Ed Ireland: Taxpayers foot the bill on fracking bans
Friday, May 15, 2015
Denton’s ban on hydraulic fracturing has been in the news quite a bit recently, but there’s an issue that has been lost in much of that debate: taxes.
You might ask, what do taxes have to do with locally passed bans on fracking? The answer is simple. When it comes to fracking bans, there is a monetary cost, and taxpayers foot the bill.
In March, Denton’s city attorney, Anita Burgess, told the House Energy Resources Committee that if the city had been forced to prepare a cost estimate for the fracking ban, it would have had a “chilling effect” on voters’ opinions. In other words, if Denton taxpayers knew how much the ban would cost them, it may have changed the outcome of the election.
This is important, because courts all across the country have ruled consistently that fracking bans are illegal.
The reasons range from violations of state law regarding oversight of production, to more fundamental issues, such as how bans prevent land owners from using their own property.
If the government takes an individual’s property and doesn’t compensate him or her for it, that action is going to result in a lawsuit nearly 100 percent of the time. Put differently: Taxpayers are being forced to fund the legal defense of policies that take away property rights and, as a result, have been deemed illegal.
In Colorado, four cities — Longmont, Broomfield, Boulder and Lafayette — have spent a third of a million dollars on legal expenses alone to try to defend the bans. Two of those have been struck down by the courts, meaning taxpayers were billed to defend an illegal policy. A report from the National Association of Royalty Owners estimated that the cost of a fracking ban in Boulder County alone could cost $1 billion, based upon the value of property that would be effectively taken from local landowners.
Experts say the fracking ban in Mora County, New Mexico — which was recently struck down by a federal court for violating the U.S. Constitution — will still cost county taxpayers thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
That’s especially bad news for a county that’s considered one of the state’s poorest.
Yet the executive director of the group that spearheaded that costly ban, the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), recently defended its actions in Mora County in this very newspaper.