Enviro groups push new energy agenda | AspenTimes.com

Enviro groups push new energy agenda

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

Several groups of Western conservationists are pushing for tighter control on oil and gas development through changes to the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.They are calling for Congress to repeal parts of the act, provide for tighter environmental rules and slow the pace of drilling on public lands.The groups, including the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, will take their “Western Energy Agenda” to legislators, said Steve Smith of Glenwood Springs, assistant regional director of The Wilderness Society.”We want to help establish the true sense of multiple use on public lands,” he said. In the last five years, since oil and gas development took off in western Colorado, “energy development had been dominant or the single use” on federally managed lands, he said. “As important as it is” to develop energy supplies, Smith said, “we feel there are other values that are more enduring. Some places are too wild to drill.”In a statement outlining the agenda in late February, the groups said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to “fast-track leases on millions of acres of public lands each year,” including on the Roan Plateau in western Garfield County. BLM completed a resource management plan last year, which has yet to be approved, that calls for development of thousands of acres on top of the plateau. Conservation groups strenuously opposed the plan.The agenda also would protect water supplies by lifting Clean Water Act exemptions for the oil and gas industry.”I’ve personally witnessed the growing conflicts between the oil and gas industry and the West’s hunters and anglers, landowners and ranchers – conflicts that could have been avoided if the government and industry had played by the rules in the first place,” said Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.The conservation groups advocate repealing sections of the Energy Policy Act, which require BLM to process applications for drilling permits within 30 days.Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said “we absolutely will sit down with anybody about how we build a bridge to the renewable future. But I don’t agree that we need to knock down the existing footbridge before we begin construction on the new bridge.”The next step for the conservation groups will be to lobby legislators for the changes. U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., supports the agenda’s principles.”As we transition from using fossil fuel to renewable energy, it’s important to use and encourage technologies that minimize damage to our land during the extraction of fossil fuels,” he said. “More importantly, we have to be responsible and protect Colorado’s treasured landscapes, such as the Roan Plateau.” The Associated Press contributed to this story.