Salazar says he’ll push to protect Roan, ensure state’s share of energy money | AspenTimes.com

Salazar says he’ll push to protect Roan, ensure state’s share of energy money

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar said Friday that he’ll push for measures to protect parts of the Roan Plateau and ensure that Colorado gets its share of revenue from energy development on the western Colorado landmark.

The Democrat’s announcement came one day after Gov. Bill Ritter submitted comments to federal land managers seeking protection for more of the plateau from direct gas drilling and changes to a 20-year management plan.

The Interior Department gave Ritter an extra 120 days to study the Roan Plateau plan, issued in June, after Salazar held up confirmation of the president’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management.

Ritter sought more time because he had just taken office in January.

“I appreciate the governor and the Department of Natural Resources taking the time over the last 120 days to help find a more thoughtful way forward in the development of the gas resource underneath the Roan Plateau, but more needs to be done,” Salazar said.

Ritter and state natural resources chief Harris Sherman have asked the BLM to increase the federal land on the Roan Plateau that is designated as “areas of critical environmental concern” to 36,184 acres from the 21,034 acres in the federal plan.

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The Roan Plateau is both rich in natural gas and wildlife and ecological diversity. It’s home to the state’s largest deer and elk herds, mountain lions, peregrine falcons, bears, rare plants and genetically pure native cutthroat trout dating to the last ice age.

A final decision on the environmentally sensitive areas is pending. The BLM has recommended no ground disturbance in those areas, which would require extracting the gas offsite through setting up a drilling rig elsewhere and angling the bit underground.

Critics of the BLM’s plan are concerned the agency might waive those conditions. To prevent that, Salazar said he’ll propose rules or legislation banning any exemptions.

Salazar also plans to propose a bill ensuring that the state’s share of a federal fund to clean up an old waste site on the plateau go to western Colorado for conservation and for communities dealing with the effects of the energy boom.

Salazar has come under fire for not supporting a bill by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., to release tens of millions of dollars in mineral royalties to the state.

The money, which BLM spokesman Jim Sample said totals about $85 million, comes from gas production on federal land leased before management of the Roan Plateau was transferred from the Department of Energy to the Interior Department in 1997. The revenue from lease payments and federal mineral royalties normally split evenly between the state and federal government goes into a fund for the cleanup of a site on the plateau where oil shale research occurred decades ago.

The BLM has said there’s more than enough money to complete the cleanup and reimburse the Energy Department for work it did, but federal legislation is needed to distribute the excess money. Allard introduced a bill in May to make sure the state gets its share of the money.

Allard wants to make sure a law is in place to start the flow of money to Colorado once the cleanup is completed, said Steve Wymer, the senator’s spokesman.

Americans for American Energy, a Golden-based group that advocates increasing domestic energy production, has criticized Salazar for not supporting Allard’s bill.

“As a Coloradan and a taxpayer, I am appalled at the backdoor effort by Sen. Salazar’s staff to stop Colorado from getting these funds that are rightfully Colorado’s,” Greg Schnacke, American Energy’s chief executive and president, said Friday.

But Salazar, who unsuccessfully sought a one-year moratorium on leasing the Roan Plateau, said he wants to see the state’s share of the revenue go to western Colorado rather than into the state’s general fund.

Under Allard’s legislation, the money would go “into the black hole of expenditures for government,” Salazar said. He said the money should flow to the area directly experiencing the impacts of development.

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