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Climate Justice in Your Own Back Yard

CJM helps lead spontaneous participation of eco-groups
to grab control of fracking in our community. 

Right here, right now. This is what I need to be doing, I thought as I pep talked myself to the podium this past Friday.  In five minutes, to three people representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I introduced myself from Climate Justice Ministry of Foothills Unitarian Church and described our work. It was a public hearing on whether or not to downgrade Colorado’s air quality to “serious.”

This moment in state history is part of Gov. Polis’ strategy — our previous Governor asked for an 18-month suspension to federal intervention for our state’s unhealthy air, with the idea that we might reverse course and avoid the trouble. But, with the growing number of wells, no amount of industry tweaks would make this situation winnable. So, Polis actually asked to rescind the request for extension. Flunk us now. Tell us what to do. Help. 

Perhaps you or someone near you has a persistent “summer cold”? Or you suffer asthma and are acutely aware of the many “Stay indoors” warnings we now get. Our state has fallen from grace regarding its once blue sky reputation. The poison we inhale from thousands of oil and gas wells east of us makes us sick in more ways than most of us realize — and science now has proof. 

The good news? Colorado Senate Bill 181 recently passed to give us local control of oil and gas development — and super important — to insist that the regulation of oil & gas PRIORITIZE Health, Safety & the Environment. Formerly, it was weighed against industry profit. How much of a hit to our health were we willing to take for the money? Well, it’s a lot of money (for Weld County), and those many debilitating symptoms are anecdotal, so they said. 

When SB-181 passed, local leaders sprung up, banded together to make a plan. We’re hopeful that we can now legally stop wells from being next to schools and homes, from hogging millions of gallons of precious water to frack. Now we’re rolling like a snowball downhill. We are banded as the Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety & the Environment. 

Our pace must keep us abreast of Larimer County, which selected a 15-member task force of which 2/3 have industry ties. The county’s aim is to roll out its rules for local control as soon as October. Applications are pending for about 40 wells, some by bad actors — companies known for accidents, mistakes, and failure to prepare or mitigate. Some are very near neighborhoods. Bethke Elementary School in Timnath now has a well. Terry Lake has one coming. Loveland is an easy target because fewer of its citizens are opposed. 

We’re uncertain why our county managers insist on rushing, since stalled profit is no longer a lead consideration. We’ve asked that they slow down until the new Colorado Oil and Gas Commission has had the time to announce new rules for the state, based on the new criteria. We are bracing for what we’ve been told will be a formal NO at this week’s commissioner meeting. 

It’s far easier to stop bad laws or influence their making than to reverse, amend or repeal. This is our moment. 

Larimer Alliance is preparing our next requests for rules to ensure the safest development. We are calling all support to make the groundswell of concerned citizens obvious. We consistently appear and comment at Tuesday morning commissioner meetings, we intend to fill the room at Task Force meetings, canvas neighborhoods, write press releases, host educational events, walk in parades… and anything else we can think of to show we are united and strong in our determination to protect OUR community. If you’ve wondered how to fight climate change in a way that matters — start with your home. 

I told the EPA on behalf of CJM and the Larimer Alliance: The terrible air we breathe cannot stand more; scientific instruments show Larimer County residents are breathing a lot of poison from the nation’s most fracked county, just across the road from us. We’d like to talk to Weld County about all the money it enjoys while all we get is sick, but we’ve been advised to not engage — because Weld Commissioners are in a legal thicket trying to convince the state that “local control” should also allow FEWER rules. So, I said to the EPA, please downgrade our state to Serious bad ozone. HELP US with pressure from the Fed to recognize our right to BREATHABLE AIR. 

Air is just one of many issues surrounding oil and gas development. We’ve so much to cover. Can you help? Your presence is needed. Here’s some dates and events where you can stand up for the climate justice in your own backyard:

  1. Every Tuesday 9 am, County Courthouse: just listen, or speak. If uncertain on speaking, Larimer Alliance can offer what you might say. 
  2. Monday, 9/16 6:30 p.m., General meeting of all groups strategizing for Larimer Alliance (you’ll have to ask in person for the place).
  3. Friday, Sept. 27, 5:30 p.m. Old Town Square Climate Action Strike by Defend Our Future.
  4. Friday, Oct. 4, 4 p.m. Canvas Stadium, CSU Homecoming Parade

For more information, visit LarimerAlliance.org, check out the Climate Justice Ministry calendar of events and join our group at Foothills

I invite you to feel the energy of this diverse group of people making things up as we go towards goals that are quite measurable, all the more possible, and unflinchingly necessary.

Kristen Psaki,
Assistant Minister for Beloved Community