John Colson: Hit and Run |

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

The Garfield County commissioners this week held a tea party and acted as though they were the only ones in the room despite the presence of numerous people questioning the commissioners’ collective sanity.

I was waiting for news that the commissioners had somehow linked skepticism about energy development to the common belief that President Barack Obama really was born in this country and has a right to be president.

“Birther” mania, as far as I can see, has about as much reality to it as what the county commissioners pulled off this week.

But you decide.

The commissioners passed a resolution that essentially laid bare, in claims that were at the least highly questionable, the county’s unalloyed desire to see oil-shale development left in the hands of the energy industry without interference from federal overseers or anyone else.

The resolution, as unanimously approved by the three commissioners, lambasts the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is charged with oversight of the industry’s use of public lands, for considering a plan to cut the amount of federal acreage open to oil-shale research, demonstration and development projects.

The fact that the BLM is only doing its job, safeguarding national assets from unwarranted speculative destruction, apparently did not carry much weight.

The idea that Garfield County is rampantly pro-energy-industry and pro-development in general is, of course, nothing new.

In recent years, the county government has been leaning that way in every way it could find, from the ongoing rewriting of the county codes to the recasting of the county’s comprehensive land-use plan to be more “business friendly.”

With the election of Tom Jankovsky in 2010, the county made no bones about changing the way it deals with developers, moving away from its supposed role as impartial reviewer of development plans and toward a new position of accommodation and support.

All of which has been fairly predictable given the county’s historic attitude that whoever owns the land in question should be able to do whatever he or she wants with that land. Period. No further debate required. That’s the way it’s been for the 33 years I’ve been observing things around here.

There have been moments, of course, when that basic belief system was supplanted by a more cautious outlook. One was in the early 1980s, when the commissioners rejected a plan to build the thousand-unit Crown Mountain project in the meadows southeast of Carbondale.

But today, frightened by the specter of an economic slump that has sucked the life out of much of the nation, the county sees the energy industry as its only possible salvation.

Of course, the commissioners are nearly always skeptical of the arguments of environmental and land-conservation activists.

When such doubters point out inconsistencies or outright untruths in the industry line, such as claims that the oil-shale development will bring about lower gasoline prices at the pump, the commissioners have been known to make fun of both the claims and the claimants before ignoring their arguments.

During the discussion this week, though, Commissioner Mike Samson convinced his fellow commissioners to remove some of the more outlandish language of the resolution, such as the claim that oil-shale development “requires little to no consumption of water.” Even Samson, a noted supporter of the energy industry, couldn’t swallow that load of malarkey.

Samson also got them to drop the staggering assertion that oil-shale development already is proven to be viable, both economically and technologically.

Again, there appear to be some exaggerations by the industry and its boosters that Samson simply will not accept, and this was one.

It is questionable whether this resolution will convince the BLM to shirk its duty and let the industry roll as it wants to.

But Garfield County commissioners have once more made it clear on which side their bread is buttered.

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