A Win For Climate Action

Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC)  plaintiff Emma Bray before the lawsuit’s hearing at the Colorado Supreme Court in October 2018.

Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) plaintiff Emma Bray before the lawsuit’s hearing at the Colorado Supreme Court in October 2018.

Written by Tarsa Weikert

Emma Bray is a 19-year-old college student and climate activist who currently works with other activists to help regulate oil and gas in Colorado. Emma is known for her involvement in pushing for the recent pass of Colorado's SB-181 bill and a local lawsuit, Martinez v. COGCC, which was an anti-fracking case against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

"I was motivated to become involved in climate action when I saw the devastation that was happening on the Great Barrier Reef," said Emma. Seeing the effects of climate change caused Emma to become an activist and help in any way she can. Thus, leading to Emma to become involved in a lawsuit against fracking that even went to the Colorado Supreme Court. She was one of seven young Coloradans who brought suit against the COGCC, including Juliana v. United States plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

Emma believed the courts needed to be challenged to step in and help address climate change. "I had been studying fracking as my year-long focus in school and even though I was a child, I could understand that there was a climate crisis and we were engaging in activities that scientists were warning would be very dangerous for the future of the planet." 

Unfortunately, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the youth plaintiffs and lawsuit was not successful. "It was devastating to see the case fail in the Colorado Supreme Court after winning in  the Court of Appeals," said Emma. Challenging the system was extremely motivational for Emma, "It made me feel like I was making a difference, standing up for what I believe in." 

Even though the case was not successful, shortly after the loss in the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado passed a bill that supported the goal of the lawsuit. "Loss motivated us to pursue SB 19-181,” said Emma. “We demanded to change the mandate of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and the legislature and the people of Colorado have supported our efforts." Our Children’s Trust explains that SB 19-181, “makes clear that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must protect public health and the environment from oil and gas development; clarifies that the nonproduction of oil and gas does not constitute ‘waste’; eliminates the requirement that protections for public health and the environment take into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility; and gives more control over oil and gas operations to local governments.” This bill is a win for the plaintiffs of the Martinez v. COGCC lawsuit and all Coloradans.

However, Emma thinks this is only a small victory: "I think it is a first step and only a first step. There is so much more work to be done, and so much more to be accomplished in such a short amount of time that Coloradans can’t stop after just one victory because as we know, the oil and gas industry won’t take any steps to protect public health and the environment unless we force them to. The fact that health and safety must now be prioritized before oil and gas development is a big accomplishment. Now we must ensure that the COGCC complies with its new mandate.”

“There’s a lot of momentum right now,” Emma explained, “and it’s essential that we keep it up and continue to this fight against climate change. World leaders such as governors, presidents, prime ministers, legislators have failed the youth and future generations up to this point so it is now our responsibility to turn things around. Government officials making decisions today will not be here in a couple of decades when I and others will be suffering from climate change. But, I still believe that there is hope. We can, and we must, act swiftly to transition off fossil fuels in order to protect our future.” 

Caitlin Howard