Tipton will ‘take a look’ at Thompson Divide bill | AspenTimes.com

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Tipton will ‘take a look’ at Thompson Divide bill

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Third District Congressman Scott Tipton said Monday he would have his staff review a bill that was introduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet last week that seeks to limit oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide.

“We will certainly take a good look at it and see if it’s something that provides a good middle ground,” Tipton, R-Cortez, said following a meeting with the Garfield County commissioners in Glenwood Springs.

Tipton said he was not familiar enough with the specifics of the proposed Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act to say if it’s something he could support.

The bill was introduced on Friday by Sen. Bennett, D-Colo., who used the words “middle-ground solution” in offering the new legislation.

The bill would withdraw unleased minerals on public lands within the nearly 220,000-acre Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs from future oil and gas leasing.

It would preserve the development rights of existing leaseholders, while creating the opportunity for existing leases to be retired should they be donated or willingly sold by the leaseholders.

Tipton spoke to several public lands policy issues during the Monday visit, including the recent decision on oil shale leasing on public lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah issued by U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

That plan was also released on Friday. It directs the Bureau of Land Management to reduce the amount of acreage available to lease for oil shale research and development from 2 million acres under a 2008 plan, to less than 700,000 acres. In Colorado, the amount of acreage was cut from 360,000 to 26,000 acres.

Tipton agreed with the Garfield commissioners, who had opposed the new leasing rules, that the decision was a disappointing one.

“We can’t be rooted in old knowledge on these matters, and we need to develop and use new technology,” Tipton told a small gathering of constituents after his discussion with the commissioners.

Recent events in the Middle East emphasize the need for the United States to develop a sound domestic energy policy. That includes policies related to public lands, he said.

“In our area, we’re talking about young families being able to pay their heating bills,” he said. “Developing energy resources right here at home is going to be in our best interests.”

Tipton recently re-introduced his strategic energy proposal in Congress. It’s a plan that he said promotes responsible development on public lands of not only fossil fuel resources, such as oil, natural gas, oil shale and coal, but renewable resources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal as well.

County commissioners also took the opportunity to present the county’s newly proposed greater sage-grouse conservation plan.

The plan uses a new mapping model that the county says indicates a much smaller area of critical habitat for the bird in northwestern Garfield County than in maps being used by federal land management officials.

The county’s plan identifies only about 15,500 acres of suitable habitat in the county, compared to 221,000 acres in the BLM plan, a 93 percent reduction.

Of that, 78 percent is privately held land, including land owned by several energy companies, while just 22 percent involves BLM lands. The county plan proposes mandated protections for the birds on any public lands where the bird’s habitat is identified, and incentive-based measures for private property owners.

“I applaud what you’re doing in creating a local policy rather than a broad brush [federal] policy,” Tipton said.

In a related matter Monday, the county commissioners issued their formal comments stating opposition to the BLM’s reopening of Roan Plateau resource management plan EIS related to oil and gas leasing.

“It is our opinion that the existing EIS was thorough and well-balanced, and does not need to be recreated,” according to the commissioners’ formal statement, which will be forwarded in a letter to BLM Colorado River Valley Resource Area Field Manager Steven Bennett.

“The length of time invested by participants in the original process can be measured in years, and the result that came from all of the work was a consensus of the groups on the preferred plan,” the commissioners said.

The letter goes on to site several specific reasons why the county believes the plan should not be reopened.

Also Monday, the commissioners signed an agreement to work with the BLM as an official “coordinating agency” in re-drafting the Roan Plateau management plan.

jstroud@postindependent.com