EDITORIAL: Two Colorado bills would defend property rights from activists' threats

By: Gazette editorial board
February 15, 2017 Updated: February 15, 2017 at 10:16 am
photo - Feds approve pipeline amid calls for new protests
Feds approve pipeline amid calls for new protests 

Anti-energy activists have a constitutional right to zealously oppose oil and gas production. They can do this, even as some drive to demonstrations in gas-guzzlers and heat their homes with natural gas they want kept in the ground.

Anti-energy protesters have the right to hold signs and yell at hardhat workers approaching drilling rigs for their shifts.

The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids government from abridging "the right of the people peaceably to assemble." We love this law. Without the First Amendment The Gazette's editorial board would have been silenced long ago.

If anyone tries to stop anti-energy activists from peaceably gathering to demand the shutdown of energy production, we will come to their defense. We will demand law enforcement uphold the right to protest.

With no less enthusiasm, we support two legislative bills that would protect oil and gas workers, companies and investors from anti-energy zealotry.

Senate Bill 17-035 may be heard Thursday in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The bill, introduced by committee chairman Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would impose accountability on protesters who ignore the "peaceably" qualifier in the First Amendment.

The bill would establish class 6 felony charges for energy protesters suspected of tampering with oil or gas equipment in any manner "placing another at risk of death or serious bodily injury as part of the crime."

This is common sense. Just as protesters have a sacred right to peaceably assemble and make their case, oil and gas workers have a right to make use of private property in lawful pursuit of wages. They have the right to work in peace, free from dangers caused by those who breach the reasonable constraints placed on free speech.

"People continue to break into enclosed areas, break locks, and adjust valves on oil or gas gathering equipment; Most people who are arrested for such activity are only charged with second or third degree trespass, either a class 3 misdemeanor or a class 1 petty offense," explains Sonnenberg's bill.

House Bill 17-1066 would force any local governments that ban oil and gas production to compensate losses they cause to oil and gas operators, mineral lessees and owners of mineral rights. The law would require reimbursement of all costs, damages and losses of fair market value caused by the moratorium. The bill is scheduled for a Feb. 22 hearing in the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, otherwise known as the "kill committee" of the Democratic-controlled House.

Before simply killing the bill, legislators should consider the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which says "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

A moratorium on legal oil and gas claims is the definition of taking property for public use. All over Colorado, communities have violated Colorado law with fracking bans intended to protect the public from the sights and sounds energy production.

Property rights are essential to public safety and the protection of investments made lawfully and in good faith. In the interest of civility and the rule of law, legislators should support these two bills.

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