Michelle Hale: Time for state to act
November 17, 2012
Recently, the Routt County Board of Commissioners put in place regulatory restrictions that effectively stop energy development in Routt County. That de facto ban likely goes against Colorado state law. But, there is an even more basic right that is being impinged by the actions of Routt County: the property rights of the mineral estate owner are being eliminated.
The established law of Colorado is that the surface rights are subservient to the subsurface rights. It is clear that some residents of Routt County do not agree with that approach. But, without such a system, traditional ideas of property are meaningless. The proper avenue to change the law would be through the state legislative process. But anti-energy advocates know they cannot even hope to get such a drastic change through the state Legislature. So, they go against state law and remove the property rights locally.
In this instance, the county is attempting to supercede the authority of the state, and it is the state that should take measures to uphold state property laws. Ultimately, this dispute is between two state actors — the county and the state. Resolving this dispute is important for all the residents of Colorado. Today, it is someone's mineral rights being taken away by local fiat. Tomorrow, it will be something else, as local elected majorities change.
If the state of Colorado does not actively protect all aspects of private property, all value in property eventually will be lost, and its economy will wither and die as even those few who choose to remain will not be spared from the incentive to take the property of another via the political process what they were unwilling to rightly pay the market price. Without enforceable property rights there will be no safe harbor from sheer, political brute force.
Because this is a conflict between regulating bodies, it is inherent that those bodies resolve their differences — not foist the responsibility of a resolution upon private citizens. Gov. John Hickenlooper, acting through his attorney general, must intercede to bring order in Routt County.
The residents of the state of Colorado deserve clear guidance on the nature of their property rights and the regulatory environment in Colorado. Without clear guidance, private investment dollars will leak to neighbor states that also enjoy enriching domestic energy resources. In the end, when property is taken by force through the political process instead of voluntary exchange in the marketplace, we all lose something.