By Matt Garrington
This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
With ballots arriving in mailboxes across Colorado, it is time to address Amendment 74, a seemingly innocuous amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would create a nightmare of litigation and severely limit the ability of state and local governments to protect our clean air and water, develop renewable energy, and conserve our treasured landscapes.
As former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis pointed out, Colorado’s constitution already protects private property rights. Amendment 74 would create new entitlements that ultimately benefit polluters. It’s no wonder that 99.7 percent of the money backing Amendment 74 comes from an oil and gas group.
The measure would amend Colorado Constitution as follows:
Private property shall not be taken or damaged, or reduced in fair market value by government law or regulation for public or private use, without just compensation (Amendment 74 language highlighted in bold).
Despite the brevity of the language, Amendment 74 would have huge consequences for Colorado. Under this permanent constitutional amendment, state and local governments will likely face thousands of frivolous lawsuits asking for billions of dollars for virtually any law or regulation that polluters claim change the value of a of property, however incidental or temporary. The cost for government to perform basic functions to protect our air, water, and open spaces would be unsustainable.
This is the lesson Oregon voters learned in 2004 when they passed a similar measure and faced nearly $20 billion in claims in just a few years. Local governments could not afford the price tag and stopped enforcing land use laws – creating a free-for-all for reckless projects. Oregon later rescinded the measure just three years later.
Here’s what the Colorado Springs Gazette had to say after they took the unusual action of reversing their position and opposing Amendment 74:
“By opening the floodgates to anything-goes litigation, Amendment 74 could jeopardize the property rights it claims to defend. Imagine Bob buys a lot, gets it zoned residential, and builds a house. The new home impedes the mountain view from neighbor Charlie’s house. Under this law, Charlie has grounds to sue the local government for allowing Bob to diminish his view and lower the value of his home.
Don’t like the new big-box store down the street? Sue government for allowing it, arguing it devalues your home. Want to build a new big-box store where one is not allowed? Sue local government for a regulation that lowers the potential value of your land.”
The unintended consequences of Amendment 74 is why there is such a strong opposition by more than 100 cities and counties, state leaders from across the aisle such as Republican Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, chambers of commerce, labor unions, teachers, farmers, hunters, anglers, fire and police departments, conservation groups, cities and counties from all over the state, and every single newspaper in Colorado that has editorialized on the proposal.
If you want Colorado to retain its ability to protect clean air, safe drinking water, our states renewable energy future, and a healthy environment, the answer is simple:
Vote NO on Amendment 74.