the lawsuit, has taken a leading role in helping front line workers in Colorado and elsewhere do their jobs.

The company, which operates the world’s largest isopropyl alcohol unit in Baton Rouge, has refocused some of its manufacturing capabilities to increase isopropyl alcohol production by 3,000 tons. It is also increasing its production of specialized materials used in medical masks and gowns. 

When it comes to coronavirus, energy companies are part of the solution, not part of the problem. That was made clear to some degree when the Denver City Council voted to delay its ban on plastic bags, a fossil fuels product, due to the benefit plastic bags offer in preventing transmission of the virus.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Colorado has come a long way with the help of the oil and gas sector. Through cooperation and collaboration, we’ve established a partnership that is producing jobs, tax revenue and opportunity across our state. That’s why it is disappointing to see a handful of local governments target the industry with irrational lawsuits.

After all, you dance with the one who brought you. If we really want to make a difference on climate, lawsuits aren’t the answer.


Ken Summers previously served in the Colorado House of Representatives and for two years served as the Chair of the House Health and Environment Committee.


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