House OKs drilling ban on Roan |

House OKs drilling ban on Roan

Jennifer Talhelm
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” A bill that passed the house on Saturday would bar energy companies from tapping natural gas on federal land atop Col­orado’s scenic Roan Plateau.

The provision that U. S. Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, both Democrats from Colorado, intro­duced was one of two victories for the state’s Democrats on the energy bill, which passed on a 241-172 vote.

Udall and Rep. Diana DeGette also helped lead a successful fight to add a requirement to the bill that util­ities get 15 percent of their electricity from wind, solar or other renewable energy sources by 2020. All of the state’s Democrats voted for the meas­ure, which passed 220-190. All the state’s Republicans voted against it except for Rep. Tom Tancredo, who did not vote.

The renewable electricity standard is a priority for environmental groups, which say it will help take a bite out of climate change by reduc­ing the country’s reliance on green­house gas-producing fossil fuels.

Opponents say it will raise elec­tricity prices ” especially in regions where renewable energy is less developed, such as the Southeast, where coal is abundant, but wind and solar power are not as economical.

“This is a very, very big day,” said Udall, who pushed the issue when he was in the state Legislature. The state is now among more than 20 with their own renewable mandates.

Udall said he thinks the national standard will encourage more inno­vation. “People will see how this works ” the fear factor will lessen, jobs will be created, momentum will be generated,” he said.

Salazar and Udall’s Roan Plateau measure bans all gas drilling except on private land or at the base of the landmark.

Federal land managers have pro­posed up to 210 natural gas wells from 13 sites on top of the plateau, which is prized for its wildlife and rich natural gas and oil shale reserves. Energy industry groups opposed the move because they said it would block an important and rich resource. But Salazar and Udall said that the landmark was too important to wildlife and the tourism industry to be drilled.

The state’s Democrats have waged an increasingly heated fight over the Roan in recent months.

Until Friday, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar had blocked the confirmation of President Bush’s nominee to direct the Bureau of Land Management. He lifted his hold only after Interior Sec­retary Dirk Kempthorne agreed to give Gov. Bill Ritter 120 more days to review the drilling plan. The BLM had denied the extension earlier this year.

The congressmen said their meas­ure in the House energy bill adds a layer of protection for the Roan.

“While I was pleased to learn that the Interior Department finally decid­ed to delay leasing the top of the Roan Plateau, I believe we must con­tinue to strike balance, and the lan­guage protecting the top of the Roan in the energy bill does just that,” John Salazar said.

The energy bill contains a mix of incentives to promote renewable energy and combat climate change. Among other things, it also includes a measure Udall proposed that extends the amount of time the BLM has to prepare regulations for oil shale leases, and it gives the state 120 days to review them before they are adopted.

Oil shale is a rock that yields petroleum when heated. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming have rich oil shale resources. Although energy companies are still researching how to tap it for large-scale commercial use, the government is working on a plan to allow development.