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Fracking Test Case

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Rural New Mexico is a very interesting place. It’s basically the only rural area of the United States that is militantly pro-Democratic. When I lived in Albuquerque and Santa Fe from 2000-07, I’d be driving up there and see “Bush is a Murderer” graffiti and other similar things on pipes, buildings, and the such. This is a majority Latino place where people are VERY VERY ANGRY that white people stole their land after 1848, flushing the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo down the toilet and eliminating their land grants.

So I am not surprised at all that Mora County would take the lead in anti-fracking cases, basically ignoring a federal law the country frankly doesn’t have much respect for and banning energy companies from fracking public lands in the county. But this is more interesting than just some people sticking it in the eye of the energy companies. Mora County knows it will lose but are trying to clarify the law so have more concrete standing for other actions going forward.

More than 150 townships and municipalities in the US have passed laws similar to Mora’s—and in a way, being taken to federal court is a sign of progress. “If we never even take the first baby step to [go to] court, we [will] always [be] behind the eight ball,” says Kathleen Dudley, a Mora resident and organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), whose lawyers offer pro bono legal council to the communities in drafting and defending their laws. “We will never ever make it to a place of changing law.”

County Chairman John Olivas agrees. “If they don’t crush us and tell us that we need to go away then we could set the precedent for a lot of communities across the country,” he told me. The opposition knows this too: “This is the first test of this issue in the country, it’s very important,” says William Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, the law firm representing Vermillion.

“We’re actually working…across the country, from state to state, to change constitutional law,” explains Dudley of CELDF. The “Constitution is a political reflection of the time,” she adds. “It is not sacrilegious to change it. That’s why we have twenty-seven amendments.” Mari Margil, CELDF’s associate director, draws a comparison to the LGBTQ movement’s use of lawmaking at the local and then state levels. “Now they’re driving into the courts,” Margil says. “That’s how real change gets made, especially to secure and expand rights, and that’s what this is about.”

This is a very interesting legal strategy and deserves following going forward.

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