The outcome of the two Mora County Commission races in Tuesday’s primary should serve as a reality check to all elected officials grappling with the prospect of oil and gas drilling in their jurisdictions.
You may recall that Mora County last year became the first county in the nation to institute an outright ban on oil and gas exploration through a community rights ordinance. The ultimate goal of the ordinance is to protect the environment from fracking. But the ordinance adopted attempts to strip corporations of rights that the U.S. Supreme Court has determined they have, and it attempts to override state and federal laws.
Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia voted against the community rights ordinance because she didn’t believe it would stand up in court. Commission chairman John Paul Olivas joined another commissioner in pushing the ordinance through.
Olivas and Mora County garnered national and even international attention after the ordinance was adopted. But the county is also facing two lawsuits alleging that Mora County’s ordinance is unconstitutional, a position that we wholeheartedly agree with.
Last Tuesday it was Democratic voters’ turn to chime in on the issue, and they voted overwhelmingly to fire Olivas and to keep Garcia on the Commission. Garcia faces a Republican challenger in the November general election.
Some may argue that other issues affected the outcome of Tuesday’s election, but in our view the top issue was the community rights ordinance and the litigation it has spawned.
We believe that Mora County voters were sending the message that they expect their county officials to be prudent in their actions, and adopting a community rights ordinance wasn’t prudent.
Supporters of the community rights ordinance movement have been trying to pressure the San Miguel County Commission to follow Mora County’s lead. So far, San Miguel County commissioners have resisted that pressure, but we fear that the election of Rock Ulibarri to the District 1 seat could begin to change that. Ulibarri, who has no Republican opponent in the November general election and will likely take office on Jan. 1, supports community rights ordinances.
We urge Ulibarri to reconsider his support for community rights ordinances and we ask our other commissioners to think twice about going down that road.
Adopting a community rights ordinance would surely lead to litigation the county cannot win. The better option is to adopt the strongest regulatory ordinance possible.