Salazar airs out Roan concerns |

Salazar airs out Roan concerns

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar met with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne Wednesday and says he sought assurances that the federal government “will not be running roughshod over western Colorado” when it comes to energy development.

Kempthorne’s office is preparing a written response to Salazar, who wants the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to withhold oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau near Rifle until Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is given more time to comment on the BLM’s plan to allow drilling there. Salazar, D-Colo., also wants the state to be given a longer opportunity to comment on an environmental study related to possible commercial oil shale development on federal lands in places including western Colorado.

Salazar said in a teleconference with reporters that he met with Kempthorne for about an hour Wednesday.

“I think he did understand where I was coming from. I told him we were essentially heading to a point of collision with the federal government and the BLM. I told him that it was up to him to try to avoid that train wreck,” Salazar said. “I told him that it was his opportunity to assure me that that wasn’t going to happen.”

Salazar has placed a hold on the nomination of James Caswell to be the new director of the BLM and says it will remain in place until his demands are satisfied. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Caswell’s appointment Wednesday but the hold prevents it from being acted on by the full Senate.

President Bush could name Caswell as a recess appointee when the Senate is on break in August, but Salazar said that would reduce Caswell’s effectiveness.

“He would go in there with a significant cloud over his head in terms of being able to act as the head of the BLM,” Salazar said.

Kempthorne spokesperson Tina Kreisher said he appreciated the discussion he had with Salazar.

“We will work on that letter and we will deliver it to the senator in a timely manner,” she said.

However, she said she didn’t know how Kempthorne would respond to Salazar’s specific concerns, and couldn’t comment on the political process involving Caswell’s nomination.

Ritter has asked for 120 days to review the BLM’s recently released decision to allow drilling on top of the Roan Plateau.

“I consider the governor of Colorado to be someone who should be listened to by the federal government,” he said.

Salazar agrees with conservationists and local communities who long have argued the plateau top’s scenic and environmental values should keep it off-limits to drilling. He has questions about precisely how drilling would proceed in each of five watersheds on the Roan under the BLM’s plans, and if drilling would be allowed in riparian areas.

Salazar also believes the federal government should give the Ritter administration a chance to more thoroughly review the oil shale study.

“It’s a 2,000-page document. They gave the state 30 days to comment on it. The governor wanted more time. I think that’s a very reasonable request,” Salazar said.

More broadly speaking, Salazar is concerned about the BLM’s general plans for energy development on its lands in northwest Colorado. The region has about 5,000 wells now but about 12 times that many may be drilled there in coming years, he said.

“That’s going to have a huge and dramatic effect on the western part of the state as the BLM moves forward with the development,” Salazar said.

He said it’s important that the state, local communities, and agricultural and other interests have a chance to be involved in development decisions.