CORE Act passes House, faces uncertain future
A bill that would protect about 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday despite opposition from the Republican congressman who represents most of the impacted area.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which affects public lands within Pitkin County and surrounding it, passed the House 227-182 on Thursday morning. It is the first statewide Colorado wilderness legislation to pass the House in more than a decade.
“It’s a big day for public lands, it’s a big day for Colorado,” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, who introduced the bill, said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. “It’s really about protecting land for future generations.”
The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said it deserves a hearing in front of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“There’s no reason it shouldn’t have a hearing,” Bennet said on the conference call shortly after Thursday’s vote.
However, the CORE Act lacks the support of Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will be key to its fate, said Will Roush, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.
“A lot depends on Sen. Gardner,” Roush told The Aspen Times. “In the past, he’s said he won’t block it but he needs to support it.”
But that support appears far from certain.
Gardner told The Colorado Sun on Thursday that Rep. Scott Tipton’s opposition to the CORE Act is concerning. “… (It’s) important for the member of Congress who is in the district where the land is located to be supportive of the bill,” he said. “That’s the way it’s always been done in Colorado.”
Gardner said he wanted changes made to the bill before he’d support it.
However, even if the bill makes it out of the Senate, the Trump administration threatened to veto it earlier this week.
Bennet said he was “shocked” at the veto threat and found it “completely inexplicable.”
“Particularly when the president ought to have other things to think about,” Bennet said. “I hope he’ll reconsider his views.”
In a news release Thursday, Tipton cited “concerns from Western Colorado counties and stakeholders directly and indirectly impacted by the bill” that were not “adequately addressed prior to the vote” as the reason for this vote against it. The release included letters from Montrose, Montezuma and Mesa county commissioners questioning or not supporting the bill.
The CORE Act would protect about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide, located in parts of Pitkin, Garfield, Delta, Gunnison and Mesa counties, from mineral extraction. It would also preserve 28,000 acres at Camp Hale — home of the 10th Mountain Division below Tennessee Pass — and create another 73,000 acres of wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties and in the San Juans. Finally, it would create a formal boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Neguse and Bennet touted the community support behind the CORE Act, which has been worked out compromise by compromise over the past decade, Bennet said. Neguse said supporters have received no opposition from communities or counties impacted by the CORE Act.
Pitkin County Commission Board Chairman Greg Poschman said Thursday he was excited the bill passed the House.
“I did not expect that to happen today,” he said, because Tipton did not support it.
Now, however, Poschman said he’s optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Senate.
“I have a feeling the tide is turning now,” said Poschman, whose father was a member of the 10th Mountain Division and taught soldiers how to ski at Camp Hale during WWII.
He said Gardner “better start listening to his constituency.”
“We’re just hoping he starts listening to what people are saying around here,” Poschman said. “There’s a real disconnect.”
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Pitkin County residents are coming out in droves to apply for financial assistance through a local relief fund. Almost 60 percent of the 800-plus applicants are Aspen residents.