Kathleen Curry working to put focus on Western Slope issues
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said she plans to use her new leadership role in the Colorado House to “keep Western Slope issues on the radar screen” during next year’s legislative session.
In an interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent last week, Curry outlined some of her goals and priorities when lawmakers return to Denver on Jan. 7. Many of them center around oil and gas development in the state.
Earlier this month, House Speaker-elect Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, named Curry as speaker pro tem; she’ll be part of the Democrats’ leadership in the legislative body. She will retain her position as chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee ” where oil and gas bills in the House originate.
Curry, whose district includes Aspen, Glenwood and the Roaring Fork Valley, said a major issue that needs to be addressed next year is how the state assists communities impacted by oil and gas development. She said counties like Garfield, Delta, Gunnison and Mesa are not getting adequate funds from the state to address those impacts.
“We have not adequately addressed their needs,” she said. “They are going to have a presence up at the Capitol this year, in my view.”
While the state Legislature has made improvements to how severance taxes are distributed to local communities, their need for additional funding continues to grow, Curry said.
“We need to continue to fight for more of the money that is flowing into the state returning to the energy-impacted areas,” she said.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, who recently won re-election to a fourth term, said he recently spoke with Curry and that they touched on directing increased severance taxes back to impacted counties.
“We need to make it a priority,” he said. “If we put politics aside, we can sure work together and get things accomplished.”
Martin said with Curry’s leadership and by working with other legislators, such as state Sens. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Al White, R-Hayden, “hopefully with the coordination, we can get things accomplished.”
But ,he added, Curry is going to face some tough decisions with her leadership role.
“She is going to get attacked from both sides, especially from special interests,” he said. “She is looking to see where her foundation is, where her true strength is, and she has put that feeler out there, and I think she can count on Garfield County to help her out.”
One issue that is expected to dominate the conversation during the early days of the next legislative session will be the rules the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission may adopt in early December, Curry said.
She also expects there’s a possibility of revisiting the state’s severance tax system in the wake of Colorado voters handing Amendment 58 a decisive defeat at the polls. Newly elected State Sen. Al White has indicated he might want to push for severance tax reform in this legislative session, she said.
Curry said her leadership role in the House and her position as chair of the Agriculture committee would give her a central role in any severance tax discussions.
“Hopefully, I can do some good work for our region,” she said.
Other oil and gas topics that might be addressed in the coming legislative session may include issues surrounding royalty owner concerns and produced water from coal bed methane wells, Curry said. The water issue centers on how it might be impacting adjacent landowner water rights in Huerfano County, she said.
“That is an awful lot of oil and gas stuff for one session, so I would be looking for everyone to come together on which issues we are going to focus on and how we are going to make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” Curry said.
In addition, Curry would like to see what help she can be in directing money toward healthy forest management, particularly combating the bark beetle infestation that has decimated Colorado forests.
“There is always the perennial water discussions,” she said. “I don’t see anything really major in terms of a specific bill that would get everyone fired up over here. But it is an ongoing need and discussion because they don’t have enough water to meet their needs on the Front Range. We need to be a constructive partner in helping meet their needs without having to tap our resources.”
One key role Curry believes she could play in this year’s legislative session is working with the energy industry about possible oil and gas legislation. Industry trade groups have had a relatively frosty relationship with Gov. Bill Ritter this year, especially over the proposed oil and gas rules and Amendment 58.
“My sense is that the industry is pretty pro-active and knows that some of these things need to be addressed, and that they would want to be at the table because they are affected directly,” Curry said. “I will be working closely with our leadership team and the governor’s office to zero in on which topics we want to work on this year.”
Curry said she was going to miss Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction ” who many pegged to be the next House Speaker but who lost to Republican Laura Bradford on Nov. 4 ” but added that she is looking to develop a working relationship with the new representative.
“Our issues are really more regional and specific and they cross party lines,” Curry said.
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