Natural Resources and Environment
Attorneys in the Natural Resources & Environment Section (NRE) work with client agencies to protect and improve the quality of Colorado’s natural environment and ensure intelligent use and development of the state’s natural resources. The Section provides legal counsel and representation to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on the regulation of mining, oil and gas, parks and wildlife, state lands, and water rights and to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on the regulation of air quality, water quality, radiation control, and hazardous and solid waste management. The Section also advocates on behalf of the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees and the Colorado Energy Office.
Parks & Wildlife, Trust Lands, and Resource Conservation Units
Three units in the NRE Section represent the boards, commissions, and divisions of DNR that regulate state lands, school trust lands, and extractive industries, including: the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) which regulates oil and gas operations throughout the State; the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) which regulates prospecting, exploration, mining, and reclamation operations statewide; the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners (SLB) which manages perpetual public trusts to support public schools and public institutions; and the Parks & Wildlife Commission and Division (CPW) which manages state wildlife areas and state parks, hunting and fishing programs, recreational trails, vessels, snowmobiles, off-highway vehicles and river outfitters.
Water Conservation, Water Resources, and Federal & Interstate Water Units
Three units in the NRE Section represent the boards, commissions, and divisions of DNR that protect and administer water rights within Colorado and safeguard the State’s interests in interstate rivers and the State’s allocations in interstate compacts and agreements, including: the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) which acquires water for instream flows to preserve the natural environment, reviews applications for recreational in-channel diversions (kayak courses), approves grants and loans to water providers, adopts rules on weather modification and regulation of floodplains; the Colorado Division of Water Resources (State Engineer and seven Division Engineers) which administers water rights throughout the State; and the Colorado Ground Water Commission which regulates designated ground water basins.
The importance of water originating in Colorado cannot be overstated. Colorado is home to the headwaters of four major river systems: The Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Colorado. These rivers serve as the lifeblood for our population, economy, environment, and way of life from our iconic mountains to our vast plains. They also serve to provide water to tens of millions of people living in 19 states and Mexico. As a headwaters state, Colorado must honor the division of waters between its citizens and those of other states as set forth in nine interstate compacts, two Supreme Court equitable apportionment decrees, and two memorandums of understanding to which Colorado is a party. These agreements, decisions, and understandings govern how much water Colorado is entitled to use and consume within its boundaries. The Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies and compact commissioners in matters of water allocation among states, in intrastate matters, and in matters involving the federal government.
Hazardous & Solid Waste, Air Quality, and Water Quality & Radiation Units
Three units in the Section represent the divisions, offices, boards, and commissions within CDPHE that oversee environmental protection programs, including the Hazardous Waste Commission and the Hazardous Materials
Waste Management Division which regulate hazardous and solid waste and approve Brownfields and voluntary cleanups; the Air Quality Control Commission and the Air Pollution Control Division which adopt and implement programs to regulate air pollution and improve air quality; the Colorado Energy Office in the Governor’s Office which promotes effective and efficient production and consumption of energy in the State; the Water Quality Control Commission and Division which adopt and implement standards to protect water quality; and the Radiation Management Program which regulates sources of radiation throughout the State. The Section also represents Colorado’s Natural Resources Trustees in their efforts to ensure any injuries to Colorado’s natural resources are compensated, and that projects initiated with recovered damages are used to replace or restore those damaged resources.
Endangered Species Assessment
Colorado’s citizens treasure the state’s natural wonders, including our diverse wildlife, fish, and plant resources and the complex ecosystems needed to support them. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has the responsibility of managing and conserving wildlife and its habitat in Colorado under the guidance of both state and federal laws. One of the federal laws that has played an increasingly important role in Colorado’s wildlife management is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA, which aims to ensure species designated endangered or threatened and their habitat upon are conserved and protected, plays an increasingly important role in Colorado’s wildlife management.
Colorado’s endangered and threatened species include the black-footed ferret, the Canada lynx, two species of meadow jumping mouse, four species of fish in the Colorado River Basin, the Gunnison sage-grouse, the southwestern willow flycatcher, and a variety of plants. Colorado is currently challenging the decision to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened. Other Colorado species being considered for listing include the boreal toad and the Arkansas darter. Collaborative efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse by western states, federal agencies, local governments, and landowners, have resulted in a recent decision not to list that species.
As our state’s population grows and spreads, many species require special attention to ensure they can continue to thrive. The AG’s office provides legal guidance for the Department of Natural Resources to engage with the federal government to maximize the ability of state agencies to jointly manage wildlife, habitat, and natural resources in a way that is compatible with continued prosperity for the people of Colorado. When necessary to protect the state’s multiple interests, the office challenges actions that are not in accordance with the ESA.
Colorado Office of the Attorney General
Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center
1300 Broadway, 7th Floor
Denver, CO 80203