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  • Cliff Willmeng

Contrived Defeat: How the Lafayette Council and COGA Derailed the Most Powerful Ban on Fossil Fuels

Updated: Jun 16, 2018


Since 2012 the Lafayette City Council has fought against any significant effort threatening to disrupt oil and gas drilling operations. You can see it in the actions of local politicians throughout the ongoing campaign to expand local democratic rights and protect the environment. Their maneuvers have become standard for politicians and industry as community members across Colorado increasingly oppose drilling operations for a spectrum of reasons.



In 2013 Lafayette community members drafted the Community Bill of Rights to ban all fossil fuel extraction within city limits. The City Council opposed the measure from the start, refusing to adopt the language into local law and rejecting requests to place the CBOR to a vote of Lafayette community members. Local grassroots group East Boulder County United overcame this opposition by drafting a ballot initiative and gaining over twice the number of signatures necessary to place the measure to Lafayette voters in November of 2013.


The City Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association opposed the Community Bill of Rights in no uncertain terms. The oil and gas industry spent tens of thousands of dollars to defeat the measure. In October just prior to the vote, the Lafayette City Council even passed a resolution condemning the campaign and urging residents to vote no. Despite these efforts to defeat the Community Bill of Rights, the measure passed against Council and industry opposition with over 60% of the popular vote.



As the community had anticipated, the City of Lafayette was quickly sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. The Council acted decisively. Because COGA was suing the City itself, the Council assumed control of the legal defense of the measure it never agreed with to begin with.



Fearing a contrived defeat, community members in Lafayette filed a motion to intervene, which would have placed them as party members to the lawsuit so that the people who wrote and campaigned for the Community Bill of Rights could defend it directly. They wanted to make arguments in court that had never been made before in state history. These arguments would have defended the ban on fracking as necessary to protect the fundamental rights of Lafayette community members and the local ecosystem.


The motion to intervene was unacceptable to the Council and to the oil and gas industry. They only wanted to discuss legal arguments that were limited in scope and had already been defeated in Colorado courts. These failed arguments ensured the fossil fuel ban would be dislodged from the community and that the court would never have to address the rights of people, communities and the environment.


The Lafayette City Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association worked together to file a Motion to Deny Intervention. In April of 2014 Judge D.D. Mallard agreed with the Council and COGA and prohibited Lafayette community members from participating in the legal defense of the Lafayette Community Bill of Rights. The result: the courts never had to address and rule on the people's right to clean air, clean water, and freedom from chemical trespass and our right to self-govern.



The Lafayette Community Bill of Rights was defeated on this basis, and the defeat, contrived from the beginning by politicians and industry, is the first thing politicians and industry officials highlight when they suggest that drilling can't be stopped by local governments. In other words, politicians and industry constrain the narrative to disempower communities and to keep community actions limited to strategies that can’t threaten the progression of oil and gas drilling in the state of Colorado. The political class is aware that once people are led away from direct, local defense of their rights, they will be forced to appeal to the state government, the same state government that has been the source of the oil and gas industry’s power to begin with. In other words, it’s another contrived defeat.


This is the nature of the tension between community members and the dominant political forces acting to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of people and the natural environment. Politicians work to uphold corporate superiority over communities while at the same time maintaining the necessary political cover to appear concerned and caring about just demands for environmental protection, public health, and local democratic rights. It's the essence of the fight against fracking today. It’s a conflict bigger than just the drilling itself – it’s a fight against a system and its loyalists, a system that mandates environmental destruction through the disenfranchisement of people.


Layette today: Council Mazza leading the fight for community rights against corporate power


This is why people are turning away from the prescribed, inoffensive activism of politicians, well-funded national environmental groups, and state bureaucrats. The Community Rights Movement rejects the politics of negotiated surrender and instead works to disrupt the systemic destruction of the environment using open, thoughtful, and organized defiance. This movement is rightly feared by the corporate players and their allies in Colorado’s political class. The Community Rights Movement in Colorado is building on multiple levels to bring the most compelling and powerful fight to the front lines through grassroots organizing, education, nonviolent civil disobedience and creation of independent political power.


We have also begun to run our own candidates for office using the campaign and the office itself as a means to build independent political power. The first candidate in Colorado history to run for office on this basis was Merrily Mazza. She won that campaign and is now in her second term. I am the second such candidate in my current run for Boulder County Commissioner. This effort has now expanded, joined by Lafayette community member Theresa Stets, running for state office in House District 12.


The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico described Community Rights as “…the beginning of a social movement that is greater than just the oil and gas industry, it is the potential game changer for all of corporate America.” This is the task we are given. The future of our local communities and the planet itself depend on our success. The battle can be won once the nature of the conflict is visible and understood. Once their blinders are removed, people are less interested in cooperating with the politics of contrived defeat and can bring the full force of their efforts to a qualitatively different fight.


We believe our efforts are what define a movement. We’re giving everything to build this movement here on the front lines in the battle of community rights over corporate power. If this is something you would like to be part of, we would love to meet you.


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© 2018 Willmeng for Grassroots Power