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Category Archives: Legal
Beartooth Front landowners last week filed the critical brief in their lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners. It outlines their argument for why landowners alone, without the approval of minerals owners, should be able to establish a citizen-initiated zoning district. The argument lies at the heart of a central tension in Montana law: the self-determination of landowners to decide what happens on their own property vs. the importance of mineral extraction to the state economy.
Assuming there are no extensions, the County will have 21 days to respond, and then the landowners will have 14 days to reply. That will put the end of briefings in early October. Our attorney has asked for a hearing on the motion, and we are hopeful that Judge Jones will conduct the hearing and issue a ruling on our motion before the end of the year.
To read more, click the link.
Judge Blair Jones issued his first ruling today in the lawsuit Beartooth Front Coalition et al. vs. Board of Commissioners, Stillwater County. He ruled in favor of the landowners, denying the County’s motion for a summary judgment in their favor.
To find out more and read Judge Jones’ ruling, click the link. Continue reading
There was a familiar look to the gallery at the hearing Thursday in the Stillwater County Courthouse in Columbus. In the case of Beartooth Front Coalition et al vs. Stillwater County Commissioners, there were, by my count, 56 people there in support of the Beartooth Front Coalition, which is suing Stillwater County to establish a citizen-initiated zone to regulate land use related to oil and gas along the Beartooth Front.
They were easy to identify. They all knew each other. They are neighbors in southern Stillwater County, many from families that have been there for generations, who signed a petition to establish the zone. They greeted each other by name, offered encouragement, expressed resolve to be successful in the suit.
To find out what happened at the hearing (with photo), click the link. Continue reading
Action Alert: Please attend hearing on Stillwater County landowner lawsuit, Thursday, July 26, 1:30pm
The next step in the Beartooth Front Coaltion lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners is a hearing in front of Judge Blair Jones. The hearing will be held at the Stillwater County Courthouse in Columbus on Thursday, July 26 at 1:30 pm.
This step is the first of several hearings in this case. If the landowners are successful in their suit, the ultimate outcome will be for the Commissioners to hold a hearing to consider the petition. It is critical for them to see evidence at every step of the way that landowners stand firm in their demand that their rights be protected.
Please come if you can.
To read more about the suit and the hearing, click the link. Continue reading
Stillwater County’s out of state law firm wasted no time in responding to the Beartooth Front Coalition’s lawsuit against Stillwater County by filing a motion to dismiss the suit. The petitioners have responded, and the case is in motion. This post summarizes the arguments put forward in the case so far, with links to the court documents.
Click the link to find out the details. Continue reading
The Stillwater County Commissioners have retained a high-priced out-of-state law firm to defend a lawsuit filed against them by Beartooth Front landowners. Over 60% of the landowners in the area have petitioned the County to set up a citizen-initiated zone to regulate oil and gas drilling, in accordance with Montana law.
Why would they hire a firm from out of state? And why would they hire a firm with rates much higher than would be charged by an expert Montana firm? It’s impossible to tell for sure. There has been no public notice of any contractual relationship with an outside firm. A look at recent Commissioner agendas and meeting minutes makes no mention of a contract.
But a look at the facts shows that the Commissioners have gone out of their way not only to deprive local landowners of their rights, but to establish a precedent that will end citizen-initiated zoning in Montana. In doing so they will pave the way for the oil and gas industry to operate without regard for local communities. This agenda dovetails perfectly with the national agenda of the oil and gas industry.
To find out more about this law firm, click the link. Continue reading
A coalition of Montana property owners, public health advocates, and conservation groups today filed a legal challenge to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which refused last September to grant the public greater access to information about the chemicals used in fracking.
Many chemicals used in fracking are toxic or carcinogenic to humans, who may be exposed to the chemicals through surface spills of fracking fluids, groundwater contamination, and chemical releases into the air. As we often show on this site, numerous studies have documented adverse health effects in people who live or use water wells near fracking operations.
In 2011 the BOGC put rules in place regarding chemical disclosure. These rules have two major shortcomings:
1. They allow oil and gas operators to withhold the identities of specific chemicals they use for fracking from the Board and the public until after fracking occurs.
2. Even after fracking occurs, operators may continue to withhold the identity of any fracking chemical information they claim is a trade secret. They can do this, according to the rules, without providing any evidence demonstrating that withheld chemical information actually qualifies as a trade secret under state law and with no oversight by the BOGC.
To read more about the lawsuit, click the link. Continue reading
In a huge victory for landowners over the oil and gas industry, two families in Dimock, Pennsylvania were awarded $4.2 million in a lawsuit over water contamination from shale gas drilling. Dimock is the town made famous for its flammable water in the film Gasland.
Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, the defendant in the suit, had denied that it was responsible for the contamination. They had settled a similar lawsuit in 2012 with 40 other residents on the same road, but, as is usually the case in this kind of lawsuit, the settlement had included a “non-disparagement” clause that prevents plaintiffs from speaking publicly about the case.
Click to read more about this huge landowner victory. Continue reading
This article looks at possible impacts of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Paris climate change agreement. Scalia died on Saturday, February 13.
Last December in Paris, representatives of 195 countries, representing more than 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions, reached a landmark climate agreement that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. United States leadership was key to passage, with President Obama committing to significant cuts in carbon emissions.
From a policy perspective, the key to the US commitment was the Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will require power plants to make significant reductions in emissions. The standards limit the amount of carbon pollution released for every power plant covered by the rule, and they are the same for every plant in every state. The cuts would have their biggest impact on coal power.
The viability of the Paris agreement was threatened last week when, in one of the final decisions in which Scalia participated, the Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block the CPP. Scalia voted with the majority.
To find out what this means for the CPP, particularly with regard to its implementation in Montana, click the link.
All briefs have now been filed in the Carbon County case before the Montana Supreme Court. In the case, Belfry landowners have challenged the Carbon County Commission’s rejection of their petition for land use regulations to protect their private properties from the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling.
The Supreme Court has previously agreed to review the case. The Court will now decide whether to schedule a hearing or make a decision after reviewing the briefs.
This case is important because Montana law affords few protections to landowners against damages that can occur when oil and gas activity takes place near their homes. Citizen initiated zoning (CIZ) is one of the few opportunities Montana citizens have to establish local regulations to protect their properties. It has been used effectively in places like Bozeman and Great Falls to establish regulations to protect citizens.
Yet that process is badly flawed. The Silvertip zoning case currently before the Supreme Court exposes some of the problems with the process. Silvertip landowners worked to meet all CIZ requirements. Their petitions were accepted by the Carbon County Commissioners, who then made the decision, after multiple public hearings, that the zone was “in the public interest and convenience,” as required by law.
Subsequent events that led the Commissioners to reverse their decision exposed some significant ambiguities in the process that will affect landowners in other counties. Cases like the current one can help to make the CIZ process more clearly defined in law so that the Silvertip landowners, as well as landowners in other communities, can take advantage of CIZ provisions to protect their properties.
To read more about the case and review briefs that have been filed, click the link. Continue reading