Westword’s Chase Woodruff follows up on legislation we wrote about earlier this week from Colorado Republicans Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, ostensibly to protect more Colorado public land but in truth a competing measure to an original Democratic proposal to protect thousands of acres of wilderness–and, importantly close the long-fought over Thompson Divide area to new oil and gas drilling:
When congressional Democrats and a coalition of conservation groups unveiled the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act earlier this year, Senator Michael Bennet voiced his hope that the bill, a proposal to establish protections for approximately 400,000 acres of public lands across the state, might be immune to the “partisan disease” afflicting American politics.
The CORE Act, which is narrower in scope than other Colorado public-lands bills introduced in Congress in recent years, had “required compromise,” Bennet told supporters at a Denver ski-industry conference in February. He hoped that Colorado Republicans like Senator Cory Gardner and Representative Scott Tipton — who represents the West Slope’s 3rd Congressional District, where much of the CORE Act land is located — would sign on as co-sponsors, and urged conservationists to lobby Gardner and Tipton to make a “bipartisan lands package” a reality.
Six months later, Colorado Republicans have made a counterproposal, and their offer is this: nothing. Or at least very close to it, conservation groups say. [Pols emphasis]
In the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent today, locals express anger at Rep. Tipton over the omission of Thompson Divide in particular:
[T]he absence of Thompson Divide protections in the bill suggests Tipton is “not interested in helping out our community even though support for protecting the Divide spans political and social divides,” according to Mike Pritchard, board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
According to Tipton’s staff, the reason the proposed removal of the 200,000 or so acres of Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas leasing was not included in the REC Act is because Garfield County’s position remains unclear, and because there are still questions about grazing.
According to the Post-Independent, Garfield County commissioners have indeed come out in support of protecting Thompson Divide under the terms of the Democratic-sponsored CORE Act–but Tipton’s spokesman says came too late to make it into the GOP “REC Act” as introduced. But that could all just be a smokescreen for partisan treachery, since Tipton’s spokesman alluded to the congressman’s real problem being with Democrats having the temerity to care about public lands “in another member’s district.”
As with any such impasse where there remains hope of a bipartisan agreement, it’s important to show restraint in calling these situations how they appear–not least so one doesn’t end up forestalling agreement by being uncomfortably frank to one side.
But if, as conservation groups warn, this attempt by Republicans to sidestep the bipartisan consensus Democrats are trying to reach results in no public lands bill whatsoever or a bill that woefully fails to meet the desires of non-industry stakeholders, it’s going to be painfully obvious who’s to blame. If the goal of the “REC Act” was to provide cover to Tipton and Gardner while scuttling the public lands protections they say they support, these past few days of scrutiny have made that impossible.
That’s a nice way of saying the game is up.