Candidates for governor square off in Rifle | AspenTimes.com

Candidates for governor square off in Rifle

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

Gubernatorial candidates Bob Beauprez and Bill Ritter faced off Wednesday over energy issues in Rifle.The candidates answered prepared questions in front of an audience that filled only about two thirds of the Rifle High School auditorium. Area radio newsman Ron Milhorn was the moderator for the forum, which the Associated Governments of Northwestern Colorado presented. The forum didn’t include questions from the audience.The candidates agreed on several of the issues. Both harped on their rural roots as proof they have the background to understand the challenges facing small towns on the Western Slope. They agreed that oil and gas development continues to have significant impacts on both the economy and the environment. And they agreed it’s necessary to balance development with protection of the land.

“We need to understand the energy economy absolutely needs to go forward,” Ritter said. “But it should go forward in a responsible way.”The changen that energy development brings to the area “is tough to manage. You have two choices, you can manage it or it can manage you,” Beauprez said. Development needs to be managed with “common sense so as to preserve and protect this place we call home.”Beauprez, a Republican, and Ritter, a Democrat, had little disagreement over whether mineral severance tax – which oil and gas and coal companies pay back to counties where mining takes place as energy impact grants – should be siphoned off to pay for local government projects in other parts of the state. But when asked if the tax rate should be raised Beauprez said, “Hell, no. I’d protect the dollars that are rightfully yours.”

Ritter said he’d leave the question open and have a dialogue with industry and local government to determine if revenues are adequately covering impacts. He also said gas development is having an effect on other counties, such as Weld and La Plata, which should also get their fair share.Ritter took aim at Beauprez at one point, citing his spot on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen List” for his poor voting record on environmental issues and for his plan to enhance wildlife habitat as mitigation for oil and gas development.”I disagree with it. You can’t change migration patterns by telling the elk to go to another place,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience.In answer to a question about how they would take care of repairs to roads feeling the effects of increased traffic from gas development, each had a different approach. Beauprez said he would scrap a 22.5 percent gas tax in favor of a .77 cent sales tax that would “replace dollar for dollar the transportation tax we’ve got now.”

Ritter disagreed: “A sales tax is a really bad idea,” that would affect the poor and retailers.They also diverged on the issue of split estate: In much of western Garfield County, ownership of minerals is separate from the surface of the land. By law, energy companies can access private land to develop the subsurface minerals. Many landowners in the area have seen unwanted development on their land because of the law.Ritter said he was committed to finding a way to pass legislation, which has failed in previous attempts, to provide compensation for land owners who have their land impacted by development.

Beauprez said the present system is working. “I’ve had experience with split estate on land we own … that worked out very well for us. I know there’s conflict there … and I will lead the effort to get interested parties to the table,” he said.Both Beauprez and Ritter praised former state legislator and Rifle resident Russell George, who heads the Department of Natural Resources. The agency oversees oil and gas development through its Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and both men said their staff should include George.”I have a lot of respect for Russ George. We’ve had a good working relationship, and he’s done a lot of good things for the state,” Ritter said.

Beauprez was even more emphatic: “Russ George is one of the best minds we have in Colorado. If he wants a job in my administration he can have one.”In their final statements, Ritter and Beauprez reiterated their campaign themes and took a couple of well-aimed swipes at each other. For Beauprez, the key words were government experience and cracking down on illegal immigrants. He also blasted his opponent’s record as Denver’s district attorney for reducing felony charges against illegal aliens.Ritter called on the voters to look at Beauprez’s voting record as a U.S. representative from the 7th District in supporting the 2005 Energy Policy Act that calls for fast-tracking drilling permits and oil shale development.”We’re giving the federal government less time to consider environmental impacts – that’s just the wrong thing to do in terms of what’s in the best interest of the people of this state.”