If you rely on nothing but cable news for coverage of the work being done by opponents of domestic energy exploration, you’d probably think they’re doing pretty well. Rather than trying to win a big, gauzy fight in Washington, DC, allegedly “environmental” activists have been shifting their efforts to the local level, getting states, cities, and even counties or villages to pass local ordinances against energy exploration… particularly against their favorite bogyman, fracking. One of their most recent victories came here in New York last month when a permanent moratorium on the practice was signed into law by the governor. This started a countdown clock for challenges and lawsuits which is set to expire shortly. After that, at least in the opinion of Andrew Cuomo, everyone needs to just shut up about it.

Successful efforts such as this by anti-energy groups have been greatly abetted by organizations such as the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) They focus on local level disruptions to energy exploration which frequently fly under the radar. The group helps local activists promote the development of things like a “Community Bill of Rights” which purports to exert local control in defiance of state or federal rules and clamp down on any industrial, commercial activity they see fit. They also specialize in passing things like (take a deep breath here…) a recognition of the legal rights of mother nature.

Under the current system of law in almost every country, nature is considered to be property, a treatment which confers upon the property owner the right to destroy ecosystems and nature on that property. When we talk about the “rights of nature,” it means recognizing that ecosystems and natural communities are not merely property that can be owned, but are entities that have an independent right to exist and flourish. Laws recognizing the rights of nature thus change the status of natural communities and ecosystems to being recognized as rights-bearing entities with rights that can be enforced by people, governments, and communities.

But while the media tends to cheer on their local victories, these programs – as well as the resulting specific or de facto bans on drilling which result – have been successfully challenged in court in a number of places and may be wearing down the resistance. Our first example is from Colorado where last year multiple local bans on drilling were tossed out by the courts.

Voters in five Front Range cities in 2012 and 2013 approved bans or years-long moratoriums on fracking within their jurisdictions.

Since July, judges have struck down three of those bans, in Longmont, Fort Collins and Lafayette, while the bans are still in pace in Boulder and Broomfield. Longmont and Fort Collins are appealing the decisions.

The three district-court rulings against the fracking bans are considered good signs by oil and gas companies, Flanders said.

The industry already has invested billions of dollars in Colorado’s growing oil fields north and east of Denver, and more investment is expected.

In January, a federal judge overturned one of the first fracking bans in the nation which was enacted in New Mexico, again arguing that such local arm twisting runs counter to the legal doctrine of preemption between state and local government.

A federal judge has overturned a New Mexico county’s ban on oil and natural gas drilling that was the first of its kind when it was enacted nearly two years ago.

In a sprawling, nearly 200-page decision that touched on several constitutional elements, U.S. District Judge James O. Browning ruled that the ordinance clashes with federal law.

“Historically, a county cannot enact or supersede federal law,” Browning wrote. “The ordinance thus goes beyond Mora County’s historical lawmaking just to deprive a corporation of their rights.”

There are others. In June, the Ohio Supreme Court took up the question of whether local zoning ordinances can overrule state authority. The city of Munroe Falls was told that its five anti-drilling ordinances were unconstitutional. The court found that the law “does not allow a municipality to discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct oil and gas activities and production operations.” Also in Ohio, a Cuyahoga County judge tossed out the Community Bill of Rights which the CELDF had been pushing and which shut down energy production.

These are encouraging signs, but more needs to be done, In places like New York, better challenges need to be structured and taken further up the chain to the highest levels, referencing these other cases as precedent. Eventually we’ll need a shot at these overarching questions in the Supreme Court, but for now we’ll need to slug it out in the state level trenches if we want to keep America’s energy revival going.